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Explore the crisp, clean notes of whiskies aged in Mizunara oak

Whisky aged in Mizunara oak is finding fans in India, slowly and steadily

Whiskies matured in mizunara oak have notes of sandalwood and coconut.
Whiskies matured in mizunara oak have notes of sandalwood and coconut. (Istockphoto)

The first sip of a whisky aged in the Japanese oak, Mizunara (a wood indigenous to Japan), starts with the tell-tale vanilla notes, but there is a touch of exotic, something that’s missing in the usual Scotches and bourbons. The flavour will remind you of incense sticks with its sandalwood notes; the finish, though, is crisp and clean with a hint of coconutty sweetness.

Also read | What is Japanese whisky?

This unique taste has helped the Japanese Mizunara oak cask gain a global fan following in the recent past. Scotland, for instance, has several Mizunara cask finishes by brands like Chivas Regal, Dewar’s, and Bowmore. American Bourbon, too, is witnessing growth of Mizunara cask finishes such as Angel’s Envy Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Finished in Japanese Mizunara Oak Casks, released in 2020, and Rabbit Hole Mizunara Founder’s Collection, in 2021. In India, the taste for the Japanese whisky is growing, albeit slowly and steadily.

“Japanese whisky’s success is rooted in a deep commitment to tradition, a meticulous sense of structure, and a mastery of the intricate processes involved in its production,” says sommelier Nikhil Agarwal, while explaining the reason behind the rise in interest in Japanese whisky aged in Mizunara oak in India.

Traditionally, whisky producers across the globe have been dabbling with cask expression with to present a unique offering to consumers. “The idea is to make something a little different and to add a little bit of exotic into the whisky,” explains Mumbai-based Agarwal.

The origin of whisky finished in Mizunara oak casks can be traced back to the 1940s. At the peak of World War II, trade restrictions threatened the Japanese whisky makers’ access to oak casks from the US and Europe, leading to the introduction of Mizunara oak into whisky-ageing and maturing. It’s a native Japanese oak from Hokkaido, and its dominant notes are sandalwood, incense, floral and coconut. Apart from the character it adds to the spirit, Mizunara is deviously difficult to harness. American oak, for example, is ready to harvest in about 100-130 years. European oak, on the other hand, takes around 150 years.

“Japanese Mizunara oak is particularly difficult to work with because the trees will need to be a minimum of 200 years old, even before you think of using them in barrels,” says Rohan Jelkie, programme manager at The Blend, Beam Suntory India. The spirits company launched its centennial limited-edition Yamazaki 18-year-old Mizunara 100th Anniversary Edition last year, priced 3 lakh a bottle. “It can take up to 300 years.”

For Indians, one of the biggest challenge is access to Mizunara finishes. Besides the Beam Suntory offering, Dewar’s Japanese Smooth Mizunara Cask Finish, released in 2022, is the only other option for whisky lovers—and at a more pocket-friendly price of 2,800 a bottle.

Using Mizunara cask for producing single malts in India is daunting. “Mizunara oak casks have large pores, which lead to substantial liquid seepage during the ageing process. Indian single malts are less likely to find potential in this particular variety of casks, where the hot and humid climate accelerates evaporation,” says Siddhartha Sharma, founder of Haryana-based Piccadily Distilleries, the parent company of Indri Trini whisky. 

But there’s a way around it. Sharma says, “There is a lot of scope for experimentation in finishing Indian single malts by soaking oak staves made of Mizunara, for a shorter time.”

Sayoni Bhaduri is a lifestyle journalist based in Mumbai. 

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