And then, sometimes something damned unusual just falls in your lap...
I've enjoyed discovering Japanese whiskies lately. It is an interesting category because there can be an almost level of perfection that goes into their single malts, but then there is the whole, Who really distilled this? factor. Many times, Japanese whiskies aren't even Japanese. They can be distilled in Scotland (Canada is also a common source) and simply shipped over to Japan. It doesn't even have to be aged there! You see, Japan has the same issue that India has: There really are no rules and it is a complete free-for-all.
On the other side of the coin, you have several legitimate distillers where everything is sourced, distilled and aged in Japan. One such example is Fukano Distillery, located in Hitoyoshi City. This distillery was founded in 1823 and utilizes a pot still instead of a more efficient, higher capacity Coffey (column) still. They also use both malted and unmalted rice instead of barley as the mash. Fukano can also be considered a craft distiller of sorts. Everything they distill is barreled in only a handful of casks and each expression is different from the next, with the goal of Shigeruriku Fukano to never repeat them.
I have some amazing friends in the liquor business who are kind enough to let me sample their products. Good or bad, I'm always thankful for the opportunity. In this case, one of those friends let me try Fukano Vault Reserve #1. With this release, Fukano's mash came from polished rice. Polished rice is another term for white rice, where the outer, brown husk has been removed and stripped of much of its nutrients. It is also more difficult to distill. It is bottled at 40.5% ABV (or 91°), comes with a screw top closure, and retails for about $74.99. There is no age statement, but it is a blend of whiskies ranging from three to eleven years old.
I've given quite a bit of background, and as you and I know, all of that is really nice but the important question is how does it taste? Let's get on with the show, shall we?
In my Glencairn glass, Vault Reserve #1 appears as a bright gold. It created a thin rim that left fat legs to race back to the pool of liquid sunshine.
The first aromas to hit my nose were sherry and orchard fruits. But beneath those were a combination of toffee, caramel, and oak. When I inhaled through my lips, it was very starchy, exactly what you'd expect from white rice.
The mouthfeel was very thick and coated my entire mouth. Dark cherries and plums danced across the front of my palate. Then, those fruits took on a chocolate coating mid-palate. On the back, there was a slightly astringent quality reminiscent of many Scotches. All of this led to a very long finish of oak and light spice.
Bottle, Bar or Bust: Fukano Vault Reserve #1 is absolutely different. I've never had a rice whisky before (or at least not that I'm aware of) and I was shocked as to what flavors were produced. This was a very enjoyable experience and in the realm of Japanese (including pseudo-Japanese) whiskies, $75 isn't out of line. As such, this one grabs my coveted Bottle rating. Cheers!