Check out this distinctive new rye whisky made in America and aged in Japan

This is a world blend, not a true Japanese whisky

Japanese distilleries are known for their single malts and blended whiskies, many of which have become very expensive and rare over the years, particularly when it comes to the age statement expressions. Japanese rye whiskey? Not so much, as Japanese distillation is really modeled after Scotland and not America. But Hatozaki just launched a limited-edition rye whisky that was made in America and aged in Japan, and the results are unlike anything else you’ve likely tasted before.

Hatozaki is made at the Kaikyō Distillery in southern Japan, located on the coast of the Seto Inland Sea. Sake has been brewed there since 1917, but a century later in 2017 master distiller and blender Kimio Yonezawa started making whisky under the Hatozaki name, as well as sourcing liquid from other distilleries both in Japan and abroad for blending. The two core expressions are Finest Blended, a blend of malt and grain whiskies, and Small Batch, a blend of malt whiskies that were aged in bourbon, sherry, and mizunara barrels. The latest edition in the brand’s limited-edition Omakase series is called Omakase Rye Third Edition Mizunara Cask Finish, and that name should give you a good idea about what’s inside the bottle.

Omakase Rye is blend that contains at least 51 per cent rye that was distilled and initially aged in America at an undisclosed distillery (Yonezawa says that the distillery’s contract doesn’t allow him to reveal where). After maturing in new white oak barrels, the whiskey was vatted so that it wouldn’t evaporate further on its upcoming ocean voyage and shipped to Japan. After arrival at the Kaikyō Distillery, the whiskey was aged in new mizunara casks, a type of Japanese oak that is notoriously difficult to work with but imbues a range of delicate flavours into the liquid. I got to sample the whisky, and it is indeed unique. The colour is a rich dark brown, and the first notes that jump out at you as you sip are balsa wood and oak. It drinks more like a craft rye whiskey aged in smaller barrels than a Kentucky-style rye, which could be a result of its American birth or its Japanese coming of age. There are notes of incense, dark chocolate, ripe berries, and oaky smoke on the palate, and ultimately it seems like the mizunara finish has had a profound influence on the whisky.

One of the key rules set forth by the Japan Spirits & Liqueurs Makers Association is that production must take place in Japan to be called Japanese whisky, although these rules are still voluntary. Obviously that is not the case here, but the bottle’s doesn’t say “Japanese whisky,” just that it was produced in Japan, so this would likely fall under the “world blend” category (Kaikyō is a member of the JSLMA).

Omakase Rye is exclusive to the US market in a limited run of just 3,000 bottle (SRP US$95). This whisky might be hard to find at the moment, but if you’re interested in trying something new and different it’s worth seeking out. You can find the rest of the Hatozaki collection available to purchase from ReserveBar now.

This story was first published on Robb Report USA