'High Tech' Takamine whiskey now available in US
With the Kentucky Derby in the rearview mirror, whiskey lovers may be looking to try something new. It was good to see that there is a new whiskey in Georgia named for Mr. Jokichi Takamine, the Japanese-American businessman who donated DC’s first cherry trees in 1910.
Takamine is an 8 year-old, 100% barley, koji-fermented whiskey. Takamine was the first person to apply koji fermentation to whiskey when he was living and working in Illinois in the 1890s. Though never able to get his whiskey to market, Jokichi applied his koji-fermentation knowledge to pharmaceuticals and became one of the wealthiest businessmen of his day, donating DC’s trees to show his love and gratitude to his adopted country.
In Japan, during Hanami friends and family picnic and toast under the cherry blossoms, which are symbols of both new beginnings and the transience of life. So, whatever is in bloom, raise a glass of Takamine this spring (and if you don’t see it in your liquor store yet, just ask for it!). In addition to the whiskey’s long aging, the barley it is made of is polished down to 68% of its original size before being used; the price is $99.750mL.
Koji (aspergillus oryzae) is a mold that grows on grains, breaking the starches into sugars which yeast can then convert into alcohol through fermentation. Koji has been used in Japan for more than 1,200 years to make sake as well as soy sauce, miso, shochu, and other familiar umami-laden Japanese specialties. In fact, koji is the national mold of Japan.
Koji fermentation is Japan’s alternative to malting. Takamine realized that koji fermentation saccharifies grain more than twice as efficiently as malting. In 1891 he patented his Takamine Process and began experiments with the Illinois Whiskey Trust. Shortly thereafter, the building in which the experiments were taking place burned to the ground under mysterious circumstances. Not dissuaded, in 1894 the Trust began producing whiskey using the Takamine process. Sadly, the following year, the Trust was busted and Takamine’s koji-fermented whiskey never made it to the American public.
Despite this second setback, Takamine transformed his koji know-how into medical innovation, becoming the preeminent Japanese businessman in early 20th Century America. Long devoted to Japanese-American relations, in 1912 he donated 2,100 cherry trees to Washington, DC, which still bring joy to visitors every spring.
Takamine Whiskey was revived by Shinozaki Distillery (Asakura City, Fukuoka, Japan), which has been making traditional Japanese alcohol since the 1800s. The mash bill is 100% pearled 2-row barley: 40% koji-fermented and 60% steamed. A 2-day koji propagation is followed by a 2-stage open fermentation, then a double pot-still distillation to a barrel proof of 86.7%. The whiskey is then aged in virgin American oak and ex-bourbon casks. No color is ever added.
The Takamine Family Trust, which had never before approved use of the Takamine name for a commercial product, granted the Shinozaki family permission for the revival of Jokichi’s 19th century American experiment. Takamine 8 Year Old Whiskey will be released in April 2021, just in time for the 109th blooming of the DC cherry blossoms.
Takamine 8 Year Old Whiskey is 80 proof (40% ABV), bears an SRP of $99/750mL, and is distributed by Winebow, a national importer and distributor of international fine wine and spirits. “Winebow is proud to represent Honkaku Spirits, starting with Takamine whiskey,” says Richard Driscoll, Executive Vice President of Spirits at Winebow. “It’s very exciting to bring Jokichi Takamine’s legacy of making whiskey back to the US.”
Takamine is currently available for sale in fifteen states: NY, NJ, CT, PA, DE, MD, DC, SC, GA, FL, IL, WI, MN, CA, and WA.