Tenkyo Distillery: Inheriting the wishes of the late founder. A whisky distillery was born in Aizu. - Part I


Tenkyo Distillery: Inheriting the wishes of the late founder. A whisky distillery was born in Aizu. - Part I

#Pick up

Onuma Takashi/大沼孝 by「天鏡蒸溜所」

In April 2024, the first whiskey distillery in the Aizu region will start operation. What is the style that Tenkyo Distillery is aiming for, and how will they produce whiskey with the world in mind?

writer:Ryoko Kuraishi

It's Mt.Bandai (1,816 meters above sea level), which represents Fukushima Prefecture.

The Aizu region of Fukushima Prefecture is blessed with good quality water and rice, and is known as one of the best sake brewing areas in the Tohoku region.

The first whiskey distillery in the area opened in the Aizu region.

The distillery, located near the Bandai Nishisanroku spring cluster at the foot of Bandai-san, also known as "Aizu Fuji," is called "Tenkyo Distillery.

"Tenkyo " is a word from a poem by Li Bai, and it is said that Emperor Taisho called Lake Inawashiro "Tenkyo " because he compared it to a mirror.

Shunsuke Koike was fascinated by the authentic whisky making process at a distillery in Scotland.

The young founder's dream was to "create Japanese whiskey that connects Japan to the world!

The establishment of the Tenkyo Distillery is a new venture for Leon Doll Corporation, which operates supermarkets in the prefecture, and has been working on it since 2018.

The distillery was established by the company's director, Shunsuke Koike.

Mr. Koike was fascinated by Scotch whisky when he was studying abroad in the U.K. After returning to Japan, he planned to start a whisky business while working on the supermarket business, his family's business.

His father, Shinsuke Koike, the company's president, also shared his vision and established Tenkyo Co. in 2018.

In order to learn the authentic Scottish process, Koike and his best friend, who is also a whisky researcher, visited 59 distilleries, and also spent a month or so training at Tomartin several times.

Koike, who was working energetically as the founder of Tenkyo Distillery, was involved in a sightseeing boat accident off the coast of Shiretoko in January 2022, and died prematurely at the young age of 28.

To carry on his legacy, a team led by Takashi Onuma, who was involved in the business from the start-up stage, as well as Scottish engineers and professional friends, worked together to obtain a whiskey license, the second such license in the prefecture.

The distillery was established in a corner of the Eisen Brewery's bottling plant.

According to Mr. Onuma, who is involved in the operation of the distillery, there are three key points to the Tenkyo Distillery.

One is the advantage of the land. The water used for brewing is from the Ryugasawa Spring, which has been selected as one of the 100 best waters in Japan.

The water used for brewing is the ultra-soft water that comes from melting snow 70 years ago, and has a hardness of 23, which, it was later discovered, is exactly the same hardness as the water used in Speyside.

The second is the distilling facility, which Koike drew the plans for himself, and which is superior to the original distillery.

The facility is capable of producing four different types of sake, and the blending can be changed according to the desired flavor to add value to the product.

Furthermore, by collaborating with a long-established local sake brewery, Eisen Brewery, we were able to take advantage of their knowledge and experience as fermentation professionals, as well as their tasting expertise.

The water used for brewing is the famous local water, Ryugasawa spring water.

The third is the development of two lines with different personalities: "Tenkyo," which thoroughly focuses on single malt, and "Kaze (tentative name)," a founders' reserve of several original wines purchased by the founder in Scotland and aged in 58 different types of 189 casks. The distillery is also developing two lines with different characteristics.

Tenkyo Distillery plans to develop two products in the future.

The single malt "Tenkyo," which we will start producing this year, is designed to be aged for a long time, and we plan to ship products aged for 10 years in 2034.

The other, "Kaze," is a blended whiskey that will be barrel-aged with several original whiskies purchased in Scotland by the founder.

This will begin maturing in 2020 and will be released sequentially in the fall of this year.

We are using 189 casks purchased by the founder, and we will explore the potential of the casks through the aging of "Kaze" and use that feedback for "Tenkyo"" (Mr. Onuma).

Founders Reserve's "Kaze (tentative name)" is scheduled for release this fall. The left one is 2.5 years old and the right one is 1.5 years old.

The blend of 58 different types of casks of sake may sound daunting, but ...... has a great deal more to offer than that.

The chief blender is a licensed toji (master brewer), and his sensitivity and control of flavor is unparalleled.

This fall's release of Kaze, inspired by the Scottish winds, is a rich, robust blend, but we may release a lighter Kaze in the future.

We intend to create a variety of Kaze by using 58 different types of casks and the skills we have honed in sake brewing.

In the second part of this article, we will delve deeper into the Tenkyo Distillery's whiskeys, with a focus on Kaze, which will be released this year.

Continue to Part 2