TOYAMA – A sake brewery with over a century of history has turned to crowdsourcing to help revamp its whisky distillery — the only one in the Hokuriku region near the Sea of Japan — and show it to more tourists.
Wakatsuru Shuzo in Tonami, Toyama Prefecture, has been raising money via crowdfunding and other sources to refurbish the dilapidated distillery, which has fallen on hard times since the company branched into whisky-making more than 60 years ago.
“I’d like people to see where we make genuine whisky,” said Takahiko Inagaki, the 29-year-old board director of the parent company and leader of the project.
Inagaki, who worked for a computer company in Tokyo for three years after graduating from university, decided to return to the family business, originally founded in 1862, because he wanted to try to create something by hand.
But the impetus for the plan was pure coincidence. Sampling a 1960 whisky made by the company that happened to be in storage, he was struck by the flavor. “It was extremely multilayered, revealing the taste of the time,” said Inagaki of the unblended whisky distilled before he was born.
The distillery, which is on the same site as the sake brewery, started making whisky in 1952, when Inagaki’s great-grandfather, Kotaro, received his license. Over time, however, the facilities fell into disrepair. There were even leaks and broken windows.
Determined not to let it become obsolete, Inagaki decided to renovate it and host tours of what is the only whisky distillery in the region.
Part of the repair costs — estimated at around ¥65 million (about $567,000) — was covered by crowdfunding, as Inagaki was interested in “making it happen by cooperating with like-minded people.”
The company had planned to raise about ¥25 million on the internet, but greatly surpassed its goal, pulling in some ¥38 million from September through November. Renovations are scheduled to conclude in June.
“Whisky takes several years from production to shipment,” Inagaki said. “I hope people will become fans (of our product) after seeing where it is made.”