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As one Taketsuru expression begins to be withdrawn its predecessor enters the market, making many people become nostalgic about the very affordable, still readily available, and very palatable Taketsuru 12yo.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