Shirakawa Distillery was located in the city of Shirakawa in the Fukushima prefecture, roughly 200km north of Tokyo. Shirakawa Distillery was established in 1939 by DaikokuBudoshu (a subsidiary of Takara Shuzo at the time) who would go on to build Karuizawa Distillery in 1956. Following the 1947 Antimonopoly Act, Takara Shuzo was forced to divest itself of DaikokuBudoshu. Keen to retain the Shirakawa Distillery, Takara purchased this asset from DaikokuBudoshu.
During its lifetime, it produced several forms of wine and spirits, particularly shochu. From 1951 to 1969, the distillery produced malt whisky, uninterrupted, which was used in the Takara Shuzo’s “King” and “Ideal” blended whisky brands.
Shirakawa distillery first produced malt whisky in 1951 and — though a former employee has a vague recollection of production in 1983 and 1985 — on paper, malt whisky production at Shirakawa was discontinued in 1969. However, the distillery continued to produce other spirits after 1969, particularly shochu. We can’t say for certain when this ended; though by the mid-1990s, the distillery had started suffering from old age. Many of the buildings were decrepit and the equipment was old. By the early 2000s, the Shirakawa Factory was on its last legs and merely used as a bottling facility.
Although Japanese whisky was beginning to gain international recognition and acclaim in the early 2000s, exports were almost negligible and consumption within Japan, where shochu had overtaken whisky in terms of market share in 1985, continued to decline. As such, whisky production across Japan was greatly scaled back at this time. However, malt whisky production at Shirakawa Distillery had ended long before this. During the 1970s and 80s, Takara Shuzo’s focus shifted from whisky to shochu and, although they continued to produce King Whisky, the recipe contained an increasing proportion of Scotch Malt Whiskies. The purchase of Tomatin Distillery in 1986 meant that the company no longer depended on malt whisky produced at Shirakawa. By the early 2000s Shirakawa, which was suffering from old age, was only used as a bottling hall; and in 2003, it was closed and the buildings, demolished.
Even though Shirakawa distillery was one of the pioneers of malt whisky making in Japan, it was never officially available as a single malt. That category didn’t take off in Japan until the mid-80s, and by that time, Takara Shuzo’s focus lay elsewhere. The vast majority of the malt whisky produced at Shirakawa was used in Takara Shuzo’s “King Whisky.” If it wasn’t for the discovery of this parcel of whisky from Shirakawa in 2019, it would have remained an unknown lost distillery