Yumi Yoshikawa is one of the most recent workers to join the team at the Chichibu distillery in Saitama. Her role at the distillery, which began in June 2013, is quite demanding. Yoshikawa-san is tasked to help provide promotion and visibility to the Chichibu brand through various international and domestic trips developing Chichibu’s portfolio of malts and blends. Before joining Akuto-san and his team Yumi did a 2 year stint at The Highlander Inn (June 2011 to May 2013), an establishment in Speyside that virtually needs no introduction. Coming up to Yumi’s 7th month at the craft distillery, Whiskies R Us gets the opportunity to chat with the ex-Highlander Inn member and ask a few questions.
Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do at the Chichibu distillery?
Yumi: I’m now working as the brand ambassador for the distillery as well as a distillery guide for visitors - although we are not officially open to the public we have special guest visitors regularly. I’ve just started this job so I haven’t got used to it, but little by little I’m gaining unique experiences such as the involvement in “floor malting”, so I’m hoping these experiences allow me to be an ambassador with originality - like our whisky.
What’s your favourite thing about your position?
Yumi: I’ll have a lot of business trips coming up around the world and in Japan so I’ll be able to meet many people. I’m really looking forward to it; it’s quite a special thing for me.
What makes the Chichibu brand special and unique?
Yumi: We started making whisky from 2008 so we don’t have a long history yet, naturally we cannot release a standard 12-year old or 20-year old. However, being a young distillery people can follow our making history and enjoy the road to the future with us. I think that’s a very unique experience in the whisky industry.
What’s it like working at the distillery?
Yumi: Working at the distillery is like standing in the middle of the whisky industry’s stream. Everyday feels like opening a box of candy like I did when I was little, I mean, everyday is filled with excitement not knowing what will happen next.
What are your thoughts on the future of Japanese whisky in Japan?
Yumi: Now, the reputation of Japanese whisky is growing little by little, and it will continue to do so as with Japanese cuisine. Therefore, I think right now it’s very important to build our brand (not only Chichibu but all whisky brands in Japan) with reliable quality.
Many have heard that your goal is to one day open your own distillery in Japan. What influenced you to work in the industry and for this future goal?
Yumi: Actually, when I first visited the Chichibu distillery as a guest in 2008, Ichiro-san told me that he would like to make the Chichibu area have a similar feel to that of Speyside in Scotland. So, I said to Ichiro-san: “if I start making whisky in Chichibu in the future, that’s one step closer to realizing this dream”. Of course, having a distillery and making my own whisky would be great, but right now my goals are to promote our products and tell the world about the Chichibu distillery and its workers. Moreover, it would be great to educate people all over the world about Japanese whisky, which would be good for the Japanese whisky industry. I hope to be able to leave something good for the future generation who will work in the industry someday.
Has Akuto-san become your mentor, and were there any other mentors while living and working in Scotland?
Yumi: Yes, of course! Akuto-san is a very good mentor as a distiller and I respect him for what he does and who he is. His journey to chase his dreams and follow his passion always fascinates me. As for other mentors, I can say that would be Tatsuya who used to work at The Highlander Inn and who is now a brand ambassador for Suntory. He is a great barman and has a great amount of knowledge about whisky, but he’s not only that: his strong spirit and lovely character has opened up new fields in the whisky industry. Moreover, I think every single bar customer and friend I have met are my mentors. While living in Scotland, I witnessed many interesting stories of people’s lives from around the world everyday that fascinated me. These are living memories.
What would you consider being one of your most important learning experiences in the whisky industry, and what is your perfect whisky encounter now?
Yumi: Working at The Highlander Inn and meeting many people from around the world, and working as a team at the Chichibu distillery.
Let's get personal: what’s your favourite Japanese whisky in general, followed by your favourite Ichiro’s Malt expression?
Yumi: My favourite Japanese whisky…difficult question! I would like to say the Yamazaki 50yo but that’s not fair. I can say I’m very comfortable with Hakushu, even with or without age statements or vintages. From Ichiro’s Malt, I really like our single malt expressions from the Chichibu distillery such as ‘Chibidaru’ and ‘On The Way’ a lot. These expressions show the true potential of the distillery even though they were only matured for a few years. In addition, from Ichiro’s Choice, I like the Kawazaki grain vintages very much.