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


Sunday, August 11, 2013

Sun Shine Extra Special Whisky 20yo - 59% abv

Nose: Roasted pears, homemade light strawberry liqueur, and berry yogurt. Straight up it is pleasant enough. Past the hard-hitting malt and oak there's coastal floral honey, musk, rich green stems and lightly salted olives. Throughout lemon is in play but it is very manipulative - one minute you'll get week old dusty peel, the next old fashioned lemonade. Lurking in the distant is wet moss and smoke. When diluted the lemon becomes sweeter.

Taste: Spicy oak, malt, char-grilled green capsicum with salt and pepper. The berries have become just one type - evidently blueberries with Cinnamon musk gum, menthol, and lemon. Mid palate becomes quite vegetal: burdock like qualities. Unfortunately it is not as seductive as the nose and with oxidation it presents a solvent in the form of envelope glue; however it is extremely mouth coating malt. Water cuts the spicy punch while adding more of a bitter vegetal flavour profile.

Finish: Long indeed maintaining lightly smoked salted lemon peel, oak, and baker’s yeast. There is that solvent (envelope glue) that surfaces on the last tail of the finish.

Comment: Enjoyable and very decent whisky - well made. Wakatsuru - the company behind this whisky was established in 1882 and is recognized in the industry more so for its Sake brewing skills in Toyama prefecture. Though I feel it wouldn't be something I'd break out on a regular basis. I kind of get the feeling I personally may just become a little "over it" a little too quickly. Once in a while may do the trick.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Nikka: Then & Now

The cost of whisky from Nikka’s long established line-up has naturally changed overtime in prices. Production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services have played part in the pricing structure of whisky from Nikka’s past to their present situation.

It is interesting to see price trends change overtime. Perhaps a thought-provoking example would be that of the above ad where the recommended retail price of the blended whisky Tsuru 17-yo in a white ceramic bottle was 12,000 yen in 1990 - obviously priced accordingly to the market situation of that period. Today’s pricing, purchasing, and demand have dramatically changed. What was once an associated luxury item for the elite has been superseded with newer luxurious products, leaving the ceramic version of the Tsuru sadly fetching around 4,000 yen at today’s auction prices (in Japan), while retailing in market shops at a recommended retail price of 7,900 yen (depending on place of purchase). Again, the price fluctuation is naturally due to the current economic times; therefore it is just a thought-provoking comparison.

Back to the ad - quite captivating with clever catch copy that reads: “Kaori wa, ten o mau”. This can be interpreted in a few variable ways, but the basic meaning is as follows: “The Aromas Float in Midair”. An interesting play on words given the product is named after a native bird, which naturally “hovers in midair”. As mentioned when posting Evoking Nostalgia, I have accumulated quite a few vintage ads and will be introducing them regularly; therefore I have added a new theme to the sidebar menu: Vintage Japanese Whisky Ads. In addition, I planed to mention in this post Nikka's decision to replace the Taketsuru 12yo with a no-age-statement as well as their launch of the Taketsuru Sherry Wood finish that I mentioned some time ago. However, I have decided to do so at another time and in another way.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Single Cask "Chichibu" Samples by Toa Shuzo

Single Cask “Chichibu” - Distilled: Oct 1999 - Bottled: May 2000 - Cask# 6084 - Malt Master: Mutsuhiko Tsunashima - ABV: 59% - Oak Cask - Distilled and Bottled by : Toa Shuzo Co Ltd

Nose: Lush, juicy, complex, and thick. Scented woods, sandalwood, and rich earthy elements are very prominent. Vanilla slice, musk lifesavers, juicy fruit gum, paw paw, mashed banana, dried pineapple, and maple cinnamon whipped cream is at the forefront of sweetness. And let’s not forget white chocolate. Perfume with hints of lime.

Taste: Aromatic wood spice, earthy, musk candy, cinnamon, nutmeg, heat, very zingy with peppered zucchini and lime followed by charcoal baked potato skins and maple cinnamon pecans. The white chocolate is present in the distant with nougat.

Finish: Long with red musk candy and cinnamon, sandalwood, and the slightest hint of lime.

Comment: The longer this was left an abundance of aromas flew out from everywhere. This was an extremely active cask, purely amazing stuff at 6 months old. I wonder what Hanyu bottling this went into if any at all, or perhaps it went into one of those Golden Horse “Chichibu” single malts? Need to check on those dates I think. These samples are most likely no longer around unfortunately to consume (I presume), but it would have been a waste not to have made archival notes on them while looking past the spelling mistakes on the label.

Single Cask “Chichibu” - Distilled: Oct 1999 - Bottled: May 2000 - Cask# 6077 - Malt Master: Mutsuhiko Tsunashima - ABV: 59% - Oak Cask - Distilled and Bottled by: Toa Shuzo Co Ltd

Nose: Sweet oak with a touch of earthy/sweet peat. Dried strawberry centres covered in milk chocolate. There is melted butter screaming all over this malt - creamed butter and sugar. Lush dried tropical fruit chips, nougat, and salt solution - what a combo. Pot puri is evident with time, and with water fresh red fruits surface.

Taste: Intensely spicy but retains composure. Spicy strawberry/lime jam, dried jack fruit chips, Cajun walnuts, with some bitter melon. It is very earthy malt indeed with a bit of that sweet peat thing throughout. Water intensified bitter elements a bit too much therefore best left as it.

Finish: Spicy little number from start to finish with the spices running a very long marathon. Then sweet peat and rich soil are in the mix, Vietnamese dried fruits and right at the end a bit of menthol.

Comment: This whisky is heaven. Fortunately for me this was dug up and offered at a friendly session, something I could not resist writing notes on. This is Japanese whisky at its best. It retains lots of “house style” characteristics of a particular malt brand that many of us are familiar with. I have made it my mission (among many) to track down a bottle of the 12yo Golden Horse “Chichibu” single malt - it appears to have a very similar profile.