14 Year Single Cask #213 (2019)
MASH BILL – 100% rice, combining malted and un-malted
PROOF – 88.4
AGE – 14 years
DISTILLERY – Fukano Distillery
PRICE – $133
WORTH BUYING? – Yes!
Fukano is a very interesting brand. An excellent 2020 Forbes article by Akiko Katayama goes into great detail about the Fukano story, and I encourage you to read it. In short:
Founded in 1823 on the island of Kyushu, Japan, today the distillery is run by members of the sixth and seventh generation of the Fukano family. Mash bills combining malted and un-malted rice are fermented with koji, a Japanese mold that adds savory aromas and flavors. The mash is then distilled in a pot still. Fukano whisky releases are always limited, almost all of them one-offs never to be repeated.
Another key aspect of the brand is that the whisky was originally intended to be shochu, a traditional Japanese liquor distilled from rice, barley, sweet potatoes, or other similar sources. Shochu is typically bottled around 25% ABV. Some excess Fukano stock was put into oak barrels for storage, with no intention to make whisky. But over time the oak altered the color and clarity of the spirit such that it no longer complied with official Japanese shochu standards. Fukano’s shochu was now unsalable in Japan. And because of its origins, it didn’t qualify as whisky either. According to American spirits law, however, it did qualify as whisky in the United States. So now it is sold exclusively in the States by ImpEx Beverages.
My introduction to Fukano was their standard 10 Year release. It took some getting used to, but in the end I really took to it. The nose brimmed with herbed vanilla-caramel, cream, wild thistly grasses, dried lemon peel, dried moss on oak bark, smooth wet stone, toasted cinnamon and brown sugar. The taste had a very creamy mouthfeel, with notes of light caramel custard, a unique array of herbs, black pepper, and syrupy sweet baked fruits. Altogether exceptionally unique.
So despite the significant jump up to the 14 Year Single Cask’s price tag, my trust had been won by that first extraordinary experience. I plunked down the cash.
Sure enough, at uncorking the 14 Year struck me immediately with aromas and flavors very like the 10 Year, only amped up. Very buttery, with fine tart fruits, cream, nicely balanced oak, those unusual savory herbs, and a caky dessert quality. I loved it. With 4 more years and 8 more proof points than the 10 Year, and being a single cask unblended with any others, out of the gate this presented itself as more confident and robust.
So here we are, nearing two weeks after uncorking and three pours into the bottle. These brief notes were taken using a traditional Glencairn.
COLOR – beautiful unfiltered honey hues
NOSE – the leaves of fresh flowers more than their petals, vanilla, custard, dried honey, rice flour, dry twigs, drying moss on smooth stone, black and green teas, dried persimmon
TASTE – sweet honey with all the herbs stirred into it, drying oak, white and black pepper, a rustic vanilla-caramel
FINISH – dry overall, with caramel, the herbs, some tannins from the oak, a very soft warm tingle lingering…
OVERALL – a bit drier now than at uncorking; still as peculiar as the 10 Year, yet, to my memory a notch richer and deeper
I consider three to be a pattern. But my first two outings with Fukano have already established a definite impression. It is easily among the most unique whiskies I’ve had, if not the most. I can’t compare it to anything else.
This is not just because it’s challenging, which it is. Other whiskies have been challenging—e.g. Laphroaig or Tom’s Foolery Bonded Rye. Nor is it any individual note in the flavor profile—perhaps with the exception of those particularly vegetal, savory herb notes that to my palate are unprecedented. I cannot think what to name them. I presume this area of the flavor comes from the rice mash bill, the koji mold used in fermentation, the exceptionally long fermentation—all of the above. It’s the sum total experience of all these elements that makes Fukano whiskies so singular.
Fukano is not a whisky one can kick back and drink without stopping to think about it or at least saying woah! When I brought the 10 Year to a recent Japanese dinner at some friends’ house, upon first sip they each said something to that effect and turned to look at me wide-eyed. Luckily, “I really like this” followed. There was only a quarter of the bottle remaining so I left it with them. I’d been enjoying it thoroughly. But I was very happy to gift the remainder to friends who really liked it, and whom I knew were unlikely to run out and buy a bottle for themselves. Plus they’d made my partner and I a massive platter of handcrafted maki, paired with some of the best teriyaki chicken I’d ever had, and roasted baby potatoes from their own garden! (Right?!) Leaving them the final handful of pours was the least I could do.
That 10 Year bottle aired out very well, growing creamier with time. While still showing its creamy aspects, this 14 Year is currently moving through a dry spell. I’ll be curious to follow its progression over the course of the bottle—unless I get invited to another homemade Japanese meal! Until then…