Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Year, New Beginnings

As we have just witnessed the new year transition I'd like to take the opportunity to once again thank all the supporters of Whiskies R Us, to wish you all great times ahead, and to reflect upon a memorable year. The year 2013 saw a relatively dramatic change in the Japanese whisky industry with a few unexpected surprises: a smaller domestic distillery thought to have little chance of winning prestigious awards over the big guns did so, and craft distillers set their sights on the American market. The former, Hombo Shuzo, as you know, took "World's Best Blended Malt Whisky" at the World Whisky Awards 2013 (for Mars Maltage 3+25), and the later being Chichibu and White Oak (Eigashima). Akuto-san has began promoting Chichibu in the US with various seminars, while White Oak is also in place to launch (as reported (here) by Chris at The Whisky Wall). 

Another notable refashion of the domestic industry, which you have all read about, was the shift towards Japanese whisky without an age statement. First with Suntory replacing their 10yo Yamazaki and Hakushu expressions, followed by Nikka dropping the 12yo Taketsuru and substituting it with the NAS that is arguably much younger. Supply versus demand? Yes, but perhaps following trends? It will be interesting to see this year, in 2014, where the NAS movement takes us all. I've heard people speculate the movement will continue on the domestic market where distilleries will continue the heavy highball drive. Some people have even suggested, or predicted, that Suntory's Yamazaki and Hakushu 12yo's will follow, at least for a short period on home shores, again just a speculation. 

Something else worth noting was the flourish of releases we saw last year (as I implied (here) in 2012), most notably the array of private releases from the smaller distilleries for major Japanese retailers, who now appear to have confidence in selecting casks and making private bottles available to their customers.These private releases have proved to be quite popular so it's only natural to presume we will be seeing more this year...well depending on cask availability. As for the big players, first things first, Hakushu Sherry Cask 2014 in Feburary if I'm not mistaken. Once again, expect this year to be full of surprises and exciting news, and I look forward to another year sharing with you all what I can.

Happy New Year...Cheers!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Karuizawa Balanced Sherry 12yo

Distilled: 2000 - Bottled: 2013 - Bottled for: Isetan department store - ABV: 60.9%

Nose: A complexity of sweet and savory. Black forest cake, fried mushrooms in soy sauce, and both sweet and salty licorice. Refined sherry, raspberry tart biscuits, chocolate rum balls, and Vegemite. Very clean given the abv. Water adds orange sherbet candy and tangy orange (vitamin C tablet). Then there is fragrant rubber bands in the distant with coffee liqueur: Kahlua? Quite meaty on the last leg.

Taste: Prune sherry and Vegemite. Again quite smooth with cinnamon gum, spicey and sweet chutney, fragrant rubber, and black bean sauce. Past this you get Dr.Pepper, black cherry and dark bitter chocolate. Water allows a nice mocha attribute to surface along with mild licorice and bitter peel.

Finish: Gingered burdock, walnuts, and burnt black cherry then, black bean sauce.

Comment: No hype involved - a stellar cask, this young Karuizawa puts most of the older expressions I have tried to shame (mind you I haven't tried many). I'll go out on a whim and say this is my one of my second favourite "young" Karuizawa's. The first being Memories of Karuizawa 13yo. Another one of those "I wish I had a second bottle". Great play between savory and sweet, well balanced and complex.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Ichiro's Malt Chichibu - On The Way

Bottled: 2013 - Outturn: 9900 bottles - Vatting: Mizunara & bourbon barrels - ABV: 58.5%

Nose: Fans of Apple and pear will take an immediate liking to this - mostly in the form of juice concentrate and stews (perhaps throw in apple pie for good measure). Past this, caramel sauce over waffles with evident vanilla cream and custard. Brown creaming soda. From here it gets quite oaky, biscuity, and malty, in a sweet way - think Ovaltine. Fragrant hay. Water opens the gates: a mix of soft kiwi fruit, lime, and yuzu jam on toast before going to bitter green herbs, leather, and mellow fragrant wood.

Taste: Prickly heat, leather, grilled Ginkgo seeds (Ginnan), and a detection of Tabasco sauce. Definitely oaky, again malty, and peppery. Wood spice. The only sweet attributes that relate to the nose is caramel syrup, but in a spicy way. Chai perhaps? The bitterness of the Ginkgo seeds is enhanced with water along with an ever so faint menthol taste.

Finish: Moderate and prickly with heat. Water brings bitter apple juice and white pepper.

Comment: This has a very spirity note on the palate similar to that of The Floor Malted. Also, in my opinion, at certain stages it had similar aromas to that of a private release Chibidaru cask (well, that's what I automatically thought of) - and before you say "how is that possible", I know: different cask sizes and wood types were in play. Perhaps these similar attributes (opinion only) from various releases show that Chichibu's "house style" and new-make are of prime quality and very consistent?

Monday, December 23, 2013

Roaming Tokyo (4): Tanakaya - Mejiro

Whisky lovers are truly spoilt for choice in Tokyo. Aside from the great number of department stores in the metropolitan area that stock a satisfactory range, neighborhood districts equally have an abundance of dedicated shops that will not leave you disappointed. One particular establishment, naturally not new to the blogosphere, and which appears to be frequently visited by locals (a quick google search indicates this), has a very impressive selection of not only whisky, and all other worldwide spirits, but as well, there is a premium selection of craft beer. Tanakaya is a basement shop that caters to everyone's individual needs whether, you're after fine cognac or armagnac, limited rum or vodka, microbrew beers, and naturally independent whiskies. The shop, which is conveniently located literally a minute away from the Mejiro station, has a clean interior and layout that provides great browsing/shopping (liquor types are cleverly displayed in sections).

The Scotch whisky line-up (independents, limited releases, rare and vintage) is fulfilling and will not leave you displeased. However, currently the store seems to be lacking in Japanese whisky. On my visit only half a dozen bottles of On The Way, a bottle of Ichiro's Malt 23yo cask strength (original label), and a few bottles of a private release Akashi 5yo could be had. For those looking for standard expressions, i.e, Suntory and Nikka, perhaps you should look elsewhere - it appears Tanakaya do not stock official bottlings from the giants. Perhaps the store has so much traffic that any limited Japanese whisky that comes in goes straight out, a "need to be quick" policy? Well worth a visit regardless, and don't forget to check out the beer fridges, hard not to really. A classic liquor shop indeed.

Address: 3-4-14 Mejiro Toshima-ku, Tokyo 171-0031
Telephone: 03-3953-8888
Closed: Sunday
Access: West of Mejiro Station (JR Yamanote line)

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Roaming Tokyo (3): Campbelltoun Loch

In a belated follow up to "Roaming Tokyo (2)", Whiskies R Us finally checks out Campbelltoun Loch in Yurakucho. Naturally, this establishment has been mentioned quite a few times by various sources (here) as it's quite a popular place for enthusiasts however, only recently I had the pleasure to experience it. As the name suggests the whisky bar predominantly stocks Scotch - an extremely impressive selection at that. A lot of independents can be found here along with some pretty rare whiskies: both old and new. On the domestic front you may be a little disappointed with the quantity, nevertheless this is overcome with quality. There is roughly (at the time of writing) a dozen premium (give or take a few) Japanese whiskies available that will please both the beginner and novice drinkers among you, which includes most punters favourite brands: Owners Casks, Karuizawa (1 bottle), Chichibu, and Mars (80s single cask Komagatake). If you decide to visit I'd advise you to leave unnecessary luggage/shopping elsewhere, the bar is in a basement that is arguably somewhat on the small and narrow side - but hey, it's all about the malt right. Best bet is to arrive dead on 6:00 pm (5:00 pm weekends) and take of advantage of everything before it all gets a bit too busy... oh, and be prepared to spend hours gazing at all the labels! Well run and hats of to the proprietor: Nobuyuki Nakamura.

Location: Matsui Building B1, 1-6-8 Yurakucho Chiyoda-ku (100m from the Hibiya station).
Phone: 03 - 3501 - 5305

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Suntory Special Reserve 10yo - Sherry Finish 40% abv

The Special Reserve 10yo, which was married in sherry casks made its debut across Japan on September 9, 1998. Naturally both the malt and grain was matured for more than 10 years before the blending process began. After malt and grain merged, it was further married in toasted sherry casks. Suntory's original press release can be read (here). 

Nose: Mild effervescent orange and mellow Oloroso sherry. Reminiscent of a homemade sherry trifle: sliced jam roll cake lightly splashed with cream sherry, tinned fruit, and vanilla custard. It also transforms to steamed Christmas pudding: dried fruit and mixed peel (orange, lemon, apple). Fairy bread, weak icy pop liquid, strawberries and vanilla cream soft lollies, crushed coconut and cherries. Honey. Comes off as quite a sweet little number and it is - but in a very mellow manner.

Taste: Reasonably mild and smooth with burnt brown sugar and spiced toffee: (nutmeg, cinnamon, and ginger). Charred casks are evident in the form of scorched prunes. A bit watery, grainy, and light to moderate sherry influence. Walnuts with hints of mellow vanilla spice. Water (literally a few drops) lifts the game and brings sweet aromas to the palate (following the nose) and again, lightly spiced musky prunes.

Finish: Walnuts and burnt brown sugar with a medium finish. Right at the back of the tongue lays a slight yeast bitterness.

Comment: Very enjoyable, a good session malt but Id prefer it to be much more richer on the sherry front when it comes to the palate. Nevertheless, a good "refresher" between malts that is way too easy to drink. No sherry monster but top nose!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

A Taste of Japan Down Under

At Uncle Ming's, a bar "Down Under" on Sydney's energetic York Street, you can experience a little bit of Japan. The continent, and especially Sydney are crawling with bars that cater to the country's stereotypical drinking culture - but what makes Uncle Ming's more alluring than the flourish of other bars on every intersection? Its not about savvy architecture, glamorous interior (although the bar is decked out in attractive traditional Chinese interior design), or prime location. Nor is it about status - "The Bar To Be Seen In" (even though it is constantly packed). Simply, the bar is one of only a handful of establishments in Australia that I know of that stock an array of Japanese whiskies, which you'd struggle to find in any other bar in the area. As of writing the bar has fifty two Japanese expressions, and the range is always increasing (a shipment will in fact arrive this week according to staff).

Uncle Ming's opened in August 2012, and started out as a Chinese themed bar (hence the name) selling Tsingtao and bespoke cocktails served in elegant ceramic Chinese teapots. Sticking to this theme however meant the bar had limitations so over time it became more about celebrating Asian influence, and with a big emphasis on Japanese whisky. The transition was brought about by a local who began working at the establishment over a year ago, and at a time when there was only 4 Japanese whiskies at hand. The local: Flynn McLennan, found himself where he is today when he was in search of something independent from your commonplace speakeasy bars that liter the city and suburbs.

Flynn's position as Head Bartender and his taste for Japanese whisky is the blue print for today's Uncle Ming's. His own love of Japanese whisky actually began in Japan in a bar in Asakusa, so for him it made sense to focus on whiskies from Japanese distillers and expose his customers to the pleasures of local spirit. Flynn tells Whiskies R Us it's not easy for him to source unique whisky from Japan while living in Sydney, therefore at times he's physically made the trek to Japan to pick up some goodies for the bar... and his personal collection. The current line-up consists naturally of blends, pure malts, and malts (including single casks) from the distillery giants, as well as favourites from Chichibu, Hanyu, Karuizawa, and White Oak (Akashi). If your homesick for Japan and its whiskies (also beer/Sochu/Sake) you know where to call in. This place I presume will only get better. For an excellent description, along with basic info and address details take a look at Uncle Ming's Facebook page (here).

Images courtesy of the establishment