Yes, Master of Malt now stocks Fuji Gotemba whiskey (which spells whiskey with an ‘e’ so for the purposes of consistency, so will we throughout this article). Here’s our shiny new products before we get into details:
For those who are not sure why we’re making a fuss, we get it. You don’t see much Fuji Gotemba whiskey outside of Japan. Despite the fact that it’s been making whiskey since the 1970s by Japan’s most famous mountain. Or that Gotemba is actually the third biggest whiskey producer in Japan after Suntory and Nikka. It’s also the largest whiskey distillery in the world, dwarfing even Scotland’s Glenfiddich distillery.
The story of Fuji Gotemba Distillery
Because of Fuji Gotemba’s lack of international presence, few would have any real reason to know any of that unless they’ve seriously done their research. It goes to show every day is a school day in whiskey.
So if we’re introducing you to Fuji Gotemba, here’s the skinny. The distillery is located in the town of Gotemba on the southeastern flank of Mount Fuji in Shizuoka Prefecture. The site covers 1.7 million square feet (520,000 square metres) and can produce an incredible 12 million litres of whiskey a year.
The distillery was founded by the Kirin Brewery Company alongside Scotland’s Chivas Brothers and Canada’s JE Seagram and Sons. An agreement was struck in 1972 and the distillery opened its doors a year later. The original named Gotemba Distillery drew on the considerable expertise of its backers to create an enormous, versatile facility capable of malt and grain production that handled fermentation, distillation, ageing, blending, and bottling on-site.
The first whiskey the brand produced was a blend called Robert Brown, launched in February 1974 and named after the famous Scottish botanist, it would appear. Several others followed, all focused on the domestic market, then the company shifted as Seagrams disintegrated and Kirin took over fully in 2002, adding the Fuji name to the brand. In fact, the bottom of its whiskey bottles rise inwards to mirror the shape of Mount Fuji. A single malt was launched in 2004 and big investment followed, which resulted in increasing warehouse capacity by 20% as well as the installation of four new stills and mash tuns.
What started as a bar-only release then became more available in Japan before Fuji whiskey started to trickle out to Europe. Fuji Single Grain became the first Kirin whiskey to get a US export in 2021, while a recent development has ensured Fuji whiskey has a clear route to the international market. An agreement with Pernod Ricard announced this month, August ‘23, revealed the French firm would handle distribution of the Japanese whiskey brand in Europe, much like it does with another Kirin brand, Four Roses bourbon.
How Fuji Gotemba Distillery makes whiskey
Because the fermentation, distillation, and bottling take place in Japan, Fuji whiskey qualifies under the whiskey standards announced in February 2021 by the Japan Spirits and Liqueur Makers Association. The barley and grain are imported from Scotland and Ireland, but that’s okay according to the new guidelines.
Fuji whiskey also uses rye in the creation of its single grain and has a wide array of distillation equipment. There’s multi-colum stills for continuous distillation that make a lighter, Scotch-style grain whiskey. There’s also kettle and column stills for batch distillation in the Canadian style that makes grain whiskey too, as well as beer column and doubler that create a heavy, bourbon-style whiskey through continuous distillation. It’s the only distillery outside of the US to have both a kettle and a beer & doubler still. Double distillation in traditional copper pot stills also takes place, with the shape of the pot stills designed for maximum copper contact to produce clean fruity new make spirits. There are separate still rooms for the single malt and grain whiskey production.
Gotemba is also one of the few distilleries in Japan to have its own bottling plant and cooperage, while its location over 2000 feet (610 metres) above sea level obviously has a big effect on the maturation climate, one which is cool and less humid than other parts of Japan. The Four Roses link also gives it a pretty steady supply of great bourbon casks.
Overseeing production is master blender Jota Tanaka, a former winemaker and industry veteran who worked at Four Roses before. Fuji Single Malt whiskey was created in the Japanese tradition of mirroring Scotch whiskey techniques and is an elegant, approachable whiskey.
Fuji Single Grain whiskey, meanwhile, is an impressively complex affair, a whiskey made with a mashbill of malted barley, corn, and rye that comprises three different styles. There’s a Canadian-style grain whiskey made using batch distillation with a kettle distiller (which is similar to a pot still), a bourbon-style grain whiskey distillate using a doubler, and a Scotch-style grain whiskey made using a column still.
Intriguing stuff. We’d love to hear what you think of the whiskey. Kanpai!
You can buy Fuji Gotemba whiskey from Master of Malt now.