Thursday, June 27, 2013

Evoking Nostalgia: Mercian Vintage Karuizawa

"San nin dake de tsukuru kara takusan tsukurenai” is the catch copy given to this Mercian Karuizawa advertisement that was placed in the Whisky Magazine (Japanese version) Issue.31 June 2003. Simply translated - “It’s Made (Distilled) by Only Three Men, Therefore its Not Made (Distilled) in Large Volumes”. Perhaps it was Mercian’s way of saying “it’s about the quality and craftsmanship of Karuizawa and not about quantity”. This brand ad, which I randomly dug up and thought to share, depicts one of the distillery’s famed images - racked Butts in the distillery’s warehouse. Its presumably fair to say that besides industry figures and a few lucky ones, few people outside of Japan saw the distillery in its natural working state such as the image above (although I’ve been here for a decade, sadly I never got to see it myself).

Fan or no fan of Karuizawa, you can appreciate the dedication of these artisan distillery workers who up until the official closing of the distillery put in a lot of energy to produce what has become a cult whisky - a whisky that we have all witnessed reach astronomical prices. Although I can give an example of such an occasion - i.e. comparing say the 21yo vintage price stated in the ad to that of current auction prices, I won’t, as that’s not what this post is about (this time), however it’s about a lost distillery, obviously not lost in the hearts and minds of aficionados, but lost literally  -  no more production/distillation.

Yes, there are a number of casks still remaining, that is clearly evident with the numerous churn out of releases from Number One Drinks and private bottlings, as well as reports from various sources speculating figures (remaining casks) - but this will one day come to a sudden halt. Evidence suggests that this “halt” may be in the very near future, quite near than some of us may expect. So once the last of these remaining casks see the light of day (emptied/vatted/bottled), memories of Karuizawa (no pun intended) may lay in these kinds of advertisements from a bygone era. The spirit of Asama (again, no pun intended) will live on in many ways than one, I presume, just as old and defunct Scottish distilleries have done so through media.

Whiskies R Us plans to contribute to the memories by introducing these retro Mercian ads as I come across them, simply to share the imagery to perhaps ponder over and keep the spirit alive.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Suntory Premium Kakubin Special Blend - ABV: 43%

Nose: Clean and reasonably mellow - no hard hitting grain present. Lots of greenery: various plants and fresh rich green plant leaves. There is a mixture of light floral scents: lilies and orchids, which interchange between light green fruits: green (granny smiths) apple skins, kiwi fruit, and honey dew melon with a light smear of vanilla cream. Becomes oaky with barley sugar in due time. Quite a summery nose really. Golden kiwi fruit explodes with water.

Taste: Spicy oak, minerals, bitter (almost verging on bitter Goya), and weak barley sugar. Grain is evident here. There is chamomile and representations of horseradish. Not the best of palates unfortunately when consumed neat and nowhere near as rewarding as the nose. Water dulls the bitterness and enhances the oak and barley sugar.

Finish: Reasonably consistent with the palate - very moderate to long in length with bitter oak.

Comment: I initially thought this wasn’t too bad when trying it at a few events. However, once buying a bottle and spending time with it it is not what I thought it to be. My palate may have been tainted on a few occasions (dinner before hand) when tasting this but I get the same tastes every time. All the points are given to the nose. The taste of the Premium Kakubin is not completely bad nor does it present the wow factor - in my opinion best drank as a highball. It reveals a lot of sweetness when doing so and is actually quite nice. It could be argued that the palate of the standard Kakubin can give the Premium a run for its money regardless of the price point difference…only an opinion however.

Sample Sessions 2: Part C

Yoichi Single Cask 1988 - Age: 23yo - Cask#100129 -  Warehouse No.15 - ABV: 61%

Nose: Complex. Straight up rich, earthy - sweet peat, and plant pot soil. There is a mixture of savory and sweet aromas. The former represents Salada crackers while the later shows trademark bubble gum and sherry, very warming. There is a pleasant smell of a freshly used barbecue plate. There is evident fruit (even citrus in my opinion) on the nose, once past the gorgeous peat - reasonably tropical: pineapple, pawpaw and banana (chips). A dash of water makes this malt one hell of a ride and ups the ante on everything stated above.

Taste: Explosions of rich, spicy/sweet peat - again gorgeous peat at that, which transits into crispy char-grilled potato skins, tree bark, grated seared ginger, and tame sherry. There are also hints of chicken salt and menthol with a spicy/sweet BBQ sauce coating your mouth. Water brings out waves of faint pureed fruit; although the ABV is high diluting this malt is not needed in my opinion.

Finish: Long, tingly, salty, with yep…sweat peat. Yum!

Comment: Please sir! Can I have some more?

For an alternate review take a look over at The Japanese Whisky Review.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Sample Sessions 2: Part B

Ichiro’s Malt Hanyu - Chibidaru - TIBS/Whisky Live 2012  - Distilled: 2000 - Bottled: 2012 - Cask# 349 - ABV: 58.4%

This is another lush Chibidaru cask, which posses all the familiar qualities of our beloved Hanyu malt. Rich malt with florals on the nose, earthy with aromatic wood and hidden fruity notes. There is Asian incense and spice, fruit pie - actually deep fried apple pie, and non-toasted crumpets. Last but not least Bubble O' Bill ice-cream gum (the gumball that represents the nose of the character). The aromatic wood remains on the palate with spicy lavender. The warming and tingling spice, yet sweet, mingles with faint Karinto and rich black brewed tea. The finish is just as warming and tingly.

Memories of Karuizawa - 13yo - 1999 - Sherry Cask# 879  -  ABV: 62.9%

Muscat sugar, pink singed marshmallows, toffee apple candy bars, sultanas, gravox powder, worcestershire sauce, suggestions of sweetened orange juice and I believe trade mark rubber (new car fan belts to be precise). Complex. This Karuizawa turns to orange sherbet candy when diluted (however, water not needed in my opinion). Palate: Yum, Yum, Yum! This along with a few other sherry expressions is up there in my “Best of the Best” list. Peppery Muscat rubber, melted brown sugar, toffee apple candy bars, overdone thick brown toast, gravox powder, roasted/toasted orange peel, Dashi powder, and a variety of sauces: Mirin, and Tendon sauce (light soy dressing). The finish is long and tingly with a peppery sultana kick.

Miyagikyo Sherry Single Cask# 118913 - 1996 16yo - ABV: 60%

Rich mixed berry cordial on the nose along with fresh homemade cherry sauce, orange juice, fermented black soy beans and rocky road bars. Then, there is another spectrum to this gorgeous malt, not that I can really remember what it actually smells like but Penicillin popped into my mind  -  perhaps a suggestion of sulphur - but very exceptable at that. On the palate concentrated berry cordial, gravox powder, char-grilled green capsicum, sugar coated mint leaves. It is a meaty malt that’s for sure. The finish is reasonably long with the orange juice and cherry sauce in play.

For alternate reviews take a look at The Japanese Whisky Review - under the "single malt" section for each distillery.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Sample Sessions 2: Part A

Following on from “Sample Session 1”, which gave a brief introduction on how Whiskies R Us operates when it comes to providing tasting notes, “Sample Session 2” continues with the theme of reviewing samples swapped with a malt mate (Something WRU never really did until now). On this occasion my malt package, which contained a smorgasbord of malty delights, will be broken down into two parts, and in no particular order of preference, as quite simply these sample swaps, kindly provided by a fellow Japanese malt aficionado - Brian (aka Dramtastic) over at The Japanese Whisky Review are well worth highlighting. So here we go…

Kirin Evermore Blended Whisky - 2002 - 22yo - ABV: 40%

Straight up clean, rich, and very refreshing on the nose. Aromas of both banana and pineapple, dried pear, and apricot centres surrounded with white chocolate. Among these attributes cherry Hookah smoke and sun flower seeds. The palate is just as smooth with unmistakable pineapple crush, Hookah pipe tobacco (only this time spicy apple?), and green nectarines. Nuts are in play, becomes very zippy with time. Pulls up a bit short with the zestiness, but I love the tartiness.

Mars Vintage Malt 1992 - Cask# 1144 - American White Oak - 16yo - “Komagatake” - ABV: 46%

Lush assorted woods and florals: in particular pine trees with light pot puri and camellia. It is lovely and syrupy on the nose once past natures delights. Suggestions of homemade trifle ring loud - jam rolls soaked in cream custard sherry. The palate equally possess the combo of exotic wood, florals, spices (oriental plus plain salt/pepper), and it is a little herbal. Finish is moderate with spicy Cadbury Curly Wurly (chocolate coated caramel). I love this nose!

Hakushu Owners Cask - “Smokey & Bitter” - Distilled: 2000  - Bottled: 2011 - Cask# EL 41914 - ABV: 57%

The nose is flourishing with lemon/lime soda syrup, brine, rich peat, tatami mat scents (not fresh nor not old). A very interesting nose indeed, there is a touch of sweet kerosene and tinned pears in lime jelly. The palate is lovely with that rich peat and pepper zing. There is an interesting element of seasoning and chicken stuffing (herbs and sage). At the other end of the flavor profile is the element of bitter melon (Goya) but coated with honey and almonds. A moderately warm finish, bitter melon fruit (Goya) and peat.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The 40th Commemorative N.B.A Cocktail Competition

The 40th Commemorative NBA Cocktail Competition, the follow-up of the Kansai heat, took place on June 2, at Grand Cube Osaka. This event is the most significant for the Nippon Bartenders Association as it’s an all-in-all national event with bar tenders from all over Japan competing against one another to see who will stand out and be crowned No.1. Among the 40 bartenders, Matsuo Kazuma from Tokyo’s Little Malt Bar, took the national title, which is arguably a fair effort given the amount of competitors.

Just like any regional event, an abundance of brands/makers were offering a smorgasbord of spirits and whisky. Although I was there on the day helping out, naturally my attention was divided between the only two Japanese brands showcasing their line-up: Hombo Shuzo - Mars, and Nikka (Asahi). There really is not a lot to report about unfortunately as both makers were promoting products most of us are already familiar with or have read about in past posts from Whisky Live 2013.

What I can do, however, is once again congratulate the good folk at the Mars distillery for their new/recent editions, which again, I was thankfully given the opportunity to try. There is no doubt about the praise the 24yo “Komagatake” is getting, which was matured in ex-bourbon casks - a total of four in fact, which were than vatted at 58% ABV. Although not officially available to taste on the day the good folk were allowing certain people the pleasure to yet again experience it. Exquisite whisky, and fair to say equally so is the 22yo “Komagatake” that is a vatting of two American White Oak casks. The former, however, according to various people I chatted with, is extremely limited in Kansai - a dozen or so, with at least three of those being snapped up before you could even pronounce “Komagatake”. 

I’m a big fan of the Iwai Wine Cask finish - a traditional blended whisky that was finished roughly for a year in ex-red wine casks. This is just as equally limited, not just in terms the outturn (2,495), but of the sales system where it has generally been allocated to certain smaller retailers/ limited dealers - and mainly in the Kanto region. Of course those with a desire to try this exceptionally tasty blend at an extremely affordable price can do so with a bit of effort trawling the net. It appears that the original release of the Iwai Tradition (in the square 720ml bottle) will gradually fade out due to the introduction of the new bottle format of the standard Iwai Tradition, that and there is not a lot of stock remaining, so it might pay for fans to secure one or two bottles.

Nikka brought their full line-up to the event, as they often do, including their delicious Nikka Coffey Grain whisky. This time around I was a bit selective and not greedy by trying only a few expressions - focusing on Miyagikyo OB’s. The Taketsuru 25yo seemed to be a hit on the day, the one bottle on offer for tasting was completely consumed by early afternoon - quite obvious given the fact it is delicious and wasn’t accompanied with a charge.

On the Scotch front, briefly, not a lot of things (new expressions) to write home about, mind you I was not devoting a lot of time to all the booths as I should have. However, attendees on the day, who asked the MHD Diageo boys nicely got to experience something in a clean skin bottle. That nectar was the up and coming new Ardbeg - Ardbog that spent a bit of time in Manzanilla sherry casks. Lovely stuff! For more info take a look here.