Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Year, New Beginnings

As we have just witnessed the new year transition I'd like to take the opportunity to once again thank all the supporters of Whiskies R Us, to wish you all great times ahead, and to reflect upon a memorable year. The year 2013 saw a relatively dramatic change in the Japanese whisky industry with a few unexpected surprises: a smaller domestic distillery thought to have little chance of winning prestigious awards over the big guns did so, and craft distillers set their sights on the American market. The former, Hombo Shuzo, as you know, took "World's Best Blended Malt Whisky" at the World Whisky Awards 2013 (for Mars Maltage 3+25), and the later being Chichibu and White Oak (Eigashima). Akuto-san has began promoting Chichibu in the US with various seminars, while White Oak is also in place to launch (as reported (here) by Chris at The Whisky Wall). 

Another notable refashion of the domestic industry, which you have all read about, was the shift towards Japanese whisky without an age statement. First with Suntory replacing their 10yo Yamazaki and Hakushu expressions, followed by Nikka dropping the 12yo Taketsuru and substituting it with the NAS that is arguably much younger. Supply versus demand? Yes, but perhaps following trends? It will be interesting to see this year, in 2014, where the NAS movement takes us all. I've heard people speculate the movement will continue on the domestic market where distilleries will continue the heavy highball drive. Some people have even suggested, or predicted, that Suntory's Yamazaki and Hakushu 12yo's will follow, at least for a short period on home shores, again just a speculation. 

Something else worth noting was the flourish of releases we saw last year (as I implied (here) in 2012), most notably the array of private releases from the smaller distilleries for major Japanese retailers, who now appear to have confidence in selecting casks and making private bottles available to their customers.These private releases have proved to be quite popular so it's only natural to presume we will be seeing more this year...well depending on cask availability. As for the big players, first things first, Hakushu Sherry Cask 2014 in Feburary if I'm not mistaken. Once again, expect this year to be full of surprises and exciting news, and I look forward to another year sharing with you all what I can.

Happy New Year...Cheers!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Karuizawa Balanced Sherry 12yo

Distilled: 2000 - Bottled: 2013 - Bottled for: Isetan department store - ABV: 60.9%

Nose: A complexity of sweet and savory. Black forest cake, fried mushrooms in soy sauce, and both sweet and salty licorice. Refined sherry, raspberry tart biscuits, chocolate rum balls, and Vegemite. Very clean given the abv. Water adds orange sherbet candy and tangy orange (vitamin C tablet). Then there is fragrant rubber bands in the distant with coffee liqueur: Kahlua? Quite meaty on the last leg.

Taste: Prune sherry and Vegemite. Again quite smooth with cinnamon gum, spicey and sweet chutney, fragrant rubber, and black bean sauce. Past this you get Dr.Pepper, black cherry and dark bitter chocolate. Water allows a nice mocha attribute to surface along with mild licorice and bitter peel.

Finish: Gingered burdock, walnuts, and burnt black cherry then, black bean sauce.

Comment: No hype involved - a stellar cask, this young Karuizawa puts most of the older expressions I have tried to shame (mind you I haven't tried many). I'll go out on a whim and say this is my one of my second favourite "young" Karuizawa's. The first being Memories of Karuizawa 13yo. Another one of those "I wish I had a second bottle". Great play between savory and sweet, well balanced and complex.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Ichiro's Malt Chichibu - On The Way

Bottled: 2013 - Outturn: 9900 bottles - Vatting: Mizunara & bourbon barrels - ABV: 58.5%

Nose: Fans of Apple and pear will take an immediate liking to this - mostly in the form of juice concentrate and stews (perhaps throw in apple pie for good measure). Past this, caramel sauce over waffles with evident vanilla cream and custard. Brown creaming soda. From here it gets quite oaky, biscuity, and malty, in a sweet way - think Ovaltine. Fragrant hay. Water opens the gates: a mix of soft kiwi fruit, lime, and yuzu jam on toast before going to bitter green herbs, leather, and mellow fragrant wood.

Taste: Prickly heat, leather, grilled Ginkgo seeds (Ginnan), and a detection of Tabasco sauce. Definitely oaky, again malty, and peppery. Wood spice. The only sweet attributes that relate to the nose is caramel syrup, but in a spicy way. Chai perhaps? The bitterness of the Ginkgo seeds is enhanced with water along with an ever so faint menthol taste.

Finish: Moderate and prickly with heat. Water brings bitter apple juice and white pepper.

Comment: This has a very spirity note on the palate similar to that of The Floor Malted. Also, in my opinion, at certain stages it had similar aromas to that of a private release Chibidaru cask (well, that's what I automatically thought of) - and before you say "how is that possible", I know: different cask sizes and wood types were in play. Perhaps these similar attributes (opinion only) from various releases show that Chichibu's "house style" and new-make are of prime quality and very consistent?

Monday, December 23, 2013

Roaming Tokyo (4): Tanakaya - Mejiro

Whisky lovers are truly spoilt for choice in Tokyo. Aside from the great number of department stores in the metropolitan area that stock a satisfactory range, neighborhood districts equally have an abundance of dedicated shops that will not leave you disappointed. One particular establishment, naturally not new to the blogosphere, and which appears to be frequently visited by locals (a quick google search indicates this), has a very impressive selection of not only whisky, and all other worldwide spirits, but as well, there is a premium selection of craft beer. Tanakaya is a basement shop that caters to everyone's individual needs whether, you're after fine cognac or armagnac, limited rum or vodka, microbrew beers, and naturally independent whiskies. The shop, which is conveniently located literally a minute away from the Mejiro station, has a clean interior and layout that provides great browsing/shopping (liquor types are cleverly displayed in sections).

The Scotch whisky line-up (independents, limited releases, rare and vintage) is fulfilling and will not leave you displeased. However, currently the store seems to be lacking in Japanese whisky. On my visit only half a dozen bottles of On The Way, a bottle of Ichiro's Malt 23yo cask strength (original label), and a few bottles of a private release Akashi 5yo could be had. For those looking for standard expressions, i.e, Suntory and Nikka, perhaps you should look elsewhere - it appears Tanakaya do not stock official bottlings from the giants. Perhaps the store has so much traffic that any limited Japanese whisky that comes in goes straight out, a "need to be quick" policy? Well worth a visit regardless, and don't forget to check out the beer fridges, hard not to really. A classic liquor shop indeed.

Address: 3-4-14 Mejiro Toshima-ku, Tokyo 171-0031
Telephone: 03-3953-8888
Closed: Sunday
Access: West of Mejiro Station (JR Yamanote line)

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Roaming Tokyo (3): Campbelltoun Loch

In a belated follow up to "Roaming Tokyo (2)", Whiskies R Us finally checks out Campbelltoun Loch in Yurakucho. Naturally, this establishment has been mentioned quite a few times by various sources (here) as it's quite a popular place for enthusiasts however, only recently I had the pleasure to experience it. As the name suggests the whisky bar predominantly stocks Scotch - an extremely impressive selection at that. A lot of independents can be found here along with some pretty rare whiskies: both old and new. On the domestic front you may be a little disappointed with the quantity, nevertheless this is overcome with quality. There is roughly (at the time of writing) a dozen premium (give or take a few) Japanese whiskies available that will please both the beginner and novice drinkers among you, which includes most punters favourite brands: Owners Casks, Karuizawa (1 bottle), Chichibu, and Mars (80s single cask Komagatake). If you decide to visit I'd advise you to leave unnecessary luggage/shopping elsewhere, the bar is in a basement that is arguably somewhat on the small and narrow side - but hey, it's all about the malt right. Best bet is to arrive dead on 6:00 pm (5:00 pm weekends) and take of advantage of everything before it all gets a bit too busy... oh, and be prepared to spend hours gazing at all the labels! Well run and hats of to the proprietor: Nobuyuki Nakamura.

Location: Matsui Building B1, 1-6-8 Yurakucho Chiyoda-ku (100m from the Hibiya station).
Phone: 03 - 3501 - 5305

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Suntory Special Reserve 10yo - Sherry Finish 40% abv

The Special Reserve 10yo, which was married in sherry casks made its debut across Japan on September 9, 1998. Naturally both the malt and grain was matured for more than 10 years before the blending process began. After malt and grain merged, it was further married in toasted sherry casks. Suntory's original press release can be read (here). 

Nose: Mild effervescent orange and mellow Oloroso sherry. Reminiscent of a homemade sherry trifle: sliced jam roll cake lightly splashed with cream sherry, tinned fruit, and vanilla custard. It also transforms to steamed Christmas pudding: dried fruit and mixed peel (orange, lemon, apple). Fairy bread, weak icy pop liquid, strawberries and vanilla cream soft lollies, crushed coconut and cherries. Honey. Comes off as quite a sweet little number and it is - but in a very mellow manner.

Taste: Reasonably mild and smooth with burnt brown sugar and spiced toffee: (nutmeg, cinnamon, and ginger). Charred casks are evident in the form of scorched prunes. A bit watery, grainy, and light to moderate sherry influence. Walnuts with hints of mellow vanilla spice. Water (literally a few drops) lifts the game and brings sweet aromas to the palate (following the nose) and again, lightly spiced musky prunes.

Finish: Walnuts and burnt brown sugar with a medium finish. Right at the back of the tongue lays a slight yeast bitterness.

Comment: Very enjoyable, a good session malt but Id prefer it to be much more richer on the sherry front when it comes to the palate. Nevertheless, a good "refresher" between malts that is way too easy to drink. No sherry monster but top nose!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

A Taste of Japan Down Under

At Uncle Ming's, a bar "Down Under" on Sydney's energetic York Street, you can experience a little bit of Japan. The continent, and especially Sydney are crawling with bars that cater to the country's stereotypical drinking culture - but what makes Uncle Ming's more alluring than the flourish of other bars on every intersection? Its not about savvy architecture, glamorous interior (although the bar is decked out in attractive traditional Chinese interior design), or prime location. Nor is it about status - "The Bar To Be Seen In" (even though it is constantly packed). Simply, the bar is one of only a handful of establishments in Australia that I know of that stock an array of Japanese whiskies, which you'd struggle to find in any other bar in the area. As of writing the bar has fifty two Japanese expressions, and the range is always increasing (a shipment will in fact arrive this week according to staff).

Uncle Ming's opened in August 2012, and started out as a Chinese themed bar (hence the name) selling Tsingtao and bespoke cocktails served in elegant ceramic Chinese teapots. Sticking to this theme however meant the bar had limitations so over time it became more about celebrating Asian influence, and with a big emphasis on Japanese whisky. The transition was brought about by a local who began working at the establishment over a year ago, and at a time when there was only 4 Japanese whiskies at hand. The local: Flynn McLennan, found himself where he is today when he was in search of something independent from your commonplace speakeasy bars that liter the city and suburbs.

Flynn's position as Head Bartender and his taste for Japanese whisky is the blue print for today's Uncle Ming's. His own love of Japanese whisky actually began in Japan in a bar in Asakusa, so for him it made sense to focus on whiskies from Japanese distillers and expose his customers to the pleasures of local spirit. Flynn tells Whiskies R Us it's not easy for him to source unique whisky from Japan while living in Sydney, therefore at times he's physically made the trek to Japan to pick up some goodies for the bar... and his personal collection. The current line-up consists naturally of blends, pure malts, and malts (including single casks) from the distillery giants, as well as favourites from Chichibu, Hanyu, Karuizawa, and White Oak (Akashi). If your homesick for Japan and its whiskies (also beer/Sochu/Sake) you know where to call in. This place I presume will only get better. For an excellent description, along with basic info and address details take a look at Uncle Ming's Facebook page (here).

Images courtesy of the establishment

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Suntory's Cask Collections Arrive in Europe

The Drinks Business yesterday (27th November, 2013) informed its subscribers of Suntory's limited edition release launch in Europe. The launch, which many have been hoping for consists of both the 2013 Yamazaki and Hakushu Cask Collections. According to the article the popular lineup debuted this week. The drinks trade publication notes that the exclusive availability of the 2013 collection in the European market corresponds with anniversaries of both distilleries. The 2013 Mizunara bottling from the collection unfortunately didn't hit the shelves in Japan this year, perhaps this was concerning volume and to make it available in other markets. For the full article written by Gabriel Savage take a look (here).

Image source kindly borrowed from The Drinks Business.

Chichibu Single Cask for TIBS - Whisky Live Tokyo 2013

Vintage: 2009 - Bottled: 2013 - Cask No. 422 - Cask type: First fill bourbon barrel - ABV: 61.8%

Nose: Initially you don't want to put your nose too far in the glass when first cracked - if you do your nostrils will take a beating. This needs to open up (15/20min). Forget your impressions (spirity) on the 1st and 2nd glass, don't let the small disappointment get in the way. Wait at least for the 4th glass: Spicy butterscotch pudding, tart crust (dough), peppered celery and bean sprouts, baked lemon peel, crushed vitamin C tablet, and chamomile. With water mild Fruit Loop cereal and mellow scented soap. Patience really is the key to this malt. At certain intervals and nosing angles I get lovely rich raspberry syrup when diluted and hints of fresh soft licorice. With the addition of extra water I get Butter-Menthols and flower boutique aromas along with pear drops.

Taste: Hard hitting spice - extremely tongue tingling with Sansho Japanese pepper, herbs, and mild jalapeno. Ginkgo nuts are emphasized with water. However, more water means more bitterness (grapefruit peel and green olives) followed by dryness. It does however mellow out those extreme spices. In my opinion water does not give this malt justice on the palate - it doesn't retain your typical sweetness that bourbon barrels often attribute, especially for a first fill. Youthfulness is evident. It's not rough but just not a lot happening regarding flavour profile. Where's the vanilla?

Finish: Lengthy on heavy spices (Sansho) that merge with candied grapefruit peel, hints of Butter-Menthols and green olives. Mouth numbing really.

Comment: I really do hope this will change. Like the rest of you I'm a big fan of Chichibu but if I must be completely honest this bottling didn't win me over, shame being a single cask. On a critical level its definitely not a favourite among my Chichibu collection - I expected a bit more given the price. Having said that this may be something that many of you love, certainly don't go on my opinion.

Note: Reasons why I let time go by before opening this was to see how many (if any) bottles actually got opened (excluding bars) and consumed instead of going straight to the resale market. Trawling the internet suggests not too many were cracked.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Chichibu's 7th Edition: On The Way

On Thursday 21 September, 2013 Venture Whisky announced to its distributors that the distillery's newest expression On The Way is available for order. This exciting news is certainly not hot of the press as lucky enthusiasts who attended The Tokyo Whisky Festival this year appeared to get a sneak peak of the latest bottling, also news of the release is already circulating on Chichibu's Facebook page and by various sources. This new release for the distillery's portfolio is quite a significant turning point as it marks Chichibu's fifth year in production (began in 2008). On The Way is theocratically a NAS (no age statement) whisky that is comprised of genshu malt from vintages 2008 to 2010, which includes a portion of malt laid down in 2008 and matured in Mizunara hogsheads, as well as a few bourbon barrels from "The Floor Malted" (2009/2010 batches). To make good use of the malt's characteristics the abv was settled at 58% and bottled naturally with no added colour and not chill-filtered.

This 7th edition has an outturn of 9,900 bottles making it more accessible than most expressions released to date, and it will be priced like the majority of Chichibu expressions at 8,500 yen (excluding tax). Some distributors and retailers may get their order in before others so it depends on where you shop as to when it will hit shelves - most likely at the beginning of next week. I can't think of a better Christmas gift!

Update November 27. 2013: Most distributors and retailers have now received their orders therefore, depending on where you shop the majority of major retailers should now have "On The Way" on their shelves. 

Photo kindly borrowed from the Chichibu Distillery Facebook page

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Nikka: Long Lost Malts of the 80s

The 12 year old single malt "Hokkaido" (pictured bottom right corner of advertisement), which is now fairly rare to come across in Japan made its debut nationwide in the early 80s (around 83-84). The expression was released to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Nikka Whisky Distilling Company (currently owned by Asahi Breweries). The bottling, which naturally contains 100% malt distilled at Yoichi is not only nostalgic but it retains an interesting story behind the actual bottle itself. 

According to Nikka the glass decanter for the 12yo Hokkaido single malt was originally designed and manufactured for another Nikka whisky brand however, that intended bottle didn't sell. It was here that Nikka decided to put the surplus to good use by bottling something "better"and "interesting" resulting in the above. The malt hit the market with a price tag of 12,000 yen (yearly limited release of 10,000 bottles), and it appears at the time of release it wasn't as popular as Nikka expected it to be - if only they knew how sought after it is today. 

The follow up to this expression using the same name and age statement respectively was a "pure malt" containing malt from both the Yoichi and Miyagikyo distilleries that is equally rarely seen in shops today. I secured, purchased, consumed, and reviewed (on paper) the Hokkaido 12yo pure malt but for reasons I don't know myself I never got around to posting it... unfortunately I cannot find my hand written notes therefore the only way I will be sharing my thoughts on this will be to buy another bottle. Until then take a look at two alternate reviews at Whisky Connosr (here) and The Japanese Whisky Review (here).

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Taketsuru Pure Malt Sherry-Wood Finish 43% abv

Nose: Seductive and purely gorgeous. One of my top 3 sherry matured/finished malts for this year. Very alluring - or perhaps teasing with Ribena, Seville oranges, rich dark Christmas cake, grated coconut mixed with chopped cherry surrounded by dark chocolate, and rich runny honey. Then, hints of blueberry yogurt or is it boysenberry vanilla ice cream - both perhaps? Aromas continue to flourish with Pedro Ximenez sherry, cherry brandy with cola, and kirsch soaked raisins. Caramelized sugar is in plenty with vanilla confectionary, red toffee, and suggestions of apricots, sweet BBQ sauce, and nutmeg - definitely spurts of eggnog. A no-age with such complexity - I'm loving it!

Taste: Silky and elegant. Blood orange slices glazed with spiced honey. Cherry brandy, kirsch, spicy fruit mince pies, Dr.Pepper soft drink, ginger bread, cinnamon strawberry jam and coconut in bitter chocolate. Just like the nose there is an abundant profile on the palate: liqueur soaked raisins, raspberry cordial, maple syrup, red jelly beans, red toffee, and Pedro Ximenez sherry. 

Finish: Relatively long on honey glazed blood orange peel, bitter chocolate and spiced cherry.

Comment: Unfortunately this has long disappeared from shelves, even I cannot access another bottle, well if I want to pay double or triple the original price I can on the resale auction scene (outturn of 2,900 bottles). This stuff is too good to be true, the "finish" is truly amazing - the word "finish" is such an understatement. This does not taste like an adolescent whisky that has spent the last of its life briefly maturing in sherry casks...more like its spent the majority of maturation among them. Every glass gets better and better. This now takes my "best all-round cost performing whisky under 4,000 yen" award, and it truly leads among the no-age-statement (NAS) expressions. To those who are considering putting it on the resale market: do yourself a favour and drink it!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Nikka From the Barrel 51.4% abv

Nose: Off the bat what a stunner. Quite a fruity number in various forms: orange peel, lemon and lime sherbet, banana and pineapple from tinned fruit salad. Peat was evident as well as treacle at various intervals. Certainly oaky (subtle), then musky floral and caramelized sugar. Water brings on mellow mint pattie and dried fruit bread. Not consistent but at various stages blueberry cheese cake and mild bubblegum.

Taste: Creamy vanilla, a tad licorice, and suggestions of mild smoke? There is an abundance of malt along with a nutmeg and cinnamon combo. From here costal honey, toffee, and a bitter sweet note. When diluted the whisky in my opinion goes vegetal - not necessarily bad, but by adding water the palate looses its punch.

Finish: Malty, soft oak, spicy, and reasonably long. Vegetal when diluted.

Comment: The longer its left in the glass magical things begin to happen. I bought this at an ancient mom & pop store, the proprietor mentioned that he had it in his shop for years which prompted me to do a bit of research. According to some, whether true or not, most of the early batch NFTB had no serial numbers on the front label. Apparently many years after Nikka introduced batch numbers - if this is true I guess it just means I have an early circa NFTB. Not really sure why it took me so long to buy my own bottle.

Note: I've heard some people label NFTB as a pure malt, just to clarify this is not the case as the whisky retains grain - naturally making it a blend. Having said that it certainly could be said it tastes like a pure malt.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Karuizawa Asama 1999-2000 Vintages 50.5%abv

Nose: Very one dimensional initially in my opinion however, it opens up well after cracking the bottle. With patience and oxidization it becomes delightful enough with a combination of mellow sweet and savory elements. Striking red and mellow black licorice along with strawberry walnut spice cake are at the forefront of sweetness. Time in the glass reveals a traditional Turkish Delight and fino sherry before moving onto stewed mountain mushrooms, Gravox (gravy) powder, and yeast. In the background there are whiffs of Mugi (barley) Sochu and sun scorched newspapers. Very musty at times. Water gives it a pomegranate like quality and brings out reminiscent mellow rubber before tickling your nose with fig bread and sour/tarty aromas.

Taste: Spicy rose jelly, Gravox (gravy) powder, fino sherry, and peppered raw button mushrooms. Water introduces characteristics of singed rubber that I often find in most Karuizawa. An interesting but weak chocolate mocha espresso becomes present before moving onto sugared fresh yellow grapefruit and mellow red and black licorice. Metallic.

Finish: Medium with mellow licorice, yeast, sugared fresh grapefruit, and interestingly Pocari Sweat sports drink.

Comment: Priced accordingly, I wouldn't want to pay anymore for it. The value for money is there (as it is priced within reason) but unfortunately for me it just didn't have the X factor on the palate.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Sample Sessions 3: Single Cask Miyagikyo 2000

Distilled: Feb,2000 - Bottled: Sept, 2013 - Warehouse no. 25 - ABV: 59% - Cask: 15805

Nose: If it wasn't stated you would never pick this to have such a reasonably high abv. Nothing but extremely clean and fresh. No hard hitting alcohol notes here. Smooth and mellow but beautifully aromatic. An assorted fruit basket with all the familiars: tangerine, cantaloupe, honey dew, Japanese pear, and overripe persimmon. Then, rich baked banana in ripe skins sprinkled heavily with cinnamon. Am I not mistaken to spot a bit of sour Umeshu? The exotic fruits begin to give way to greenery, slightly dusty, and with time in the glass hints of good old Juicy Fruit gum - and let's not forget the citrus but in artificial form: Pineapple Lifesavers. The addition of water is amazing: aromatic wood and the pineapple just flows (pine/lime).

Taste: What a dry and surprisingly spicy little number, I was expecting the palate to be just as lush as the nose. However, there is lychee, durian, cinnamon, BBQ shapes, and loads of pink grapefruit, therefore a tad bitter. In my opinion there is a very reminiscent quality of rum, more spicy than sweet. Dark chocolate comes into play faintly from here but if I must be honest I expected more in comparison with the nose. Water really ramps up the deal with spicy musk and aromatic wood. Water does this malt a lot of favours - now I really like it.

Finish: Bitter sweet on lychee and durian. With water a whole new ball game between sweet & sour.

Comment: I haven't tried a lot of single cask Miyagikyo's however, the casks I have tried were some of the best whiskies to date. This was pleasant enough and good value for money at the time of sale. A reasonably complex whisky for the age.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Ichiro's Malt the Game 5th Edition for Shinanoya

Whisky History Osaka 2013 was held on October 6, unfortunately this year I'm sad to say I didn't attend - not because I didn't want to obviously but couldn't due to other work obligations. From feedback it seemed to be another great event with the familiar run of brands and retailers. Friends and readers of Whiskies R Us mentioned a few standouts on the day. The first being the Chichibu seminar hosted by none other than Akuto-san himself with partner in tow - Yumi-san. Guests at the seminar apparently indulged in a 4yo Chichibu matured primarily in a Mizunara cask that was kindly offered - how tasty does that sound, and perhaps a sign of things to come?

Another highlight was yet again from the boys at Shinanoya. Certainly not knew news as most of you already know by attending Whisky History, as well the fact Shinanoya posted about it on their Facebook page. Their release: the fifth installment to the famed "Game" series. Naturally an Ichiro's Malt Hanyu expression - only this one has been finished in Mizunara. Distilled in 2000 (a favourite Hanyu vintage of mine) and bottled this year (2013) - cask# 1302. Like past releases the fifth installment to the highly sought after bottlings has a relatively small outturn of 299 bottles and priced at 14,900 yen. It could be argued that prices are increasing on every release with some suggesting its a huge expense for a 13yo whisky, but if it is of the same quality (which I'm sure it is) cask choice as previous private releases then its worth every cent. The "Game 5" is bottled at 59.5%, and according to Shinanoya the "finish" took place over 2 years making it a reasonable finish at that compared to other products on the market. Word on the street is that there will shortly be a follow-up (the Game 6) that will reveal the complete picture behind the puzzle pieces. What a clever idea.

Continuing Success: Chichibu - The Peated 2013

Chichibu, Japan’s newest distillery to date continues its developments with the release of The Peated 2013. This second peaty Chichibu release retains all the artisanal qualities as the first release (2012) however; the difference lays in the PPM - a welcoming malted barley phenol level of 59.6 Phenol Parts per Million (PPM). This means that up until now the malt used for this release has the highest phenol measurement for the distillery. Casks used for maturing it consisted of bourbon, re-fill hogshead, puncheon, and port pipe - allowing Akuto-san to create a perfectly balanced and deeply flavoured peaty whisky while retaining the distinctive characteristics of Chichibu.

The 2013 outturn is much higher than its 2012 sibling, a limited release of 6,700 bottles that will apparently be divided between the domestic and foreign market. This higher outturn should allow many more Chichibu enthusiasts the opportunity to secure a bottle depending on your local market and distributors. For those residing in Japan most major department stores along with established liquor shops have began stocking The Peated 2013. The recommended retail price is consistent with all most all other Chichibu releases (with the exception of The First) at 8,500 yen (excluding tax). There are still good things to come from Chichibu - let’s wait and see.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Roaming Hakata (2): Whisky Bar Leichhardt

Whisky Bar LEICHHARDT is one of your more savvy whisky bars in Hakata. Naturally it retains tradition, such as bar etiquette, but when it comes to the interior it is ultra-sleek opposed to your typical looking bar. The bar owner is quite a young chap however, Sumiyoshi-san, or easily remembered as Yu, has all the experience of a veteran. Yu named his bar after a suburb in the Inner West of Sydney, Australia. As a student he resided in Leichhardt, which is best known as "Little Italy", before returning to Japan fulfill his dreams. The whisky bar is only in its fourth year running but Yu runs a good bar and has established loyal customers, which was evident with all the patrons along the bar - an extremely long bar I must add. Bottles are elegantly sorted from wall to wall in close proximity allowing you to gaze for hours.

Besides the modern look and funky logo of the establishment the menu is an important part of the attraction. Yu provides a thoughful whisky collection for any hard-core Scotch single malt lover however, the rare experience lays in his vast collection of old Japanese blends - a nostalgic Japanese whisky lover's paradise. Be sure to sample the broad selection of retro 80s blends from Suntory and Nikka, but if you prefer, he will pull out a handful of Owner's Casks (try the 99 Yamazaki Bota Corta) and event bottlings such as Akuto-san's Hanyu/Chichibu releases for Whisky Talk Fukuoka. Like so many of Hakata's whisky bars, Whisky Bar LEICHHARDT does not operate on the ground floor of some large luxury building, but its tucked away on the fith floor of your average construction. Like they say: "it's what's on the inside that counts". Another must visit while in the area.

Fukuoka-Ken, Fukuoka-Shi, Chuo-Ku, Watanabedori 2-Chome, 2-1 Nishimura Building 5F


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Roaming Hakata (1): Hearts Field - Whisky & Jazz

While on the road (Kyushu) I took a tour round some of Hakata's (Tenjin) exciting whisky drinking establishments. The area has an abundance of watering holes and each are to their own. Generally most whisky bars located centrally fall into either one of four categories: classic, retro, savvy, or formal - and that's just the beginning.

The first port of call for Whiskies R Us was Hearts Field - one of a few whisky landmarks in the area that provides loungey Jazz and visual history to aficionados. If whisky is the water of life and sound is music to your ears then enjoy the combo of both and reward yourself by visiting. The bar room is decorated with musical instruments and antique bits and pieces (including an old fashion Victorian style pull-chain toilet), but besides the whisky line-up perhaps the most visually entertaining objects in the room are the 1950's Hartsfield vintage mono speakers (hence the name of the bar) and the Macintosh valve amp.

The captain of the ship that dons the name badge 'Yuji' is a very down-to-earth chap who makes one feel very welcome. He is well known in the community and enjoys a friendly chat - not only about whisky but everyday life, including that of his collection of hermit crabs that have made home at one side of the bar. 

Hearts Field has a traditional atmosphere but without the pretentious - feel comfortable without feeling the need to be overly serious while dramming. Sit down on the traditional leather couch or bar counter and immerse yourself in one of the whiskies on offer, whether Japanese or Scotch there is something for all of you. Naturally I was delighted to see Yuji-san stock a handful of Owners Casks as well as some vintage Hanyu's - my favourite. Make sure to ask if there is something you want but cannot see it as he has some gems stashed away for those curious (such as the Owners Cask 1986 Mizunara). I love this place. Kasai-san (Yuji) is great fun.

2-3-5 Tenjin, Chuo-ku, Fukuoka-shi, Fukuoka-ken, Jantiguri Building B1F


Thursday, September 26, 2013

Taketsuru: Movement & Reflections

As one Taketsuru expression begins to be withdrawn its predecessor enters the market, making many people become nostalgic about the very affordable, still readily available, and very palatable Taketsuru 12yo. Most likely for economical reasons Nikka made us all aware sometime ago it will stop producing/selling their youngest aged pure malt (12yo) and replace it with a pure malt with no age at all. This no-age-statement release is one of two new Taketsuru expressions to join the big player’s vast portfolio - the other being their sherry wood version that debuted across the country September 25. Could it be possible that there is more to the change than just “economics”, perhaps it could be also about “market trend”, or more to the point “jumping on the band wagon”? You certainly don’t need me to inform you of the vast amount of no-age releases from worldwide distilleries that have sprang up throughout the year, including that of Nikka’s biggest domestic competitor - very influencing.

Perhaps there is also another way to look at the transition to NAS (no-age-statement)? Many suggest when a distiller/brand goes NAS it gives them freedom and flexibility. There are also suggestions that going NAS allows blenders free reign so to speak - allowing them to be that little bit more creative opposed to sticking to formulas. Another possible explanation could be a distillery simply does not have enough stock - demand outstripping supply, and in order to meet demand they have turned up the level of production - vatting and/or bottling adolescent whisky. Regardless of what the real reasons behind the transition may be, and what we as the consumer think, if it’s priced accordingly and tastes superb than that’s something to be happy with... Right? Like most people will be doing or have done so already, I’ve scheduled myself to do a back to back with the Taketsuru 12yo and NAS, followed by a lush serving of the sherry wood finish. I’ll be sure to share the experience once I’ve sat down with my bottles.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Mars Iwai Tradition Wine Cask Finish 40% abv

Nose: Absolutely lovely. Rich and dominantly sweet with aromas of two of my favourite childhood and adolescent chocolate bars: Cherry Ripe - ripe juicy cherries and grated coconut dipped in dark chocolate, and Fry’s Turkish Delight - rose flavoured centre surrounded by milk chocolate. The sweetness continues with Allen’s Raspberries, marshmallows (both white and pink), and hot ginger caramel sauce. From here the direction changes with a mixture of guava juice, Japanese honey suckle, chamomile tea, and crisp Tottori pears. Shy but very evident Tang Orange flavor drink mix and/or Vitamin C tablets waft from the glass.

Taste: Many lush traits from the nose (Cherry Ripe / Turkish Delight). In addition spiced port wine, dried figs, ginger cookies, hot milk and honey, raspberry gums, and toffee. Certainly a dram that brings a glow to your face - I love it. Later on in the game, teasing salt and pepper played with my taste buds.

Finish: Medium to border-line long on mellow spiced port, ginger cookies, honey milk, and dried figs.

Comment: I bet you if you put this superb dram in a blind tasting not too many people will associate it as being a blend that costs as little as 2,200 yen (depending on place of purchase). This is the first release of the Iwai Tradition Wine Cask Finish with an outturn of 2,495 bottles. This will be followed up with a second release; again using ex-red wine casks from Hombo Shuzo’s Chateau MarsWinery in Yamanashi, so if you missed out this time around grab a few bottles next time. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Akashi Cask Strength 5yo for Sake Shop Sato

It's very comforting to see Japanese whisky receiving lots of attention not only internationally but on the home front also. There was a time in Japan when domestic whisky was discarded and international spirits such as Scotch and Brandy was put on a pedestal. That has thankfully changed and not only consumers but retailers have realized the high quality of Japanese whiskies and are willing to lay down the funds and associate their establishment with Japanese brands, and why wouldn’t they! As we know, numerous Japanese brands and their whiskies have won a flourish of international awards over the years and will naturally continue to do so – this could possibly account for the change in local people’s attitudes towards Japanese whisky. A few well established retailers have been on the ball for a while and appreciated the potential and quality of local whisky by offering private releases. There has been a string of exceptional private releases including the most recent HST Karuizawa 14yo - a joint bottling by Liquors Hasegawa, Sake Shop Sato, and Tamagawaya. 

Continuing on in good form, Sake Shop Sato will release its second private release Japanese whisky this year from a distillery in its own backyard - none other than Kansai’s smaller distillery: Eigashima White Oak. The release is that of an Akashi 5yo single malt bottled at cask strength (58% abv) that was distilled in 2008. The new make spent the first 3 years in a hogshead maturing before being transferred to a bourbon cask (Wild Turkey) for its final 2 years of maturation before being bottled this year. The Akashi private release will be extremely affordable (estimated 3,850 yen) and has a reasonable outturn making it more accessible than most private releases. It was mentioned that it will be available at the end of this month or the beginning of October. I presume  - or perhaps speculate is a better word - it will showcase at Whisky History Osaka 2013.

Note: The label above is currently tentative and may change prior to release.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Kirin Fuji Gotemba 15yo Single Grain 43% abv

Nose: Lush and purely outstanding with rich sweetness. The platform is rich sweet bourbon with all the elements: gorgeous vanilla oak, creamed corn, custard tart, and maple syrup. Sweet sensations continue from here on with toffee, eggnog, and plain pikelets followed by more natural sweetness in the form of rich banana, papaya, chopped orange rind, prunes, and Japanese pear. This grain whisky is clean-cut, elegant and sophisticated with surface floral notes. Well made and certainly nothing industrial about this gem. Water creates an assortment of lush woody elements with subtle raspberry and wanted oils (literally only a few drops needed if any at all).

Taste: Gorgeous oak injection with nutmeg and subtle cinnamon. Not as overly sweet on the palate compared to the seductive nose. Nevertheless there is an abundance of toffee, bourbon, creamed corn, prunes, maple syrup, Japanese pear, and raspberry. Mouth coating whisky with a balance of sweetness and spice: white pepper and barley sugar. Water although not really needed (experimentation purposes) makes the grain velvety and ever so syrupy with hints of spiced honey.

Finish: Moderate to long with cinnamon pears and mellow maple syrup sprinkled with mellow white pepper. It is a tad dry and tingling but in the very best of ways.

Comment: This single grain whisky is distilled in pot stills opposed to the more conventional method of grain distillate in continuous stills. I don’t often rave about a whisky unless it truly deserves it - this is a whisky that has pushed all the right buttons on a personal level. It may work for some and not for others, but if you want to break away from the norm try it - I highly recommend it. To date it is one of the best Japanese grain whiskies I’ve had in the price category. Unfortunately the Fuji Gotemba 15yo single grain is only available at the distillery - it is a distillery bottling that can only be purchased directly. Plead and beg anyone you know going to Fuji-san to swing by the distillery, which is at the foot of the mountain, and secure you a bottle.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Exclusive Mars Single Casks for Shinanoya

While attempting to give my liver a very short break this week from the recent string of reviews (and the strain on my wallet for that matter from the flourish of recent bottle purchases), I thought it might be a good opportunity to take a look at technically two new releases. The information of these releases is certainly not hot of the press and the majority of you who are up-to-date already know of them, especially as they were officially announced by the retailer through their facebook page.

The retailer, which needs no introduction, is none other than Shinanoya - an establishment that has done wonders for the domestic industry. The 2 new releases that are available from September 12th were put away at some stage after bottling in 2004 (distilled 1992) only to see the light of day 9 years later. The “new” but “old” expressions adorn lovely Japanese labels representing “views of Edo” that will make any hardcore fan of this sort of thing excited. Cask# 1124 is from a Spanish sherry butt (275 bottles); while Cask# 1143 is an American oak barrel (358 bottles) and both contain spirit matured for 12-years. The distillery behind the production is Mars Hombo Shuzo - a distillery that has been in the limelight recently for all the good work it is doing. Both single cask malts are bottled at 43% abv and will retail for 7,580 yen respectively.

You may be thinking why the late introduction/post? Well, without intending to stir up a hornet’s nest, in fact quite the opposite really, I wanted to point out that these two releases sport the same cask numbers/cask types/distillation dates/bottling dates as that of ESPOA’s private single cask Mars bottling, which very few are aware of. What does this actually mean? Could it suggest that only a portion of ESPOA’s private bottling was labeled and made available, leaving the remaining volume left for whatever reason until now? Not to speculate or assume but as far as I know distilleries do not repeat cask numbers, therefore is this not the same whisky from the same cask? Now back to the point - regardless of the answers - if the whisky in the Shinanoya releases is the same as that of ESPOA’s then everyone is in for a real treat hence bringing up the matter. You will not be disappointed. I’ve sourced a few of the ESPOA bottlings for other enthusiasts as well as reviewing and owning Cask#1143 (here), lovely stuff. The Shinanoya releases will be gone in a flash so be sure to keep checking their hompage (here).

Image kindly borrowed from Shinanoya's facebook page

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Usuikyou Single Cask Vintage 1983 64% abv

Nose: Extremely peculiar and out of the ordinary whisky that presents smells in stages. First round: Wet hessian bags, peeled whole potatoes steeped in water, tangy soil, freshly shorn sheep’s fleece and ointment (I’m thinking lanolin oil). This is followed by incredible decomposing vegetables and a tainted red meat smell. You’d think it would stop there but no - the somewhat unwanted and overpowering smells continue with wet towels left over night, smelly feet, caterpillars (possibly squashed?), metal salvage yards, fresh cardboard boxes, and Paper Mache paste (industrial glue and gelatin). Generally it is a fairly trashy smell. Past these assorted smells regular aromas begin to surface - not too many but their there: Orange tart, mild nutmeg, brine, and a tad earthy/peaty. Dilution enhances all the above and adds a barley grain infusion.

Taste: Eccentric whisky. Not for the faint hearted. Straight up a big mouth explosion but for many wrong reasons. As with the nose it is odd. Metallic, aluminum cans, tainted red meat, minerally, and Goya qualities. Then, things change a bit with assorted Indian spices, burnt rubber, raw peat, eucalyptus, menthol, and cracked pepper. There are also incinerated thin sausages from a BBQ, very numbing on the tongue. If I must be honest this whisky reminds me of the Akashi 12yo (palate only). A lot of water adds wheat and yeast extract and reduces the spice and rubber. For me the palate wasn’t so bad however, there is that decomposing element all along.

Finish: Long with a few unwanted tastes. Also it is metallic with bitter melon, minerals, rubber smoke, raw peat, charcoal, and barley sugar with water.

Comment: Although I would not say this whisky is completely disgusting, unfortunately it coats your mouth with a few unpleasantries that linger way too long affecting the taste of your next malt.

Info: This cask strength malt came from Monde Distilleries Ltd. in Yamanishi-ken. Monde Shuzo is better known for their wine production, their whisky production falls into the “small category sector” often referred to as “Ji-whisky”, which can be interpreted in a few ways but the most understandable terminology could be “micro”. It was bottled by an independent bottler named Tokuoka Ltd. in Osaka for their sub-division better known to some of us as Bon Repas (Marche). The whisky was named accordingly after the city Usui in Yamanashi-ken, and interestingly in the city lays Isawa village - ring a bell? For those in Japan who have visited Bon Repas/Marche will know of their other single malt release bottled at 43% abv with equally the same flavor profile: Isawa Vintage 1983. This is another must try before you buy folks. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Acclaimed Directors and Suntory

To continue the nostalgic mood I'm in I thought I'd share another vintage Japanese whisky ad this week - those of you who are interested in retro whisky advertisements will surely enjoy the sentimental side of this ads past. An ad I'm sure many of you outside Japan (or many in Japan for that matter) have not seen before. For today's retrospective roundup let's take a look at what Suntory was up to in the nineties. According to the text in this ad that was published in 1990, Suntory's Crest 12yo blended whisky was produced/released to mark the brands anniversary, well at least one of perhaps a few expressions. Words such as "nobel body", "elegant maturation", and "intense excitement" were used to describe the aromas and taste of this "harmonious blend". As for the slogan of the ad (top right corner), for those wondering, it basically translates as - "after 12 years of slumber, it was woken".

We have seen many well known international celebrity faces such as Sean Connery and Sammy Davis, Jr. featuring in Suntory ads however, local big name folk also shared the limelight. Who is the savvy looking man in this ad you may wonder? It's the famed Japanese filmmaker none other the Akira Kurosawa - the acclaimed director of Kagemusha, otherwise known as the Shadow Warrior. The iconic face of Kurosawa-san adorned many Suntory ads dating back to 1980, when he and Francis Ford Coppola joined together for a series of commercials for Suntory.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Suntory Southern Alps Pure Malt 40% abv

Nose: Extremely clean and fresh with handsome subtle oak (slightly toasted?). Sliced baked banana, vanilla crepes sprinkled with malt powder, a lovely suggestion of Umeshu (plum liqueur), and teasing aromas of Chicos, which are at the forefront of sweetness. Mid-ground in my opinion is where the true evidence of Hakushu lays - fresh forest pine, wet ferns, green pine cones, green apple skins, and light concentrated sweet lime. 

Taste: White pepper, nutmeg on semi-baked opened green banana (skin intact), subtle oak (again slightly toasty?), bitter but pleasant malt, and green apple skins. Extremely clean mouthfeel with an interesting element of chopped candied green cherry (fruit cake type). Very refreshing and it feels right with the humidity right now here in Japan.

Finish: Short but it feels ever so right. The white pepper soldiers on along with the nutmeg. There is a pleasant acidity still in play - green crispy apple skin.

Comment: According to various Japanese websites this pure malt ceased production in the late 90’s. It has taken me a good four years to find a bottle so that in itself indicates the rarity of this clean, lovely malt. Apparently Suntory used a charcoal (Birch wood) filtration process for the malt, which was the in thing at the time to achieve clean cut, spring like qualities for easy drinking. I’ve always said that the best pure malt produced by Suntory is their defunct Hokuto 12yo. However, this Southern Alps gives it a run for its money. I’m going to do a back to back so I will let you know the end result of the two (which one I favour the most). Then again they are in different leagues - flavour profile wise.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

One Shot Bar Keith Shin-Osaka

What makes a great bar? Answers to this question are endless – it depends on personal preference and the individual needs of the patron. However, one of the top responses to this question is the establishments range and quality of whisky. This is all very well true but let’s be honest, people who frequent bars often are also looking for bang for their buck. I may be speaking for myself but this is an important factor, especially when you visit bars a lot and have your fair share of drams. Personally I also appreciate going to bars that don’t have a cover charge. I certainly understand the concept of the “cover charge” but again, if you frequent a few bars in one night over a period of say a month it adds up. Call me cheap but if it can be avoided and you can put the “charge” say towards another dram I’m all for it.

What could be better than a bar that has no cover charge with a decent selection of whisky? Simple – a bar that also has “Happy Hour”, and not just any happy hour but one that makes every dram in the bar half price. As far as I know there are not too many bars that do this. However, one such bar that does goes by the name of One Shot Bar Keith in Shin Osaka – an establishment you won’t find in any English written whisky book, and if you do in the near future you can be sure it was first introduced at Whiskies R Us.

Bar Keith, the name better known to locals starts its happy hour at a welcoming 5:00pm finishing at 7:00pm – another important factor making a visit to this bar very rewarding (earlier the better). During this time everything is 50% off and that includes half shots, with no cover charge (a charge applies during normal bar hours). This really is an exceptional offer to say the least. A prime example would be that of Yamazaki’s Mizunara Cask 2012. Normally 4,000 yen a shot, therefore 2,000 during happy hour, making it a mere 1,000 yen for a half shot. The whisky collection at Bar Keith is predominantly Scotch but expect to find over a dozen decent Japanese whiskies at any given time including the bar’s original Chichibu Solera Cask – a 20 litre cask that contained Chichibu genshu, a high percentage of Mizunara Wood Reserve, and recently topped up with Chibidaru and Port Pipe. The friendly husband and wife team who own the bar are connoisseurs and are happy to help customers discover whiskies.

The moderate sized bar is a well stocked establishment with an abundance of old Scotch bottles and memorabilia to keep you occupied while dramming. Bar Keith is conveniently located and an ideal place to unwind after a hard day’s work, especially if you’re in the area and knocked-off work at a reasonable hour. From JR Shin Osaka it’s an eight minute walk (west exit – turn right and walk in a straight direction past the Hotel Laforet, go down the stairway bridge and walk straight on the right hand side until you come to a set of traffic lights – turn right). For subway directions take a look here (in Japanese).

Osaka-Shi, Yodogawa-ku, Miyahara 2-14-1.1F