Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Fierce Bidding for Japanese Whiskies

The Drinks Business: a leading drinks trade publication informs its readers of Bonhams' Hong Kong sale that took place on May 23, which saw competitive bidding on an interesting assortment of Japanese whiskies that included vintage Karuizawa and Ichiro's Malt "Card Series" bottlings. This is another indication of the continuing popularity of Japanese whisky, as well as the high prices people are continuing to pay for the beloved Nippon whisky. Dramtastic over at The Japanese Whisky Review in recent posts has addressed this topic, pointing out on a few occasions where certain Japanese whiskies have doubled, tripled, and even quadrupled in price. And then there is also an interesting opinion of Tim F from The Whisky Exchange - he writes that Karuizawa auction sales figures suggest that "very few people are actually investing, and that most people who buy a bottle intend to drink it or keep it in their collections to be drunk at a later date". As a lover of the island's spirit I hope this is the case and that bottles that have appeared recently at auction, in larger quantities compared to the past, are for pure consumption without the intent to further make a quick buck or two down the track. Either way, it is a positive sign that suggests Japanese whisky is at the forefront of many peoples tastes.

Image borrowed from The Drinks Business

Ichiro's Malt Chichibu Chibidaru 2013 Official Bottling

Distilled: 2009 - Bottled: 2013 - ABV: 53.5% - Outturn: 3900 bottles - Bottle#1000

Nose: Ovaltine powder - milk flavouring product made with malt extract, and lots of it (the malt extract part). There are Yo-Yo biscuits - a combo of butter and honey, rich doughy biscuits. Sweet toffee and Mitarashi Dango: Japanese dumpling/sweets made from rice flour covered with syrup made from soy sauce and starch. Porridge oats and almond shells are also present. With time there are hints of over ripe permission and sugar fried cinnamon donuts. Water enhances the honey.

Palate: I find it a bit flat to be honest. I must admit that I’m heavily comparing it with single cask Chibidaru’s, unfair I know as this is not a single cask but a vatting of many. However, there is consistency with the nose: malt extract, butter and honey, interplay of spices, not in your face but earthy and nutty - cinnamon and nutmeg, along with spicy permission after time. It’s quite chaffy, weak porridge oats and burnt toffee with fresh tree almonds. Water not really needed in my opinion but it does increase the spice.

Finish: Medium on toffee and porridge oats with a thin layer of light honey and almond oil.

Comment: Not a whisky that's full of complexity. Great in its own way, but lacking the qualities as previously witnessed with other Chibidaru bottlings, but again I’m being critical and comparing it, which is something I know I should not do. Still I like it.

For an alternate review check out The Japanese Whisky Review

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Suntory Whisky House

We all know the saying “better late than never” – well I’d like to apply that to this post as the news is somewhat belated. Late not because I’ve only just learnt of it, in fact I was there on the opening day, but late as I intentionally put it aside to let the hype/rush boil down. Well…that dragged on a bit until today. The big guns of the whisky industry around the world every year come up with innovative ways, often than not at huge expense, to promote and educate people/consumers about their product(s). Here in Japan, a few of the major players that need no introduction have been tantalizing locals minds/palates for years, in a welcoming competitive way, and again dropping huge sums in doing so. 

This year is no exception to the rule, especially for Suntory with the introduction of “Suntory Whisky House”. The all-in-one establishment: shop, gallery, exhibition, bar and restaurant, which is situated in the heart of Osaka, Umeda, and in the city’s newest building (Grand Front Department Store) was opened April, 29. It’s fair to say “Suntory Whisky House” caters for each and everyone’s needs whether you are looking for a dram (either neat/on the rocks/or highball style), a bite to eat in the warmly restaurant (I recommend going for one of the well proportioned affordable lunch meals), that interesting gift/souvenir (anything from chairs made out of defunct casks to pin badges), or generally want to learn about the whisky giant while strolling through their walkway exhibition. Prices are set accordingly to the new establishment and new department store.

Hardcore Suntory fans have been flocking to the newly themed “house”, which has been the talk of the town among aficionados in Osaka, and rightly so as it is a savvy place I must admit. Visitors have slightly tamed down a bit so I presume it to be a good opportunity to take a look now before summer and highball madness kick-in. 

Location: Grand Front Osaka 2F
3-1, Ofuka-cho, Kita-ku, Osaka-shi (Umeda)

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Ichiro's Malt Single Cask Hanyu 2000 Cask# 8779

Distilled: 2000 - Bottled: 2009 - Cask#8779 - Cask type: Hogshead - Outturn: 230 - ABV: 62.9% - Age: 9-years-old

Nose: Golden brown puff pastry straight from the oven glazed with olive oil, or is it straight up olive bread? These aromas are rolling around in sweet peat and char-grilled Gingko nuts/seeds on skewers. The malt is relatively blossomy (violet and sweet floral notes) and musky with fresh and damp straw (in a very good way). Quite nutty - roasted salted almonds/pistachio with milk chocolate, in fact bring on the Nuttella spread at certain intervals. Very chameleon like - just got really complex: sweet peat - earthy (rich soil), wood planks, and creaming soda that I find in many Hanyu bottlings. Water initially transforms the aromas completely - becomes herbal: lemon thyme/lemon grass, and limoncello (Italian citrus-based lemon liqueur) before drifting off.

Taste: Slightly bitter (in a great way) with gorgeous/sophisticated peat and Sansho spice: ground berries from the Prickly Ash Tree (earthy and tangy with a bit of lemon - that lemon thyme perhaps?). Quite velvety and prickly with pencil shavings, and char grilled Gingko nuts. Yeasty and biscuity. Diluted makes things a bit salty. Is this a typical Hanyu? In my opinion - NO! Is it an active cask? Yes!

Finish: Spicy, prickly, and bitter with a medium to long grilled Ginkgo nut and lemon thyme mouthfeel. The peat is lustfully there.

Comment: A fairly complex Hanyu in my opinion - very complex for a 9yo indeed. Posses quite a few "new" or "non typical" flavours and aromas associated with my experience and Hanyu malt. This is another of my "must find another bottle for retirement" malt. It is also a fairly light looking Hanyu (obviously cask influence). Yum!

For an alternate review check out The Japanese Whisky Review

Reviewed by Clint A

Premium Kakubin Launch

Suntory announces the launch date of "The Premium Kakubin". New to the whisky giant's line-up, the "luxury whisky within reach" - a concept the big guns of the industry have given this special blend - will appear across the country Tuesday, May 21. This reasonably tasty treat that uses malt from wine and sherry casks will retail at 2,000 yen respectively with an ABV of 43%. It appears Whisky Shop W. will have this available for tasting earlier than the official release date.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Chichibu Port Pipe Official Bottling

Distilled: 2009 - Bottled: 2013 - ABV: 54.5% - Outrun: 4200 - Bottle# 842 - Whisky type: Single malt

Nose: A little Juvenile - possibly more noticeable here compared to any other Chichibu - but nevertheless enjoyable aromas. An array of strawberry notes in both fresh and artificial form: Strawberry mousse, weak strawberry jelly, and glazed strawberries. Plums are very recognizable. Stewed rhubarb and/or stewed wild outback peaches. There are hints of cinnamon and nutmeg, and oddly eggnog (yum!). Possibly a bit strange but reminds me of Hot Cross Buns with a spread of very light honey (obviously it’s the cinnamon). Naturally Port - weak really, with a suggestion of Ribena blackcurrant fruit drink after a good 10 minutes in the glass. Interestingly a strong aroma of new book/magazine pages (call me strange but I quite like this smell). And last but not least (it's always been there - just took me a while to associate the smell) chocolate coated Turkish Delight (in particular Fry's from down under).

Taste: Big on spices (nutmeg, cinnamon, pepper) on first contact. It is very tingly on the tongue. The white chocolate is in play and that eggnog heavily dozed with again nutmeg. This malt is a little tarty, dried strawberries, plums, and possibly pomegranate. Warm and youthful. 

Finish: Short on plum (but not rich, juicy, and fleshy - more like cherry plum), moderate on spices with that run of tingling sensations.

Comment: I enjoyed it for what it is. There's nothing complex and overly rich about it, it will work for some and possibly not for others. Again it retains youth but it is not edgy.

For an alternate review take a look at The Japanese Whisky Review.

Reviewed by Clint A

Japanese Whisky Reviews - Connosr

Certainly not new to the scene of reviewing but possibly new to some readers on the Internet circuit - Pierre.W, a Swiss national, has been for sometime providing a tasty assortment of both Scotch and Japanese whisky reviews over at Connosr, with a penchant for our beloved Nippon whisky. As of writing, Pierre has 55 quality reviews under his belt with at least half being Japanese expressions - and a good variety at that. Pierre has been on the drinking scene for quite a while now and this is evident in his reviews, he often includes very detailed and informative descriptions of not just the malt itself but also about the distillery in which it belongs to - something I personally enjoy as it is a different take on reviewing. This distillery knowledge is very welcoming and Whiskies R Us naturally recommends all readers to take a look, especially at some of the less reviewed Japanese releases such as the Karuizawa 1981 30yo for La Masion Du Whisky. Pierre, who is also no stranger to Japan, has some forthcoming reviews underway so keep your eyes out.

Karuizawa: Final Words from TWE

Tim F from The Whisky Exchange wrote an interesting insight on their final trip to Karuizawa. The seventh installment of TWE's "big Karuizawa trip to Japan", posted April 22, once again addresses the speculation as to the number of Karuizawa casks still remaining. Tim includes his own thoughts as to how many actual casks may be left, having seen the remaining stock in the warehouse at Chichibu, aswell as pointing out the buying "frenzy" of Karuizawa releases. This post, like all the other installments is a very enjoyable read and well written, well worth a look if you have not done so already. TWE Karuizawa Whisky Trip Pt.7 Endgame for Karuizawa.

Image kindly borrowed from TWE - thank you

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Ichiro's Malt & Grain for Kyoto Hotel Okura

To celebrate the 125th anniversary of the Kyoto Hotel Okura, which was established in 1888, an exclusive blend from Venture Whisky Ltd has been carefully produced and chosen to celebrate the occasion in association with the hotel's in-house gothic and dynamic "Bar Chippendale". The Ichiro's Malt & Grain original blended whisky bottlings have began selling at the bar (May 1st) with the "bottle keep" system - in other words, the whisky must be bought and consumed at Bar Chippendale. The blend, which is bottled at 46% ABV is suggested to contain up to twelve components - two naturally being malt from the Hanyu and Chichibu distilleries, a suggested nine world whiskies, and one grain whisky. There is an outturn of only 400 bottles of the blend, which has a reasonably heavy hotel price tag - whole bottle: 28,875 yen (including tax) or alternatively by the glass: 1,848 yen (including tax). I hope to try this sooner than later and make a comparison with the Ichiro's Malt Premium Black Label.

Sample Sessions: (1)

Regulars of Whiskies R Us will already know my style, but for many of the new readers who have jumped on board (thank you), some of you may not. WRU is in its third year, the blog, which is solely maintained, is in no way supported by any distillery or whisky affiliated company, and I do not receive samples from any of the brands in the industry. Almost 99.9% of the reviews you see at Whiskies R Us are from bottles I’ve purchased using funds from my own pocket. For those who share the enthusiasm for Japanese whisky (or whisky in general) will appreciate it’s not a cheap interest to have. I put in a fair whack of personal funds (not as much as others - simply because I cannot afford to) to share my experiences, but as you know there are just too many expressions on the market to buy, and the fact that at times even if funds are available, you can never beat the race of the clock and obtain what you want.

Now, the 0.1% - recently I have participated in a few sample swaps with some fellow malt mates. In the past I never really reviewed samples received (except for the lovely and appreciative Karuizawa 30yo), again only self purchased bottles, however on this occasion(s) I will be posting “Sample Sessions” out of gratitude/appreciation, and quite honestly some of these whiskies I may have never had the chance to obtain. So without further ado the first batch I’ll be briefly reviewing (not in my usual writing/reviewing style due to size of the post) consists of samples kindly received from an equally Japanese malt whisky enthusiast and malt mate who writes descriptive reviews over at Connosr. I will be introducing this malt mate in a later post so stay tuned.

Hanyu Chibidaru - Cask#346 - Age: 12yo - ABV: 58.2% - Distilled: 2000 - Bottled: 2012 - Selected by La Masion Du Whisky

Lovely brown creaming soda - “Sno-Top” (Woodroofe) engulfs the nose along with marzipan. Scented maple syrup: orange cardamom, wood-fired-sap on waffles perhaps? Quite clean malt on the nose. The orange-cardamom wood fried sap (spicy maple syrup) is on the palate also, which I like. Cloves and spicy cherry prick the tongue. Moderately spicy and musky (candy sticks) on the finish. The final leg turns a wee bit vegetal. No water added as I found it wasn’t needed.

Chichibu Chibidaru - Cask#286 - ABV: 61.9% - Distilled: 2009 - Bottled: 2012 - Selected by La Masion Du Whisky

Typical qualities of Chichibu Chibidaru casks (bespoke quarter casks). Love these redesigned casks in both Hanyu and Chichibu matured whiskies. Although a different cask it retains similar qualities to the Shinanoya 5th anniversary Chibidaru: a combo of sweet and savory with a burst of cedar wood. Both nose and palate provide toasted pecans, and spicy caramel/butterscotch popcorn. New to the mix are some cinnamon gum and tulip fields? Definitely Yo-Yo biscuits are in big play here (honey, eggs, milk, and butter dough). I have a soft spot for all Chichibu Chibidaru bottlings (OB/private). 

Hakushu Genshu - Age: 12yo - Hogshead - Distilled: 1996 - Bottled: 2008 - Outrun: 1000 bottles - ABV: 62%

Lots of forestry on the nose - in particular pine trees and fresh lumber wood. There is lovely subtle sweet citrus - faint pink and white grapefruit along with a hint of effervescent lemon and vanilla, also subtle floral? Did I mention this is lovely? The palate is on par with the nose but the pink grapefruit has a heavy sprinkling of brown sugar and spice - sweet floral spice. It is quite silky and smooth given the ABV. Wow! What an interesting Hakushu. A dash of water brings out lemon sherbet boiled lollies on the nose and forest floor mulch on the palate. If zesty malts are your thing than this is for you (it is for me).