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【Exclusive Interview】The Whisky Evangelist, Eddie Ludlow

2023.12.22 / 最終更新日:2024.06.15

Eddie Ludlow, the whisky evangelist of the present time, has come all the way from the UK to Japan to spread his words and love for whisky from the quiet town of Komoro in Nagano prefecture.

After having jumped around England and Scotland to provide whisky-tasting events for all the long-awaiting whisky lovers at the company Whisky Lounge, his next destination was set to the newly opened Komoro Distillery, where he helps out Ian Chang, the former Maste Blender of the Kavalan Distillery, and Koji Shimaoka, the founder of Karuizawa Distillers, for the opening of Whisky Academy.

This time, Dear WHISKY exclusively talked to him, and he shared his passion for whiskies and stories about Komoro Distillery with us. Please enjoy this chance to get to know the perspectives of the whisky expert!

Check these articles out!

About Komoro Distillery and Whisky Academy

What is Komoro Distillery?

Komoro Distillery was founded by Koji Shimaoka, who is a businessman, entrepreneur, and the founder of Karuizawa Distillers (KDI), and Ian Chang, the worldly renowned Master Blender. 

Komoro Distillery officially had its fresh opening on July 23rd after many years of planning and overcoming the Covid-19. Dear WHISKY has visited Komoro Distillery and Whisky Academy, which is the educational courses about whisky, so, please check our reports (coming soon) about the visit for the further information! 

Basic information on Komoro Distillery

Distillery Name Komoro Distillery
Founder Koji Shimaoka・Ian Chang
Address 4630-1, Karuishi, Kou, Komoro-shi, Nagano-ken
Phone Number +81 267-28-9963
Official Website https://komorodistillery.com/

The front door of Komoro Distillery

What is Whisky Academy?

Whisky Academy is held in the visitor centre of Komoro Distillery, and they are to educate people about whisky production/tasting knowledges and share some exclusive information about Komoro Distillery.
Our interviewee, Eddie Ludlow is its chief educator, who is a long-time friend of Ian Chang.

When visiting Komoro Distillery, you can choose 2 types of ticket. One is KOMORO Academy which includes Whisky Academy and full access to other activity in the distillery. Another is KOMORO Experience which includes distillery tour guide, welcome cocktail and gift shop.

Basic Information on Whisky Academy

The Name of the Course Tasting 101 ~Learn how to get the most out of whisky~
Price 3,800 yen
Content The beginner level course about the basic information on whisky, especially its flavour and aroma.
The Name of the Course Production 101 ~Learn about the production process~
Price 3,800 yen
Content The beginner level course about whisky production process.
The Name of the Course The Art of Maturation ~How and why whisky matures~
Price 5,000 yen
Content The intermediate level course about the mechanism of maturation.
The Name of the Course The Story of Peat ~Why are some whiskies smoky?~
Price 6,000 yen
Content The advanced level course about the detailed information on peated whiskies.
The Name of the Course Whisky & Cocktails ~Learn how to make classic whisky cocktails~
Price 6,000 yen
Content The beginner/intermediate level course about cocktail-making. You get to learn them from the experienced bartenders.
You can reserve courses of KOMORO Academy!

Basic Information on KOMORO Experience

The Name of the Course KOMORO Experience
Price 2,500 yen
Content You can participate in the tour of the distillery and use their bar as well as the store. You will be served a welcome drink made by the Komoro Distillery’s bartender.
You can reserve Komoro Experience!

 

Who is Eddie Ludlow?

Eddie Ludlow is an IWSC (International Wine and Spirit Competition) whisky judge and the founder/co-owner of the Whisky Lounge. He published his own book “Whisky: A Tasting Course: A New Way to Think―and Drink―Whisky” in 2019, which is about the basic whisky knowledge and tasting for beginners. This book was nominated for the Best Drinks Debut Books award.

The Whisky Lounge is a company that offers tasting events all around the UK. Many famous and new distilleries exhibit at their events, and they have been loved by many whisky lovers.

Dear WHISKY has visited one of their events held in London in May 2023, the London Whisky Weekender 2023.

Eddie Ludlow in front of the visitor centre of Komoro Distillery

Eddie’s Thoughts about Komoro Distillery / Whisky Academy

Komoro Distillery’s Characteristics

Dear WHISKY:
What do you think makes Komoro Distillery unique?

Eddie:
Number one characteristics would be made by Ian Chang, because Komoro Distillery is a very special place to him. This is the first project he’s been able to do outside of the Kavalan Distillery. Komoro Distillery reflects Ian’s visions in detail, where he gets to have his creative freedom and a different environment.

Shimaoka-san (on the left) and Ian (on the right) (This photo was taken from the official website of Karuizawa Distillers)

Dear WHISKY:
How is Komoro a different environment?

Eddie:
The place itself became unbelievably beautiful. For example, the visitor centre is very uniquely aesthetic, and I don’t recall going to any distillery in the world that has a similar vibe.
So, the visitor centre, the whisky-making regime, and then Whisky Academy, they all tie in between something very unique.
And the location is fabulous too, which comes with a tremendous view. The location and the distillery speak for themselves.

Dear WHISKY:
How is Ian’s creativity shown in the Komoro Distillery?

Eddie:
He and architects, in a collaboration, designed almost everything, even the layout of the distillery.
So, Ian was very front and centre in terms of designing the layout and the equipment with the exact idea about what he wants to do at  Komoro Distillery. Because of this actualisation of his vision, Ian is very excited for the whisky-making at Komoro Distillery, which, I think, will make their whisky great in quality too.

The balcony of Komoro Distillery

The Team of Komoro Distillery

Dear WHISKY:
How do you describe the team overall?

Eddie:
I like that they are all so dedicated and passionate about customer service to make sure that everyone who comes to the distillery is looked after, gets to enjoy themselves, and leaves with a big smile on their face. The attitude comes from the people in higher positions as well. Shimaoka-san and Ian have high standards, particularly when it comes to customer service. Ian pays attention to detail, and he is very attentive. 

Dear WHISKY:
Yes, their service and consideration was amazing when we visited there!

Eddie:
We’re very lucky to have the team that we have, which includes the people in the Tokyo office of Karuizawa Distillers as well. They are all hardworking with long work hours, so they definitely deserve some praise for their dedication.

Dear WHISKY:
How are you doing with the team at Komoro Distillery?

Eddie:
I have been lucky enough to spend time with most of the people at the distillery. I am closer to the guys in the visitor centre, such as people who teach the Whisky Academy, simply because I have worked more often with them. I go out to drink or watch a cricket game with them and practice whisky course scripts over drinks at home.
But I have also spent a bit of time with some of the production team as well, and what is lovely about it is that it’s a young team.

Dear WHISKY:
Could you tell me more about the production team?

Eddie:
None of them really have worked in the whisky industry before. However, in some ways, that is kind of a benefit, because they don’t have the preconceptions about the way a whisky distillery should be, which is quite refreshing. 

The Production Team working in the Distillery

The Founding of Komoro Distillery

Dear WHISKY:
How do you think the Komoro Distillery has achieved this great success?

Eddie:
This is thanks to the sheer determination of Shimaoka-san to get this done, especially through COVID-19 and other problems that have been going on, such as a construction problem. The fact that he just kept going has made everything possible. The whole Komoro Distillery is a tribute to all of the efforts that have gone into designing and constructing. I feel very lucky to be part of something quite so special. 

Dear WHISKY:
How did Shimaoka-san get to know Ian?

Eddie:
It was Shimaoka-san who reached out to Ian first.
Shimaoka-san already had in his mind roughly where he wanted to have a distillery, and he even researched quite a bit on how to make whisky. In the beginning, he had been very determined and prepared to have a go at making whisky by himself.
However, soon after he started researching, he realised that he needed someone who had already done whisky-making to make a good whisky. Then, their mutual contact in the industry recommended Ian to Shimaoka-san, because Ian had just left Kavalan at the time.

Komoro Distillery’s Environment

Dear WHISKY:
What do you think is special about Komoro Distillery’s environment?

Eddie:
I always get reminded of the altitude when I drive to the distillery, because my ears pop at some point. Komoro is located 900 meters above sea level. I think that will have some impact on the production with the slightly different wind point as well as the maturation, so these aspects are going to be quite interesting to see several years later. 

Dear WHISKY:
Komoro Distillery’s location makes their production/maturation unique as well!

Eddie:
Moreover, Komoro Distillery’s proximity to the forest is exceptional. The forest creates an interesting macro climate around the distillery. When you walk into the forest just next to the distillery, the temperature goes down. I am guessing that these macro climates all around the distillery could have some different effect on the maturation as well.
In addition to the forest, there is a lot of plant life and trees still to grow around the maturation warehouse, as the people of Komoro Distillery have planted them. They can be used in many different ways, such as a protection of the warehouse.

Dear WHISKY:
What do you or Ian think about the relatively hotter summer than usual in Komoro?

Eddie:
It is relatively hot at the moment, although we have to remember that it is only during the summer months, so it will cool down again.
However, I think Ian is quite pleased with the hotter temperature now, because he would ultimately like to have some whiskies ready for bottling sooner rather than later on a faster maturation.
This heat will help with that.

Dear WHISKY:
How Komoro Distillery and Whisky Academy take part in the goal of sustainability?

Eddie:
Shimaoka-san and Ian have always been very keen to make sure that the impact of the distillery on the environment is as little as possible. I can say that the distillery mitigates the waste of the whisky-making process and knows the eco-friendly technology in terms of the boilers. All the processes they do are as green as they could possibly be. And they are always looking for farmers closer to the distillery to take their drafts away.
In my understanding, there are very interesting and innovative things for the environment that Shimaoka-san and Ian want to do with the materials like the draft. We are planning to release more information on the project in near future, but you can be reassured that they are looking forward to doing more.

Whisky Academy of Komoro Distillery

Dear WHISKY:
What is the role of Whisky Academy in Komoro Distillery?

Eddie:
With the Whisky Academy, we want to attract visitors from all over the world and give them a reason to stay at the distillery for as long as possible and come back. In the future, there will be some visitors who would do that just to see the progress of the spirit. Whereas, there are others that need a little bit more entertainment and education to enjoy visiting the distillery.
Also, since we are not making gin, it takes time to make profits till Komoro Distillery’s whiskies are matured. We are hoping that Whisky Academy can plug some of the cost down. 

The view from the maturation warehouse

Dear WHISKY:
How was Whisky Academy  started?

Eddie:
One of the reasons that Ian and Shimaoka-san came to me was that Shimaoka-san actually read my book, “A Whisky: Tasting Course”. When they met, He said to Ian, “I have read this book and learned about whisky. Do you know the author?” Then, Ian was an old friend of mine, so he obviously had connected Shimaoka-san to me. It all happened very naturally. As soon as they got me on board, I think there was already an idea to do the academy. 

Dear WHISKY:
Are you planning to increase the variety of the courses?

Eddie:
Yes! For now, we only have 5 courses, because we wanted to make sure that we got the first few courses as perfect as possible, rather than doing 10 or 12 for the opening which are not quite ready. Preparing and polishing the courses would take some time, especially in order to deliver them in English and Japanese. However, we are definitely planning to increase them. Originally, we had a map of about 20-25 courses, so we had all these initial ideas of more diverse classes.  

Dear WHISKY:
What makes Whisky  Academy different from other whisky academies?

Eddie:
I am very keen that our Whisky Academy has a particular personality, which makes its courses really enjoyable for people. If whisky classes do not have a personality, many things could look very good on paper, but they are not fun to take. Even if they have very good information, the lack of personality lets them down.
Also, I make sure that the information we give out is always very correct, and there is no marketing fantasy, because we want to be able to tell people the truth about whisky and how it’s made. 

Inside the class room

 

Eddie and Komoro Distillery

Starting to Work at Komoro Distillery

Dear WHISKY:
How did you decide to work at Komoro Distillery?

Eddie:
I started working with Shimaoka-san and Ian in September 2020. It was in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, and our business of the Whisky Lounge was devastated by it, since we were not able to hold whisky-tasting events. So their timing was perfect to bring in a new project for me to start. 

Dear WHISKY:
Still, working in Japan must have been a tough decision to make!

Eddie:
Not really, because the fact that I got to work with Ian pushed me towards the decision. I’ve known Ian since 2010, and I still think back to the time when Dr. Jim Swan (the worldly renowned whisky distillery consultant) introduced Ian to me. So, I have always wanted to work with him again after I had helped him with the launch of Kavalan Distillery’s whiskies in the UK market.
That is why, when I took a look at what Ian and Shimaoka-san were planning and what kind of stuff they wanted me to get involved in, there was no hesitation. 

Dear WHISKY:
Was it difficult to work for Japanese Distillery in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic?

Eddie:
In some ways, yes. Because of the Covid-19, there was no real thought about an imminent trip to Japan, although I really wanted to go. But the progress of online meeting technology made it possible to work with them. Everything was over online for nearly two years. I think that’s one thing COVID-19 made possible. 

Opening Whisky Academy

Dear WHISKY:
What are some other struggles that you have experienced opening Whisky Academy?

Eddie:
I think the biggest issue is the language barrier. I cannot speak Japanese yet, so all of the courses have been designed in English. Therefore, the challenge has been for people to adapt the scripts in Japanese. At the same time, when I am lecturing the course, there needs to be a translator too, which means the flow is not quite fluid. 

Dear WHISKY:
The language difference is definitely difficult!

Eddie:
Moreover, I have been doing whisky tastings for a long time, and I have never used a script. That is why, to actually sit down and write many scripts is constantly affecting my usual style.
But, I try to think that this is a good exercise in discipline. Even now, I would sit down on the computer looking at the scripts that we have gone through dozens of times, and I still spot things that I haven’t noticed and fix them.

Dear WHISKY:
What exactly about scripts has been a challenge for you?

Eddie:
The challenge with the script is to make it sound as natural as possible, and I am actually training two of the guys at the distillery to do the English, because I have to leave Japan in late August. We have been going through the English script together. Although it has been a challenge, I am pretty confident that, by the time I leave, they will be able to deliver two or three of the courses alone. Also, I will probably appear virtually as well.

Dear WHISKY:
What do you enjoy when you are creating contents for Whisky Academy?


Eddie:
It is quite interesting to build the courses because I always have to do a lot of extra research, which makes me learn something new and mysterious every time even now. In the process, I get to speak to some of my friends that are more on the scientific side of whisky industry and discover new things for myself. Also, part of the interesting things about whisky is the kind of mysticism. 

The Course Guides Displayed on the Cask

The Courses of Whisky Academy

Dear WHISKY:
What did you value the most when you made the courses?

Eddie:
What I valued the most is to make Whisky Academy a place where anyone can come easily and feel eager to learn more about whisky when they leave.
I would never call myself a whisky expert. I love whisky and I have learned many things over the years. But I’m not Jim Swan, I’m not someone who really understands the scientific nature of whisky-making. 

Dear WHISKY:
It is nice that you are thinking from non-experts perspective too.

Eddie:
What I always try to do, not only at Komoro but in everything that I do including the Whisky Lounge, is to make things accessible for people at any level of whisky knowledge and display our passion for the subject. We always want people who come to the academy or the tasting event to start to feel the same passion and love for whisky that I have.

Dear WHISKY:
What are the characteristics and your thoughts on each course?

Eddie:
We chose these courses specifically so that we have something for the beginner and for the intermediate. The most important thing is to have something that anyone can take part in.
For example, people who want to learn about whisky but do not know anything about it can take “Tasting 101” and “Production 101”. People who have a little bit more experience and want to learn more about maturation can take “The Art of Maturation”

Dear WHISKY:
You have prepared courses for every level!


Eddie:
Meanwhile, we have so many other courses planned that we couldn’t possibly get ready in time. But I have already started thinking about that, so I am sure that we will have another two or three courses before the end of the year.

Eddie teaching at Whisky Academy

 

About the Whisky Lounge

You can read another interview with Eddie about Whisky Lounge in our report of the London Whisky Weekender 2023!

Check this articles out!

Managing the Whisky Lounge

Dear WHISKY:
Do you plan to host the Whisky Lounge outside England / Scotland?

Eddie:
We initially wanted to, and we also have many plans to do stuff outside the UK, but, currently, we are in a situation where we still need to ensure the survival of the business. Hopefully, we can start to grow again. So, the answer is we would love to in the future.

Dear WHISKY:
What do you value when you choose exhibitors?

Eddie:
They choose us most of the time.
We are quite lucky to have something of all kinds of distilleries from the new ones to the traditional ones, as we have helped out many of the traditional Scotch companies with their product launches, customer research, etc.
At the same time, we have in our mind that we want to give a good representation of new or small distilleries with their new products. The smaller distilleries tend to have a small team with much slower staff turnover, so it is easier to maintain a connection with them too.

London Whisky Weekender 2023

Working for both Whisky Academy and the Whisky Lounge

Dear WHISKY:
How do you plan to balance Whisky Academy and the Whisky Lounge?

Eddie:
And all of my business partners, Amanda, Ian, and Shimaoka-san have been very understanding about having to do two jobs at the same time. Although it has been quite a heavy workload, I will never only think about either of them.
I also try to overcome the time difference. For example, me and Amanda often have meetings with the people of Komoro Distillery, which normally takes place in quite early mornings in the UK, because that is around 4 or 5 pm in Japan.

Dear WHISKY:
What about balancing your time with your family?

Eddie:
The effort of balancing is the same with my family. Me and Amanda always say to each other at night that we need to stop talking about work.
Now I call home by sometimes waking up at 6 am, which would be at 10 pm in the UK. However, being here makes you appreciate the time with your family.

 

About the Book “Whisky – A Tasting Course”

Whisky: A Tasting Course (The Photo is from The Whisky Exchange)

The Reason for Writing the Book

Dear WHISKY:
Next question is about “Whisky – A Tasting Course”, which was the reason for Shimaoka-san to approach you for the founding of Whisky Academy. What has prompted you to write the book?

Eddie:
Actually, the publisher approached me first. They sent me an email, and I originally thought it was a joke by one of my friends. But I got a phone call from them, and that is when I realised it was an actual offer. Subsequently, I went to see them in London.

Dear WHISKY:
What made you take the offer?

Eddie:
They explained that they wanted someone with a different perspective than those with experiences in writing books. I agreed with it, because my interest aligned with their concept of introducing the whisky-tasting to any level of whisky-drinkers, and writing the book just felt like an extension of what I’ve been doing for years.

Dear WHISKY:
The idea definitely matches what you do in Whisky Academy or the Whisky Lounge!

Eddie:
Yes, but their idea behind the book was initially based on a similar book of wine tasting courses, which had been quite successful, and they wanted to try the same thing for whisky. So, the original idea was already there. Nevertheless, as soon as I started writing, I came to stamp my own personality on it, and I ended up changing a lot of stuff about the original idea. For example, the whisky diagrams in the book was my idea.

The Process of Writing the Book

Dear WHISKY:
What were some struggles you encountered when you wrote the book?

Eddie:
One of the biggest challenges was trying not to write too much. You would have a space you need to fill with a certain amount of words when you write a book or article. I needed to say exactly what I wanted to convey in a limited amount of words. Nevertheless, I think we covered a good amount of ground. 

Dear WHISKY:
What about the aspects you enjoyed writing the book?

Eddie:
The editorial process with an editor was fun. He was interested in whisky but he knew nothing about it, so he always posed me with interesting questions that I never thought of. This lets me see things from a new perspective. This helped me write in a slightly more measured style for people without whisky knowledge.

After Writing the Book

Dear WHISKY:
What has changed since you wrote the book?

Eddie:
Although I didn’t write it to further my career, I think it has given me more credibility. It is very nice when people come up and talk to me because of the book. I think this Whisky Academy is the most direct example.

 

About Eddie Ludlow Himself and His Thoughts on Whiskies

Eddie’s Thoughts on the Japanese Whisky Market

Dear WHISKY:
What are your thoughts on the Japanese whisky market?

Eddie:
I think the Japanese whisky market is always very exciting, intriguing, and frustrating at the same time.
That means, although I think they would have achieved more if there had been more collaboration, I think they are incredible. Some of the Japanese whiskies I have tasted are historically ones of the best that I know. 

Dear WHISKY:
How do you think the Japanese whisky market will change in the future?


Eddie:
I think the future of Japanese whisky would be very interesting as well, because they have got so many new potentials like Komoro Distillery or Chichibu Distillery. They also have so many sake and shochu breweries/distilleries deciding to make whisky, who might create interesting flavors.
Also, there are very young people in the industry like the staff of Komoro Distillery. So I am looking forward to them leading the Japanese whisky industry in the future.

Eddie’s Involvement in the Production of Whiskies

Dear WHISKY:
Would you like to get involved in the production of whiskies too?

Eddie:
I would love to get involved in production. But I want to be more on the blending side. I am more interested in the next stage of whisky-making, tasting the whisky from the different casks, ages, and then figuring out how to put it all together. 

Eddie’s Thoughts on Whiskies

Dear WHISKY:
What do you like the most about whisky?

Eddie:
I love everything about whisky, since it is such a versatile drink. And I love enjoying the highball culture in Japan.
The highball culture gave me a new perspective on whisky. In the UK, we tend to drink whisky either neat or on the rocks. However, with the style of highball, instead of drinking whisky for some of the evening, I can drink it all evening. I could even enjoy switching back and forth, like starting off with a highball, drinking neat later on, then going back to a highball.
Next summer, I will be pushing the highball culture in the UK too! It will be a long term project.

Dear WHISKY:
What is your ideal whisky then?

Eddie:
Firstly, it needs to be interesting. If the whisky is interesting, sometimes, you can forgive certain things about the whisky. But the uniqueness also needs a balance with its quality in flavor and aromas too. In general, the nose and the palate should match the finish.
Also, although I like most of the whiskies and still drink heavily peated whiskies, I tend to prefer light to medium peat or non-peated whiskies.
All in all, I think it is important to taste every kind of whisky and judge it on its merit. I still believe that doing the blind tasting is the best way to assess them. 

Dear WHISKY:
You do the blind tasting at both the events by the Whisky Lounge and Whisky Academy! Why do you recommend the blind tasting?

Eddie:
Blind tasting is the best way to be surprised and to really test your senses. Sometimes their names and just bottles speak too loud. Everything serves to deceive your senses and distract you from the real whiskies, which is the liquid inside the bottle.
So many people come into the tasting with very fixed preferences. They sometimes get surprised to see the bottles of what they tasted and liked blindly.

Whiskies for the tasting in one of the courses

 

Please give us Dear WHISKY some messages!

Dear WHISKY:
Could you give the readers of Dear WHISKY some messages at the end? 

Eddie:
Always keep it real and never take whisky or anything too seriously. They are there to be enjoyed. You should enjoy your life with your friends, family, highballs, KFC, and cricket!

 

At Last

This is the end of our interview with Eddie Ludlow!
Thank you so much for reading till the end! I hope you enjoyed getting to know some insights from the whisky expert and the background stories about Komoro Distillery!

We have actually visited the event “London Whisky Weekender 2023” by the Whisky Lounge, as well as Whisky Academy at Komoro Distillery!
Please read the reports and get to know more about the works of Eddie!

Check these articles out!

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