Dear WHISKY held the “Whisky Summit at Nishi-Karuizawa 2022” on Saturday, August 20th, 2022!
The event was held at STEAK HOUSE Feu, located at the MMop. The MMoP is built on the former grounds of Mercian Wine Company’s Karuizawa distillery, where the whisky brand “Karuizawa” was once produced.
The event was held with the goal of creating a place for producers, connectors, and consumers in the whisky industry to come together and extensively discuss the charms of whisky.
There were around 50 participants that spanned a wide range of ages, which included children, on the day of the event. In addition to local residents, there were many guests that traveled far from regions across Kanto and Kyushu to attend the event. Guests included all levels of expertise, for beginners to experts. They were mainly compromised of whisky-loving “consumers” with some “producers”, who are involved in the production of whisky, and “connectors” such as bar and restaurant owners. The event progressed with a casual atmosphere rather than with rigid formality.
The event featured a wonderful cast of speakers. They are introduced below.
First up is special guest, Mr. Kotaro Taketsuru. He is the representative of productive development at Taketsuru Shuzou and an advisor for the Japan Scotland Association. He spent his childhood in Yoichi, Hokkaido, with his grandparents Rita and Masataka Taketsuru, the founder of Nikka Whisky. After working for Nikka, he is now involved in branding and product production as an advisor to numerous companies. At the event, he presented 100 years of Japanese whisky history from the perspective of the Taketsuru family.
Next, the representative of the consumers was Mr. Iehiro Tokugawa. He is the nineteenth head of the Tokugawa clan which was the shogun during the Edo shogunate period. He has published numerous books as an international political and economic commentator based on his experience living in the USA, Europe, and Asia. He spends his summer in Karuizawa every year and is a well-known whisky enthusiast. As the representative of the consumers, Mr. Tokugawa discussed ways to enjoy whisky from various angles such as talking about the involvement of whisky with politicians throughout Japanese history and sharing his favorite brands of whisky.
The representative of the producers was Ms. Ola Lopatowska. Based in Edinburgh, Scotland, Ola has been involved in the Scotch whisky industry as a professional in bottling and sales for many years. She shared the profound aspects of bottling, a process that all whisky goes through before reaching the consumers, and introduced a “bottling service” where individuals can bottle a whisky of their choice. Ms. Lopatowska also hosted a tasting with samples of whisky she brought from Scotland.
The connectors were represented by the Master of Bar REM in Saku, Nagano, Mr. Masahiko Hashiwaki. He was a disciple of Mr. Hisashi Kishi, the former president of the Nippon Bartenders’ Association, and has a bottle line-up of over 8,000 whiskies and 400 bottles of bourbon. He offered whisky for tasting from a temporary bar and shared his expertise at the event.
Last but not least is Mr. Koichi Honda, the head of MMoP project promotion at amana Inc. He moderated and supported the event.
Below is a report of the event.
The venue, STEAK HOUSE Feu, is divided into an indoor seating area and outdoor terrace seating area. Guests were first escorted to the terrace seating where they could take in the view of Mount Asama and the abundant nature, as well as observe the outdoor exhibits of the Asama International Photo Festival 2022 PHOTO MIYOTA.
Champagne, non-alcoholic drinks, soft drinks, as well as appetizers such as sandwiches and desserts were offered at the terrace area. With a drink in one hand, participants conversed with each other in the freindly atmosphere.
Guests were guided to the indoor area at 15:00.
The indoor area had a center table full of whisky glasses ready for tastings. The screen, chairs for the speakers, and Mr. Hashiwaki’s temporary bar was located at the front. The wood-based interior with large glass windows allowed for an uninterrupted view of Miyota’s beautiful natural landscape and created a sense of freedom.
First, there were greetings from the moderator, Mr. Koichi Honda. He gave a summary of the event and talked about the Karuizawa distillery and the deep connections the venue has with whisky.
Next was a message from the event sponsor company, Crea Life Partners Inc., President and Representative Director, Mr. Shotaro Kudo. He shared the thoughts behind the event and introduced “Dear WHISKY”, the media site run by his company.
After an explanation from Mr. Honda about the itinerary for the day, we moved on to the keynote speech from the first speaker, Mr. Kotaro Taketsuru.
The keynote speech, “100 Years of Japanese Whisky – Masataka Taketsuru’s 100 Years”, was given by Mr. Kotaro Taketsuru. He is the grandson of Masataka Taketsuru, or “Massan”, the founder of Nikka Whisky and known as the “father of Japanese whisky”.
Next year is the 100th year anniversary of Japanese whisky. In his speech, Mr. Kotaro discussed the progress Japanese whisky has made during the last 100 years and the efforts it took to reach the realization of Masataka’s ideal formation. He also shared many rare anecdotes including inside stories of the Taketsuru Family, teachings from his grandparents, Masataka and Rita, and even pictures and videos that were not available to the public.
Any Japanese whisky lover would know about “Massan”. Participants listened with great interest during this important speech that connected Japanese whisky to the next 100 years.
It was finally time for a toast! Of course, the drink of choice was whisky: the “Longmorn 16 Year Old”, in honor of the distillery that Mr. Masataka Taketsuru trained in Scotland.
The toast was led by Ms. Ola Lopatowska, who came all the way from Scotland just for this day.
While the glasses of whisky were being handed out to guests, Mr. Hashiwaki, the owner of Bar REM, informed guests about Longmorn.
There were also greetings from the president of CERCLE, the provider of the venue, Mr. Yarita.
As the guests listened to the speakers, the preparation was finished and was ready for cheers. The toast was the Scotch version of cheers, “Slainte mhath!” (pronounced Slanj-a-va).
Everyone seemed to enjoy the whisky very much!
Next was the panel discussion on whisky.
The speakers of this discussion were Mr. Iehiro Tokugawa representing the consumers, Ms. Ola Lopatowska representing the producers, and special guest Mr. Kotaro Taketsuru. The representative of the connectors, Mr. Masahiko Hashiwaki, supported the discussion with his expertise from behind the bar.
The panel discussion began with a question from the moderator, Mr. Honda, to Mr. Tokugawa about his relationship with Karuizawa. He has spent summers at the old Karuizawa villa since he was a child.
Mr. Tokugawa shared many stories about his relatives or memories from his childhood such as seeing former Prime Minister of Japan Yasuhiro Nakasone and Pelé playing tennis at the old Karuizawa villa.
At this point, Mr. Hashiwaki took out the “Karuizawa 15 Year Old” (also known as the “dimple bottle”) which he brought specially for the event in honor of the location. As mentioned before, the grounds of the venue, the MMoP, were once Mercian Wine Company’s Karuizawa distillery. Since the distillery closed 10 years ago, the “Karuizawa” whisky brand is considered rare and traded at high prices.
The “Karuizawa 15 Year Old” was tasted and reviewed by Mr. Tokugawa, Mr. Taketsuru, and Ms. Lopatowska.
This was followed by a tasting of an “Old Parr”, which was a brand loved by Mr. Iehiro Tokugawa’s great-grandfather, Mr. Tsuneo Matsudaira, with all of the guests. After snacks were offered and everyone had a glass in their hand, the panel discussion continued.
The panel speakers tasted an “Old Parr” with a tokkyu special class label (former Japanese spirit tax law required bottles with a 43% ABV to be labeled as such) from 35 years ago and gave their thoughts on it.
Next, Ms. Ola Lopatowska discussed the current bottling situation in Scotland, with Mr. Tomohiro Makio, General Business Manager of Whisky Cask Investment at the sponsoring company, Crea Life Partners Inc.
You may be wondering why the discussion topic on producers in the whisky industry is not about distilleries.
Dear WHISKY considers bottlers, who bottle the whisky that comes from the distilleries, as a producer as well. Ms. Lopatowska is developing ways where whisky can become a financial asset and a bottling service where individuals can bottle from a cask with the sponsor, Crea Life Partners Inc. Essentially, bottlers are not just producers in the traditional sense but also producers of new ways to enjoy whisky.
Ms. Lopatowska shared with the guests about the actual process of bottling and even the behind-the-scenes of Scotland’s bottling hall with the translator, Mr. Takeshi Fujimaki.
The journey whisky takes until it reaches us consumers had many details that we heard about for the first time. The guests were captivated by the stories of giant casks that line the bottling hall or how experts fill bottles with great care.
Finally, the moderator, Mr. Koichi Honda gave closing remarks.
Afterward was time for free conversation. Guests mingled with each other while enjoying drinks such as whisky and champagne. There was also a tasting conducted by Ms. Ola Lopatowska with whisky that she brought from Scotland just for this event.
All of the samples were cask-strength (no water added) whiskies that were only available for purchase at the event. It seemed very successful!
That is all for the event report of the Whisky Summit at Nishi-Karuizawa 2022!
This summit is planned to be held regularly from next year. We would like to thank the many whisky-loving guests that attended this first summit.
Expanding the circle of connections with the common point of whisky and transcending the positions of “producers”, “connectors”, and “consumers”. Thinking of new ways to enjoy whisky such as through asset management or art. The summit was an important kickoff towards the next 100 years of Japanese whisky.
Interviews and videos of the speakers will be released soon!