Saturday 21 August 2021

Sakurao 1st Release Cask Strength Single Malt Japanese Whisky [Tasted #534]

Following our reviews of the Komagatake x Chichibu "Malt Duo" & Kanosuke First Edition, as part of our look into the current state of Japanese whisky, we're moving onto another exciting new First Release - Sakurao "1st Release Cask Strength Single Malt Japanese Whisky".

Seemingly continuing the trend of Japanese distilleries locating themselves in picturesque locales, Sakurao Distillery is located in the town of Sakurao, on the coast of Hiroshima facing the historic Itsukushima Shrine and its "floating Torii gate" off Miyajima Island. Now sure, location doesn't necessarily dictate the quality of the whisky, but a location like this does make the distillery pretty accessible for tourists, which can only be a good thing for both the distillery and Japanese whisky in general.

What's interesting about Sakurao (formerly Chugoku Jozo) is that they've actually being producing whisky for several years (as well as gin) - but until establishing Sakurao Distillery, they weren't distilling it in Japan. The "Togouchi" brand (which many would know as that short, rounded bottle containing Scottish / Canadian whisky aged in a former railway tunnel in Hiroshima) made up the entirety of the company's whisky, but now they're distilling both malt and grain right in Japan.

(The excellent Nomunication blog has a detailed write-up on the topic which is worth a read.)

Somewhat confusingly, they've actually launched two Japanese-distilled single malt brands - Sakurao (which I've tasted below), and Togouchi single malt, a domestic-only product for Japan. So as it stands, "Togouchi" is both a Japanese-distilled single malt brand, and a world blended whisky brand! The former is matured at the coastal distillery, the latter in the aforementioned Togouchi railway tunnel.

Photo credit: Sakurao Distillery

Confusion aside, we applaud any Japanese whisky producer who wants to "go legit", so let's see how their first release stacks up...

Sakurao 1st Release Cask Strength Single Malt Japanese Whisky 2021 (54% ABV, 3yo, Sakurao Japan, $2,080HKD available from AFTrade)
Colour: Rich amber-honey.

Nose: Sandalwood, quite active oak, dark chocolate & orange peel

Palate: Sweet, creamy vanilla essence (intense - almost vanilla-pod like), milk chocolate drops, then a subtle earthy smoke forms, and sticks around. There's chocolate raspberries, cherries, and a little salinity.

Finish: Medium in length, with the sweet choc-cherry notes running through to the end.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 89/100. If I'm honest, I haven't loved many of the Togouchi blended whiskies I've tried (although their new Coffee liqueur is pretty tasty, and a steal at $168HKD). This Japanese distilled Sakurao though is very enjoyable, and shows a lot of promise for what's to come.

Thanks to AFTrade Hong Kong (importers / distributors of all Sakurao spirits in HK) who provided the whisky for review.


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