Whisky Review Roundup: Ohishi Brandy Cask/Fukano 12 Year Old - The Whiskey Wash

Whisky Review Roundup: Ohishi Brandy Cask/Fukano 12 Year Old

Despite the broad range of whiskey I’ve been fortunate enough to sample, I am admittedly more of a novice when it comes to that originating from Japan. That being said, I’ve become increasingly curious as it’s entered the U.S. market in increasing volume and demand in recent years, and its impossible to not notice it popping up with greater frequency and variety on the shelves of many great bars as well as in liquor stores.

Japanese whisky production was not commercialized until 1924 (while Prohibition was still in full effect in the U.S.), but it has distilleries that have been around much longer. One is Ohishi Distillery, which was founded in 1872. As rice is the dominant grain used at Ohishi, the distillery uses a stainless steel still in its production, compared to copper used for most other whiskies. (More details on some of the unique qualities of Ohishi’s process can be read about in more detail in a previous Whiskey Wash review of Ohishi Whisky.)

Fukano Distillery is another Japanese distillery producing far-reaching spirits that have generated some notable accolades (for example, Whiskey Advocate ranked Fukano’s 2017 Edition #20 in its Top 20 Whiskeys of 2017 list – the only Japanese whisky included). Founded in 1823, its production interestingly and typically utilizes clay pots for fermentation and a pot still for distillation. Most Fukano releases each year are limited in quantity and in notably high demand.

According to an interesting 2016 article in Wine & Spirits, the use of rice disqualifies a spirit from being classified as whiskey in Japan, but not in the U.S. — and this distinction matters in the case of Fukano and Ohishi, as “these whiskies are for export only.” Chris Udhe, deemed in 2016 as “the First Name in LA Whisky” by Los Angeles Magazine, is credited with bringing both of these Japanese whiskies to the U.S.

Fukano Distillery is located in Hitoyoshi City, Kumamoto Prefecture of Japan on the island of Kyushu, and is near Ohishi Distillery. Both are better known for producing shōchū (as well as sake, in the case of Ohishi), and coincidentally are both currently run by the fifth generation of the respective families. While the two distilleries are markedly different in what and how they produce, both also source water from the nearby Kuma River which is known to impart distinct and desirable qualities.

Tasting Notes: Ohishi Distillery Brandy Cask Whisky

Vital Stats: At least 30% of the rice used to create this whisky is gohyakumanishi rice from the distillery’s own fields, and the rest is mochi rice from Kumamoto Prefecture (this is true of all Ohishi whisky). It is aged for an undisclosed amount of time in casks formerly used for brandy – though given the pale color of the whisky, it seems likely that it isn’t in the brandy casks for long, or that perhaps these casks were otherwise previously filled. It’s bottled at 83 proof and retails for an average of $65.

Appearance: Very pale like a dry white wine, with even legs.

Nose: Orange peel and springtime.

Palate: Very smooth and mild, with a light floral air. The brandy imparts a fruity note, along with a hint of cotton-candy sweetness, but the main takeaway is a drier mouth-feel – not unlike when sipping Scotch. There’s a brief aftertaste suggesting something richer, like French toast, but it remains simple overall.

Final Thoughts Before doing any research or tasting, I blindly expected something heavier and more complex, and was taken with the delicate and almost ethereal quality of this unusual whisky. It’s certainly unique and quite distinct from any American (or Scotch or Irish, for that matter) whiskey I’ve had.

Score: 3.5/5 

Tasting Notes: Fukano Distillery 12-Year Single Cask Whisky

Vital Stats: This single cask whisky starts as a distill of un-aged shōchū made from 100% malted rice. It’s then rests in new, charred oak barrels before bottling at 83 proof, and retailing for upwards of $95. (Note: I tasted from a press sample, but full bottles reportedly include the number of the cask from which the whisky in that particular bottle was aged.)

Appearance: A slightly ruddy, stained oak.

Nose: An almost eye-watering sting of alcohol dissipated quickly, revealing an appealing conundrum of spice and confectionery sweetness, like candy corn with a burnished-yet-creamy note of vanilla crème brûlée, finished with warming spices and cocoa.

Palate: The nose carries forth in the mouth, and wonderfully so. The light sweetness conjures from-scratch marshmallows, and is rounded out with dark brown sugar and tobacco.

Final Thoughts: One word that comes to mind as an all-encompassing descriptor of Fukano’s 12-Year Single Cask Whisky is “balance”. It has a bit of all the good stuff many of us look for in a whiskey, and is both reminiscent of more traditional whiskey while standing out as something different. While Fukano’s sherry-aged expressions are known to have a bit more heft, this offers something more refined – but with plenty of character.

Score: 4/5

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Sarah Coppola