The popularity of Japanese whisky continues to rise, which has led many breweries to come out with rare editions that reflect local culture. The Wakatsuru Saburomaru Distillery, based in Hokuriku, did exactly that with the Junenmyo Half Decade whisky.
With the whisky presented as an extension of the region, it’s made it difficult for whisky fans to get their hands in the Junenmyo outside of Hokuriku. But I managed to track a bottle down in London at Moto, a specialist sake bar that sells rare Japanese drinks.
The Wakatsuru distillery is the only brewery in Hokuriku and has been producing whisky since 1952. The brewery has gone through trials and tribulations, such as the 1953 fire that burned down a total of six buildings. But the brewery was able to reinvent itself into a powerhouse of craft whisky through constantly challenging the notion of what makes fine tipple.
The brewery poured their heart and soul into the creation of a whisky that celebrates their heritage and local story. Junenmyo is a region nearby the distillery that has a history of producing oil for lamps. In the past, people living in Junenmyo cultivated canola flowers and the oil would be used for lights that would help to guide people through dark nights and bad weather.
The whisky is a blended variety that features selected heavy peated malt from Scotland and contains over 50% of malt whisky. Aged for five years, the Junenmyo is bottled at 40% ABV.
Smoky and heady, the whisky is as warming as the story that inspired its name. A musky aroma rises and unfurls in the nose. A potent hit of woodiness comes in on the tongue, creating a moreish mouthfeel. Notes of spiced oak, cinnamon, sancho pepper and wasabi burn in a cauldron of wonderful flavour.
The initial ruggedness of the Junenmyo is offset by subtle fruity notes. Notes of pear and grape make themselves known gradually, becoming more powerful with every sip.
The Junenmyo Half Decade is the kind of whisky that will light the way towards an exceptional drinking experience. Smooth, gamey and packed with flavour, it’s a must-have bottle for any fan of Japanese whisky.