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World Whiskey Society 15 Year Old Kentucky Bourbon Finished in Japanese Mizunara Oak Shochu Barrels Review

World Whiskey Society 15 Year Old Kentucky Bourbon Finished in Japanese Mizunara Oak Shochu Barrels Review

Let’s start off with the obvious, this bottle has one of the most crazy toppers I’ve seen on a whiskey bottle in a long time.  I’m captivated by it but also find it to be slightly tacky.  There’s something about it that simultaneously screams high production value and chintzy at the same time.  Which camp do you fall in?

For a company like World Whiskey Society, maybe that’s what they were going for.  At their core, they’re just another Non-Distiller Producer (NDP) buying up barrels of whiskey wherever they can and finishing them in unique casks.  Their pricetags range from “ok, maybe” to “no way!”  This bottle’s $250+ pricetag falls into the latter. 

To unassuming consumers, a high price tag is all the more reason to assume that the whiskey is good.  But more experienced enthusiasts know to never take the price’s word for it.  

This is why reviews and sampling are important tools to avoid paying more money than similar whiskies will taste.  World Whiskey Society probably knows this too, so they use the eye-catching packaging you see here to sell their whiskey in.  This gives each release a feeling of uniqueness that other bottles just can’t compete with.

World Whiskey Society – Who are they?

World Whiskey Society may not have a lot of information about who they are, but some internet digging has revealed that their operation is set up in Pendergrass Georgia.  Apparently the brand is owned by a Russian individual and the operation is run primarily by other Russian workers. 

I suppose this is the reason why they felt the need to make this brand feel more “international.”  Personally, I find it comes off as inauthentic. 

Other brands embrace the cultural divides by celebrating the heritage of the people behind their brands like Rabbit Hole’s Kaveh Zamanian (Iran) or Heaven Hill’s Conor O’Driscoll (Ireland).  Why the veil of secrecy behind WWS though?

WWS lacks a website so you’ll have to rely on their social media accounts to get an idea for what they’re up to.  Basically, every kind of spirit they have released seems to be finished in some kind of secondary cask. 

That’s all well and good – plenty of NDPs do the same thing, but it feels almost as if they are forcing it every time.  Kind of like people that salt their food before tasting.  What I’m trying to say is that I’m sure some of the barrels that WWS has sourced could stand on their own but are not given the chance. 

The Kentucky Bourbon that resides inside of this bottle has been finished for an unknown amount of time inside of Japanese Mizunara Oak barrels.  On their own, Mizunara Oak barrels are extremely expensive.  Before the barrel shortage, they were going for around $6000 per (new) barrel and are almost certainly higher now. 

These Mizunara barrels held Shochu in them first

But as other internet sleuths have pointed out (and the title on the bottle does too), these Mizunara barrels held Shochu in them first.  This likely decreased the cost of the barrel to an acceptable level, but at what price?  

Mizunara is known for its delicate flavors it imparts like coconut, sandalwood and incense.  But those notes may have been lost or covered up after the Shochu was done aging.  Shochu, for those who may not know, is an earthy, nutty spirit distilled from rice, sweet potatoes, buckwheat, barley and brown sugar.  

Famously fermented using Koji

It is famously fermented using Koji – a fermentation made from grains or legumes (rice, soybean, etc.) using the microscopic fungus called Aspergillus oryzae. All of this adds up to a flavor profile that may not be complimentary to the flavor of bourbon. 

WWS thinks it is, though.  This is why they took the chance to finish what appears to be half a tote of mystery Kentucky bourbon in it.  Those totes average about 105-115 proof but this particular Samurai edition comes out to only 102 proof. 

Speaking of this mysterious Kentucky mash bill that we often see popping up, read my article here on who I think distilled it.  If you don’t have the time, I’ll just come out and say it, I think it’s from Jim Beam. No, it’s not their standard mash bill, but then again, Jim Beam has never really told us what their mash bill is, there have just been guesses.

This bourbon was popularized in 2020-2021 because so many NDPs were using it.  All we know is that there was a lot of it and it was all sold in giant 1500 liter food-grade totes (square vats made of plastic that could be stacked and moved easily with a forklift). 

Will the Shochu barrels ruin it?

This bourbon is good stuff, it’s sweet and nutty with a lot of candy-bar characteristics.  But will the Shochu barrels ruin it?  There’s only one way to find out. Thanks to my friend John from Hudson Wine Market for the opportunity to taste and review this bottle. I sampled it neat in a glencairn to find out.

Tasting Notes

Nose: This is one of the lighter noses I’ve smelled on a bourbon.  Sweet Jasmine rice, a bit of lavender, sweet potato gnocchi and coconut flesh are the main notes I gather up in the beginning.  Only much later on do I finally start to get some traditional bourbon scents. 

But they’re all much more faint than the ones I just listed.  I find hints of vanilla blossom, oak and caramel.  It’s almost as if this is bourbon-finished Shochu instead of the other way around. 

Palate: Wow, this is different!  I’m not even sure this tastes like a bourbon.  Yes, there are some notes that make me know it’s probably a whiskey, but this would be very hard to identify in a blind.  Light and “flowery” flavors combine with a delicate sweetness that tastes miles away from traditional bourbon notes of caramel or brown sugar. 

I’m picking up on flavors similar to a very smooth sake.  Odd notes of fennel and another green note I can’t put my finger on are also found.  The whole thing has the sweetness of an agave syrup.  Where is all the Oak? Caramel? Nuttiness?  I can’t taste any of it!  It’s also got diluted white grape juice, unripe pears, rice vinegar and a touch of miso.  This is the weirdest bourbon ever.

Finish: A very light finish that is strangely long-lasting.  Talk about a contradiction!   The light notes consist of rosewater, Green Tea, starchy rice and that strange flavor that I can’t put my finger on, but probably comes from the Koji fermentation.  It’s pleasant and seems appropriate to what I just finished drinking, but it is very far off from tasting like a bourbon. It’s almost like having just drank straight vodka.

Score: 6/10

This isn’t a bad whiskey.  It doesn’t taste like something that I’d order at a bar or buy a bottle of, but I wouldn’t spit it our or refuse a pour.  It’s just… strange.  The finishing cask has totally transformed the bourbon within.  And by transformed, I mean almost neutered it from tasting or even smelling what a bourbon is supposed to taste like. 

Is the Shochu-soaked Mizunara oak so powerful that it effectively neutralizes the bourbon?  It sure tastes that way!  But the more I read on Shochu, the more it makes sense sense.  Even at 20-25% ABV, Shochu can still be used (and stands up well in) a cocktail. 

This is because of the strong flavors it possesses.  If that’s the case, then I’d say that what we have here are two different spirits that cancel each other out – almost.  I don’t think you want that when you’re making a finished whiskey.

Final Thoughts

I’ve seen prices range from $250 all the way up $350 for this bottle.  I just can’t get down with paying a price like that.  Companies like Backbone Bourbon have released barrel proof 78.5% / 13% / 8.5% bourbon in the past year that they sell for $130. 

I know these Mizunara barrels are expensive, but upcharging $120 more per bottle seems preposterous.  Had the bourbon been finished in virgin Mizunara, I can see this price being more appropriate… and more tasty. But as it stands, I would not recommend buying this or any other Shochu-finished bourbon in the future.

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