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Shirakawa, One Of The World’s Rarest Japanese Whiskies, Rediscovered

A collaboration between Tomatin Distillery and Takara Shuzo has led to the rediscovery of one of the rarest Japanese whiskies of all time … the Shirakawa 1958.

And now, the brands are set release the rare, 1958 single malt from the lost Japanese distillery of Shirakawa, the only official single malt bottling ever from the ghost distillery, as well as one of the earliest known single vintage Japanese whiskies ever bottled.

For a bit of history, the Shirakawa Distillery operated nearly 65 years before being demolished in 2003. A statement from Tomatin and its parent company Takara Shuzo explained that much of Shirakawa’s history is lost in the mists of time.

Shirakawa 1958

A collaboration between Tomatin Distillery and Takara Shuzo has led to the rediscovery of one of the rarest Japanese whiskies of all time … the Shirakawa 1958. (image via Tomatin)

And though its history spans from 1939 to 2003, the heyday of the distillery was the 1950s and ‘60s. Only a handful of documents since 1947 (when Takara bought the distillery) exist.

Archivists at the whisky maker have found the defunct distillery’s oral history has all but disappeared as well. The last remaining fragments to build a portrait of Shirakawa are the liquid stocks of malt whisky that survived.

Shirakawa Distillery was founded in the city of the same name in Fukushima prefecture, north of Tokyo, in 1939, by Daikoku Budoshu.

Just near the Abukuma River and Komine Castle, Shirakawa Distillery consisted of a patchwork of wood and mortar buildings of different sizes. In 1947, the distillery was purchased by Takara Shuzo Co. and it was renovated for the production of wine and brandy.

The few company records remaining show that the production of malt whisky started in 1951. Its malt whisky production falls into three periods: 1951 to 1957, 1958 to 1966 and 1968 to 1969.

The only remaining single malt of Shirakawa is from 1958, made at the beginning of the second period of whisky making at the distillery. It was during this time that the distillery was working with domestic malted barley, and the fermentation was increased to five days and the distillation took place in twin copper pots.

The spirit was collected at 73.1-57.1% ABV, a wide middle cut, making for an average still strength of 66.7%. Domestically made 350-liter casks from Tohoku and Hokkaido Mizunara (Japanese oak) were used for maturation.

Takara Shuzo’s flagship whisky brand was and still is “King Whisky.”

Much of the products sold as whisky in Japan until the early 1980s were of this variety, and all the whisky produced at Shirakawa was destined to be used in the “King Whisky” blend.

And by the time malt whisky began to make its way into the market, Takara Shuzo’s focus shifted to shochu, a clear distilled beverage. As a result, Shirakawa was never released by the company as a single malt.

Through the 1970s, Takara Shuzo Co. focused on high quality shochu, and turned away from whisky altogether.

By the early 2000s, the Shirakawa Factory was on its way out, soon closed and the buildings demolished.

The Shirakawa 1958 single malt set, from this collaboration with Tomatin, will come in a 700mL bottle and clocks in at 49% ABV.

The distiller’s notes show that on the nose, it has oak-driven aromas of marzipan, candied pineapple, and orange liqueur, as well as floral and woody spices. The taste features notes of apple and lime curd with white chocolate. Its finish is soft with a nuttiness, light spice and a touch of smoke.

To register your interest for more information or to pre-order a bottle, check out www.tomatindistillery.com/contact.

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