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".


Open
18:00

Close
3:00

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

Phone
092-791-5189

Access
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).

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Japanese Drams of Yesteryear (4): Sanraku Ocean Special Old Blended Whisky 12yo 43% abv


The Ocean-Special Old 12yo bottling was distilled and bottled by Sanraku-Ocean Co.Ltd. The original 12yo version hit the domestic market in 1965 (according to research). The reintroduction of the newly designed bottle and label (pictured above) took place in the late 70s (1977). This was later replaced with a non-age-statement black labeled version (Ocean-Special Old SP) around 1981 before shifting to the white labeled NAS (SP) bottling in 1985, labeled as Mercian. For those interested in domestic trivia there was two label variations of the 70s bottling - two different company locations. The 1977 release was labeled under the company's location 'Muromachi' (pictured above), while the following variation was labeled under the 'Kyobashi' company location. Written on the screw cap is: 'Distillery at Karuizawa & Yamanashi - Blended Whisky'.

Nose: Very fruity - red apples, Japanese orange, and dried figs. Jam rolls mildly doused with semi-sweet sherry. Pink fondant and raspberry jam sprinkled with coconut continues the sweet drive. Then, burnt caramel/toffee. The grain is evident but it is rich, providing mellow bourbon like qualities. There's mid floral notes - hibiscus keeps coming to mind. Mild strawberry lip balm. Green leafy vegetables. Leafy and dusty old orange peel. Water really highlights the tropicana orange, and introduces mashed strawberry (briefly).

Taste: Mildly spicy but equally silky, and sweet with red apple and dried cereal strawberries. Red capsicum. Dry sherry. Underripe plums. Hints of mellow raspberry confectionary. Water, and I mean just a drop, provokes the sweet and semi-spicy combo to come out on initial mouthfeel. Pickled ginger and a tad metallic. Reasonably well balanced.

Finish: Red apple skins. Burnt toast. Slightly roasted red capsicum. Underripe plums. Quite moderate. Becomes rightly silky on the mouthfeel with water however by adding water it awakes a solvent in the grain and tweaks the mellow spice.

Comment: Fair to say a very descent blend. Great for places with warm temperatures. Not even a suggestion of smoke or rubber on the nose with this. Liquid history indeed. 

Take a look at 'Japanese Drams of Yesteryear': 1,2,and 3.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Bar Zumon Renewal Opening



Bar Zumon reopened its doors on July 25 after reestablishing itself and relocating to a better internal environment. The renewal of the whisky and cocktail bar includes a new long bar counter and chairs with modern trimmings, a stimulating new glass selection, plus an extensive wall library of independent bottles (back/front bar walls), all creating a much more spacious and authentic bar environment. The fresh upgrade continues to be conveniently located - right next door to the building that housed the original watering hole. Long gone is the out-of-place dart board and 1980s interior design, in exchange you will be greeted to an establishment that is visually attractive while retaining the traditional aspects of an educated dram house.

Currently Bar Zumon has over two dozen quality Japanese whiskies on offer (pictured above - excluding standard official bottlings), but with shared enthusiasm this will eventually increase and compliment the most extensive collection of independent Scotch single malt whiskies under the one roof. Besides all the new alluring aspects, I personally like the fact that there is no snobbery at this bar - a down to earth establishment where the patrons and bar master (Izumoto-san) equally share the passion. Pop in and have a dram, and while doing so soak up the history provided on each and every label - it may become your new favourite spot. Be sure to mention you heard about the renewal open from me (Clint) and the 500 yen cover charge will be waived (first time only). Please be advised that a handful of bottles (extremely rare releases) are only available on certain anniversary days (not just the bar but also the celebration of important figures and events in the whisky industry) - be sure to ask.

Address
4-8-27 Higashi-Yodogawa-ku, Awaji, Osaka City 
Zip Code 533-0032 
二十八万石 Building 3F

〒533ー0032
大阪市東淀川区淡路4ー8ー27 二十八万石ビル3階

Access
2 minute walk from West Exit Hankyu Awaji station - turn left at the alley adjacent to the UFJ bank and clock.

阪急淡路駅 徒歩1分 UFJ銀行前の時計の路地を入ってください。

Phone
06-6795-9639



Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Suntory Special Reserve 10yo 43%


Nose: Peaches, apple custard, crepes with sliced banana and sweetened whipped cream, milk bottles (a soft, chewy, milky flavoured lolly). There's a cheeky citrus peel rolling of the top - I'm going for mandarin. Among these aromas there is a nice welcoming soapy element - reminds me of an 80s bottling of Edradour 10yo. With time an interesting rich golden straw element and mild oak. Then, a vegetal note of fried radish stems and leaf. 

Taste: Straight up you get tantalizing spice - cloves, ginger cookies and/or traditional spicy ginger ale. Stewed apples abundant with again, cloves. Creamy and mellow. A touch of that mandarin is present. Like the nose you get that floral-soapy touch, which I like. With time it presents bitter tannins. Peppered celery. Mild oak. Once the bottle becomes oxidized the presence of iron tablets kick in.

Finish: Spice and green vegetal notes (again, celery). Mellow, moderate finish with a descent balance.


Comment: The Special Reserve 10yo, which was aged in White Oak barrels using key malt from the Hakushu distillery tends to get over looked by many malt enthusiasts. With all the hype around other Japanese whiskies this little guy often gets passed up. I'm guilty of it my self, it has taken me over a few years to make a purchase, and an extremely cheap purchase at that. An everyday but rewarding whisky that everyone should have in their cabinet. 

The Suntory Special Reserve review (circa 1980s) that carries a no-age-statement can be seen here.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Japanese Whiskies Under the Hammer


Lauren Eads from The Drinks Business has recently written an article named: 'Rare Japanese Whisky Auction Set For HK'. According to the article Asia's largest auction house declares that it will host "the most comprehensive collection of Hanyu and Karuizawa whisky in the auction history of Bonhams HK". Apparently the auction will feature over 200 lots that includes more than 170 bottles of Karuizawa. Readers may recall a similar article posted by the leading drinks trade publication, which Whiskies R Us announced back in May, 2013 (here). Although this large public sale can easily highlight the growing popularity of Japanese whisky the question is, which has been covered more than once, and by various sources, how many people will actually buy to personally consume opposed to buying for investment purposes? Either way, consumer or investor, a hefty price tag is attached when buying on the resale market - you will be paying through the nose. The auction market often has mixed reactions, ask everyone who buys and drinks whisky. Some say that it is a good opportunity to obtain bottles that they would never of had the chance to find elsewhere, while others, including the producers of the whisky, say it often leaves a bad taste in their mouths to see the astronomical prices. One thing which is clearly evident: a large amount of rare Japanese whisky has been sourced, making it even harder for dedicated drinkers such as you and I to obtain. Perhaps given the geographical market place of the auction the majority of the whisky could be snapped up by drinkers (personal speculation only)? What's your take on the subject?


Image kindly taken from Bonhams HK auction listing: Japanese & Rare Whisky

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Blend of Nikka Circa 1980s 45%abv


Nose: Semi creamy and citrus combo - light vanilla and lime gelato. Dried apple. Mild hints of pineapple confectionary. Buttery lemon shortbread, mini-pack sun dried raisins (yes, including the smell of the small cardboard packet - in a positive way). Good quality aroma profile. Then, a very welcoming compliment of soft berry fragranted hand wash followed by suggestions of baked, mashed banana (baked above charcoal - there's a whisper of smoke rolling of this).  Plus, a cheesecake French toast casserole? A little under a teaspoon of water brings an evident bubblegum aroma to the top - traditional gum from packs of sports cards from the 80s. Now, blueberry yogurt.

Taste: Consistent with the nose on mediocre fruitiness however, more so on the dried side opposed to fresh, rich fruit. Moroccan spices on avocado. Spicy yet equally silky. The grain is more noticable on the pallate with a touch of bitterness. Buttery and slightly mentholy. That soapy, floral element is evident as on the nose. Spiced flour tortillas? Oak. Water cranks up the grain and adds roasted, peppered pine nuts. There is another mouthfeel that I know is present but I just can't work out what it is.

Finish: Subtle mango, medium on pepper with a moderate finish. Again, there is an additional send-off note that I can't quite put my finger on. Water lets the medium spice list run all up to the back of your tongue before going all malty and oaky. Dry. 

Comment: The majority of blends from Nikka are of either exceptional or reasonable quality. This blend, like many others (i.e Nikka from the barrel), fall into the former category - in my opinion (especially on the nose). I'm now looking forward to pursue The Blend of Nikka 17yo, again, I gave one up a few weeks ago to another malt mate.

Note: On the label on the neck of the bottle the kanji written says: 'whisky tokkyu' . This can be translated as 'whisky of the highest quality' or 'special grade whisky' that all Japanese distilleries used to classify their premium products. Also Scotch whisky was labeled by importors with this classification. This form of categorizing so called top notch whisky ceased around 1989/1990, which can give a good suggestive indication on the bottling circa.

Update (August 8th): At the half way mark with this bottle and there is very evident smoke compared with my initial thoughts. It is quite seductive smoke. Not in your face but it is now certainly present, it is not drifting in and out - it is there all the way and possibly all along. However, I didn't get this off the bat.