Friday, July 27, 2012

Mercian Karuizawa 12yo Original Bottle KR-12Y 40%abv

Nose: Stunning! Where do I begin? Mashed banana, toffee apples, brewed ground coffee beans (in paper filter), the tinniest floral hint: lavender, lemon meringue pie, and a heavy dose of malt. Initially compound chocolate and toffee honeycomb is present.

Taste: Burnt toffee, heavy on the oak, slightly dusty, malty, mint tea, and weak charcoal filtered coffeebut all very pleasant in every way.

Finish: Pulls up a bit short with not a lot going on. Except the transition from weak non sweetened black iced coffee to the mouthfeel of chewing on an ice-block stick (but again not in a bad way).

Comments: This tasting was without water, none needed in my opinion. The dimple shape bottle of the OB 12-year-old is presumably mid 90's. Interesting, usually when a bottle reaches the half way mark extra aromas and taste develop, with this I thought the opposite, aromas have possibly faded away from when I originally cracked the bottle and poured my first dram. Perhaps it's all in the mood and atmosphere? All in all a fantastic Karuizawa, a bottling I picked up at a hidden back street mom & pop store. Looking forward to tracking it down again, well at least try to.

Reviewed by Clint A

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Nagano Outdoor Whisky Festival 2012

It's that time of year, where yet again, outdoor adventurers and whisky enthusiasts come together to experience the finest pleasures of life. Last year, for the very first time in Japan, an outdoor whisky festival took place at the foothills of Nagawa-machi, Nagano. Back by popular demand, the Scotch Club in association with Mamoru Tsuchiya, the man behind the Whisky World magazine, will once again throw the event at the Blanche Takayama Ski Resort, which during summer opens up to picturesque blue skies and rewarding fresh air. Just as last year, it appears there will be yet again 150 domestic and international whiskies up for offer with the majority available for free tasting, with the exception of rare bottlings in which a small fee (generally 500 yen) is required (like most whisky festivals). For those lucky enough to be residing in Tokyo, a 1-hour trip is all it takes to get to the outdoor festival. The festival, which is on September 16, appears to have the same entertainment as last year: BBQs, an evening bonfire, bands, soba making, contests, and various stalls selling food, so fun for everyone, considering making it a family day out.


Phone: 03-5774-4142

Price: Advanced 1500 yen - 2,000 yen on the day

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.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Osaka Whisky Festival 2012 Report - Part 2

While on the domestic theme, I was intrigued at the popularity in which Japanese whiskies were receiving from the locals. Throughout the day of festivities, for obvious reasons, I spent a lot of time around the booths of the Japanese brands. This was interesting, as I was not only amongst the spirit of which I have a passion for but in doing  so provided a good insight, or a better perspective of how Japanese people perceive their domestically distilled spirit.

It is safe to say that people at these types of events generally have an interest in whisky, some perhaps more than others, and lets face it, they wouldn’t be there otherwise. But the genuine interest the Japanese brands received from the locals was outstanding, and in particular the interest Ichiro-san’s small but constantly busy stand received. Focus was purely on the recent edition of the Black Label Malt & Grain blend, which again, locals took a lot of interest in. Whether it’s the hype, awards received, or the general love of the spirit, all three bottles on the pedestal (Floor Malted, Black and White Label Malt & Grain Blends) generated appeal and kept most people happy. Akuto-san also had a 25-year-old single cask available at 500 yen and a very interesting 33-year-old Malt & Grain blend available for tasting at 1,000 yen. I was expecting a little more from the stand in all honesty, more in the sense of variety, more to sample, but I guess there is not much more that could have been presented as a lot of bottlings are now unavailable.

Next door to Akuto-san was Kirin’s relatively small stand. They were throwing some sort of demonstration showing the effectiveness of marrying their Gotemba Fujisanroku label with brewed tea. The flagship Fujisanroku, both the blend and the 18-year-old single malt was the only two whiskies on their stand, no other house blends cluttered up the table. I welcomed this as I never had the pleasure of indulging in the 18-year-old, purely because I was never willing to lay down the arguable pricey fee of both a full bottle and a dram at a bar. However, I may have to think this over again. The 18-year-old has received mixed reviews over the years but it is one of the few malts that have constantly been on my mind since the festival. Huge dollops of fresh whipped cream and homemade jam on heavily buttered fresh scones engulfed my senses when consuming it (thankfully, a healthy measure in my glass). Although their stand was what it was, hats off to Kirin Gotemba for their imaginative promo materials (catalogues), the best I have seen from any distillery to date.

Part 3 (final and lengthy post) is in the transition from paper to computer. Stay tuned.

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...

Monday, July 9, 2012

Mille Cote Liquor Shop Opening

Since the establishment of Whiskies R Us, I believe I have only ever once said that a particular whisky outlet was best by far, at the time, and regarding the selection of Japanese whiskies. This particular outlet has now been superseded with the opening of a new establishment. Precisely six days ago, the liquor shop, Mille Cote, opened its doors to the public, with one of the best selections of Scotch I have seen to date. An array of independent bottlings (some rare and hard to come across in Japan) from the industries biggest players adorn the many shelves from floor to ceiling. I was intrigued and memorized by the vast amount of bottles and labeling, many of which I had not physically seen before. Unfortunately, when it comes to Japanese whisky, there is nothing special to write about. Besides the few bottles of the 1990 Yoichi and talk of introducing White Oak's Akashi label, everything else, and very little at that, is standard. But I hope and believe this may change as I've expressed the benefits of having an adequate selection of Japanese whiskies to the manager, only time will tell, and if so I'll be sure to keep you all updated. 

Although the interests of Whiskies R Us obviously lay in Japanese whisky, I encourage everyone to head down to the conveniently located shop that is only a 3 minute walk from Hankyu Shukugawa station (turn left after exiting the ticket gate), or a 4 minute walk from JR Sakura Shukugawa.

Mille Cote's interior is fairly simple but plush at the same time. It radiates appeal, and if Scotch is up your alley then you will find yourself in paradise. It's a very welcoming establishment and one I could spend a lot of time in. Until August 8, the liquor shop has an opening sale of 10%, providing you have the flyer, which the staff automatically give you on entering, well; they did on the day I was there. Wine enthusiasts will be happy to learn that Mille Cote, a wholesaler, that imports directly, and sells to the public at reasonable prices, has an interesting selection of wine (cellar) just as they do whisky, hence the naming of the shop. The manager appears to know what he is talking about concerning the Water of Life, which I always appreciate, so if you are in the area, pop in.

Kotobuki-cho, 4-32, Nishinomiya-shi, Hyogo-ken


Closed every Monday

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Ichiro's Malt & Grain - New Premium Black Label Blend

This year we have seen a flourish of Japanese whiskies hit the market, in particular a handful of expressions from Venture Whisky. In coming time, as early as this weekend to be precise (Saturday 7th); we will once again have the pleasure of witnessing the hype surrounding yet another bottling from Ichiro-san. Ichiro’s second new blend The Malt & Grain Premium “Black Label”, the sequel to the fairly affordable and recent Malt & Grain “White Label”, will soon hit the shelves of many a retailer and add to the forever growing portfolio of arguably Japan’s most influential figure of recent times. Official sales of the blend, which consists of genshu malt from ten distilleries and top quality grain from three grain distilleries, will commence at the beginning of this month. WSJ (Wine & Spirits Japan), who run the whisky corner at Hankyu, Umeda, will have several bottles of this premium blend, which will retail for yet again, an affordable price of 5,000 yen. If a full bottle purchase is not in your alley, they will also be selling the blend in 100ml decanters (roughly only two bottles, so until stocks last), like they often kindly do. The “Black Label”, which has an ABV of 50% and bottle volume of 700ml, is said to have aromas of vanilla sugar confectionary, rich burnt toffee with top notes reminiscent of ripe fruit, and a long oily finish.

Photo courtesy of WSJ

Monday, July 2, 2012

Scarecrow - Black Malt Whisky

Aged & bottled at: Hanyu distillery by Akuto Ichiro - Whisky type: Pure malt (8-year-old vatted malt from allied distillers - further aged in Japan for 2 years) - Age: 10-years-old - Cask type: Old heavily charred oak - Bottled: 2005 - ABV: 40% -Limited: 1600 bottles 

Nose: Fighting past the oak is an interesting mix of rich, dried fruits: prunes, cooked raisins, and figs. Sarsaparilla syrup is present; I often find this in many expressions bottled by Ichiro-san. After a good 10 minutes in the glass an array of aromas rush for dominance: musk sticks, brandy, new leather, stale boxed charcoal, faint charcoal smoke, and lead pencils followed by a finale of scented cake soap.

Taste: Minerally, iron, conservative spices, sultanas, honey sap, a very brisk appearance of smoke and lead pencils. Possibly a little tame at the ABV of 40%.

Finish: Short-medium. White pepper and sultanas are in play before that minerraly, diluted honey rinses your mouth. 

Comment: Water not needed in my opinion. The nose wins hands down in comparison to taste for its rich fruit cake like qualities. Is there such a thing as over charring? I understand the concept but I kept saying to my self "this is too excessive". Still, it was worth the experience with something so limited. I wanted to show the true colour of this whisky, hence the glass shot, but it is in actual fact much darker than this in the bottle.

Reviewed by Clint A