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US whiskey aged in Japanese Mizunara casks

Bainbridge organic distillers is introducing the world’s first non japanese whiskey aged exclusively in virgin Japanese Mizunara casks.

Only 200 bottles of this inaugural bottling of Bainbridge Yama Mizunara Cask Whiskey, inspired by the small village of Yama founded on Bainbridge Island by Japanese immigrants in the 1880, will be available globally from Spring 1016 at a select group of retailers and the distillery directly.

It is claimed to be the first non-Japanese whiskey to be aged exclusively in hand-crafted barrels made from rare Mizunara oak, which is harvested from the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. Mizunara oak trees (Quercus crispula) are hand selected for harvest based on the vitality of the tree and the quality of the wood. After harvest the Mizunara oak is quarter-sawn and then air-dried in Japan for at least three years. When the rough wood has fully seasoned Bainbridge Organic Distillers imports the wood to the US.

Once the Mizunara oak arrives in the States it is inspected by master distiller Keith Barnes. Following inspection the wood is transported to a family-owned fourth generation custom barrel cooperage.

The whiskey begins its journey from grain to glass in Washington state’s Skagit Valley where organic Full Pint and Alba barley is grown on a small third generation family farm near the saltwater confluence of the Skagit River and the Puget Sound. After harvest the barley is trucked 77 miles to Bainbridge Organic Distillers facility, where the un-malted grain is milled and mashed. Fermentation takes place in one of the distillery’s four 550 gallon stainless steel fermentation vessels. Yeast used in the production of Scottish malt whisky is used to develop the set of flavour notes that makes this whiskey so special and unique. After fermentation the mash is distilled on the grain where small head and tail cuts are made, and then a second time where the distilling team monitors the run continuously so they can make the cuts at precisely the right moment. As with all of Bainbridge Organic Distillers’ spirits, cuts are made “by hand” and based on the qualities of the spirit as it flows into the spirit receiving tank, no computers or electronic equipment are used.

After the second distillation the whiskey is diluted to 126.5 proof and allowed to marry with the water for a period of one to two weeks. While this is happening the virgin Japanese Mizunara oak barrels are readied for filling. The casks are filled with hot water to allow the wood to swell sufficiently to achieve a watertight state and any leaks are addressed before whiskey is introduced into the barrels. Mizunara oak has a well-earned reputation for being brittle and prone to leakage and this is especially true when working with barrels that have never been used. Once the Bainbridge team is satisfied that the barrels are tight and sound the casks are filled with the new-make Yama whiskey.

The whiskey will rest in 100% virgin Japanese Mizunara oak cooperage until it is mature and ready for bottling. The finished whiskey, a ruddy copper in colour, is un-chill filtered and free from additives, flavour enhancers and colouring agents, and bottled at 90 Proof or 45% ABV. RRP for a 750ml bottle is US$495.

“Obtaining stocks of this rare and sought-after wood, and bringing this special whiskey to fruition, has taken more than six years and the efforts of many people both here in America and in Japan,” says distillery owner and master distiller Keith Barnes. “It has been an effort fueled by friendship, passion, determination and an unbelievable amount of hard work by all those involved. But once we stood back to look at the accomplishment, and taste the whiskey, it’s been worth every effort we’ve made.”

Bainbridge Organic Distillers products are currently available in Washington, Oregon, California, Massachusetts, Virginia and Washington DC. The distillery will be expanding distribution to Georgia, Idaho, Colorado, New York, the UK and the EU in 2016.

21 January 2016 - Felicity Murray The Drinks Report, editor