Kujira Ryukyu 12 Years

Kujira Ryukyu 12 Years

Kujira means whale in Japanese, a symbol of generosity and peace. On the island of Ryukyu people consider this animal to be a sort of guardian of nature. Masahiro distillery in Okinawa, Japan, was founded in 1883. In 2018 the eight-generation owner launched their first gin and ventured into whisky production. Recently they also started the Kujira Ryukyu series.

Surprisingly this series – named after the Ryukyu islands but not distilled there – already includes expressions up to 31 years of age. It turns out they are selling spirit from other distilleries to achieve this.

Moreover there are different types of spirit. Most expressions in the series are blended grains or single grain whiskies, but in this case rice is also used as a grain. Information is not conclusive, but I believe today’s dram is distilled with 100% Indica rice and black Koji yeast unique to the Okinawa area. You may know Koji yeast from sake and schochu production. After maturation in oak casks, they call it whisky.

We are trying Kujira Ryukyu 12 Year Old, fully aged in sherry casks. The spirit comes from Kumesen Syuzou distillery, founded in 1952 and distilling whisky (from rice and other grains) since 1989. We’ll see whether they can continue to call it whisky once the new regulations on Japanese whisky take effect.


Kujira Ryukyu Whisky 12 yo (40%, OB +/- 2022)

Nose: more classic than I feared, although it is definitely a hybrid of styles. Raisins and caramel notes from the sherry casks, but also vanilla and leather, much like American whiskey. Then also a distinct balsamic touch with weird metallic notes in the background. Sweet plums and mint. Hints of oranges and anise too.

Mouth: more vanilla and a more rummy profile now, I would say. Molasses, caramel, corn syrup. Still a balsamic note, alongside a bitter woody note, both slightly out of tune. Hints of ginger and plenty of plankish notes after a while. Then it also develops an unexpected sourness.

Finish: not long, still balancing sweet and sour notes.

It’s not exactly void of off-notes, but there are pleasant sides to this rice spirit. I think the sherry cask helped to keep it afloat. However, once you take into account the retail price in Europe, it becomes almost impossible to recommend. Available from Whiskysite.nl (also samples if you like).