Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Hakushu 12yo 43% abv Circa 2011

Nose: Handsome. Whiffs of subtle smoke and mild mulch qualities: putrefying leaves and bark. However, there is also a sweet fragrant cut grass quality. There are suggestions of citrus: subdued lemon but more so watery mandarin. Vanilla plays a part in mid-ground: boiled confectionary. Earthy notes are emphasized with time - that is if you can resist.

Taste: Crisp and moderately creamy (pure cream/pouring cream and not whipped or thickened cream). As with the nose there is subtle, faint smoke, which rolls of the back of your tongue. Very soft spices play happily amongst the vanilla. All in all the palate is consistent with the nose. Streamlined oak is evident with time and the citrus turns from a shy lemon to dried kumquat. Suggestions of nut are present: borderline macadamia and/or cashew.

Finish: Soft oak and moderate with trademark soft vanilla and spice. A tiny hint of that nutty presence rolls of the last wave.

Comment: The 2011 bottling of the Hakushu 12-yo is perhaps the best batch variation in terms of personal preference. I found citrus to be less present this time around compared to older batches. Water is not needed in my opinion. Happy to include this bottle amongst the few I cracked for the festive season, it has plays all the right tunes.

Reviewed by Clint A

Monday, December 17, 2012

Tastings at The Court - SMWS 2012 Nikka Expressions

The Court: a whisky bar of antiquity and as far as I know home to one of Kansai's largest collections of Nikka paraphernalia. The establishment, which has all the trimmings of a typical old Scottish watering hole is a Taketsuru ambassador and pays homage to the Nikka brand. Yoichi and Miyagikyo connoisseurs will be spoilt for choice at The Court. Not only does the bar offer an interesting selection of past and present bottlings of Nikka for you to savor in nostalgic and yesteryear surroundings, the establishment also have their own in-house mini Nikka museum one floor below the bar (a must see - by appointment only). The floor to ceiling historical and chunky, but petite bar counter also adorns an array of Nikka memorabilia, certainly an environment you could spend a lot of time in over a dram or two. It's not often you find a place with in modern Japan of such description that you can confidently call a home away from home. Whiskies R Us is happy to write the first English introduction on this hidden gem and recommends all readers in Osaka to pop in.

My time at The Court however was spent in the adjacent room that equally transcends you back in time. Wooden floor boards, white washed walls, lots more Nikka goodies, rustic interior, and a lovely old fashioned cast iron oil heater that radiated warmth for the evenings tastings: SMWS (Scotch Malt Whisky Society) Nikka bottlings. The gathering was certainly nothing formal, which I quite liked. Basically a bunch of down to earth guys and girls who share the enthusiasm of Japanese whisky and interest in the society bottles, which were sourced by one of the attendees for the tasting. The relaxed and casual evening was certainly appreciated as it gave unlimited time to spend on each of the three Nikka expressions, perhaps a bit too much time as my pen didn't make contact to paper as much as it should have as I was too carried away with talking about other things - purely conversing about whisky of course. My thoughts on the evenings single casks:

[124.3] Miyagikyo 13-years-old (1999) - ABV: 61.9 - refill butt: Great balance, fresh and creamy malt. Right of the bat pineapple life savers (pineapple lollies/candy) emerges on both the nose and palate. A hint of tatami mats, white compound chocolate and Arnott's milk coffee biscuits make their way to the surface. Fruit is certainly there: a home made fruit salad with banana and whiffs of kiwi fruit. With the addition of water the pineapple becomes extremely dominant but in an artificial form, again, a very pleasant attack of pineapple candy. This Miyakigyo carried an appreciative light body with some interesting hidden aromas and tastes: camembert cheese on the nose and a touch of dried kelp (Kombu).

[116.18] Yoichi 18-years-old (1994) - ABV: 64.4% - refill butt: Lovely stuff and my nomination out of the three siblings. On the nose sweet notes: old fashioned cologne and pipe tobacco automatically emerge followed by a burst of melon soda with a dollop of ice cream (creaming soda). Fruit is evident but not in a fresh form, banana yes, but in gum tablets. Complex stuff involving melted butter and glazed milk chocolate apricots. Water brings out pepper and whiffs of tyre smoke. The palate is bitter and tingling and takes a few traits from the nose but fruit is much more representative with mango tinges. This is handsome stuff.

[116.17] Yoichi 25-years-old (1987) - ABV: 59.2% - virgin oak butt: Possibly the best balance out of the three expressions, but in my opinion it lacks in character in comparison to its siblings. There were some lovely notes that came out of this but it was a hard malt to find any distinctive personality. Perhaps it was a factor of being the third in but I was hoping for a bit more. However, lovely homemade Japanese plum liqueur (Umeshu) rolled of the surface along with cream confectionary. There is a touch of glue on the nose: envelope glue, which transfers to the palate at a later stage. With water a salty, rich, caramel soft candy shows its face intertwining amongst some chamomile tea.

To conclude my favourite out of the three expressions was the Yoichi 18-year-old. Although all three expressions were beautiful in their own way the 18-yo won my vote on its expressive nose and palate. Exciting times for enthusiasts of Japanese whisky, let's all look forward to the flourish of new bottlings to come in 2013.

The Court
Shibakawa Bldg 101
3-3-3 Fushi-machi chuoku
Osaka 541-0044
(exit 11 - Yodoyabashi station - Midosuji line)

Update December 25: Cask detail information corrected.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Chichibu - Chibidaru Shinanoya Private Cask

Ichiro's Malt Chichibu: Chibidaru - Shinanoya Private Cask 5th Anniversary - Cask# 291 - Age: 3-years-old - Distilled: 2009 - Bottled: 2012 - Outturn: 161 bottles - ABV: 61%

Nose: Juvenile but mature. Roller coaster complexity for a 3-yo: rolls from sweet to savory, followed by earthy aromas then back to sweetness. Lovely crisp wood, rich fresh pot-puri mix: vanilla, sandalwood, and a whiff of white rose (florally). Fresh baked caramel waffles, butterscotch, and candy floss fade in and out between fresh non-flavoured pop corn. Earthy elements follow: wet moss rock and musty warehouse. Darting out of the corners a slight varnish and rich Earl Grey milk tea. Water brings out lemon spice and fruit: plum and ripe permission.

Taste: Youth is a bit present on the palate but sensational stuff. Wood spice and a hint of anise roam. As with the nose tea is present only on the palate it's hot honey and lemon. Water makes this malt sparkle; without it you rob yourself of pleasantries: plum, over ripe permission, powdered sugar coloured pop corn, nougat, and hints of marzipan.

Finish: Warming, mouth coating, lingering, and nutty.

Comment: There is a reason why I ordered this. As mentioned I don't often give in to private bottlings, they have to really push my buttons; the Shinanoya private cask Chichibu Chibidaru did just that. The nose is a winner. It amazed me being so aromatic for the age. When I tried the prototype at Whisky History the bottle was at quarter level, and it was that good I had to order two, so I can only presume the above notes will change as the bottle decreases. Lovely as it is but I can see this becoming greater. For an alternate review take a look over at Connosr - interesting introduction by Pierre W.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Mercian - Hanshin Tigers Collaborative Bottling 12-year-old 40% abv

Distillery: Karuizawa - Whisky type: pure malt - Bottled: 2003

Nose: Distinctly 12-yo OB Karuizawa. I find when many of the OB’s are initially opened there is a massive citrus aroma that engulfs your nose, which is the case here. Orange and lemon sherbet, fresh Sunkist orange zest, orange gelatin crystals, and a slight freshly squeezed Yuuzu aroma poke through. This lovely citrus however, in my opinion fades with time and becomes less aromatic as the bottle decreases. Of the bat lovely stewed apricots and trifle like qualities (dry sherry, custard, jam rolls). In given time sweetness develops: toffee and maple syrup. Lurking are chocolate roasted coffee beans, pine, and wood varnish. This is arguably a very complex Mercian release.

Taste: Thin and light, a tad watery but once past this everything positive arrives: sherry wood spice and raw button mushrooms. Beer nut skins, caramel topping, and tinned apricots mingle with a slight sulphur note. In given time a distinguishable molded rubber reveals itself, or is it a faint firework smoke?

Finish: Dry, pulls up a bit short but pleasant. Sherry wood spice and burnt toffee, with a tinny like taste (liking the inside of an empty apricot tin).

Comment: Although some of the notes may not sound that spectacular I actually find this bottling very pleasant. The citrus is amazingly dominant on the nose when first cracked, I presume this will all change as is did with the official OB 12-yo I reviewed a while back (which fell apart half way through). There is certainly a difference between the two bottles. Glad to have a couple of these in my stash which I stumbled across a short while back.

Reviewed by Clint A

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Tales of Brewing and Distilling Craftsmanship

To celebrate the 10th museum anniversary of Osaka University, an exhibition on the history and manufacturing of Japanese alcohol will run until January 19. The museum's 15th exhibition looks at the brewing and distilling innovation of Japanese pioneers in the beer, sake, and whisky industry (past and present), particularly those from the Kansai region. On Saturday, January 12, a special seminar will take place focusing purely on Japanese whisky and the man behind it all: Masataka Taketsuru (up to 30 attendees). Admission is free.

Exhibition info (in Japanese)

Image borrowed from the Museum of Osaka University

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Dramtastic Goes Solo at The Japanese Whisky Review

Born in Sydney, residing in Brisbane, Australia Brian “aka Damtastic” needs no introduction to enthusiasts on the whisky circuit. Nevertheless, he is a well-known contributor to a number of whisky forums. His passion for Japanese whisky is evident through his tastings that are set about with precision; he describes flavours he encounters in detail, modestly, and in plain mouthwatering language. Brian’s experience and enthusiasm for locally distilled whisky in Japan is invaluable.

This dedication, which Brian himself labels as “a hobby” has led to the natural progression of creating his own site The Japanese Whisky Review that will focus on what he does best: a broad range of Japanese whisky reviews, which I recommend heartily to all Whiskies R Us readers. The Japanese Whisky Review can be found under "Reviews by Dramtastic" on the side bar.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Nikka Taketsuru 17-year-old Pure Malt 43%abv

Nose: Stewed Australian wild peach (quandong), apricot jam on scones intertwined with a thin layer of butter and whipped cream. Sweet peat, a semi-spiced induced jelly (marmalade), frosted cornflakes, followed by a hint of lemon meringue pie, or is it concentrated golden circle lemon juice with the addition of a drop of water? As bizarre as it may sound; Jane's Krazy Mixed-Up salt.

Taste: Oaky, tame malt, and oily. The peach is present but more artificial on the palate: tinned peach syrup. Fairly dry with a sprinkle of cinnamon and bitter home brand chocolate. A drop of water releases a trace of fresh lavender cookie.

Finish: Moderate with a cheeky lingering. The oak is ever so present and there it is again: a few granules of Jane's Mixed-Up salt on the back of your tongue.

Comment: Nice and arguably complex, but I'll say it again, as a personal preference the 17-yo non-chill-filtered wins hands down in comparison to the standard 17-yo bottling. The non-chill-filtered version is a crisper, cleaner, and slightly a tad more sophisticated presentation. However, I certainly will never turn down the standard expression.

Reviewed by Clint A

Monday, November 26, 2012

In-house Taketsuru Seminar at Whisky Cat 1494

Through invitation my Sunday afternoon was spent at Whisky Cat 1494, where the captain of the ship, Yoshimura-san, conducted a Taketsuru seminar/tasting. I couldn't think of a better way to spend my remaining hours of the weekend before it was back to the grime on Monday. Bar Whisky Cat 1494 runs off an ancient arcade and it is an establishment you wouldn't stumble across by chance as its entrance is slightly camouflaged. The only evidence that the premises is a whisky bar and not a normal residence is the small pot still with a little kitty pocking out the top (hence the name) that is fixed to the equally ancient door.

Once inside, however, there is nothing ancient about this place besides the lovely array of old bottlings which consist mainly of Scotch and a handful of Japanese whisky gems. The bar area, is reasonably small but it posses all the right qualities one seeks when heading out for a dram. The couple run establishment provides an extremely warm and friendly environment that is perhaps one of my favourite things about the place, that and some excellent Hakushu Owner's Cask bottlings.

Moving on from the bar, all the action took place in "The Tasting" room which is situated directly to the right of the bar. Huge wooden beams, high-ceilings, candle chandeliers and white walls greeted all the participants on the day. The interior that is reminiscent of a farm yard-barn (in a very positive way) paved way for the day's line-up, which naturally included Taketsuru's full portfolio (excluding the 35-year-old): 12, 17, and 17 non-chill-filtered, 21, and 25-year-olds. For good measure a blind tasting and surprise malt was also included.

The day started like any seminar/tasting with an in-depth introduction on Taketsuru-san's familiar background and the pioneer's upbringing that consisted of his studies in Osaka and Scotland, his marriage to Scottish born Rita, and his endless efforts in the industry spanning from 1894 all the way up to his departure in 1979. This was conducted by Yoshimura-san, which was then followed up with a video presentation from the distillery manager of Yoichi who gave his personal tasting notes on the drams uniformly put in front of us. Time was crucial and unfortunately a bit rushed so my own notes on each expression are brief but hopefully will give you insight into the brands character and its range of Pure Malts through my interpretation (no water added).

Taketsuru 12-year-old Pure Malt: Fresh fruits, banana and apples. The longer this sits the apple becomes more like concentrated apple juice. Biscuits and silent peat were amongst very little vanilla.

Taketsuru 17-year-old Pure Malt: The peat is much more evident here than its younger brother of the family. Sherry, raisins, chocolate, and a heavy dose of cereal (cornflakes) both on the nose and palate were the stand-outs. After time oranges become present but not in its fresh form but more like a spicy marmalade.

Taketsuru 17-year-old non-chill-filtered Pure Malt: Posses all the qualities of the standard 17-yo but it is much more fresh. The peat appears to be fresher and there is a bigger emphasis on dried fruits in particular figs.

Taketsuru 21-year-old Pure Malt: A massive sherry emphasis from the variety of casks used. Lovely thick aromas of peach and figs were dominant. On the palate the peat is sweet and sophisticated. This malt is lovely and warming with a chocolate and honey finish.

Taketsuru 25-year-old Pure Malt: A lush range of fruits in both dried and fresh form, just like the 21-yo but these fruits are more tropical on the nose: mango, rock melon, and papaya. This is a powerful whisky consisting of three key malts (one Yoichi and two Miyagikyo). It lingers with a slightly bitter sherry finish. The background peat fights for recognition amongst the thick fruit and sherry.

The blind tasting, which the majority of punters predicted, including myself, was the 10-year-old Yoichi single malt. I plan to do a review on this as well as the 17-year-old Taketsuru at Whiskies R Us so I won't go into detail on this malt. This was followed by the "surprise malt"; perhaps surprise was not the right classification as everyone in the room on Sunday was more ecstatic than surprised. Nikka vintage whisky aged 34-years: This extremely sophisticated dram is compromised of whiskies distilled in 1964 that were matured in Oak Casks for 34 years, prior to the blending and bottling in 1998. This gem was my seventh malt of the day, although sensational in every way, I dare say I could have got so much more from it if I sampled this right of the bat.

To conclude I think it's reasonably fair to say that the Taketsuru line-up posses many similar qualities throughout the age range. Some age expressions emphasize qualities more so than others, while the elder brothers of the family are the ones which break away and add different characters to their younger siblings with sophistication and freshness. I favoured the no-chill-filtered 17-year-old on the day, and some may agree, others most likely not, the 21-year-old Taketsuru won my vote over the 25-yo. The later is a fantastic and exotic malt by all means, but as a personal preference the bitter but subtle finish knocked of a few points making the former (21-yo) a winner, and a must have permanent malt for the cabinet.

Details (in Japanese) on Bar Whisky Cat 1494

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Ichiro's Malt Wine Wood Reserve 46%abv

Nose: Stale musk sticks (but in a pleasant way), pineapple and banana chewy confectionary, resin, tree sap, glazed oranges, and a dose of sherry (possibly brandy and cola?) After sitting for a while the orange becomes extremely evident: a powdered sherbet form (vitamin C tablets?).

Taste: A spicy number indeed: wood spice and pepper. Very prickly with dried figs and oak. The orange returns but it is a bit more shy and dull compared to the nose: stale peel. Bitter and a slight vegetal note I couldn't pinpoint (baked turnip?).

Finish: Pepper and spices stay for a reasonable run before transitioning to dried fruits and tree sap.

Comment: Decent stuff, in my opinion the 200ml bottling is adequate enough, as a personal preference I wouldn't buy the 700ml bottling. However, this gift (birthday present) was extremely appreciative and a great experience.

Reviewed by Clint A

Friday, November 9, 2012

Mars Distillery New Pot 2012 Release

The Mars distillery (Hombo Shinshu), which is located amongst the lush green forests of Kagoshima and situated in the Japanese Alps, retains the title of being Japan’s highest situated distillery in the midst of the nations handful of brands. The distillery, which resumed distillation in February 2011, a good nineteen years since its last distillation (1992), gave birth to some remarkable new make (new pot – Heavily and Lightly Peated) last year in the traditional Iwai-style: heavy and smoky.

This year welcomes the distillery’s second distillation that makes way for the release of a new heavily peated new make (new pot). Available in December, this new release has a phenol content of 50 PPM, that’s one and a half times more than last year’s distillation phenol content of 19 PPM. This new make is a tell tale sign of things to come (single malt whisky) and what the distillery is capable of. Hombo Shinshu gives an indication that this year’s new make (New Pot Heavily Peated) will be matured in Oak barrels for three years, something that we have seen a lot of lately with some fantastic results.

The Mars distillery’s New Pot Heavily Peated (9-months-old) that was distilled in March and bottled in November this year (2012) will be released December 3. It is bottled at 60% in a stylish 200ml decanter (similar to last year’s tasty treat) with an affordable retail price of 1,890 yen (in Japan). The bottle outrun has increased compared to last years release (864) to 1,100 bottles making it arguably very limited. Watch this space for details of where you can purchase the release in Kansai as well as news of other Mars new pot editions.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Yamazaki Kakubin Genshu Single Malt 55% abv

Year of production: 2005 - Suntory limited sample bottle

Nose: Everything that its blended brother does not have. There are some distant resemblances but this is truly in a league of its own with little if any comparison. Rich vanilla wafers integrate with costal flora honey. Wine gums and custard tart crust play together with delicate malty tones.

Taste: Clean with generous amount of white pepper. Rich honey (possibly eucalyptus) with hints of herb. There is a small suggestion of spearmint that plays well with the malt. Water transforms the honey into maple syrup and takes down the pepper a notch or two.

Finish: Peppery, sweet honey, warming, moderate and exceptionally clean.

Comment: It appears this sample bottle was attached to a full bottle of Kakubin blended whisky around 2005 for a special fathers day promotion. Suntory in the past often added a small sample of some sort to their Kakubin blends, in particular the larger varieties. This is very pleasant malt, something I look forward to sharing with others (I have a few in reserve).

Reviewed by Clint A

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hankyu Facelift

Department stores in Kansai have been a little on the bland side recently when considering whisky purchases. Of course purely an opinion, but the majority of the big guns in the retail industry are simply not offering any thing exciting to justify a visit, especially when it comes to domestic spirit, and in comparison to their stores in the Kanto area. However, things are beginning to look a bit brighter. A bit of excitement has made its way to the Hankyu, Umeda department store, and its got nothing to do with the lush revamp of the building’s exterior. The relocation, layout, and increased selection of all the beverage departments: Whisky, Wine, Sake, and Sochu have added a slight thrill back into shopping.

The whisky corner, which up until a week ago was situated on the first floor, has been moved to basement two and now sports a larger selection (both Japanese and Scotch) in its stylish set-up than it did before. Some of the domestic standouts that Wine & Spirits Japan offers are Ichiro’s Malt and Grain 25 and 33-year olds respectively. Although nothing overly new, these bottlings amongst some impressive Scotch are generally not seen around Umeda, making everything that bit more worthwhile.

The renewal also sees the whisky corner flanked by Suntory, who have an equally impressive stand as well as selection: 2012 Yamazaki Cask Collection (minus the six bottles of Mizunara that were available on the renewal opening day, which were snapped up immediately), Hakushu 2012 Heavily Peated, Hakushu and Yamazaki 18 and 25-year olds, assorted special edition and commemorative Hibiki bottlings, and for those interested the new bottle run/packaging of the Yamazaki and Hakushu NAS. Sure, there are no private bottlings like we often see and hear about from the Isetan group, and at times purchasing from the big guns can be a few dollars dearer, but it’s a step forward. Lets hope department stores begin to lift their game.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Chibidaru Original Quarter Cask

The guys over at Whiskywall have written an introduction on Shinanoya’s Private Cask 5th Anniversary Bottling: Chichibu’s Chibidaru. This three-year-old single malt, bottled at 61%, has an outrun of 161 bottles, making it yet again another sought after domestic whisky. The Chibidaru cask strength expression that uses shorter staves to accomplish the original quarter cask appears to have hit Shinanoya’s website before the weekend. However, according to their site (both English and Japanese version) the entire stock has already sold out. I was fortunate enough to check this delightful bottling out during Whisky History where the Chibidaru was available for pre-order. I’m guessing quite a few bottles from this limited outrun were snapped up before debuting on the Internet. I think it is fair to say this system both has its advantages; people who attend special events are guaranteed private cask bottlings. The obvious disadvantages; those who cannot attend events and need to wait until anniversary bottlings hit the Internet have to cross their fingers and hope for the best. Food for thought. Some may argue business is business. Well done to those who were able to obtain the Chichibu Chibidaru expression by trying their luck as soon as it was available. I often don’t bend over backwards to get these things but this was an exception, love on first taste.

Whisky Festival 2012 in Tokyo

One of the two main whisky events in Tokyo is set to take place in December, 2012. The seventh Whisky Festival (organized by the Scotch Whisky Research Center) will be held at the Tobu Hotel Levant Tokyo on Dec 2, from 11:00am to 6:00pm. General entry is 3,500 yen or 4,500 yen on the day. Applications can be obtained here. The gathering will have most of the major makers in both Scotch and Japanese whiskies. On the domestic front the familiar players will be there: Suntory, Nikka, Kirin, Venture Whisky (Ichiro's Malt), and Hombo Shuzo (Mars Distillery). Just like the Whisky Festival Osaka 2012 (part one, two, three), there will be a decent smorgasbord of free tasting, seminars, as well as the chance to rub shoulders with those in the know.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Karuizawa - Hanshin Tigers Commemorative Bottling

Nestled amongst the back streets of Rokkomichi, Kobe is your run of the mill independent liquor store. Although literally a few blocks away from the JR Rokkomichi station, this small but friendly establishment would literally be like trying to find a needle in a hay stack on a whim. Luckily for me, and purely coincidental, I was in the area on other matters and happened to see the sign with the word "sake" written in kanji out the corner of my eye. I frequent Rokkomichi often, it is home to one of my favourite watering holes and Yamaya, but this place has been hiding out of site for some time. Like the majority of small liquor shops it was quite the norm with what it stocked, but often than not these independent stores always have a hidden gem or two floating around, just as this store did, but in every way out of site and tucked amongst the bottom shelves.

I unearthed a few dusty boxes of Hanshin Tigers whisky amongst the depth of the stores typical line-up of blends. I was quite excited to see these, as a general rule any whisky sporting the Hanshin Tigers logo often than not is/was bottled by Mercian, therefore containing malt from the Karuizawa distillery. These bottlings, which are 12-year-olds, have been vatted using Karuizawa Genshu malt ranging from 12 years all the way up to 31 year old stock. The shape of this particular bottling and the black plastic capsule on the neck are typical qualities of the standard OB 12 and 15-year-old bottlings (the final design and newest out of the distillery's run). Besides these attributes the cap itself sports the Mercian logo and the bottom of the bottle is inscribed "Karuizawa Distillery", making it to be, what I believe, the actual 12-year-old 100% malt OB with novelty labels.

Commemorating the victory of the Hanshin Tigers in 2003 Mercian (Karuizawa distillery) released, as far as I can tell, four different commemorative bottlings. The bottle mentioned above (700ml/ABV:40%), a commemorative boxed set (including glass) with the teams victory logo, 350ml blends sporting plastic heads of the entire team (individually), and a rare trinket musical novelty bottling. This isn't/wasn't a one of concept collaboration for the Hanshin Tigers and Mercian. I have come across an extremely rare ceramic commemorative Hanshin Tigers bottling from the Ocean days as well blends from the late 80's. These collaborative bottlings may hold some significance to baseball aficionados, luckily for me I was brought up in a country where baseball was almost unheard of, therefore the significance does not apply...purely for consumption.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Mini-Seminar at Whisky Shop W

Whisky Shop W will hold two mini-seminars for the first time in a while on October 25 (Thursday) and November 2 (Friday). Seats are still available for the October session (in Japanese only), which starts at 3:00PM and runs for an hour. For an easily affordable sum of 1,000 yen enthusiasts can indulge in Yamazaki's Genshu 12-year-old and other Yamazaki cask collection whiskies. Seat capacity is however very limited so if interested pop into the store and make a reservation or call 06-6341-3123 (in Japanese only).

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Dwindling Single Cask Stock at Whisky Shop W

This year: 2012, has been a year, like many before, to have an array of new bottlings hit the market. Looking at Japanese whiskies in particular, consumers who lean towards and favour whisky from the island have been relatively spoilt for selection these past few months (providing you have been able to acquire bottlings before being snapped up once they hit the Internet). Amongst this year's welcoming selection is the Whisky Shop W 2nd anniversary single caskYamazaki and Hakushu bottlings that proved to be popular once again for its limited outrun. On the release (September) of these beauties many were sold straight of the bat (in particular the Hakushu single cask) leaving most people with the belief that the anniversary bottlings are no longer available. However, some of you may be thrilled to learn that currently (October 16) there are a handful of both the Hakushu and Yamazaki single cask bottlings available directly through the shop and not via their website (in particular the Hakushu). The remaining amount of stock left can change at any given minute, so it is fair to say “hurry” while they lasts.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Hakushu Heavily Peated 2012 48% abv

Outrun: 3000 bottles

Nose: Sweet smoked deli meats: smoked honey ham, wood spice, sweet lemon sherbet lollies, natural and subtle citrus zest: a mixture of yuzu and sudachi, trademark qualities of this distillery. There is an element of moist freshly cut wood chips and natural salt pans. All these aromas intertwine with low key vanilla. An experiment with water added a touch of riesling, sheep's wool (lanolin?), and sweet elegant peat.

Taste: Pork crackling, a hint of shiso, salt rock, sudachi, subtle sweet smoke (certainly not medicinal), and interestingly enough towards the last few drops of the glass (with water added) Dutch salted licorice.

Finish: Medium-long with effervescent citrus, salt tang, and a sophisticated injection of smoke. Mouth coating stuff.

Comment: The 180ml bottling of the Hakushu HP 2012 is approximately 2,500 yen, a great alternative for those with limited funds. However, if your budget allows, it may be sensible to fork out the extra for the 700ml. I have always loved Hakushu's HP, personally the 2010 bottling takes the award, I prefer this over other years, but apparently there is no taste difference, I think otherwise.

Reviewed by Clint A 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Mars Maltage Komagatake Pure Malt 10 Years 40%abv

Nose: A luscious basket of fresh and dried fruits: tinned apricots and peaches, slight aroma of Japanese pear, mashed strawberries and hints of banana custard. Over time candied musk sticks surface with dried pineapple and malt. Wood spice and karinton: black sugar fried dough biscuits.

Taste: Mild and ultra-clean but slightly a tad watery for my liking. Bitter chocolate, walnuts, malty, brown sugar and burnt toffee are the major flavours. The mouthfeel is totally opposite to the nose, where did all the lush fruits vanish to?

Finish: Short to medium; but leaning more towards the quicker side of things with an abrupt bitterness, walnuts, followed by minerals.

Comment: Good evening dram over a moderately warm night regardless. Certainly fair to say the nose wins hands down over the taste, nevertheless a good experience. I'm supportive of what these guys are producing. I should mention that the bottle design for this malt, 3 plus 25, and their (old) single cask expressions are favoured by me, sophisticated design.

Reviewed by Clint A

Monday, October 1, 2012

Amongst Whisky History

Despite the typhoon that tore through Kansai yesterday (September 30) the annual Whisky History event soared on in Osaka. Enthusiasts braved strong winds and pelting rain to attend the 2012 NBA (Nihon Bartenders Association) gathering, which is in its 12th year and labeled as the main whisky event of Kansai. The scale of the gathering was relatively small compared to other whisky events and festivals but nevertheless it provided the perfect opportunity to take your time and get amongst the reps minds with bombarding questions. The event, which kicked-off at noon, had roughly a little over 20 booths with a heavy emphasis on Scotch, and in particular from independent bottlers. The Golden Cask and Silver Seal bottlers appeared to be fashionable on the day. For me the standard out amongst the array of indi's was the Sherry 22-year-old Single Cask Glen Grant bottled by Black Adder (I can still taste the thick coal tar, surprisingly for what it is).

Despite the variety of independent bottlings my prime focus of the day was naturally Japanese whisky. The same players were there as the Osaka Whisky Festival 2012, and once again sadly without the presence of the White Oak Distillery. Although not physically present Akuto-san's Venture Whisky booth was gleaming. I was a little disappointed in terms of selection, I was hoping to get amongst some surprise bottlings, but they sell out so quick at events in Kanto therefore bottlings such as the Port Pipe never reach events in Kansai. However, these thoughts vanished as soon as I got amongst the malt on the pedestal: "Chichibu The Peated". Such lush malt. I immediately had hairs standing up on the back of my neck once the transition of thick smoked ham, herbs, and spices rolled over my tongue. There is often a bit of hype surrounding Chichibu releases however; this one deserves all that it gets. This is lovely artisan whisky at its best. I have this in my possession but have yet to crack it so I was lucky to get a glimpse of what I have install, great clarification in great surroundings.

While on the domestic front Nikka had a very minimal stall and selection however, hidden behind the range of Taketsuru Pure Malt laid the 2012 non-chill filtered 17-year-old Taketsuru that appeared to be given out discretely. According to the reps only 600 bottles of this release was allocated to Kansai (total outrun of 6,000 bottles, which isn't mentioned on the label). Sophisticated and clean mouth feel but I favoured the robust nose of the standard 17-year-old when comparing. Suntory of course were present and equally had a small and simple set up with the emphasis on the 2012 Yamazaki Cask Collection (seems like a few bottles were put aside for the event in addition to the distillery's remaining stock). Unfortunately not a lot to say here as I tried the Cask expressions the other day while at Yamazaki, and there was no standard bottlings over the 12-year-old mark to be seen.

Familiar faces from the Mars Distillery were in full force on the day. Interestingly enough they had the last dregs of the Single Cask releases (Cognac, Sherry, American Oak) on offer, free of charge (not like the Osaka Whisky Festival) to sample that one last time. It was basically first in first serve to have the final pleasures of tasting these expressions, unless you were one of the lucky punters who secured a bottle already. My focus shifted to their New Pot, nothing new of course, but it wasn't on offer at the last festival. Distilled and bottled in 2011 this heavily peated new make at 60% was sensational. Apparently we can expect some news from Shinshu Mars in coming months but it was on a "loose lips sink ships" basis, so I guess we will all have to wait.

The usual suspects of the retail industry were also present such as Sake Brutus, Sake Shop Sato, and naturally Shinanoya, which had a lovely private bottling of a 30-year-old Highland Park and a 35-year-old Dailuaine. All in all a great day out, once again I'm glad I took my glass, shame the measures of drams were a bit on the stingy side at some booths along with the lack of imagination of presentation, but I guess it's what is inside the bottle that counts.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Yamazaki 2012 Cask Collection Update

The 2012 Yamazaki limited cask collection that compromises of the Sherry, Bourbon, and Puncheon releases are rapidly becoming scarce. This goes for the tasting bar at the Yamazaki distillery also. On a brief visit today (September 27), I was informed that the Bourbon cask release is down to half a bottle, after this, visitors will no longer be able to sample it as there are no more bottles remaining at the distillery. I presume this will be gone by the end of the week. However, fans of both the Puncheon and Sherry release might be slightly happier to learn that these expressions will still be available at Yamazaki to taste, but again, not for long, as there is roughly one and a half bottles remaining of each. Last but certainly not least, quite the opposite really, the tasting bar also has approximately one and a half bottles of the Yamazaki Mizunara expression and a dram or two left of the Mizunara Genshu. For me the Mizunara Genshu took the medal today (all though not an official bottling), followed by the Puncheon that I favoured over the Bourbon cask. Nevertheless all of the cask collections shined in their own way, compared to the last release in my opinion. If a quick visit to the distillery to sample this year’s collection is out of the question I believe Whisky Shop W has a few drams left to consume.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Peat Offering

Ichiro's Malt "The Peated", a bottling like so many of Akuto-san's artisan whisky hit the net a few days ago and sold extremely well within hours. Luckily for Kansai residents, and for those who don't have the chance to purchase online, this new bottling has made its way to the Hankyu department store in Umeda. WSJ (Wine & Spirits Japan), the team behind the small but appreciative whisky corner on the first floor of the store have currently (as of today, September 26) got five bottles on its shelf (with a few in reserve) retailing at 8,925 yen (including tax). Again, these guys, who always stock Venture Whisky bottlings are offering people the opportunity to buy sample bottles in both 100mls (1,659 yen) and 200mls (3,060 yen). Something I'm all for, especially when you don't have a spare 9K to part with but nevertheless want to consume these frequent new editions. The Peated, which was distilled in 2009 and bottled in 2012 (three-year-old whisky) is a Chichibu bottling with an ABV of 50.5% and is limited to 5,000 bottles, making it yet another sought after malt. Let's hope the majority of The Peated gets snapped up by pure consumers and not dealers who are in it just to make a few bucks in the future.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Kirin Gotemba Fujisanroku Tarujuku 50%

Nose: Decent for a blend that's around $12 (cheaper when on special). An intriguing
 mixture of sweet and savory aromas. Caramel popcorn, big bourbon qualities (Jim Beam always comes to mind), slight alcohol burn but acceptable, sweet vanilla pastries before a vegetal note of sweet processed corn kernels kick in. A good splash of water brings out a moderate whiff of dried rosemary and after a good 10 minutes in the glass I picked up berry cordial; at first I thought home brand raspberry cordial but then Cottee's mixed berry cordial led the way. Hidden far away is a sweet smoky aroma: smoked sweet potato.

Taste: A few hard edges but these retain themselves before dried pear and bourbon qualities appear, only this time in a fudge form. Caramel popcorn is dominant along with oak, and malt powder.

Finish: Slight roughness that soon fades into that distinctive caramel popcorn followed by a moderate minerally and malty finale.

Comment: Pleasant neat with a splash of water (recommend for those few extra aromas). Refreshing as a highball on a hot day but I find it to be a bit soapy when mixed, so I prefer it as is. I'm on my second bottle, a good blend, one of the best in this price range in my opinion. For some insight into Kirin's marketing presence take a look here.

Reviewed by Clint A

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Hibiki Tasting Event Held at Hankyu Men's

Hankyu Men’s, the large department store dedicated to men’s fashion in Umeda, Osaka is offering punters the chance to indulge in a dram or two whilst out shopping. This novelty concept bar that is situated on the first floor of the men’s only shopping facility (not the standard Hankyu department store) gives mature shoppers the opportunity to experience the flavours and aromas of Suntory’s Hibiki line-up of award winning blends. Until September 18, the specially designed small scale bar, which has been plonked amongst ties, sunglasses, and other assorted accessories, will provide tastings up until the closure of the store. However, there is a catch as far as I can tell, to wet your palate you have to spend a certain amount within the department store before anything touches your lips. It works on a tier system; the more you have spent on goods the more you get in terms of both quantity and quality (i.e. a purchase over 10,500 yen will allow you to sample the 12-year-old Hibiki while a whopping purchase over 52,500 yen will allow you to compare both the 12 and 17-year-old with a complimentary 12-year-old mini bottle to take home). It seems like an interesting concept, but obviously an incentive aimed at general shoppers and not people who generally are interested in the education of whisky.


Sunday, September 9, 2012

Hokuto 12-Year-Old Pure Malt

Distillery: Hakushu
Whisky type: Pure Malt
ABV: 40%
Volume: 660ml

Nose: Whipped cream, fried pineapple, fresh banana fritters, dusty wood chips, integrated subtle sweet smoke, Allen’s fruit tingles: lemon and orange, sweet oak, salt rock, and strangely but pleasant spicy tomato juice.
Taste: Lush. Smooth and silky with gorgeous oak, a dash of concentrated lime juice, and a drop of pineapple juice from a can. The whipped cream makes itself present before spiced mixed nuts roll into the equation. The malt becomes very creamy the longer it sits.
Finish: Dry, tame, and oaky with a medium length.
Comment: This is an extremely mouthwatering whisky. The Hokuto 12-year-old was released on the market in 2004 and ceased production late 2009 or early 2010 as far as I know. Although a mass marketed line-up of Suntory at the time, it is now ever so scarce due to its popularity, and effectively cheap price for excellent quality. It took me at least 6 months to find my bottle, and I was reluctant to open it, but glad I did. This Pure Malt ticks all the right boxes, it offers something different to Suntory’s core Yamazaki and Hakushu single malts. I’m a fan, and will be on the hunt for another bottle…I better make it 2 bottles.

Reviewed by Clint A

Sunday, September 2, 2012

White Oak Akashi No-Age-Statement Single Malt 46%abv

Nose: A youthful edge. Oak, concrete powder mix, light yeastiness with a presence of smoke: firework smoke to be precise. Green nectarines plus qualities I can smell in the Akashi 5-year-old single malt: burnt tyre rubber and slightly metallic. Water brings out the sweetness of honey and the nectarine becomes riper. After 10 minutes a possible cherry coke aroma escapes the glass. You really do have to search for all the above though.

Taste: Interesting, however not as much going on compared with the nose. Certainly a spice explosion: ginger. Very oaky, and again that familiar burnt rubber (smoke) from a car burnout (which I must admit is growing on me). Red gum honey, bitter yeastiness, herbal: parsley, with water peat, tar, and aloe vera gel.

Finish: Medium to long on the spice and oak, warming, dry.

Comment: Slightly better than the 5-year-old in my opinion, however for what it is and what it provides the 500ml no-age-statement bottling at this price (buying direct from the distillery will set you back 2,620 yen) is possibly a bit pricey. For a 700ml bottle it could be justifiable but in an honest opinion I wouldn’t want any more than I already have. Nevertheless, I’m glad I purchased it for the experience; it certainly is approachable and has potential to grow on you. Water is recommended for the few pleasantries. As far as I know my review is the first post in English to hit the Internet, but if any readers have tried this Whiskies R Us encourages you to post your tasting notes, I would personally like to hear other peoples description of the NAS. 4,000 bottles was produced for the first release of this no-age-statement single malt for this year (end of August 2012).  

Reviewed by Clint A