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