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Food & Beverage

2 new single malts to join Japanese whisky club as industry fights fakes

Sakurao Brewery offerings will be priced in $85 range

Sakurao will launch two labels of single-malt whisky in July, targeting bars and other establishments.

HIROSHIMA, Japan -- Fans of Japanese whisky will soon have two new single malts to sip as Sakurao Brewery and Distillery prepares to enter the market for high-end spirits.

The Hiroshima-based company will invest around 100 million yen ($913,000) as early as August to double whisky production capacity, with the industry adopting new, more stringent criteria for what qualifies as Japanese whiskies.

The surging popularity of Japanese whisky in recent years has left producers scrambling to keep up, and many industry players have raised alarms over imported whiskies being rebottled and falsely marketed as Japanese around the world.

The Japan Spirits & Liqueurs Makers Association adopted a new voluntary standard in February to protect the integrity of Japanese whisky, including a requirement that such spirits be distilled entirely in Japan.

Sakurao, which sells blends of imported spirits and whisky it produced in Japan decades ago, aims to be selling purely domestically made blends by the summer of 2023.

Stills used to produce whisky at Sakurao Brewery and Distillery. (Photo by Toshihiro Naganuma)

Sakurao has produced a range of alcoholic beverages from sake to gin over the years but had stopped distilling whisky in Japan in the mid-1980s because of intense overseas competition. It returned to the field in late 2017, when it set up a new distillery for gin and whisky in an attempt to lift flagging sales.

Because whisky needs to be aged for at least three years, spirits distilled then are just now being readied for shipments. Sakurao plans to release them as single malts to boost its brand image and win new customers ahead of its expansion.

Two labels of single-malt whisky -- Sakurao and Togouchi -- are due out July 1, both priced at 9,350 yen. They will be sold exclusively to bars and other establishments and also exported to Europe, China and elsewhere abroad. This marks the company's first foray into single malts, which are made only from malted barley at a single distillery.

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