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.