Japanese whisky distillery brought back to life with crowdfunding

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 January, 2017, 7:33am
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 January, 2017, 7:33am

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 bring in tourists.

I’d like people to see where we make genuine whisky
Takahiko Inagaki, director

Wakatsuru Shuzo located 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 his lot at creating 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 flavour. “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, has been manufacturing whisky since 1952, when Inagaki’s great-grand father Kotaro received his license. Over time, however, the facilities had fallen into disrepair. There were even leaks and broken windows.

Determined not to let the distillery become obsolete, Inagaki decided to renovate it and host tours of the only whisky distillery in the region.

Part of the repairs costs – estimated at around 65 million yen (about US$567,000) – was covered by crowdfunding, as Inagaki was interested in “making it happen by cooperating with like-minded people”.

Whisky continues to gain popularity in the Asian market, with a growing number of female enthusiasts

The company had planned to raise about 25 million yen on the internet, but greatly surpassed its goal, pulling in some 38 million yen in around three months from September through November 2016. Renovations are scheduled to conclude in June this year.

“Whisky takes several years from production to shipment,” said Inagaki. “I hope people will become fans [of our product] after seeing where it is made.”