What Is the Japanese Mizunara Oak, and Why Is It Gaining Popularity?

When you realize the history behind certain things, its value magnifies because the story was so powerful and overwhelming that there is this undeniable sense of the appreciation of the hardships, struggle, hard work, courage in the environment of danger, awe, and to some degree, even inspiration.

The world of whiskies — especially how it is made, produced, distilled, as well as the sourcing of materials and equipment is quite fascinating and exclusive in itself. And along the same thread, one particular aspect of Japanese whisky-making that has caught everyone’s eye is the “Mizunara Oak.”

So what is it about this specific species of the oak tree that has left everyone mystified, perhaps surprised — in a good way, and most of all, curious?

The Short Summarized Story of the Mizunara Oak

After World War II, Japan was running scare in resources, including imported casks to make whisky.

Forced to innovate, the country began using the Mizunara oak to age their whisky — a native tree.

the story of the Japanese mizunara oak
Image Source: Dekanta

So why wasn’t Mizunara Oak used before World War II?

It takes a very long time for this tree to mature to become cask usable — about 200 years. Additionally, the other problems this special oak brought (and possibly still brings) are:

  • The barrels made out of it were more prone to being leaky because of its highly porous nature. In fact, Mizunara oak translates to “Water Oak.”
  • That carving out a cask from Mizunara oak in itself was/is a difficult art as the process is susceptible to the wood being wrecked.
  • That the tree doesn’t grow straight and up, posing its own challenges to even work with it in the first place.

Which Mizunara Oak Whiskies Should I Try?

Which Mizunara Oak Whiskies Should I Try
Image Source: Drinkhacker

Numerous resources online would suggest you great Mizunara oak whiskies to try. However, to save some time, below are some of the commonly mentioned brands:

  1. Kaiyo Whisky. They have a few varieties, as seen in the image above.
  2. 13 Year single malt – Mizunara cask from Glendalough Distillery
  3. Yamazaki 18 year single malt Mizunara oak cask. This is one of the most critically acclaimed bottles out there.
  4. Glen Fohdry 12yr Mizunara Oak Cask Speyside Single Malt. For a 12 year, this bottle is fantastic. Plus, it doesn’t even cost that much. Depending on which store you buy, you could get your hands on this under $60, sometimes below $55.
  5. Shin 10 year malt whisky with Mizunara oak finish. Forbes even wrote an article about it.

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The Exclusivity of the Mizunara Oak

The reason for such a high interest in whiskies produced with Mizunara oak is for a couple of reasons:

  1. It’s hard to employ this oak, making all the hard work behind it more valuable.
  2. It’s a rare commodity in comparison to other standard oaks. First of all, to even use it, one would need to wait about 200 years for full maturation.
  3. Experts and even ardent aficionados can tell the difference when Mizunara oak is used. It’s just so unique that the palate can be distinguished enough. A whisky aged in Mizunara oak can deliver complex notes of sandalwood, Japanese incense, sometimes a dominant vanilla profile, coconut, and spices.

As apparent as things can be, the initiation of leveraging Mizunara oak in whisky-making started in Japan, but it has grown internationally too. As a result, more and more distilleries are trying to adopt and experiment with it, developing unique and out-of-the-world whiskies.

As an example, Bevvy states that the Bainbridge Distillers utilized this oak in what they professed to be the first non-Japanese whisky to do so. This event took place in 2016.

Overall, the feeling of luxury, distinct taste quality, high person-hours, and irresistible aroma is what gives Mizunara oak the increased fan-following, reverence, and an exorbitant price tag. It is said that these oaks are 10x more expensive than any other in the world.

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