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.

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

大阪市東淀川区淡路4ー8ー27 二十八万石ビル3階

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。


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.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Rare Japanese Drams (3): Karuizawa Kohaku Single Cask 1995 Vintage 10yo 59.9% abv

Nose: It's big and ballsy on first encounter. You'll get initial alcohol burn, but form there on there are a myriad of different aromas. Take your time. It becomes complex. Mens original cologne (spicy/sweet). Berliner filled with plum and strawberry jam filling. Fruit Loops, glazed Saville oranges, pink grapefruit, pomegranate, wine gums, berry marinade, raspberry-flavoured chewy confections, and rich berry tea. It doesn't stop there, next, fruit Lifesavers and authentic Turkish delight before it goes all tarty and spicy. Then, there is a touch of smoke (from cap guns?), new leather, and dried lemon peel before the sweetness starts again. Dried figs and dates (more so on dates) on sweet wheat based cereals. Berry mouse with honey. Fruity red wine and smoldering trees. The trademark warm rubber is present and welcoming (engine rubber hoses). The addition of water doesn't dramatically change the appearance but it highlights the sweetness (raspberry, cranberry, and/or red wine sauce) and tames the alcohol/spiciness.

Taste: Relatively intense on the spice front with pepper berries. Cigar leaf, warm rubber radiator hoses (not that I've ever eaten one), peppered raspberry lamb chops, burdock root marinated in soy sauce and black sesame seeds. Eucalyptus drops. Mild bitter grape tannins and a tad dry. Mild berry balsamic. As with the nose water tames the spiciness and turns up the sweetness before adding bitter dark chocolate and cloves. But also it turns up the warm rubber hose and it can become metallic.

Finish: Pepper berries, black bean sauce, red-wine gravy sauce, and mild bitter grape tannins. Warn rubber engine hoses. It becomes a tad dry and chalky with water.

Comment: 'Kohaku' in English means amber - named accordingly with the intention to describe the lush red amber liquid inside the bottle, which apparently, according to written and verbal sources, was matured in red wine casks, as with the distillery's Rouge bottlings (if any one can clarify that please share your thoughts)? This single cask 10yo Kohaku (vintage 1995) should not be mistaken with the single malt 10yo version bottled at 40% (non-vintage). The 59.9% abv bottling is a true experience, a must, if it can be found. What a lovely Karuizawa.

Rare Japanese Drams 1 & 2 can be found here and here.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Pre-owned Liquor Outlet Established in Tokyo

Foreign residents and visitors to Japan have most likely come across, at one stage or another during their travels, the secondhand book chain named BOOK OFF - a store that buys your unwanted pre-loved books, which then resells them on at cheap prices. Among the group's business enterprise there are other themed stores, up until now six category shops, such as HARD OFF (used computers and audio) and Hobby OFF (reselling used toys and games). One more concept shop titled Liquor OFF has recently been launched in Tokyo, stated originally by Kotaku (here), and then The Drinks Business (here). According to both sources Liquor OFF, just like it's sibling stores, is a secondhand shop that will buy unwanted liquor from the public before selling it on at a cheaper price than the original recommended retail cost. According to the store's website it buys and resells all major liquor categories such as wine, brandy, beer, champagne, Sake, spirits, and a vast array of whiskies that includes both domestic and international brands. A brief look suggests there are some good bargains to be had with some quality Japanese whiskies on offer. An interesting shopping experience that's for sure.

2-7-6 Koenji-kita, 
Suginami-ku, Tokyo
Koenji Building 1F

Image kindly borrowed from the official Liquor OFF website (in Japanese).

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Rare Japanese Drams (2): Chichibu Newborn Heavily Peated Cask # 453 - 61.4% abv

Distilled from peated optic barley, the newborn heavily-peated new make from Chichibu was bottled at cask strength after a short maturation of three months. There were three releases of this peated malt from casks # 451, 452, and 453 respectively - American oak hogsheads. Although this whisky was/is not uncommon the Newborn range are few and far between today making this reasonably atypical, therefore unique in my opinion.

Nose: Sweet peat. Golden brown crumpets with treacle. Shearing sheds, oily sheep fleece, Lanolin cream, and pork crackling. Lemon Strepsils along with a hint of eucalyptus. Char-grilled sweet potato skins with a sprinkle of salt. Damp earthy character. Sweet tar and tree sap. When diluted smoked sea scallops with citrus and soy sauce. Then, sweet crude oil, corn syrup and/or gum syrup, and coal smoke. Following on from this you get distinctive PVC rubber toys and diesel train smoke.

Taste: Besides the obvious peat that can be both sweet and peppery you get menthol initially, which moves towards bitter lemon licorice drops. Water adds ash and charcoal baked potato skins. Sweet tar. PVC toys.

Finish: Hard hitting and reasonably long. Ashy, and fair to say suggestions of sea salt. Peat smoke naturally, and let's not forget the Japanese medicine Seirogan (here).

Comment: It is what it is, but I can say I really enjoyed this. Some enthusiasts have voiced there is a personal favourite out of the three casks, regardless of cask type and variety of barley being the same. Interesting contrast when this expression is drank beside Chichibu The Peated (both releases).