Tuesday, April 23, 2013

TIBS / Whisky Live 2013: Reflections (2)

While sticking to the big guns of the industry next was Nikka’s elaborate booth(s) that was divided into categories, brands, and expressions. Certainly enticing and won me over. It was great to see the Yoichi 15 and 20yo are still in fine form, and besides the single cask expressions my focus was primarily on Nikka’s Single Grain - good - but I must be fair to my palate and say this was not the “grain whisky of the day” - that went to Kirin’s Fuji Gotemba 15yo Single Grain Whisky. Not sure how or why this gem slipped under the radar, and a first for me, but a divine dram indeed. Unfortunately this is only available at the distillery at a very reasonable price of 5,250 yen (43% ABV). Anyone off to the distillery please give me a shout and I may just be asking for a favour as this grain whisky, according to staff is not available online either. I generally slipped in and out throughout the day at Nikka’s booth, of course lots of highlights - but we have seen and heard about these before so I will move on.

The last but certainly not the least of makers (booths), which consumed a lot of my time was Venture Whisky. Hard to pull yourself away from them and their booth with the smorgasbord of expressions - Chichibu would have to be my “favourite distillery” at this interval of time. Venture Whisky now have an abundance of expressions out now, these were all seen at the booth along with the last of the Card Series (excluding the Joker(s) of course) - all available for free sampling I must add, so their booth was quite large and busy. Focus for me, and I presume for many others also on the day were the three prototype expressions that were being offered as potential candidates/releases for the future.

These events are a good opportunity for distillers to gage people’s reactions and my guess is the guys and girls at Chichibu got what they wanted in terms of feedback and people’s reactions. On the prototype pedestal there was: Almost Five - self explanatory, distilled in 2008 with the first cask being a first fill barrel and the second being a second fill puncheon. This expression, which was bottled in 2013 at the ABV of 61.8%, was good and certainly artisanal whisky. However, my favourite was the Re Fill Barrel - cask #2186, distilled in 2009 and matured in a first fill barrel (hence the name naturally) followed by a second maturation in a third fill barrel and bottled this year at 60.0% ABV. This proved to be many peoples favourite - well at least the company I was in along with some staff from the distillery. It appears this expression that has some lush assorted brewed tea aromas received great applause over the event and still is as of writing, so we may just be able to expect to see this on the shelves in the future… I hope so!

The last of the prototypes and again certainly not the least was the RE Fill Hogshead. Cask#705 - distilled a bit later than its siblings in 2010 with an ABV of 63.2%. Equally interesting but if I were forced to choose, which would be very hard to do so, I’d put this one at number three according to my own personal preference. Exciting stuff happening, a great chat with everyone and looking forward to the future of the Chichibu distillery. Keep your eyes open for some extra news on the distillery within the next week or so at Whiskies R Us.

On the Scotch front there were great expressions about the place, naturally I will not go into detail; I’ll leave that for someone else who writes about Scotch. But I can say I really enjoyed the 27yo Caol Ila bottled by Cadenheads and the delicious 12th release Port Ellen, along with the Glenfarclas 1989 Family Cask, and Ben Riach’s Peated 14yo just to name a few. And in case you are wondering as to why there was no mention of the TIBS bottlings? Well…you will just have to wait and see. Reflections part one can be read here.

TIBS / Whisky Live 2013: Reflections (1)

The Tokyo International Bar Show / Whisky Live 2013 was a first for Whiskies R Us this year, and I must say what a well organized event - hats off to all involved and for the makers who participated. The presentation of the event, which I’m sure you have all heard about from alternate sources, such as The JapaneseWhisky Review, was elaborate and I thought classy. Certainly an exciting alternative to an everyday Sunday afternoon and I must say “afternoon” as I did not make it through the doors until a little after noon as my flight from Kobe – thanks to the airline I will not name – was delayed an hour and a half. Something I guess I should not complain about as the day was eventful regardless.

My first port of call was Mars (Hombo Shuzo), a distillery Whiskies R Us is fond of. There were a few new expressions on show/offer while one in particular was hidden and out of sight - a 24yo vatted malt from four ex-bourbon casks. This lush expression that has an outturn of only 120 bottles unfortunately will most likely not make its way to Kansai according to the folk at Mars and most likely be allocated to selected small retailers in the Kanto region - Kansai Japanese whisky enthusiasts and international connoisseurs most likely will not have the opportunity to try this fine dram, unless of course it pops up at some stage at auction. High-up on the pedestal and in plain view was the Komagatake 22yo, equally enjoyable and an expression that once again proves the distillery is doing great things. I don’t feel comfortable enough with my small measure to provide tasting notes, however, when I can sit down properly with a proper dram (if and when the opportunity arises – outturn under 1500 bottles) I’ll put pen to paper. Another expression well worth mentioning and quite a favourite to be honest was the IWAI blend Wine Cask Finish bottled at 40% ABV, so keep your eyes out for this and a must try if the opportunity presents itself.

The next destination and in no particular order was Suntory - simply for two reasons - the first being their recently talked about “Premium Kakubin” and their equally talked about Yamazaki “Heavily Peated”. Both pleasant, again I’d like to sit down properly with these two new additions to Suntory’s portfolio and review them in a more quite atmosphere. Until then, for an interesting insight/review of the Yamazaki HP take a look at Dramtastic's here. One thing for sure is that the “Premium Kakubin” will most likely become another fixture - permanently - in my cupboard. At 43% ABV and an estimated retail price of 2,000 yen, this fine finished blend with a rewarding palate would be hard not to include as your daily dram. Part two can be read here.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Whisky Festival 2013 Osaka

Whisky World in association with the Scotch Whisky Research Centre will be back in Osaka again to host the ever increasing popular Whisky Festival. The main man behind the event - Mamoru Tsuchiya - has round up a good selection of makers and bottlers including all the major players (approximately 33) for Whisky Festival 2013 Osaka, which will be held on July 7, from 11:00am to 6:00pm on the 10th floor of the Umeda Sky Building.

The event, which is in its 8th year running (Osaka), will include the standard fair: seminars, a vast array of booths, plus a speculated increase in food stalls compared with last year. The well received flea market in 2012 will also be back - bigger and better according to the promoters so expect this year to be somewhat larger in comparison. Tickets can be purchased in advanced for 3,000 yen here (in Japanese - so get a mate to assist you if needed) or 4,000 yen on the day. For additional information on getting to the venue access here (in Japanese), or as an alternative stay tuned at Whiskies R Us for further information. For those who will be heading in it may pay to take your own glass if you are not a fan of the plastic cup procedure. I certainly will be.

Mercian Karuizawa Master's Blend

Maker: Mercian - Release: 1994 (first edition) - ABV: 40% - Age: no age statement (back label states malt and grain used over 10-years)

Nose: apricots, tinned pears, moderate citrus - effervescent light lemon and red licorice with non dominating grain and light faint spirit. Very suggestive of  dried, grated coconut and kiwi fruit but it is not constant - comes and goes in waves throwing in unripened strawberries. Can be very interesting given the right elements, other times it can come across as being standard. Water adds mint but not in its pure form: canned mojittos.

Taste: Reasonably sweet, tarty, and smooth with Allens sugared spearmint leaves lollies. Suggestive licorice tip toes in the background with unripened hard strawberries. Water brings out a bit of salt and pepper, burnt toast with syrup, and bitterness (coffee beans). The grain comes into play quite a bit from here on but it is not a kick in the face - very tame.

Finish: Prolonged spearmint leaves lollies or is it Extra spearmint chewing gum?

Comment: Rewarding on both the nose and palate most of the time. Quite fruity really - could be a good blend to stick your nose in during summer perhaps. Palate: not extremely lush but nor is really bland. Perhaps lets see how this develops over time - could get better or worse. One thing for certain is I'm glad to have reasonable action not just on the nose.

Reviewed by Clint A 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Black Nikka Rich Blend 40%

Nose: Reasonably clean, an initial alcohol presence but fades extremely quickly. There is a few forms of orange sending out signals: tangy orange powder, orange sherbet, and dry peel falling to very suggestive passion fruit and/or pomegranate. Then in no particular order a mixture of dry weak sherry, leather, and corduroy (pants/jackets). A little creamy I might add.

Taste: Clean, smooth, and very acceptable. It is however, a tad on the watery side. Moderate clean spice on the palate with minimal cigar leaf, and a hint - and I do mean a hint of licorice. The spice is pretty consistent really - becomes tamer gradually, it mingles with bitterness: non-sweetened bitter chocolate, old peel, and leather.

Finish: Short - moderate and a bit watery with peppered bean shoots. Bitter chocolate from here on with grapefruit peel.

Comment: Great cost performance, better than its sibling (Nikka Clear) but it tends to go a bit pear shaped at certain intervals - well something transforms after awhile anyway. I've dabbled in using this blend in a highball (might make the purists look away - but perfectly ok), which I must say is quite nice. Again, reasonably pleasant as is (it will be good between malts to refresh your palate) but I can see myself mixing this on more occasions than drinking it straight. Despite the tiny downfalls I will have this in my cabinet at hand often over summer. In short its not bad - as you can tell by my consumption, and that alone I think allows me to give it the Whiskies R Us (my personal liking) seal of approval.

Reviewed by Clint A

Monday, April 1, 2013

Kirin Evermore 2003


The first "Treasure Trove" entry for 2013 takes us to Sannomiya, Kobe - the first port of call usually for many a traveler before making it to the Mecca of Tokyo. Sannomiya is crawling with hot spots (mom&pop stores) that are less frequented by the city's vast traffic and local shoppers, which makes the area a great hunting experience. Minutes from the Hankyu West station exit in Sannomiya is a small liqour retailer, which is often mistaken for anything but a shop that sells assorted grog of a bygone era, therefore people tend to walk right past the tiny place. Shirogane (shop name) was most likely established to cater for its surrounding snack bars, night clubs, and restaurants in an era when prices for whisky, in particular domestic expressions from the "bubble days" - with according prices.

One of the few standouts among the top shelf bottles is the "Super-Premium" Kirin Evermore 21YO vintage blend bottled in 2003. Arguably an expression which is not often seen on shelves in current times but more so on domestic auction lists. The Evermore series, which was produced in limited quantities, was launched in 1999 nationwide with the first "Evermore 1999" starting a succession of vintages that sadly came to an end with the "Evermore 2005" (a run of seven consecutive bottlings).  It was said that each expression was created using only the best Genshu malt that was matured long-term at the Fuji-Gotemba distillery. The idea behind the series, which on a few occasions was labeled as "the best blended whisky of the year" and "the best premium blend for value", was based on the principle of providing consumers the opportunity to experience the character, individuality, and changes bought about each year from Genshu (distillate) malt distilled in 1978. It was claimed by the Fuji-Gotemba distillery that each vintage, which was aged and bottled at consecutive years was unique and slightly different from one another with no two expressions being the same. Each expression, which apparently gave Hibiki  a run for its money, usually retailed at 10,000 yen when first released, but if you are lucky it can still be found at a much cheaper price

I have yet to give any of the vintages a go, I will however in due time. Someone who has given two out of the seven expressions a go is Brian (aka Dramtastic) over at The Japanese Whisky Review. Brian gives his view and shares the subtle differences between the Kirin Evermore 2001 and 2002 21YO. Interesting reviews with an insight into the flavour profile of these hidden gems. I hope it's not too long before I can give you my alternate reviews.