Japan's southernmost island of Kyushu is home to rolling hills, verdant farmlands, and over two dozen imposing volcanos. Its location at the tip of Japan also makes it geographically closer to the country of South Korea than it is to its own capital of Tokyo, a fact that has influenced various elements of the city over the centuries.
It is this sense of the meeting of cultures that has influenced Asakura Premium, a new koji whisky recently launched in Singapore. Asakura Premium might be a new entrant into the world of spirits, but it carries with it a rich and storied history. It is brewed by Shinozaki Distillery, a famed family-run business that dates back to the Edo period. It's currently run by the eighth generation of the family, namely Michiaki Shinozaki. That Kyushu is still recovering from a series of deadly floods in 2020 at the height of the pandemic — which killed 77 people and destroyed scores of homes and businesses — makes the launch of Asakura Premium even more heartening. The whisky is produced under the imprimatur of Kyushu Spirits, which is run by Anglo-Indian Vikramm Chand — a Japanese permanent resident who was born and raised in the country — furthering Kyushu's narrative of inter-cultural collaborations.
“Growing up in Japan, I naturally learned to appreciate both sake and whisky from a relatively young age," says Chand. "I was also very fortunate to travel around the country, and one thing that constantly struck me was the incredible craftsmanship present throughout Japan — in particular, the small, artisanal distilleries on Kyushu island, which made use of the koji fermentation methods.”
Chand is referring to koji, the mould at the heart of a wide variety of Japanese recipes — including Asakura Premium. Nobunari Sago, Kyushu Spirits' distribution manager, says that koji is “an essential ingredient” in Japanese cuisine. So when it came to creating a whisky that embodied the best of Japan's culture, Sago says it was an easy decision.
“Koji is used in the fermentation process of sake, shochu, miso and soy sauce,” explains Sago. “The enzymes in koji create a good umami flavour, a rich aroma and a unique taste that characterise many of Japan's most popular dishes.”
The whisky is currently available exclusively in Singapore, and is stocked at a variety of restaurants across the island, including the revamped Whitegrass restaurant, Koma and Sake Labo.
Says Chand: "Our mission is to respect our distilleries’ traditional ways, and to share the resulting craft hybrid spirits with the rest of the world.”
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