The Ikinokura Distillery is located on Iki Island, the largest island of a small archipelago situated to the north of Nagasaki and west of Fukuoka, Japan. Established in 1984 after the merging of six distilleries, Ikinokura primarily produces shochu and now bottles its exceptionally matured stocks of koji whisky under the label Ikikko.

Thanks to the island’s bounty of rice and abundance of mineral water, Iki boasts a long history of sake and shochu production. In fact, at its peak in 1899, the 53-square-mile island laid claim to 55 distilleries (now consolidated to just seven)!

Distillation technology is believed to have arrived in Japan through trade with continental Asia via Ryuku (now Okinawa) or—and potentially simultaneously—through trade with Korea via Tsushima and neighboring Iki, marking the island as one of the first places where distillation occurred in the country. Though the island possesses the second-largest area of rice paddies in Nagasaki Prefecture and a rich tradition of brewing and distilling rice, Iki Island is actually known as the birthplace of barley shochu!

During Japan’s Edo Period when farmers were heavily taxed on their land and were required to pay a large portion of their rice yield to local authorities, the government considered it theft for farmers to distill their rice before it could be counted, and they outlawed its distillation. This policy encouraged the islanders to experiment with the fermentation and distillation of barley using koji rice, thus yielding the first barley shochu.

Ikikko begins as shochu produced in that traditional manner, in accordance with the Iki Shochu G.I. which requires production on Iki Island from a mash bill of two-thirds unmalted barley and one-third koji rice. Through extended maturation in ex-Oloroso sherry casks, the shochu is transformed into Ikikko, an exciting new entry into the growing category of koji whiskies.