I sleep within the storehouse filled with clear,
colorless new make spirit that is soon to undergo the process of “maturation.”
This process takes a very long time – a few years for the shortest
and twenty or more for the longest. As the liquid within inhales the cask elements,
it slowly turns amber and gains a unique aroma.
In time, this liquid will become whisky.
Is this maturation mysterious, or just inevitable?
The answer is still unknown to me.
The thing is, longer maturation doesn’t necessarily mean better whisky.
This is because each cask has its own peak maturation time.
Some show off their character when young, while others blossom only after many,
many years. It’s not easy to determine the characteristics of each cask.
For this, we depend on the skills of blenders
(these unconventional individuals will be introduced later).
At any rate, it takes a long time
until the whisky is matured and distributed in a whisky bottle.
One can’t live here without a clear image of the future.
So many kinds of casks are here.
Different casks are needed to create a wide variety of unique whiskies.
Look at all of the cask materials. All casks are made of wood, specifically of oak,
but the origins are varied. Oak may come from the U.S., Spain, Japan, or elsewhere,
with these different woods providing different characteristics to the whisky within them.
From left of photo: Wine cask: Previously used for maturing wine, these casks provide a fruity note derived from wine.／Sherry cask: Previously used to store sherry, these casks are made from Spanish oak and produce notes of fruit and chocolate. Recently, they have become harder to procure, but blenders here negotiate directly with European manufacturers to ensure stable supply.／Mizunara (Japanese oak) cask: Made from Mizunara, or Japanese oak, trees in Japan, these provide a unique, oriental aroma from maturation akin to that of highest-grade sandalwood or Japanese incense.／Puncheon: A new cask made from American white oak, these casks have a capacity of approximately 480 liters and allow for slow maturation because the area of wood contacting the whisky is small.／Hogshead: Reassembled from staves of dismantled barrels and large cask heads, its capacity is approximately 230 liters.／American Standard Barrel: With a capacity of approximately 180 liters, these casks were previously used just once to age bourbon whisky. The inside is charred and imparts a sweet vanilla-like aroma.
The temperature in this storehouse is never adjusted,
so when it’s hot or cold outside, it’s the same inside.
Even casks with similar character will produce different flavors during maturation
depending on maturation temperature and position in the storehouse.
This is another interesting aspect of maturation. As temperatures change,
the casks also change, swelling in summer and shrinking in winter.
Alcohol from the whisky evaporates through the wood grains,
causing the alcohol content to decrease gradually.
The Scottish call this evaporated liquid the “angel’s share.”
Having taught humans how to make whisky, angels take their share little by little.
It’s amusing to imagine drunken angels having revelries every night.
Among the many different types of casks,
Mizunara, or Japanese oak, casks are particularly distinctive.
They are very rare, making up only a small percentage
of the several million casks owned by Suntory.
How these casks came to be is an interesting story.
When it became difficult to import casks during wartime,
our craftsmen turned their eyes to domestically grown Mizunara oak.
The casks made of this wood, however, leaked easily,
and the wood’s hardness led to many struggles in cask production.
Blenders too complained loudly at first because the aroma produced
by a new cask was so strong. It was then, however,
that they discovered something important.
New casks certainly produced a strong character,
but with long-term maturation this became something unique.
Today, Mizunara casks are highly regarded by blenders and whisky lovers outside
of Japan, and their existence is indispensable. As you can see,
only time could tell the magic of Mizunara.