Towards a Future Across Borders ── Komaki Distillery
Komaki Jozo was founded in Kagoshima in 1909. We still use the authentic, century-old techniques while also embracing innovation. We have always strived to make our products suitable to ever-changing lifestyles and gastronomic preferences.
Recent social restrictions have finally been removed, and we are free again. People can seek enjoyment as they wish. Komaki Jozo continues to look for ways to develop products that surpass entrenched industry conventions.
We are delighted to announce establishment of Komaki Distillery a place for research and development of alcoholic beverages. This new facility fosters contemporary technology nurtured in our shochu-making heritage. It is set within the rich natural environment of Kagoshima.
Why is a Shochu Maker Distilling Whisky?
People ask why a maker of traditional Satsuma-shochu is moving into whisky.
One reason is our ethos of innovation and striving. It the past, Komaki Jozo’s equipment and inventory were repeatedly destroyed by flooding of the Sendai river which runs beside our site. Yet each loss made us more resolute in focusing on the future. On every occasion made we grew back stronger, thanks to help and cooperation from friends and collaborators. These experiences made Komaki Jozo what it is today.
The pandemic provoked a business slump, but as we return to normality, we feel now is an ideal time for further experimentation. Kagoshima is situated at the southern tip of Kyushu where for centuries people have been outward-looking. We want to take our culture, embedded in shochu-making, into the global sphere of whisky. We aspire to greater interaction with ever larger numbers of enthusiasts.
Wisdom and Technique Nurtured in a Century-Old Business
Komaki Distillery is run by Komaki Jozo, an established Kagoshima producer of authentic shochu. The Komaki family has long been known locally for its wide business interests, from miso bean paste, to soy sauce, to tea. Komaki Isekichi was the first in our long line of shochu-makers, beginning in 1909. He started with just one master-distiller and three assistants. Like them, we still rely on sweet potatoes and rice grown in Kagoshima, by the Sendai River with rich subterranean water sources. Until now, production has been limited to traditional shochu, with brands including Isekichi-don, Komaki, more floral Beni-komaki, and refreshingly citrus Issho-bronze.
Meticulous attention to detail is a feature of Japanese craftsmanship. This attitude dictates everything we do. Our feelings of awe and gratitude towards nature incline us to harmony with our surroundings. Not being a large-scale business, we are able to focus on small-batch products. But above all, we have a strong urge to move ahead into a bright and open future.
Komaki Distillery is now developing a whisky. Additionally, we have received requests from many quarters to develop other liquor-making technologies, and assist overseas development.
Japan’s First Aging in Yakushima Cedar Barrels
Our whisky is aged in cedar barrels from Yakushima, Kagoshima Prefecture. That island is known for its high precipitation, and ample, oxygen-rich water, but the land is largely granite, meaning soil is not nutritious. In such conditions, trees grow slowly, giving Yakushima cedar a dense, hard grain with minimal oil content. Wood is strong against pests and not susceptible to rot.
Malt is the raw material of whisky. We use carefully selected domestic and imported varieties and mature them in cedarwood barrels. The malts are then blended to guarantees a deep, broad taste.
Water is the single most important constituent for whisky, and we draw ours exclusively from the subterranean aquifers in the Shibi Mountains, which run into the Sendai River, and empty into the East China Sea. The Sendai is home to a rare aquatic plant called kawagoke-so, highly sensitive to water purity, and in Japan only found in the Sendai and Amori rivers, where it is designated a Natural Monument.
Komaki Distillery uses water drawn directly from the Company’s own mountainsides.
Yeast is needed to ferment grain into alcohol. At Komaki Distillery we blend distillery yeast and beer yeast (Bavarian Weizen Yeast, used for our traditional Issho shochu). This combination engenders complexity of taste and flavour.
＊Launch of our first whisky is scheduled for 2026.
Taste Enriched in Our Mid-19 Century Stone Warehouse
We use innovative ways to crush and saccharify the malt, while traditional shochu techniques are applied to mature the mash. We have devised three original stills (pot-copper, straight type, 6t x 1; pot copper still, bulge type, 4t x 1; copper and steel hybrid pot still x 1) and by combining the resulting malts, we achieve a more complex taste.
A period of maturation is indispensable to whisky of the top quality. Aging brings out characteristics in the original raw product. Komaki Distillery stores barrels in a mid-19 century stone warehouse, predating foundation of the company. An application has been submitted to have this historic structure designated a Prefectural Important Cultural Property. It is clad in Kajiki stone, a tuff made in pyroclastic flows following an eruption some 600,000 years ago. Kajiki is hard and robust, high in thermal insulation, with good moisture-retention owing to the presence of air-bubbles. This natural, eco-friendly material provides the warehouse with stable interior conditions, further enhancing maturation.
A Rich Environment to Preserve for the Future
Komaki Distillery is situated in Satsuma Town, Kagoshima Prefecture. The sacred peaks of Mt Shibi lie to our north. A ring of mountains gives us hot and humid summers, while winters can be deep in snow. Temperature fluctuates widely within a single day, and the landscape is wreathed in fog for some third of the year. The Sendai flows behind the distillery, where hordes of fireflies come each May. People enjoy viewing them while punting on the river.
Traditions have been nurtured in these rich natural conditions. Makers of traditional shochu have always attached importance to ecology. Bottles are recycled, and excess mash is fed to livestock or used as fertiliser. A waste-water treatment facility has been installed for our new whisky plant. We operate symbiotically with the diversity of nature.
Komaki Isekichi III
Born, 1978, Kagoshima Prefecture. Joined Komaki Jozo, 2000. Launched sweet potato shochu brand Issho, 2009, collaborating with brother Komaki Kazunori, 5th Company President. Became Senior Managing Director, 2011, then Chief Distiller, 2016. Took name Komaki Isekichi III, 2017. Currently aiming to launch first Komaki Distillery whisky in 2026.
Rikako Nagashima, of Village®
Born 1980. Graduated Musashino Art University. Worked for Hakuho-do. Established design firm, village®, 2014, specialising in cooperate and brand identities, signage, book-design, space and graphics. Major works include Pola Museum, Sapporo International Art Festival 2014 and Venice Biennnale of Architecture Japan Pavillion. For Komaki Distillery, directs corporate and visual identities, website and advertising materials.
TIMBER CREW is a building materials manufacturer in Chofu City, Tokyo. Their passion is to bring out the characteristics of each type of timber. While working in flooring, veneer plywood and incombustible timber, they make original products from rare tree species, and from waste materials generated by the timber industry. Produced Komaki Distillery’s Yakushima Cedar tasting table.
Born Hokkaido, 1955. Worked for apparel manufacturer before becoming stylist at Popeye and An-An magazines. Worked in commercial film and advertising, styling actors and musicians. Established The Stylist Japan. Designed Komaki Distillery’s corporate uniform.
Majored in journalism before relocating to France. Returned to Japan as freelance editor and writer, focusing on art, design, craft and architecture. Published pieces in Pen, Casa BRUTUS, etc. Also works in cooperate consulting and exhibition planning. Major works include editing Ripping and An Ordinary Day for photographer Masako Nakagawa, Aaru to Kakera for Akira Minagawa, and exhibition direction for Cecilie Manz’s TRANSPOSE. Undertakes copywriting for Komaki Distillery.