Friday, November 28, 2014

Release Reminder - Highball Cans Bearing the Founder of Nikka

Back in August Asahi Breweries, Ltd.  announced the forthcoming release of two new premixed beverages that will hit the market. Many of you have already seen pictures of the beverages circulating on the net and read about the anticipated release, in conjunction to the hit NHK drama ‘Massan’, so nothing new - just a reminder, but many have been waiting for the cans to hit the shelves. To commemorate the Nikka Whisky Distilling Co. Ltd 80th anniversary and milestone of Masataka Taketsuru’s birth, 2 illustrative premixed cans will be released nationwide from December 2, 2014. The limited edition cans that consist of a ‘Taketsuru Highball’ (7% abv) and a ‘Rita Highball’ (liqueur 7%abv) will be on sale until the end of March 2015. 

Image kindly borrowed from Asahi Breweries Ltd. official press release in Japanese (here).

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

New Suntory Release for Bic Camera

If you’re looking for a new release that has recently hit the market, other than the new 'Sherry & American White Oak 2011 Komagatake', then pop into a Bic Camera store nearby. The chain establishment was once renowned for carrying ridiculously cheap Owner’s Casks at a time when Japanese whisky perhaps didn’t have the popularity as it does today. It is fair to say a release by the mega store is well overdue but only this time, and like most things these days,  you will be paying for it.

Characterized as carrying a heavy oriental profile, the no-age-statement premium Japanese whisky has been selected and blended for Bic Camera by Chief Blender Shinji Fukuyo. According to specs this expression was exclusively blended with the core component being matured in Mizunara casks with an average maturity of around 25 years or more, with the addition of Spanish Oak matured smoky malt and grain whisky serving as an element. Although neither the front nor back label states it in writing apparently this is limited to 1000 bottles, and available at most major stores. Despite the interesting label, Mizunara influence, reasonable fancy wooden box, and it being a limited edition, I cannot see these flying of the shelf in a hurry, given the fact it is a blended whisky with a retail price of 39,744 yen (including tax) – just a personal opinion.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2003 for Whisky Shop W. 4th Anniversary

Distilled: 2003 - Bottled: 2014 - Cask# ADDY3038 - Wood Type: Spanish Oak - Cask Type: Bota Corta

Nose: Fresh soft licorice sticks in brown paper bags (extremely evident with water). Alongside this there's a sweet honey BBQ steak marinade to be had. Soldering on with the sweetness you get Black Forrest cake, berry candy and/or red jellybeans, red Shiso juice, and marshmallow coconut and strawberry biscuits (Arnott’s). Umeshu. Fry's Turkish delight. The licorice keeps popping up only this time as all sorts. Slight berry vinegarette dressing...definitely some subtle sourness going on, this is masked with the addition of water, which also adds brown sugar mince pie.

Taste: On first contact you'll get a heavy dose of spicy soy honey marinade, spicy mince pies, and spicy blackberry sauce. Then, it transforms to rose hip and dates, but still leaving quite a prickly sensation on the palate. Water cuts that initial spice attack - mellow it out creating a reasonable balance however, it becomes a little dry when diluted. 

Finish: Egyptian dates and blackberry compote. Interestingly, with water, a mellow licorice flavoured gum pops up - think along the lines of a well-chewed piece of Wrigley’s P.K. 

Comment: Enjoyable enough. I personally would have liked something a bit more to happen on the palate. Perhaps that will happen at a later date.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Nikka Single Coffey Grain 12yo Distillery Release 55% Abv

Nose: It is, as the label says, 'woody', and it's an interesting mix of distinctive woods such as red cedar and white pine that is set against a layer of vanilla cream and Pascall milk bottles - soft, chewy, sweet, creamy, milk flavoured lollies. Initially there is a few seconds of suggested varnish (wood/nail) but not in an off outing way- it fades quite quickly giving way to evident banana cake. Honeycomb and stewed apples with cloves. Then, white sugar mixed with butter until creamed. Past this, a mild sour note emerges - think sour yogurt but not in an unpleasant way. Yakult also rolls of the glass before it drifts back to a mixture of lightly salted margarine, fresh wine boxes/crates, fresh (uncooked/raw) corn cobs, oak, and mild (green) vegetal notes. Very seductive, rich, and matured grain. 

Taste: Perhaps this should have been given the title: 'Woody & Mildly Spiced' when it comes to the palate. Bang on spice up front - Cajun and cracked pepper balls (water mellows this while producing a reasonable silky mouthfeel). Mild wood spice, Butter Menthols, cedar planks, creamy vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg. Oak. There's a slight bitterness mid palate - walnuts. Cracked pepper vita wheat. 

Finish: Reasonably long. Buttered baked radish. Walnuts, and again that Cajun spice, which is much more mild on the finish.

Comment: I'm actually a big fan of single grain - Scotch and Japanese.  Many drinkers often say that all single grain whiskies taste the same however I disagree! Put this side-by-side with another Japanese single grain expression and you will immediately see the differences. I would have liked to got a bit more out of the palate though. Rewarding nose.

Note: Although the label clearly says 'single Coffey grain' it states (in Japanese) that it also contains malt.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Chichibu Single Cask for Silver Seal 2014 Review

Barley: Floor Malted Optic - Cask# 659 - Cask in: January 2010 - Bottled: February 2014 - ABV: 62.4% - Outturn: 239 bottles 

Nose: Enticing sweetness upfront. Trademarks of a decent bourbon barrel: vanilla cream, French toast, butter scotch, nama caramel, eggnog and banana milk. Oak. The rich sweetness continues to prevail along with time adding white chocolate, butter menthols, and lovely bakery pastries (both sweet & savory). This Chichibu really dominates - truly complex. With time light cologne aromas, musk candy, wafer biscuits and then, out of the blue a dusty lumber shed. Water for the main part initially ramps up the heavy sweetness (rocky road chocolate – marshmallow, jelly, coconut, and nuts) however, water gradually tones down the sweetness creating an interesting savory note (Saladas - saltine crackers) and summer fruit components (honey dew, cantaloupe, and then some lychee). Lurking - flat creaming soda, chamomile tea, and some freshly cut rich flower stems. Again, very complex. 

Taste: Creamy vanilla. Spiced nuts (mainly walnuts and peanuts) and wood spice. Bitter chocolate wafers. Minerals. There's an interesting spicy butter corn concept also in play that is quite nice. Mildly spiced honey. New leather. Cinnamon. Lychee. Green olive pips. Whole wheat and/or a yeast. Only with water you really get to experience some of the sweetness as you do with nose, mostly in the form of cinnamon and brown sugar sprinkled over overripe banana. This, along with barley sugar and Salada crackers. 

Finish: Quite long, all flavour profiles are concentrated at the back of the roof of your mouth. A touch of dark honey. Clotted cream. Yeast. Very faint hints of sarsaparilla. Becomes a little dry with water but in a welcoming way. 

Comment: In my opinion and as a personal preference this is another truly superb single cask Chichibu. In a critical view some single casks can be not as satisfying but this cask offering is among the top end.  For the original release details see the WRU report here.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Best of the Best - Bar Kitchen Hakata

Bar Kitchen suggests in it's name that meals may be on offer. If you're after a drink with some local cuisine, and let's face it, there's plenty to be had in Hakata, well then you better try else where - there's no food here, and who needs it! So why name the establishment 'Bar Kitchen' then? Oka-san, the owner and sole bar tender wanted to name his place with something memorable, and at the time of opening his original premises in Kurume many moons ago (since 2002) he was in a band called 'Kitchen Drinkers' - the association stuck.

So now you've learned that this place isn't an eatery, your probably wondering what's on the menu? By all means it is a very distinctive menu. Distinctive enough for me to openly say that until date this is "The" No.1 bar of all time. Yep! Happy to put my neck out on that statement - most likely unbeatable (as far as personal preference goes, and what I've visited so far). Since relocating to the upgraded Hakata premises in September, 2014 Oka-san has amassed a smorgasbord of approximately 1,500 bottles that consists of both rare Japanese and Scotch whisky, as well as an assortment of premium and vintage bourbons for those who fancy it (and that's what only the eye can see...there's more tucked away below the bar). The layout is pure eye candy with a back bar wall consisting of thirteen columns with six tier shelving intricately showcasing an extremely impressive lineup: independent bottlers (past&present), SMWS bottlings, vintage official bottlings, Suntory Owners Casks, Nikka single casks, Karuizawa, Chichibu (many single cask stuff), and astonishing Hanyu (including the entire set from the famed 'Card Series' - with both Jokers, and Shinanoya's 'Game' series). Not that I need to point it out...a true haven for Japanese malt enthusiasts, and well, for those who have an obsession with either one of the distilleries listed above.

Bar Kitchen has all the trimmings of a high end bar with its savvy (but homely) interior but in actual fact it doesn't charge high end prices. This is what really sets itself apart from elsewhere. Although there are ultra-premium whiskies you won't be paying ultra-premium prices. Many of you who manage to actual visit this bar will be very surprised with its affordability. When you walk through the door you're quickly overwhelmed, you're taken back by the sheer presence of the bar's bottle offerings, but equally your captivated by the beautiful bar counter that measures 9.5 meters in length and is 11cm thick. I hear you saying: "what's captivating about that"? Well...this almost 10 meter bar counter has been intricately cut from one single tree in one solid piece. There's not many places that have done this/or can do this. Perhaps imagine it before I get of track and start talking about lumber. I can say so much more but you get the idea...check it out for yourself and make Bar Kitchen a MUST visit while in Hakata.

Oka-san's motto: "drink relaxedly, drink comfortably, drink in a homely manner".



Grand Park Tenjin
107 1-8-26 Maizuru, Cho-ku, Fukuoka-shi, Fukuoka.


Catch the Kuko Subway line from Hakata station to Akasaka station

Bar counter image courtesy of Bar Kitchen

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Kirin (Seagram) Crescent Blended Whisky 43% abv

Nose: Clean, summery, and effervescent. Quite a pleasant fruity little number - tinned fruit salad (pineapple, peach, pear). Hot cross buns and mashed banana. Sticky caramel pudding or is it bread and butter pudding? Dried strawberries and corn puree. Then, sesame and poppy seed vita wheat crackers with a drizzle of Kuromitsu (a Japanese black honey like sugar syrup). On the last leg a mellow woody oil fragrant aroma. Wood varnish and toasted grain.

Taste: Semi-spiced fried strawberries, thinly sliced mild pickled ginger, and pan fried pineapple. Vita wheat crackers. Not a lot really happening on the palate, especially regarding the fruit experienced on the nose - a hint of sweet mustard, minerals, and pink grapefruit. Nevertheless, it is enjoyable and certainly nothing to write-off. With a bit of time some other interesting elements surface - tree sap, and rum like qualities. 

Finish: Medium, but at times it kind of comes to an abrupt end. However, there is the presence of the Kuromitsu followed by a nutty presence with a mild woody influence. Rum?

Comment: Apparently there was up to forty different whiskies used to create this blend - all coming from Kirin-Seagram's portfolio at the time. The partnership also produced a similar blend named Ten Distilleries however, as the name suggest only malt and grain whiskies from ten distilleries was married together. The Crescent 'Whisky Supreme' was released on the domestic market in 1981 (source).