The Japanese whisky craze of the 2010s has the world going nuts over the famed liquid from the Land of the Rising Sun. All hands are needed on deck in every distillery around the nation in order to meet rapidly burgeoning global demands.
Since it takes years to mature premium malt whisky, Nikka and Suntory have been facing stock issues that will last well into the 2020s. With so many obstacles facing new distilleries entering the market, it is unlikely that new players will fill the shortfall. The role of existing distillers such as Fuji Gotemba thus becomes more pertinent.
This Kirin-owned distillery produces both malt and grain whisky. It was originally built in 1973 as a joint venture between major drinks companies Kirin and Seagram, with Kirin eventually taking full ownership in 2002. In Japan, Kirin has always stuck to the domestic market, with much of it targeted at the budget consumers’ end. Even when Japan’s other whisky producers began to look outwards to international markets, and even though Kirin had a direct route to the North American market through owning Four Roses, they never really took a serious approach to expand overseas.
The market might be changing though. According to the Japanese whisky blog Nonjatta, Kirin has announced that there will be more releases of Fuji Gotemba in the future. The distillery itself is a large “one-stop shop”, unusually producing both grain and malt whisky, and includes a bottling plant and visitor facilities on its huge site.
Fuji Gotemba lies at the base of picturesque Mount Fuji and is set among trees close to the main road into Gotemba. The surrounding flatlands tend to be hot and humid during the summer months, but the distillery lies at nearly 2,000 feet above sea level, so its temperatures are relatively low.
Spirit is distilled in pot stills, kettles, and a range of column stills. As in other Japanese distilleries, there is scope to make a wide range of different spirits. Not surprisingly, given the link with Four Roses, the spirit is matured in ex-bourbon barrels.
Fuji Gotemba single malt whisky is marketed under two names: Fuji Gotemba and Fujisanroku, and both are 18-year-old malts. A grain whisky is also available, but it is rare so you are unlikely to come across it. The malts are sweet, soft, and easy to drink.