Shirakawa 1958

The world’s rarest Japanese whisky

A lost distillery, a painstaking search for forgotten knowledge and a chance discovery — it might sound like the plot of a novel but it’s actually the story behind the discovery of a 1958-vintage single malt from the long-demolished Shirakawa distillery.

Whisky from Shirakawa was destined for use in blends, predominantly the ‘King’ blended whisky produced by owner Takara Shuzo Co Ltd, meaning that the vat of unblended 1958 whisky discovered in 2019 constitutes what can be considered as the only extant example of Shirakawa single malt on the planet. It is a true time capsule, something compounded by the fact that no older vintages of Japanese whisky have ever been bottled.

Taste Shirakawa 1958

The Whisky Exchange is hosting a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to taste Shirakawa 1958 at Whisky Show 2022 in London. The masterclass features an in-depth look at the history of the distillery and how the whisky was discovered, as well as the chance to try spectacular long-aged Tomatin drams alongside the Shirakawa.

The search for Shirakawa

The story of this momentous discovery starts at Tomatin Distillery in Scotland, which is owned by Takara Shuzo Co. Ltd, the same company which owned Shirakawa.

Tomatin managing director Stephen Bremner became fascinated by the history of Takara Shuzo’s whisky production, much of which was lost to time. Undeterred, Bremner interviewed former employees and scoured the globe for forgotten documents relating to Shirakawa. He eventually tracked down not just the history of the distillery but also one last remaining parcel of single malt, which he located at Kurokabegura — one of Takara Shuzo’s six production facilities in Japan — in 2019.

Documentation confirmed that the whisky had been distilled in 1958, aged in oak casks and then transferred into ceramic jars. These jars were later emptied into stainless steel tanks at Kurokabegura, where the whisky then slumbered, untouched, for decades.

Own a piece of history

Shirakawa 1958 vintage is bottled at 49% ABV and just 1500 70cl bottles are available worldwide.

Each bottle is presented in a beautiful gold and blackened wood box which opens to reveal the whisky bathed in the glow from a golden background. There is a wealth of beautiful detail to discover, from the multiple nods to Japanese tradition to the illustration based on a rare photograph of Shirakawa distillery in its heyday.

Tasting notes

by whisky writer Dave Broom

    • Nose

      Resinous, slight dry earth, dried citrus peels, a hint of wax. Aromatic. A drop of water makes it more vibrant and also shows clear maturity as well as a hint of incense. Exotic.

    • Palate

      The palate is expansive with a succulent texture and hints of fragrant grass. Fruits emerge in the middle. Layered, spiced, and dry. Water brings out ash from an incense burner, a satisfying mouthfeel and surprisingly perky acidity.

    • Finish

      Nicely balanced and persistent on the finish which picks up mint flavouring and makes it more camphor-like.

About Shirakawa

Shirakawa Distillery was built in the Fukushima Prefecture, 200km north of Tokyo, in 1939 by Daikoku Budoshu, and demolished in 2003. Even though Shirakawa Distillery was one of the pioneers of malt whisky production in Japan, its spirit never officially available as a single malt – that category didn’t take off in Japan until the 1980s, and by that time, Shirakawa had long stopped making whisky.

The land where Shirakawa Distillery once sat was gifted to Fukushima prefecture by Takara Shuzo in 2011 to build emergency housing to accommodate the locals who had been displaced by the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.

About Tomatin

In the late 19th century, Tomatin was an isolated, idyllic and impractical setting for a distillery – a small village to the southeast of Inverness. With the arrival of the Highland Railway it became the ideal site to build a distillery and Tomatin opened in 1897.

Since 1986 the distiller has been owned by Takara Shuzo Co. Ltd, a major Japanese drinks producer, and previously the owners of Shirakawa.