Ie Island Distillery, Okinawa

 So much for quarantine...

So much for quarantine...

Iejima is an island of a mere 23 square kilometers, a half hour ferry ride from the port of Motobu, Okinawa. Most folks go there for its crystal clear waters, the multifarious marine life, the rich history, to admire the chrysanthemums and lilies that flourish on the island or to climb the island's central peak; Gusuku-yama. Not this little black duck. I was there following up on intel gained from a local the day before. 

 The abandoned US runway that now links the north and south of the island. Imagine a P38, a Corsair, a B25 rolling down here, because they did. I didn't use it to rev out my Nissan Cube. Honest. Pitty I left the Hayabusa at home.  

The abandoned US runway that now links the north and south of the island. Imagine a P38, a Corsair, a B25 rolling down here, because they did. I didn't use it to rev out my Nissan Cube. Honest. Pitty I left the Hayabusa at home.  

I will digress briefly at this point to say that the Okinawan people are among the most friendly, helpful and engaging souls one could ever hope to meet. One of those helpful souls recommended a visit to the Iejima (jima = island) Distillery. Good advice indeed.

Alright,I was there for the diving as well. What a magnificent creature! The Whale Shark was moderately impressive too. 

Ie Island Distillery offer a tour of the facility and if you have any interest in distillation I suggest you take them up on it. Don't expect English to be spoken but with or without Japanese language skills it's an interesting experience. From 2006-2009 the distillery (owned by the Asahi beer company) was used for the production of ethanol using sugar cane grown on the island. Fortunately for us all, the distillery was then refitted to produce a product designed to enhance our existence rather than destroy our fuel systems.

 The engine room of the Starship Enterprise. Beat me up Scotty.

The engine room of the Starship Enterprise. Beat me up Scotty.

That product is marketed as Santa Maria Rum. The distillery produces three core products under the Santa Maria moniker; a white rum they call Crystal, a Scotch Whisky barrel matured Agricole Rum they call Gold and a cane syrup used as a flavourful sugar alternative and colourant.  

 Hitch employs a bung hammer to hide his most recent larceny.

Hitch employs a bung hammer to hide his most recent larceny.

The casks fall into two groups; those that are topped up with water every six months (this is a tropical island and heat means the angels get their share) and those which remain unsullied to be bottled at cask strength. Alas, the cask strength version sold out shortly after it went on sale. I know this because I offered to buy whatever they had after a sip of the Gold. The next cask strength release is due in November 2016.  

csr.jpg

After a brief period of mourning for the T9 cask strength, I accepted my lot would consist only of the 37%ABV Gold, and forked out a few thousand Yen for a bottle of mostly water. Sigh. 

 Our intrepid rodent has sniffed out the source of this goodness on the back of the casks....

Our intrepid rodent has sniffed out the source of this goodness on the back of the casks....

   Santa Maria       Gold Rum     NAS 37%ABV 2016

   

 

Colour: White wine; a refreshing lack of artificial pigment.

Nose: Lime cordial, grapefruit and kiwifruit, young spirit, bread and butter pudding and vanilla. Young, fresh, complex and delicate. 

 Hitch attempts to remove a Dilithium Crystal from the Warp Core. Unless that's the still.

Hitch attempts to remove a Dilithium Crystal from the Warp Core. Unless that's the still.

Palate: A complex, exotic, tropical fruit basket. Peaches and vanilla ice cream. Surprisingly mouth filling given its low ABV. Finishes with a hint of passionfruit and lingering vanilla; lovely. A lively, engaging tropical treat that combines youthful exuberance with a complex web of fresh fruit. With time a deeper layer emerges; those whisky casks don't overtly assert themselves but subtly bind the whole fruit shop together. Once recognised though, the Scottish influence on this fine spirit is always apparent. 

 Thanks very much to the wonderful folks at Ie Island Distillery. Sorry about the photo-bombing rodent. 

Thanks very much to the wonderful folks at Ie Island Distillery. Sorry about the photo-bombing rodent. 

That Ie Island Distillery has extracted this much flavour from only 37% ABV is both amazing and tragic (I can't wait to try the cask strength version). It exemplifies the terroir of its idyllic home, it's flavours concordant with the floral paradise in which it was created. The Scotch Whisky barrel influence entwines seamlessly with this tropical freshness to produce a spirit unlike any other. And it's right at home on Iejima. 

 Hitch enthusiastically boards the ferry to Iejima. I haven't seen him this excited since I dropped the Glendronach...

Hitch enthusiastically boards the ferry to Iejima. I haven't seen him this excited since I dropped the Glendronach...

Should you be fortunate enough to visit Okinawa, the ferry ride to Iejima and it's distillery will be well worthwhile. You should at least pick up a bottle of Santa Maria Gold for those steamy evenings on Okinawa; it's a great tropical apéritif. 

So, what is the point of reviewing a rum that isn't available locally on a blog about whisky? The point is, comrades, that experiment leads to discovery. A whisky drinker not bothering to visit this distillery because it only produces rum would have missed a great experience. A whisky drinker who doesn't experiment with other spirits will not only miss out on some amazing malt alternatives but will never fully appreciate the magnificence of Scotch Whisky. Ie Island distillery has plans to export worldwide. Should you see a bottle, it will be worth your consideration. 

85/100 

William Crampton

 Hitch thought he had found a private cabin well stocked with titbits....

Hitch thought he had found a private cabin well stocked with titbits....