Celebrating the 10th Anniversary of wWw, and Chizuru Fukano, former Managing Director of the Fukano Distillery (2022)
MASH BILL – 100% rice, combining malted and un-malted
PROOF – 84.4
AGE – NAS
DISTILLERY – Fukano Distillery
PRICE – $87
WORTH BUYING? – Yes
My introduction to Fukano Distillery was their 10 Year release. It was exceptionally unique, with a distinctive flavor profile that took some getting used to. But in the end I really took to it. I soon followed that bottle up with their 14 Year release, which came across like an amped-up version of the 10 Year. This time I knew what I was in for and could go on the journey already expecting it would take me somewhere worthwhile, which it very much did.
Fukano is a fascinating brand. Originally 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. Key to its flavor and texture is the fact that the whisky was originally intended to be shochu, a traditional Japanese liqueur. Some excess Fukano shochu 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 fully qualifies as whisky in the United States. American distributer ImpEx Beverages took on the brand, and now it is sold exclusively by them in the U.S.
Fukano whiskies are always limited releases, almost all of them one-offs never to be repeated. The current bottle is a prime example:
In 2021, Women Who Whiskey celebrated its 10-year anniversary by collaborating with ImpEx Beverages on Fukano Chizuru. The bottling honors the career of Chizuru Fukano, the former Managing Director of Fukano Distillery, who started there in 1990 as a volunteer tour guide and eventually retired 28 years later, in 2018. A limited release of 3,350 bottles, the whiskies included in the blend were matured in a combination of refilled oak, Manzanilla sherry, and red wine casks. The label art is by Tale Linh Do, an accomplished artist who left a career in social work to pursue her passions for art and whisky.
Women Who Whiskey is a global women’s networking and educational organization, dedicated to creating a space where their members can cultivate their dual passions for community and whiskey. The organization aims to provide an educational and experimental environment for those who historically have been left out of the traditionally male-dominated whiskey world. Commenting on their Fukano release, Women Who Whiskey founder, Julia Ritz Toffoli, said:
The Fukano Distillery Chizuru Fukano Limited Edition Bottling represents everything that Women Who Whiskey stands for: the vision and leadership of an incredible woman who dedicated her career to her passion, not only breaking the mold of what was expected for women in her position, but crafting a unique and exquisite whisky that she single-handedly brought to the global market.
So here we are, nearing three weeks after uncorking and four pours into the bottle. These brief notes were taken using a traditional Glencairn.
COLOR – fresh wildflower honey
NOSE – that familiar herbal Fukano funk, with fermenting citrus fruits, dry red wine, vanilla, tart caramel
TASTE – creamy texture, with a strong Werther’s candy note, other old fashioned butterscotch hard candies, and subtle red wine fruit and tannin notes
FINISH – a lingering warmth centers itself at the back of the throat like a single smoldering coal, the Fukano funk notes linger as well, and a faint bitter rubber note wafts through and then dissipates
OVERALL – a bit funkier than my previous two Fukano experiences, with the red wine tannins and that fleeting rubbery note conspiring against the dominant Werther’s creaminess
By now I expect a Fukano whisky to grab my attention, and this does. Those herbal notes, what I’m calling the “Fukano funk,” are always a gentle shock to the senses. Though I can’t say it’s pleasant, I also can’t simply say it’s off-putting. It’s not an easy note to like, but it’s easily interesting. This makes Fukano a whisky I find difficult to sip in the background of anything else. It gently but effectively demands my attention.
At uncorking, the whisky tasted a bit disjointed, its rougher elements jangling against the smoother, creamier aspects. Without losing complexity, things seem to have settled in a bit more now. The sweet caramel Werther’s candy note dominates, and I love that note. Without its emphasis, the funk, oak and wine tannins, and that nagging rubber note, might have taken over the experience for me. But the Werther’s pushes them out toward the edges. They’re there, and noticeable, but not the main event.
I suspect the whiskies involved in this blend may be younger than my previous Fukano experiences. To my sense-memory, this whisky is thinner by comparison. That said, the creaminess that has marked all three bottles I’ve tried is present here as well. My understanding is that this quality comes from the exceptionally long fermenting process. And since Fukano whiskies come out of the barrel at naturally low proofs, intensity of flavor is retained for lack of watering down. This combined with the unusually creamy texture gives Fukano its signature elements.
This release leaves me curious to try other cask finished Fukano releases. Their archive includes a Sherry Cask release that can still be found. And they regularly offer experiments. The cask finishing is subtle here, allowing the sherry and wine influence to nudge the core Fukano flavor profile rather than dominate it, as happens with so many American wine cask finished bourbons.
Though generally I’m intrigued by the sum total impact, I remain indecisive about this release. Will it continue to settle as it airs out, and eventually ease into a whisky that’s less attention shaking and more of a comfort-food experience? Or will its composite elements continue to jostle about enough to keep the whisky always the central object of my attention when I sip it, forever teetering between pleasing and puzzling?
Time will tell. And there’s enough good here to make me a willing traveller on this journey.