Akashi city, Hyogo prefecture, can quite rightly be labeled as the Mecca for mom and pop liquor stores. The city thankfully has been untouched by new development; therefore it retains its heritage and unique atmosphere of yesteryear. Strolling down the rustic arcades send you back in time, nothing has changed. Signs, building architecture, décor, and shop fronts have the same appearance as they did numerous years ago and most likely from an era way before my time. On the way home from my recent trip to the White Oak distillery I decided on the spare of the moment to get off at the station and have a look around. I used to stroll around the nostalgic arcades of Akashi many moons ago, at a time when Japanese whisky was unfortunately unknown to me. Now, however, is a completely different story, and something inside, a force perhaps, was telling me some treasure troves were waiting to be found. Most of the mom and pop liquor stores do not easily stand out, so if you are in the area you will need to roam around with some perseverance, and stick to many back streets (opposite the bus terminal and heading towards the sea).
It was in this area, at the tiny liquor store named Mikuni, I found a reasonable gem: Suntory’s 1981 vintage Kioke Shikomi (木桶仕込). The label and various other sources suggests this is a Pure Malt, a vatting of Yamazaki and Hakushu single malts, and bottled at Yamanishi, implying a high percentage of Hakushu used in this bottling. The distilling techniques of this whisky used the “direct fire” method, along with the innovative bamboo charcoal filtration, and a traditional fermentation process using wooden tubs. It has been suggested that both the 81 and 91 vintage ceased production in 1999/2000. I picked up this bottle for a reasonable price, in fact the price I accumulated the 81 vintage was at the same price of the 91 vintage when it made its debut. Many people have suggested that this 81 Kioke Shiomi posses similar qualities to the 12-year-old Hakushu single malt. I’m certainly looking forward to finding out.