Kirin and Me

gotemba-distilleryAh Kirin. A Pariah amongst Japanese companies in the eyes of many whisky enthusiasts. Yep, the company that owned and stopped production at Karuizawa. Kirin, the company that would not sell that distillery to certain interested parties. So what else do we know about Kirin? They make whisky, have been doing so for awhile, and you know what…..they make some pretty good stuff! Without going into a full history, there was a time up until 2002 where Kirin was in partnership with Seagram. This often meant that Kirin whiskies where blended with whiskies from other countries. Photo below. kirin-seagram-ten-distilleries-720ml-43
Kirin’s purely Japanese production does have a unique house style amongst Japanese whisky produces. You will get the idea if you look at a few of the following reviews. Kirin 20th Anniversary Pure Malt, Kirin Crescent Blend, Kirin Evermore 2002. I once described this taste to an whisky acquaintance in the US and he wrote that it sounded somewhat like bourbon with a high rye content. As for myself, I wouldn’t mistake it for anything but whisky but I got the comparison. What I have found is that the higher the percentage of ‘outside whisky’ used in Kirin’s blends, the less the house style shines through so an easy way to tell. The Kirin Single Malt 18YO holds it’s own against the same age bottling’s from Yamazaki and Hakushu and the aforementioned 20th Anniversary Pure Malt is one of my favorite Japanese whiskies.
So in summary, these Kirin whiskies are well worth trying in my opinion.

6 thoughts on “Kirin and Me

  1. One of the Kirin oddities for me is the difference between the Robert Brown Special Blended whisky (which I do like) and the Robert Brown Deluxe whisky (which I strongly dislike). The Deluxe is supposed to be the better of the two if one gages these things by price alone. For me, give me the cheaper Robert Brown Special Blend any day of the week.

    • Interesting Mike. As you may have read I’m no fan of the Deluxe, though I don’t think I paid anymore than about 12 bucks for it.

  2. Brian, just a few more thoughts about Kirin whisky. When it comes to their future in whisky I can’t figure out what their game plan is. Compared to Nikka and Suntory who seem very aggressive in expanding their market share, Kirin appears to be just flopping around in quicksand. Other than their inexpensive but tasty Fujisan and Boston Club which are widely available everywhere in Japan, their other offerings can be down right hard to find. Most of the stand bars I frequent always have Nikka Black and Suntory Kakubin but rarely do I see a Kirin whisky. I don’t think that Kirin is inferior to Nikka or Suntory, and yet they (in my opinion) are lagging far behind the competition. Heck, I wonder if Suntory and Nikka even consider Kirin to be competition in the whisky arena. Well, these are just some thoughts I have about Kirin. By the way, I have visited Kirin’s Gotemba Distillery and enjoyed the visit there very much.


    • Thanks Mike. I think the last thing I read about Kirin trying to grow it’s whisky sales was a post by Clint at WRU about canned highballs.

  3. I visited the distillery recently, and came away both impressed and frustrated.

    Frustrated, because their widely available expressions seem to be limited to the $12 dollar blend (which wasn’t bad) and the $150 dollar 18 year old (which I liked quite a bit, albeit in 1 tasting)… and nothing in between!

    They have a 10 year old single cask bottling (from 2011…) still available in the distillery shop for a very reasonable price (5200 yen/$50), and I’m really happy with it. It’s much smokier than the 18 year old (actually I didn’t notice any smoke/peat with the 18 year old), but seemed to retain the same house style underneath. I’ll have to put together some notes when I get further on my bottle.

    They have a 15 year old single grain bottling still available as well (again, 5200 yen/$50) along with a NAS single grain celebrating their recent anniversary (10500yen/$100 bucks… the person who I spoke with heartily recommended I pick up the 15 year, as it was supposedly better and stock was running low), Very enjoyable (and very vanilla).

    I guess my point is, between the quality, younger single malt and the rather unique grain whisky, it seems like they have some mid-range product to sell… but just aren’t bothering to produce & distribute it in larger quantities outside of their distillery shop.

    Glad I saw your review on the 20th anniversary pure malt prior to leaving the area – I completely ignored it the first time, then made a 2nd taxi ride back to the shop to pick it up. Look forward to trying it myself…

    • Hi Nicholas,
      Thanks for the report. No doubt Kirin’s focus is not on the whisky side of the business. There is also not a lot of love from those folks who dislike Kirin for closing down Karuizawa. Shame, as they can make some fine whiskies. They have their own unique house style, which makes finding some of the rarer stuff rewarding. Really enjoying their 12YO lightly peated at the moment. Been wanting to write up some notes on that one but have had bad sinus for a few weeks. Glad you could find a bottle of the 20th anniversary and am surprised there is any left. I think I wrote my notes about 4-5 years ago. Hope to read your report.
      Cheers Brian

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