Monday, July 16, 2012

Osaka Whisky Festival 2012 Report - Part 1

Come the morning of the Osaka Whisky Festival, July 15, I was like a big kid full of excitement, who didn’t sleep well the night before, due to the overwhelming anticipation. The official kick-off was scheduled for 11:00am, but like me, many eager people were at the hall at 10:30am, all waiting in line, all beaming with smiles, like kids waiting in a line to buy ice-cream. Perhaps this profound effect was simply due to it being a whisky festival, and the first of its kind in Osaka. Come 10:47am, bagpipes began to bellow to announce the official opening of the event, in which a swarm of people embarked through the doors.

My first impression was that the hall itself was slightly too small and not as big of an event as expected. However, on entering, I realized the place certainly did the job for the array of people that came at various intervals throughout the day. Booths from all the big guns, including Scotch and Japanese brands were cleverly spread out in a maze like pattern; in general the show was an elaborate smorgasbord to be had. My only complaint of the day, tastings whether charged for or free, were given in those horrible little plastic shot cups. I always thought that the admission fees of such an event include a small tasting glass of some sort? Luckily, some of us had thought to bring our own glasses on the day just in case.

Nikka, Suntory, Kirin, Venture Whisky (Ichiro’s malt), and Shinshu (Mars distillery) were all out in force and had reasonable promise. I was surprised not to see the presence of White Oak (Eigashima) flogging their great efforts of Akashi single malt (especially the reasonably new 14-year-old). Perhaps that’s for another time and place.

It was at the Mars booth I decided to start off the day with my first dram, and boy was I excited when I learnt their recent single cask expressions, which have been talk of the town, were available for tasting. The Mars Komagatake Single Cask Vintage 1989 (23-year-old) Cognac cask was first to touch my lips. Sensational, aromatic with assorted fruit jams, wine gums, and musk stick in play followed by the explosion of high grade spice. Like the 1989 American White Oak Single Cask, it was extremely cheap at 200 yen for what appeared to be a 5ml measure (more if you produced your glass), while the 1985 Sherry Cask (27-year-old) only set patrons back 300 yen, a very small price to pay for such pleasures. Although all three expressions were satisfying, it was the cognac cask that won my vote followed closely by the sherry cask. These guys are doing some great things, their efforts clearly highlight that the distillery is producing quality expressions which will only continue. Their new make (white spirit) available on the day, two in fact, one at 50ppm (phenols/parts per million) and a light new make at 3ppm was divine. I’m looking forward to the future of the Mars distillery.

To be continued...


  1. Sounds very much like what the festival was in Tokyo. Including the annoying plastic cups!! Did you try the Shinanoya Karuizawa bottling? Eagerly awaiting Part 2!!

  2. Hi Stefan, I did try it. I saw the post about it first on Whiskywall followed by Nonjatta. I was going to respond but was going to wait for part 2 of my post ( sorry it all wasn't in one, it would have been too long of a post), but might as well let you know now. Firstly, is the 180 bottles the actual amount that is set aside for actual sale? If not you can be sure to minus at least two or three from that amount as that is about what was used for festival. If that's not the case, and the stated 180 bottles is the actual amount available for public release could we presume that there are a handful of other bottkes from the run floating around for promotional purposes? Unfortunately I didn't think ask this.

    Regardless, I can assure you that there will be a lot less then 180 available on the net as pre-orders were being taken on a "first come first serve" during the festival. I dare say quite a few were snapped up, let's hope to actual drinkers and not dealers that will put it up in auction down the track for four times as much as happened with The Game II, which you mentioned.

    Now, to the part of tasting, I did, and it was a whopping malt at 69.3%. Certainly a malt that you would be foolish to drink without the addition of water and without letting it open up well. I certainly don't want to spoil it for anyone but as we all have different likes and dislikes I'd have to say this 5th anniversary bottling didn't do it for me. Lets just say Im glad I tried it but I will not be buying it. Now of course each to their own, what one dislikes another may love. Such an appealing label though!

  3. Thanks Clint! Wow, I didn't know they were already taking pre-orders at the festival! It's one of those Rouge Casks, and they are all uniformly high in abv. I think it's a malt that needs time, and water - but as you say, even with time and water it may not be to everyone's liking. Those wine cask matured malts are very tricky - sometimes they completely fall apart with water. But then again, at close to 70%abv what can you get WITHOUT water (other than the equivalent to the palate of a slap in the face).
    Btw, what were they priced at? Around the 10,000 yen mark - or maybe a little less?

    1. Stefan, apologies for the late reply and very bad spelling mistakes above (iPhone auto spell check). As Chris mentioned the price is 12,900 yen. This is meant to be officially available on July 26th according to the promo flyer.

  4. Thanks for the report, Clint. Just like Stefan I, too, am eagerly awaiting part 2 (or 3, for that matter). Needless to say I would have loved to join you. That Mars bottling sounds particularly appealing. To my knowledge Mars is not sold abroad, correct?

  5. Serving people in a plastic cup is horrible! Good thing you came prepared. Thanks for the take on the Mars expressions. I am going to have to make some serious decisions on which bottles to bring back with me.

    Stefan - they are listing the Karuizawa's at 12,900.

  6. Glad for another honest report on a Karuizawa Clint. I believe as Japanese whisky enthusiasts we need to call a spade a spade and not be sucked into the hype of a Label(unless it is good). May well be one of the only reports we will ever see on this one as I'm sure most will be snapped up by investors never to be opened but on sold at a later date ad infinitum.