Japan’s Takamine Koji Whiskey is made using a special mold that helps convert barley into sugars for fermentation. The mold, koji, is Japan’s national mold and is utilized widely in such Japanese staples as soy sauce and miso. Their website explains how it is used to make whiskey:
Takamine Koji Whiskey is made with the patented Takamine Process, which uses an ancient Japanese mold, koji, to convert starches to sugars in a process similar to malting barley. Unlike malt whiskey where sugars are extracted in a warm water mash before yeast is introduced to start the fermentation, both the koji and yeast are active at the same time in a multiple parallel fermentation. This 100% barley ferment is then double distilled and aged in virgin oak and ex-Bourbon casks.
The barreling breakdown is 90% virgin American oak and 10% ex-bourbon. Due to the Takamine process, Honkaku Spirits spells their “whiskey” with an e, whereas other distillers follow strict national guidelines for producing “Japanese whisky” and spell it without an e.
The nose of Takamine Koji Whiskey is bright but gentle, offering orange citrus, coconut, and fresh cherries, followed by wood notes. The palate is much bigger and bolder than the nose suggests, introducing a range of flavors including lightly sweet vanilla, caramel, ginger, orange zest, earthy umami, and light oak. The finish is medium-long as caramel, ginger, and umami notes disappear into light wood tannins. This is an exciting and unusual whiskey, and it may not be for everyone, but I like it.
Update: Note new packaging, as of late 2023, seen at right.
A- / $99 / honkakuspirits.com