Thursday, July 19, 2012

Osaka Whisky Festival 2012 Report - Finale

Now, onto the big guns of the Japanese whisky industry: Suntory and Nikka. I always get excited when I see a table full of Nikka, especially, in the circumstance of the festival, where bottles were ever so uniformly lined up and set exquisitely; on the left all the standard bottlings of Yoichi from the no-age-statement through to the 20-year-old, while the middle of the table was set aside for the 12,17, and 21-year-old Taketsuru (with the 25 in the background for good measure), these were flanked by a run of Miyagikyo on the right, following suit (minus the 20-year-old). Nikka's stand was crisp and attractive, and sipping whisky directly in front of their advertising took me straight back to the distillery which I have visited fairly recently. However, as much as I’m a fan of Nikka, I couldn't help but to be disappointed, again, there were no single casks to be seen (especially the new single cask Coffey grain 2000 (12-year-old), and the Miyagikyo single cask 1996 (16-year-old). I had the impression that everything was a little bit commercial and not just with Nikka, but with all brands. It appeared as if the Japanese selection was aimed at first time drinkers, which isn't a bad thing. Still though, I was ecstatic to knock back the 21-year-old Taketsuru and the 20 -year-old Yoichi. I don't need to tell you how amazing these really are but where were the single casks? Surprisingly enough, well not really considering there was a run of only 1,000 bottles, but there was only one bottle of the Taketsuru 35 to be seen, and it wasn't on Nikka's stand but on the table of an independent booth selling assorted worldwide drams at 1,000 yen respectively.

Suntory's stand was twice as big as all the other Japanese brands (obviously needed for their standard portfolio). Both the Hakushu and Yamazaki 18-year-olds were out as well as the 21-year-old Hibiki, which was being heavily sampled. But again, nothing unique, not even the Hakushu 2012 Heavily Peated or any Owners Casks bottlings were there. Perhaps these types of bottlings no longer need promotion, and due to limitation are kept for a different day (promotion/market). However, it really is a great opportunity for drinkers of all levels to attend these events regardless of whether you classify yourself as an amateur or novice drinker. You don't really have the opportunity to indulge in older expressions daily like you can do at a whisky festival.

Besides the standard line-up of all brands (excluding Mars' Single Cask expressions), perhaps the most interesting bottle on the day, in terms of a "new" Japanese whisky, was the Shinanoya private cask 5th anniversary bottling of the 1995 Karuizawa . As mentioned in the comments section of Part 1, it is a whopping malt (69.3) that needs more than a splash of water, without it tears will engulf your eyes. This 16-year-old, with an advertised out run of 180 bottles is sure to be snapped up quickly, official release date is July 26. Although, the full 180 bottle run will not be available as soon as it hits midnight as many of these were pre-ordered at the festival. Let's hope the pre-orders were from actual drinkers and not collectors for profit. I'm a fan of this anniversary label, yes, but I wasn't a fan of the spirit in this bottling, which was matured in a Japanese wine cask (cask No.5006), for the price I'd rather buy a better tasting malt which will have better aromas and generally taste better, only an opinion.

It wouldn't feel right not to mention the abundance of Scotch available on the day. There were some very interesting expressions indeed. I threw myself at a few things such as the 30-year-old Talisker, the Ardbeg Day, and Bunnahabhain's Three Rivers amongst some other independent bottlings. Berry Bros & Rudd had an interesting display, but I'll leave the Scotch for someone else to write about. Overall the Whisky Festival was a great day out. I got to chat with some interesting figures in the industry. The plastic cup issue was talked about a lot on the day, leaving people in a foul mood, perhaps this is something that can be addressed for future festivals, amongst other things (see comments in part 1). I look forward to this festival becoming a regular event in Osaka.


  1. Very interesting report, Clint. Thanks for putting it up!
    When I first heard about the Whisky Festival in Osaka, I was considering going down for the day, but reading your report it sounds like it was very similar to the Tokyo one, albeit with the selection being a bit more limited in Osaka. It's amazing that except for Mars (and they need to bring their single casks, otherwise they'd have very little to show), none of the other Japanese whisky players brought anything even remotely special. I would have been very disappointed to be honest.
    I've got the feeling the industry has figured out the fact that the die-hard whisky afficionado will already know the special limited editions and/or buy them anyway, so there's no real benefit for them in terms of promoting them. And the amateur drinker will be happy sampling standard released anyway. Just my two cents.

  2. Stefan, I think you would have been disappointed, like I said a good day out but to travel all the way from Tokyo may not have been worth it. Your thoughts are interesting to hear, seems we are on the same path regarding promotion, and that the big guns were possibly happy to promote their standard line-up possibly for new comers to the scene, again, which isn't a bad thing, but for the enthusiast this may not be appropriate. Let's hope next time we will see something other.