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.