Whisky drinkers have a better chance of finding a unicorn than an aged Japanese whisky right now, but there are options if you are interested in trying something unique. Consider the Bushido Series Meiyo, a 17-year bourbon cask matured single grain whisky made from rice. So what exactly is the difference? Bushido’s age statements (they also make a 15 and 23-year) are made with rice, whereas the other wildly popular (but scarce) aged whiskies are made from the traditional offerings of barley, corn, wheat, or rye. Andrew Kozlovski, founding partner in Bushido Whisky, explains that he and his team of investors were inspired to bring these whiskies to the US as a consequence of the rapidly disappearing Japanese age statement offerings. For the American consumer single grain rice whiskies are innovative (they are not new in Japan) and, adds Kozlovski, “consumers and experts love them. They think these whiskies are quirky and different. People say it’s the weirdest thing they have ever had, but they can’t stop drinking it.”
The single grain rice is aged in the same way as the malt options—in the case of the Meiyo, the product was matured for 17 years in old bourbon casks. Says Kozlovski, “We knew we would have something special if we could bring aged whiskies back to the market." And now with nearly all Japanese whisky age statement whiskies off the shelves for good, we have since brought back 3,600 limited bottles of 23 year aged whisky along with 17 and 15 year age statements.”
Kozlovski and his team spent their fair share of time scouring Japan for distilleries that they could work with, Kumesen was one of them. According to Kozlovski, Kumesen Distillery, which is based in Okinawa, had an inventory of great age statements but they were only producing for the Japanese market. ”We came in with our own labels and branding and brought these aged whiskies back to the US market.”
The whiskies have done well says Kozlovski, which is really a bit of an understatement. Since their debut they have been rewarded with a Platinum medal in the 2019 SIP Awards, and a 94.5 rating for the 17-year aged single grain whisky from the Jim Murray Whisky Bible (2020 edition) which is the highest rating among all Japanese whiskies this year.
And, what does an aged whisky made from single grain rice taste like? The 17-year Meiyo shows brown butter, vanilla, and citrus with fruity top notes. It tastes like whisky should taste, and being Japanese the focus is on balance, perfection, and polish. The 23-year Makato is silky smooth with notes of cinnamon, caramel, ginger, and spice. Under current conditions you’ll fare best to order this whisky online—some is sold at Costco and Whole Foods, as well as in restaurants. Kozlovski notes that Caskers has a map that shows which stores have inventory. You will find both whiskies, delivered to your door, on Flaviar.