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Kaiyo: Taking the World’s Most Expensive Whisky Barrels to Sea

Enoshima Sea Blue Sky Mt Fuji Landscape Japan

Japanese Whisky continues to sell out at record speed, with no sign of slowing down—that is, of course, until there may be no more left to sell. From disappearing off the shelf two hours after opening in carefully selected Japanese airport shops to bidding for $300,000 or more in auctions all over the world, we simply can’t get enough of this incomparable, perfected treat.

We know the Hibikis and Yamazakis are famous for this already, but one more, albeit lesser-known Japanese Whisky that’s certainly no exception to this rule, is Kaiyo (“Ocean”); it simply has not sold out yet. And before it does, let’s take a look. Perhaps you’ll be lucky enough to get a bottle before they’re all gone.

Where Kaiyo Came From

Kaiyo is the creation of a a former Asahi employee, Mr. Watanabe, through his connections in and knowledge from his work in the industry. All of the Whisky that Watanabe uses is purchased in Japan. His Whiskies are not single malt from the start, however, because of the practice of teaspooning these purchased casks. A relatively common practice but perhaps not as well understood, teaspooning is the practice of adding a small amount of another Whisky to a barrel, anywhere from a drop (or a teaspoon) to a full bottle. This practice prevents the purchaser or independent bottler from claiming that the Whisky is a single malt from the seller, and selling it under its name.

Kaiyo malt Whisky is distilled in Japan, but isn’t labeled as a Japanese Whisky due to some strict regionality laws coupled with Kaiyo’s rather curious aging process: it takes the Whisky off of the little island for some time and right into the surrounding seas

That said, it has much more to do with a formality for legal reasons than it does in impacting the quality of the cask. Of course, a teaspoon to a full bottle added to an entire full cask  is not likely to be noticeable across the batch, especially if it is further blended by another Whisky purchase. Instead, purchasing a teaspooned cask can be quite strategic in the Whisky process, especially where there is no intent to carry out the entire Whisky process from start to finish in-house; it achieves an easily attainable, consistently high-quality source to craft from.

$7,500 Barrels at Sea

Kaiyo malt Whisky is distilled in Japan, but isn’t labeled as a Japanese Whisky due to some strict regionality laws coupled with Kaiyo’s rather curious aging process: it takes the Whisky off of the little island for some time and right into the surrounding seas. And while this may void Kaiyo’s ability to label it as Japanese Whisky, it is well worth the tradeoff in order to maximize the Arikane Mizunara barrels’ $6,500 to $7,500 price tags. That is, a price tag on a barrel ten times that of any other in the world.

Kaiyo’s oak Whisky barrels, which are the notoriously finicky Mizunara, go for $6,500 to $7,500. Each. This is ten times more expensive than any other casks. Period

Mizunara is known to be one of the most difficult types of oak to work with. The trees are hand-selected and barrels handmade, and Japanese oak trees must age for at least 200 years before they are the right size to harvest for cask-making. Mizunara (a combination of “water” and “oak”) also follows a curved growth pattern, has more knots, softer wood, and proves incredibly difficult to make watertight.

And, in the beginning, this laborious process was still ultimately deemed substandard. When it was first used—of course, during a time of war—the aging was done for a far shorter period of time and left the aged Whisky with only a fraction of the Mizuna’s potential contribution, a biting woodiness. It took many, many more years of experimentation and study for the world-class aging it achieves today.

Purchasing a teaspooned cask can be quite strategic in the Whisky process, especially where there is no intent to carry out the entire Whisky process from start to finish in-house; it achieves an easily attainable, consistently high-quality source to craft from

The now-perfected Mizunara barrel-aging process gives the young Whisky such a wonderfully pronounced and unique flavor, but this aging will still hit a bit of a wall after its initial resting period in the barrel, which amounts to its first few years. However, the Kaiyo Whisky barrels are then taken on to a ship after this initial aging phase, and the wavy conditions at sea help to get the Whisky barrels moving to age efficiently, furthering along its maturing and flavoring only the most devoted could achieve.

The Labels

After this laborious process and sea voyage, the Whisky is taken back to shore, bottled, and sold internationally—a true gift shared with the world to enjoy. Currently, there are two bottles that can be found off-shore: the original Kaiyo, and the cask-strength.

After this laborious process and sea voyage, the Whisky is taken back to shore, bottled, and sold internationally—a true gift shared with the world to enjoy

Kaiyo Japanese Mizunara Oak Whisky

Mizunara contributes a sweet and spicy profile, with aromas of coconut, sandalwood, and kara (a type of incense). The original malted barley blend also features notes of tea, orange peel, and cherry on the nose, with ripe dried fruit and a delicate hint of vanilla from Mizunara’s strong vanilla character. It finishes with its signature Japanese Whisky smoothness and is a delight to sip all on its own.

Kaiyo Mizunara Oak Cask-Strength Japanese Whisky

The cask-strength Kaiyo is a great tasting pair with the original, experiencing all of the flavors magnified. The oak is spicier, and the vanilla even bolder with the orange peel lasting on the palate to a pronounced oak finish. There is a hint of dark chocolate in its depth, with a leveling of fruit. This is a great one to sip slowly on the rocks, watching its flavors mellow over the melting ice.

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Written by Rina Addison

Rina writes, educates, and strategizes in the corporate world by day, and is a freelancer in everything from the sustainability to spirits worlds, at every other time. As a former Environmental Studies major, bartender, landscaper, researcher, Wes alum, and a resident of Idaho, Connecticut, Japan, New York, and back again, she is wholly curious about the world and everything that makes it. (And she tends to write about it!)

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