Led by their erudite gentleman Master Blender Jota Tanaka, Fuji Whisky under the auspices of Japanese spirits company Kirin Group was launched in Singapore in March to eagerly anticipating collectors and epicures. Fuji Whisky has been in markets outside Singapore for three years, since its inception in 2020 on the 47th anniversary of the Kirin Group.
The launch of Fuji was timed strategically. “The whisky market in Japan was shrinking 10 years ago, in Kentucky as well,” says Tanaka. “But now it’s booming. Japanese whiskies from companies like Suntory and Nikka are winning international whisky awards. We, Japanese realised, we’re good at this. And all of a sudden, there was a huge demand for Japanese whisky.”
One of the key indicators of a good whisky brand is that they get their basics right – you don’t need to look for an obscure distillery reserve to find a good bottle, as their more readily available bottles are great liquids in their own right.
The Fuji Single Blended Japanese Whisky, for example, is a combination of malt and grain whiskies; a carefully chosen blend whose interplay creates a delightfully balanced, harmonious drink. A refreshing nose carries scents of peach, apricot, honey and orange liqueur. Drinking the Single Blended is an experience unto its own.
It’s a rich drink with moderate viscosity, with vivid notes of apple, apricot and white flower honey that ends with a rich aftertaste and a long, smooth finish. Similarly, the Fuji Single Grain, a blend of three different grain whiskies (each distilled in different ways after the Bourbon, Canadian and Scotch traditions respectively), creating a complex yet rich, delicately fruity flavour profile. Its delightful nose of tart fruit and burnt orange peel draws you in.
Upon tasting, you will find a slightly smooth drinking experience with notes of bitter chocolate, orange marmalade and spiced cinnamon. The finish has a spicy, incense-like zing that lingers. This exquisite eau de joie won the Gold Medal at the International Spirits Challenge in 2020.
“WHEN WE TALKED ABOUT BRINGING THE WHISKY TO THE WORLD, WE CAME UP WITH FUJI BECAUSE IT’S EASY TO REMEMBER, AND EVERYONE KNOWS MOUNT FUJI. IT’S ICONIC, IT’S A SYMBOL OF JAPAN. AND OUR DISTILLERY IS AT THE FOOT OF MOUNT FUJI.” – JOTA TANAKA
It is testament to Tanaka’s experience and expertise that they are able to do both whisky and whiskey well. While their basics are great, their more unique bottles are highly compelling works of distillation art. The limited-edition Single Blended 2022 Masterpiece, for example, lives up to its name.
It is a rich, exquisite liquid, marked by its deep golden colour. Its robust nature is apparent from the moment it hits your nose, with concentrated notes of black cherry, incense and Crème Brûlée. But it is surprisingly – and we mean this in a good way – soft on the palate, with mellow notes of aged sherry, rye bread and peaches.
This is followed by a long finish, as the ripe fruit notes linger on, a delicious reminder of the Masterpiece you just had. The Fuji whiskies are carefully distilled in the Fuji Gotemba Distillery, which was built by the Kirin Group. Its location at 610 metres above sea level, with misty humidity, average temperatures of 13°C and with access to spring water derived from snowmelt and rainfall, makes the distillery perfect for ageing whisky.
It has three distinct types of stills – continuous, beer column and double, and kettle and column – which allows it to distil malt and grain whiskies in varying degrees of richness to allow Tanaka and his team a wide array of options to explore different expressions of Fuji Whisky.
It is the ideal place to create great whiskies, and for Mr. Jota Tanaka to perform his magic. It’s worth noting that he is a veteran of the industry having worked in Napa Valley and was even Director of Quality at the Four Roses Distillery in Kentucky. He returned home in 2010 to serve as Chief Blender for Kirin Whisky before playing a crucial role in the conception of Fuji Whisky in 2020.
His international experience truly helped create the ideal Japanese whisky – and also the ideal Japanese whisky brand. “When we talked about bringing the whisky to the world, we came up with Fuji because it’s easy to remember, and everyone knows Mount Fuji. It’s iconic, it’s a symbol of Japan. And our distillery is at the foot of Mount Fuji,” says Tanaka.
(Images: Fuji Whisky)