Monday, December 22, 2014

Miyagikyo Original Blended Whisky Distillery Bottle 40% abv

Nose: Maintains a lovely fruity combination that is typical of Miyagikyo - persimmon jam, golden delicious apples, and soft banana slices from tinned fruit salad. Definitely carries aromas for warmer weather opposed to winter. Fair to say this holds a sweet nose, which includes strawberry icing sugar pushing through to caramelized cinnamon sugar glaze once past the fruit. Regardless of knowing - one could easily think that there is little if not no grain at all in this, very clean. Plain corn chips. Right at the end there is the slightest tease of peat.

Taste: Lightly bodied and extremely easy drinking. Retains a reasonably mild spiced fruit chutney and nutmeg mouth feel. Under ripe (semi-green) strawberries are evident along with a mellow creamy custard. More fruits are evident initially but they begin to quickly fade away before you can differentiate characteristics.

Finish: Short to moderate with mildly spiced walnuts and leaf vegetables. No distinguishable fruit here unfortunately. Here is where the grain becomes evident but nevertheless it is very respectable.

Comment: Ends a bit too quick but nevertheless this is another Nikka blend that deserves the "thumbs up"! This would shine much more at 43% and be a stellar blend at anything higher. This blend can only be purchased at the distillery and comes in 500 / 700mls respectively.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Release Reminder - Highball Cans Bearing the Founder of Nikka

Back in August Asahi Breweries, Ltd.  announced the forthcoming release of two new premixed beverages that will hit the market. Many of you have already seen pictures of the beverages circulating on the net and read about the anticipated release, in conjunction to the hit NHK drama ‘Massan’, so nothing new - just a reminder, but many have been waiting for the cans to hit the shelves. To commemorate the Nikka Whisky Distilling Co. Ltd 80th anniversary and milestone of Masataka Taketsuru’s birth, 2 illustrative premixed cans will be released nationwide from December 2, 2014. The limited edition cans that consist of a ‘Taketsuru Highball’ (7% abv) and a ‘Rita Highball’ (liqueur 7%abv) will be on sale until the end of March 2015. 

Image kindly borrowed from Asahi Breweries Ltd. official press release in Japanese (here).

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

New Suntory Release for Bic Camera

If you’re looking for a new release that has recently hit the market, other than the new 'Sherry & American White Oak 2011 Komagatake', then pop into a Bic Camera store nearby. The chain establishment was once renowned for carrying ridiculously cheap Owner’s Casks at a time when Japanese whisky perhaps didn’t have the popularity as it does today. It is fair to say a release by the mega store is well overdue but only this time, and like most things these days,  you will be paying for it.

Characterized as carrying a heavy oriental profile, the no-age-statement premium Japanese whisky has been selected and blended for Bic Camera by Chief Blender Shinji Fukuyo. According to specs this expression was exclusively blended with the core component being matured in Mizunara casks with an average maturity of around 25 years or more, with the addition of Spanish Oak matured smoky malt and grain whisky serving as an element. Although neither the front nor back label states it in writing apparently this is limited to 1000 bottles, and available at most major stores. Despite the interesting label, Mizunara influence, reasonable fancy wooden box, and it being a limited edition, I cannot see these flying of the shelf in a hurry, given the fact it is a blended whisky with a retail price of 39,744 yen (including tax) – just a personal opinion.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2003 for Whisky Shop W. 4th Anniversary

Distilled: 2003 - Bottled: 2014 - Cask# ADDY3038 - Wood Type: Spanish Oak - Cask Type: Bota Corta - ABV: 55%

Nose: Fresh soft licorice sticks in brown paper bags (extremely evident with water). Alongside this there's a sweet honey BBQ steak marinade to be had. Soldering on with the sweetness you get Black Forrest cake, berry candy and/or red jellybeans, red Shiso juice, and marshmallow coconut and strawberry biscuits (Arnott’s). Umeshu. Fry's Turkish delight. The licorice keeps popping up only this time as all sorts. Slight berry vinegarette dressing...definitely some subtle sourness going on, this is masked with the addition of water, which also adds brown sugar mince pie.

Taste: On first contact you'll get a heavy dose of spicy soy honey marinade, spicy mince pies, and spicy blackberry sauce. Then, it transforms to rose hip and dates, but still leaving quite a prickly sensation on the palate. Water cuts that initial spice attack - mellowing it out creating a reasonable balance however, it becomes a little dry when diluted. 

Finish: Egyptian dates and blackberry compote. Interestingly, with water, a mellow licorice flavoured gum pops up - think along the lines of a well-chewed piece of Wrigley’s P.K. 

Comment: Enjoyable enough. I personally would have liked something a bit more to happen on the palate. Perhaps that will happen at a later date.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Nikka Single Coffey Grain 12yo Distillery Release 55% Abv

Nose: It is, as the label says, 'woody', and it's an interesting mix of distinctive woods such as red cedar and white pine that is set against a layer of vanilla cream and Pascall milk bottles - soft, chewy, sweet, creamy, milk flavoured lollies. Initially there is a few seconds of suggested varnish (wood/nail) but not in an off outing way- it fades quite quickly giving way to evident banana cake. Honeycomb and stewed apples with cloves. Then, white sugar mixed with butter until creamed. Past this, a mild sour note emerges - think sour yogurt but not in an unpleasant way. Yakult also rolls of the glass before it drifts back to a mixture of lightly salted margarine, fresh wine boxes/crates, fresh (uncooked/raw) corn cobs, oak, and mild (green) vegetal notes. Very seductive, rich, and matured grain. 

Taste: Perhaps this should have been given the title: 'Woody & Mildly Spiced' when it comes to the palate. Bang on spice up front - Cajun and cracked pepper balls (water mellows this while producing a reasonable silky mouthfeel). Mild wood spice, Butter Menthols, cedar planks, creamy vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg. Oak. There's a slight bitterness mid palate - walnuts. Cracked pepper vita wheat. 

Finish: Reasonably long. Buttered baked radish. Walnuts, and again that Cajun spice, which is much more mild on the finish.

Comment: I'm actually a big fan of single grain - Scotch and Japanese.  Many drinkers often say that all single grain whiskies taste the same however I disagree! Put this side-by-side with another Japanese single grain expression and you will immediately see the differences. I would have liked to got a bit more out of the palate though. Rewarding nose.

Note: Although the label clearly says 'single Coffey grain' it states (in Japanese) that it also contains malt.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Chichibu Single Cask for Silver Seal 2014 Review

Barley: Floor Malted Optic - Cask# 659 - Cask in: January 2010 - Bottled: February 2014 - ABV: 62.4% - Outturn: 239 bottles 

Nose: Enticing sweetness upfront. Trademarks of a decent bourbon barrel: vanilla cream, French toast, butter scotch, nama caramel, eggnog and banana milk. Oak. The rich sweetness continues to prevail along with time adding white chocolate, butter menthols, and lovely bakery pastries (both sweet & savory). This Chichibu really dominates - truly complex. With time light cologne aromas, musk candy, wafer biscuits and then, out of the blue a dusty lumber shed. Water for the main part initially ramps up the heavy sweetness (rocky road chocolate – marshmallow, jelly, coconut, and nuts) however, water gradually tones down the sweetness creating an interesting savory note (Saladas - saltine crackers) and summer fruit components (honey dew, cantaloupe, and then some lychee). Lurking - flat creaming soda, chamomile tea, and some freshly cut rich flower stems. Again, very complex.

Taste: Creamy vanilla. Spiced nuts (mainly walnuts and peanuts) and wood spice. Bitter chocolate wafers. Minerals. There's an interesting spicy butter corn concept also in play that is quite nice. Mildly spiced honey. New leather. Cinnamon. Lychee. Green olive pips. Whole wheat and/or a yeast. Only with water you really get to experience some of the sweetness as you do with nose, mostly in the form of cinnamon and brown sugar sprinkled over overripe banana. This, along with barley sugar and Salada crackers.

Finish: Quite long, all flavour profiles are concentrated at the back of the roof of your mouth. A touch of dark honey. Clotted cream. Yeast. Very faint hints of sarsaparilla. Becomes a little dry with water but in a welcoming way.

Comment: In my opinion and as a personal preference this is another truly superb single cask Chichibu. In a critical view some single casks can be not as satisfying but this cask offering is among the top end.  For the original release details see the WRU report here.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Best of the Best - Bar Kitchen Tenjin Fukuoka

Bar Kitchen suggests in it's name that meals may be on offer. If you're after a drink with some local cuisine, and let's face it, there's plenty to be had in Hakata, well then you better try else where - there's no food here, and who needs it! So why name the establishment 'Bar Kitchen' then? Oka-san, the owner and sole bar tender wanted to name his place with something memorable, and at the time of opening his original premises in Kurume many moons ago (since 2002) he was in a band called 'Kitchen Drinkers' - the association stuck.

So now you've learned that this place isn't an eatery, your probably wondering what's on the menu? By all means it is a very distinctive menu. Distinctive enough for me to openly say that until date this is "The" No.1 bar of all time. Yep! Happy to put my neck out on that statement - most likely unbeatable (as far as personal preference goes, and what I've visited so far). Since relocating to the upgraded Hakata premises in September, 2014 Oka-san has amassed a smorgasbord of approximately 1,500 bottles that consists of both rare Japanese and Scotch whisky, as well as an assortment of premium and vintage bourbons for those who fancy it (and that's what only the eye can see...there's more tucked away below the bar). The layout is pure eye candy with a back bar wall consisting of thirteen columns with six tier shelving intricately showcasing an extremely impressive lineup: independent bottlers (past&present), SMWS bottlings, vintage official bottlings, Suntory Owners Casks, Nikka single casks, Karuizawa, Chichibu (many single cask stuff), and astonishing Hanyu (including the entire set from the famed 'Card Series' - with both Jokers, and Shinanoya's 'Game' series). Not that I need to point it out...a true haven for Japanese malt enthusiasts, and well, for those who have an obsession with either one of the distilleries listed above.

Bar Kitchen has all the trimmings of a high end bar with its savvy (but homely) interior but in actual fact it doesn't charge high end prices. This is what really sets itself apart from elsewhere. Although there are ultra-premium whiskies you won't be paying ultra-premium prices. Many of you who manage to actual visit this bar will be very surprised with its affordability. When you walk through the door you're quickly overwhelmed, you're taken back by the sheer presence of the bar's bottle offerings, but equally your captivated by the beautiful bar counter that measures 9.5 meters in length and is 11cm thick. I hear you saying: "what's captivating about that"? Well...this almost 10 meter bar counter has been intricately cut from one single tree in one solid piece. There's not many places that have done this/or can do this. Perhaps imagine it before I get of track and start talking about lumber. I can say so much more but you get the idea...check it out for yourself and make Bar Kitchen a MUST visit while in Hakata.

Oka-san's motto: "drink relaxedly, drink comfortably, drink in a homely manner".



Grand Park Tenjin
107 1-8-26 Maizuru, Cho-ku, Fukuoka-shi, Fukuoka.


Catch the Kuko Subway line from Hakata station to Akasaka station

Bar counter image courtesy of Bar Kitchen

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Kirin (Seagram) Crescent Blended Whisky 43% abv

Nose: Clean, summery, and effervescent. Quite a pleasant fruity little number - tinned fruit salad (pineapple, peach, pear). Hot cross buns and mashed banana. Sticky caramel pudding or is it bread and butter pudding? Dried strawberries and corn puree. Then, sesame and poppy seed vita wheat crackers with a drizzle of Kuromitsu (a Japanese black honey like sugar syrup). On the last leg a mellow woody oil fragrant aroma. Wood varnish and toasted grain.

Taste: Semi-spiced fried strawberries, thinly sliced mild pickled ginger, and pan fried pineapple. Vita wheat crackers. Not a lot really happening on the palate, especially regarding the fruit experienced on the nose - a hint of sweet mustard, minerals, and pink grapefruit. Nevertheless, it is enjoyable and certainly nothing to write-off. With a bit of time some other interesting elements surface - tree sap, and rum like qualities. 

Finish: Medium, but at times it kind of comes to an abrupt end. However, there is the presence of the Kuromitsu followed by a nutty presence with a mild woody influence. Rum?

Comment: Apparently there was up to forty different whiskies used to create this blend - all coming from Kirin-Seagram's portfolio at the time. The partnership also produced a similar blend named Ten Distilleries however, as the name suggest only malt and grain whiskies from ten distilleries was married together. The Crescent 'Whisky Supreme' was released on the domestic market in 1981 (source).

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Japanese Drams of Yesteryear (4): Sanraku Ocean Special Old Blended Whisky 12yo 43% abv

The Ocean-Special Old 12yo bottling was distilled and bottled by Sanraku-Ocean Co.Ltd. The original 12yo version hit the domestic market in 1965 (according to research). The reintroduction of the newly designed bottle and label (pictured above) took place in the late 70s (1977). This was later replaced with a non-age-statement black labeled version (Ocean-Special Old SP) around 1981 before shifting to the white labeled NAS (SP) bottling in 1985, labeled as Mercian. For those interested in domestic trivia there was two label variations of the 70s bottling - two different company locations. The 1977 release was labeled under the company's location 'Muromachi' (pictured above), while the following variation was labeled under the 'Kyobashi' company location. Written on the screw cap is: 'Distillery at Karuizawa & Yamanashi - Blended Whisky'.

Nose: Very fruity - red apples, Japanese orange, and dried figs. Jam rolls mildly doused with semi-sweet sherry. Pink fondant and raspberry jam sprinkled with coconut continues the sweet drive. Then, burnt caramel/toffee. The grain is evident but it is rich, providing mellow bourbon like qualities. There's mid floral notes - hibiscus keeps coming to mind. Mild strawberry lip balm. Green leafy vegetables. Leafy and dusty old orange peel. Water really highlights the tropicana orange, and introduces mashed strawberry (briefly).

Taste: Mildly spicy but equally silky, and sweet with red apple and dried cereal strawberries. Red capsicum. Dry sherry. Underripe plums. Hints of mellow raspberry confectionary. Water, and I mean just a drop, provokes the sweet and semi-spicy combo to come out on initial mouthfeel. Pickled ginger and a tad metallic. Reasonably well balanced.

Finish: Red apple skins. Burnt toast. Slightly roasted red capsicum. Underripe plums. Quite moderate. Becomes rightly silky on the mouthfeel with water however by adding water it awakes a solvent in the grain and tweaks the mellow spice.

Comment: Fair to say a very descent blend. Great for places with warm temperatures. Not even a suggestion of smoke or rubber on the nose with this. Liquid history indeed. 

Take a look at 'Japanese Drams of Yesteryear': 1,2,and 3.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Bar Zumon Renewal Opening

Bar Zumon reopened its doors on July 25 after reestablishing itself and relocating to a better internal environment. The renewal of the whisky and cocktail bar includes a new long bar counter and chairs with modern trimmings, a stimulating new glass selection, plus an extensive wall library of independent bottles (back/front bar walls), all creating a much more spacious and authentic bar environment. The fresh upgrade continues to be conveniently located - right next door to the building that housed the original watering hole. Long gone is the out-of-place dart board and 1980s interior design, in exchange you will be greeted to an establishment that is visually attractive while retaining the traditional aspects of an educated dram house.

Currently Bar Zumon has over three dozen quality Japanese whiskies on offer (pictured above - excluding standard official bottlings), but with shared enthusiasm this will eventually increase and compliment the most extensive collection of independent Scotch single malt whiskies under the one roof. Besides all the new alluring aspects, I personally like the fact that there is no snobbery at this bar - a down to earth establishment where the patrons and bar master (Izumoto-san) equally share the passion. Pop in and have a dram, and while doing so soak up the history provided on each and every label - it may become your new favourite spot. Be sure to mention you heard about the renewal open from me (Clint) and the 500 yen cover charge will be waived (first time only). Please be advised that a handful of bottles (extremely rare releases) are only available on certain anniversary days (not just the bar but also the celebration of important figures and events in the whisky industry) - be sure to ask.

4-8-27 Higashi-Yodogawa-ku, Awaji, Osaka City 
Zip Code 533-0032 
二十八万石 Building 3F

大阪市東淀川区淡路4827 二十八万石ビル3階

2 minute walk from West Exit Hankyu Awaji station - turn left at the alley adjacent to the UFJ bank and clock.

阪急淡路駅 徒歩1分 UFJ銀行前の時計の路地を入ってください


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Suntory Special Reserve 10yo 43%

Nose: Peaches, apple custard, crepes with sliced banana and sweetened whipped cream, milk bottles (a soft, chewy, milky flavoured lolly). There's a cheeky citrus peel rolling of the top - I'm going for mandarin. Among these aromas there is a nice welcoming soapy element - reminds me of an 80s bottling of Edradour 10yo. With time an interesting rich golden straw element and mild oak. Then, a vegetal note of fried radish stems and leaf. 

Taste: Straight up you get tantalizing spice - cloves, ginger cookies and/or traditional spicy ginger ale. Stewed apples abundant with again, cloves. Creamy and mellow. A touch of that mandarin is present. Like the nose you get that floral-soapy touch, which I like. With time it presents bitter tannins. Peppered celery. Mild oak. Once the bottle becomes oxidized the presence of iron tablets kick in.

Finish: Spice and green vegetal notes (again, celery). Mellow, moderate finish with a descent balance.

Comment: The Special Reserve 10yo, which was aged in White Oak barrels using key malt from the Hakushu distillery tends to get over looked by many malt enthusiasts. With all the hype around other Japanese whiskies this little guy often gets passed up. I'm guilty of it my self, it has taken me over a few years to make a purchase, and an extremely cheap purchase at that. An everyday but rewarding whisky that everyone should have in their cabinet. 

The Suntory Special Reserve review (circa 1980s) that carries a no-age-statement can be seen here.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Japanese Whiskies Under the Hammer

Lauren Eads from The Drinks Business has recently written an article named: 'Rare Japanese Whisky Auction Set For HK'. According to the article Asia's largest auction house declares that it will host "the most comprehensive collection of Hanyu and Karuizawa whisky in the auction history of Bonhams HK". Apparently the auction will feature over 200 lots that includes more than 170 bottles of Karuizawa. Readers may recall a similar article posted by the leading drinks trade publication, which Whiskies R Us announced back in May, 2013 (here). Although this large public sale can easily highlight the growing popularity of Japanese whisky the question is, which has been covered more than once, and by various sources, how many people will actually buy to personally consume opposed to buying for investment purposes? Either way, consumer or investor, a hefty price tag is attached when buying on the resale market - you will be paying through the nose. The auction market often has mixed reactions, ask everyone who buys and drinks whisky. Some say that it is a good opportunity to obtain bottles that they would never of had the chance to find elsewhere, while others, including the producers of the whisky, say it often leaves a bad taste in their mouths to see the astronomical prices. One thing which is clearly evident: a large amount of rare Japanese whisky has been sourced, making it even harder for dedicated drinkers such as you and I to obtain. Perhaps given the geographical market place of the auction the majority of the whisky could be snapped up by drinkers (personal speculation only)? What's your take on the subject?

Image kindly taken from Bonhams HK auction listing: Japanese & Rare Whisky

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Blend of Nikka Circa 1980s 45%abv

Nose: Semi creamy and citrus combo - light vanilla and lime gelato. Dried apple. Mild hints of pineapple confectionary. Buttery lemon shortbread, mini-pack sun dried raisins (yes, including the smell of the small cardboard packet - in a positive way). Good quality aroma profile. Then, a very welcoming compliment of soft berry fragranted hand wash followed by suggestions of baked, mashed banana (baked above charcoal - there's a whisper of smoke rolling of this).  Plus, a cheesecake French toast casserole? A little under a teaspoon of water brings an evident bubblegum aroma to the top - traditional gum from packs of sports cards from the 80s. Now, blueberry yogurt.

Taste: Consistent with the nose on mediocre fruitiness however, more so on the dried side opposed to fresh, rich fruit. Moroccan spices on avocado. Spicy yet equally silky. The grain is more noticable on the pallate with a touch of bitterness. Buttery and slightly mentholy. That soapy, floral element is evident as on the nose. Spiced flour tortillas? Oak. Water cranks up the grain and adds roasted, peppered pine nuts. There is another mouthfeel that I know is present but I just can't work out what it is.

Finish: Subtle mango, medium on pepper with a moderate finish. Again, there is an additional send-off note that I can't quite put my finger on. Water lets the medium spice list run all up to the back of your tongue before going all malty and oaky. Dry. 

Comment: The majority of blends from Nikka are of either exceptional or reasonable quality. This blend, like many others (i.e Nikka from the barrel), fall into the former category - in my opinion (especially on the nose). I'm now looking forward to pursue The Blend of Nikka 17yo, again, I gave one up a few weeks ago to another malt mate.

Note: On the label on the neck of the bottle the kanji written says: 'whisky tokkyu' . This can be translated as 'whisky of the highest quality' or 'special grade whisky' that all Japanese distilleries used to classify their premium products. Also Scotch whisky was labeled by importors with this classification. This form of categorizing so called top notch whisky ceased around 1989/1990, which can give a good suggestive indication on the bottling circa.

Update (August 8th): At the half way mark with this bottle and there is very evident smoke compared with my initial thoughts. It is quite seductive smoke. Not in your face but it is now certainly present, it is not drifting in and out - it is there all the way and possibly all along. However, I didn't get this off the bat.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Rare Japanese Drams (3): Karuizawa Kohaku Single Cask 1995 Vintage 10yo 59.9% abv

Nose: It's big and ballsy on first encounter. You'll get initial alcohol burn, but form there on there are a myriad of different aromas. Take your time. It becomes complex. Mens original cologne (spicy/sweet). Berliner filled with plum and strawberry jam filling. Fruit Loops, glazed Saville oranges, pink grapefruit, pomegranate, wine gums, berry marinade, raspberry-flavoured chewy confections, and rich berry tea. It doesn't stop there, next, fruit Lifesavers and authentic Turkish delight before it goes all tarty and spicy. Then, there is a touch of smoke (from cap guns?), new leather, and dried lemon peel before the sweetness starts again. Dried figs and dates (more so on dates) on sweet wheat based cereals. Berry mouse with honey. Fruity red wine and smoldering trees. The trademark warm rubber is present and welcoming (engine rubber hoses). The addition of water doesn't dramatically change the appearance but it highlights the sweetness (raspberry, cranberry, and/or red wine sauce) and tames the alcohol/spiciness.

Taste: Relatively intense on the spice front with pepper berries. Cigar leaf, warm rubber radiator hoses (not that I've ever eaten one), peppered raspberry lamb chops, burdock root marinated in soy sauce and black sesame seeds. Eucalyptus drops. Mild bitter grape tannins and a tad dry. Mild berry balsamic. As with the nose water tames the spiciness and turns up the sweetness before adding bitter dark chocolate and cloves. But also it turns up the warm rubber hose and it can become metallic.

Finish: Pepper berries, black bean sauce, red-wine gravy sauce, and mild bitter grape tannins. Warn rubber engine hoses. It becomes a tad dry and chalky with water.

Comment: 'Kohaku' in English means amber - named accordingly with the intention to describe the lush red amber liquid inside the bottle, which apparently, according to written and verbal sources, was matured in red wine casks, as with the distillery's Rouge bottlings (if any one can clarify that please share your thoughts)? This single cask 10yo Kohaku (vintage 1995) should not be mistaken with the single malt 10yo version bottled at 40% (non-vintage). The 59.9% abv bottling is a true experience, a must, if it can be found. What a lovely Karuizawa.

Rare Japanese Drams 1 & 2 can be found here and here.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Pre-owned Liquor Outlet Established in Tokyo

Foreign residents and visitors to Japan have most likely come across, at one stage or another during their travels, the secondhand book chain named BOOK OFF - a store that buys your unwanted pre-loved books, which then resells them on at cheap prices. Among the group's business enterprise there are other themed stores, up until now six category shops, such as HARD OFF (used computers and audio) and Hobby OFF (reselling used toys and games). One more concept shop titled Liquor OFF has recently been launched in Tokyo, stated originally by Kotaku (here), and then The Drinks Business (here). According to both sources Liquor OFF, just like it's sibling stores, is a secondhand shop that will buy unwanted liquor from the public before selling it on at a cheaper price than the original recommended retail cost. According to the store's website it buys and resells all major liquor categories such as wine, brandy, beer, champagne, Sake, spirits, and a vast array of whiskies that includes both domestic and international brands. A brief look suggests there are some good bargains to be had with some quality Japanese whiskies on offer. An interesting shopping experience that's for sure.

2-7-6 Koenji-kita, 
Suginami-ku, Tokyo
Koenji Building 1F

Image kindly borrowed from the official Liquor OFF website (in Japanese).

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Rare Japanese Drams (2): Chichibu Newborn Heavily Peated Cask # 453 - 61.4% abv

Distilled from peated optic barley, the newborn heavily-peated new make from Chichibu was bottled at cask strength after a short maturation of three months. There were three releases of this peated malt from casks # 451, 452, and 453 respectively - American oak hogsheads. Although this whisky was/is not uncommon the Newborn range are few and far between today making this reasonably atypical, therefore unique in my opinion.

Nose: Sweet peat. Golden brown crumpets with treacle. Shearing sheds, oily sheep fleece, Lanolin cream, and pork crackling. Lemon Strepsils along with a hint of eucalyptus. Char-grilled sweet potato skins with a sprinkle of salt. Damp earthy character. Sweet tar and tree sap. When diluted smoked sea scallops with citrus and soy sauce. Then, sweet crude oil, corn syrup and/or gum syrup, and coal smoke. Following on from this you get distinctive PVC rubber toys and diesel train smoke.

Taste: Besides the obvious peat that can be both sweet and peppery you get menthol initially, which moves towards bitter lemon licorice drops. Water adds ash and charcoal baked potato skins. Sweet tar. PVC toys.

Finish: Hard hitting and reasonably long. Ashy, and fair to say suggestions of sea salt. Peat smoke naturally, and let's not forget the Japanese medicine Seirogan (here).

Comment: It is what it is, but I can say I really enjoyed this. Some enthusiasts have voiced there is a personal favourite out of the three casks, regardless of cask type and variety of barley being the same. Interesting contrast when this expression is drank beside Chichibu The Peated (both releases). 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Rare Japanese Drams (1): Golden Horse Single Malt 14yo - Hanyu Distillery 57% abv

Nose: Dry but at the same time complex, and with sophisticated sweetness. Ripe golden delicious apple with a touch of pear. Dry sandalwood. Honey and raisin cake along side a mild fruit tea infusion (green banana, mango, and cinnamon). With time Woodroofe's Sno-Top (a brown vanilla-flavoured creaming soda). Water adds barley sugar with mild floral hints and amps up the sandalwood (in oil form). Peanut shells. Then, Juicy Fruit gum. It's fair to say this malt is quite feminine in comparison to other hard hitting Hanyu.

Taste: Relatively dry. Aromatic spices are in play big time, which sends a tingling sensation rocketing your mouth. There is a touch of bitter tannins. Grilled Ginkgo nuts. Textbook sandalwood. Then, flirtatious, mellow Japanese star anise. Peanut husks - from beer nuts, and dried raisins with water. More water in my opinion introduces a burnt, spicy caramel toffee that quickly transits to mild Goya. Ease off the water.

Finish: Medium to long, dry with both chalky and mellow floral soapy elements.

Comment: I first tried this as recent as last year (2013), with Brian at Bar Augusta. I was totally amazed with the sheer quality and flavour profile that I made it my mission to track down a bottle, the conventional way and not on the resale market. It has taken roughly a year to do so, and by no means was it easy seeking out this rare gem. In fact I was giving up all hope. Then, I was lucky to go on a camping trip in the sticks and came across a retailer that I thought wouldn't stock anything interesting...pays to check high and low. Released in 2004 by Tao Shuzo.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Nikka Coffey Malt Whisky 45% abv

Nose: Heavenly seductive and rich. Vanilla oak, banana milk, and soft chewy style banana confectionary. Light honey drizzled over vanilla and cinnamon bread (hot cross buns). Coconut milk. Cadbury Summer Roll (lightly roasted peanuts and coconut flakes wrapped in milk chocolate). Then, Eggnog. With prolonged time a lot of the creamy sweetness subsides giving way to vegetal and rich malty notes. With water honey bush tea with a drop of vanilla essence and a dash of milk.

Taste: Extremely silky and buttery. Lightly spiced mellow honey caresses every part of your mouth. Arnott's Milk coffee (no pun intended) biscuits and/or Malt-O-Milk biscuits. Then, a transition to chai spiced banana bread. Grated coconut mingles with dark chocolate. Eggnog moderately spiced with nutmeg. Dried oats. With time celery stalks and malt. When diluted milky, honey bush tea.

Finish: Moderate to long with mild spiced chai tea, dried oats, malt, and milk coffee biscuits.

Comment: Pretty exciting stuff. Great to break away from the norm and have something slightly different. Nikka has impressed me yet again. The Coffey Malt expression, along with the Taketsuru NAS sherry wood finish and Date have become my all time favourites from the whisky giant (excluding single casks naturally). And lets not forget that it is extremely affordable.

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Whisky Festival 2014 Osaka in Pictures

Chief blenders, brand ambassadors, importors, bar tenders, professionals, and whisky enthusiasts (both novice and savvy) - people from all walks of life, gathered to see what was on show for this year's Whisky Festival Osaka 2014 (June 8th). The festival, now in its 3rd year for Osaka, was a great platform to experience both old and new whiskies from around the world. Visitors were able to sample award-winning, old and obscure, aged, prototype, and new emerging whiskies to the market as well as old favourites, in what was a reasonably larger than normal venue (compared to 2012/2013) - there were certainly no complaints of space restrictions this time around. There were quite a few creative stands from the major players of both the Scotch and Japanese whisky industry however, it appeared the focus was on craft distillers and independent bottlings.

Venture Whisky was in fine form, as always, and allowed attendees to sample two of their 'prototype' whiskies for the festival. The first Chichibu 'model' (pictured above) was only one of two bottles drawn from a sherry butt (cask# 1284), which was distilled in 2011 and bottled this year at 60.7%. It was quite significant to see this sherry matured Chichibu - it is a topic that's been on everyone's lips at the moment. Although many were lucky enough to try this exceptional and tasty 3yo, it appears Venture Whisky has no plans to bottle their first sherry matured Chichibu soon. One thing is for sure, when they do fans alike will not be disappointed. The second prototype, was another 'Almost (aged) Five (years)' version only this time drawn from a single puncheon (Cask# 408) that was distilled in 2009 and bottled this year at 61.3%.

Original Chichibu froushiki were another hot item among dedicated fans, which were offered exclusively for the festival. Among the various distillery goods Chichibu have on offer the traditional wrapping cloth that is used to carry anything and everything was an in-house design, which is suitable to transport your favourite Chichibu bottle. It appears only one hundred pieces for now have been produced with the intention of printing more given the popularity.

This gorgeous Chichibu, by ePower, also made a debut. The specially selected bottling by Bar Barns (Nagoya) was distilled in 2010 and matured in a bourbon barrel (Cask# 657). The outturn for this bottling is 227 bottles and bottled this year at 62.1%. Barley: Floor Malted Optic. Although this is a bottling intended for bars alike, according to ePower you will be able to purchase this at a few of the big liquor retailers in both the Kansai and Kanto areas. So keep your eyes out for yet again another tasty exclusive single cask Chichibu.

The second edition, or should I say re-design of 'Twin Alps' from the Mars distillery gained some followers. This blended whisky was once bottled at 39% abv in 720ml bottles with a cream label. This new version however, with the distillery's new signature 'alps' bottle design (750ml) is bottled at 40% abv. This oaky, full bodied, blend with wood fragrance will be available, according the guys, from next week. This, along with Iwai Tradition is another good 'bang for the buck' and entry level blended whisky. Depending on place of purchase the suggested retail price will be from 1,580 yen ~ 1,680 yen.

The 6th Whisky Shop W original single malt Hakushu (006) is a store bottling that aficionados should not miss. Bottled at 48%, this vatted Hakushu is like no other, well at least in comparison to what I have tasted over the years. Having been matured in bourbon barrels, which I presume to be first-fill given the extreme quality, this release provides a unique Hakushu experience that some suggested is reminiscent of an early Bowmore (70s Circa). I cannot make that comparison as I don't think I've had a Bowmore from the 70's, but what I can say is this Hakushu presents rich tropical banana in various forms that interwinds with delicate smoke on both the nose and palate. Grab one here before they get snapped up quicker than any other 300ml store bottling. Possibly my best Japanese whisky on the day that can be purchased from a shop. 

Nikka also presented this top notch whisky that is of no secret. Nikka Coffey Malt, which will make its debut in Japan tomorrow (June 10) for the national market. Stay tuned for a detailed review of this in coming days as well as news of additional Nikka release set for July that most of you already know about.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Back-to-Back Pure Malt: Suntory Hokuto 12yo 1st and 2nd Release

"Hokuto" was created and named accordingly to commemorate the birth of Hokuto city in the Yamanishi prefecture. The vatting, which consists of a variety of key malts from the Hakushu distillery as well as Yamazaki genshu malt was released on June 22, 2004. The 12yo pure malt vatting that adopted the "bamboo charcoal filtration" method was the result of Suntory's pursuit to create an "easy to drink" whisky. Interestingly, the Hokuto pure malt was at times marketed as an alternative to Sochu with certain catch copy saying: "Clear, tasty, and refined - allowing you to shift from Sochu to whisky". Among other promotions Suntory suggested that this pure malt was designed to be drank with ice - specifically 'half rock'. This I'd not recommend as this whisky is initially mellow, watering it down completely drowns it. The Hokuto 12yo pure malt came in two distinctive label variations (releases) before it was sadly put out of production in 2010. The first release (left image) in 2004 pictured lush forestry that I presume is either the surroundings of the Hakushu distillery and/or the city of Hokuto. This release is labeled as Suntory Pure Malt Whisky (top of label) with Hokuto written in quotations (bottom of label), and bottled by Suntory limited. The second label variation (right image) drops the wording 'Suntory' out of 'Pure Malt Whisky' (top of label), and moves the brand name of Hokuto towards to top without the quotations. Besides these small difference on the second release that accordingly was put out in  2005, the obvious change is the label's image that clearly depicts the Hakushu distillery and surrounding forest in the foreground of rolling hills in Hokuto, and what looks like to be the area's wheat silos? Also, in 2005 a quarter bottle (250ml) hit the market. Now...any difference taste wise?

● Suntory Pure Malt Whisky - "Hokuto" - Aged 12 Years - Suntory Limited 2004 (pictured left)

Nose: Fresh and clean with immediate citrus - predominately lime with a hint of Yuzu. Fresh forestry notes. Aloe Vera mixed with vanilla and/or toasted marshmallows. Subtle Mint and Shiso intertwine. Actually, I could even say a weak Mojito? Musk melons and a drizzle of honey. Green banana. Pickled crisp vegetables (cucumber). All up - lovely oak, very delicate.

Taste: As with the nose clean, and silky smooth. Mellow spices. There's a tad mouthfeel of menthol gum. Moderate sweet lime. Green toasted capsicum, subtle oak influence, green banana, a touch of toffee and/or scorched black sugar. Plain cashews.

Finish: A combination of mellow mint and menthol gum, and white pepper on red cabbage. Mellow oak. Medium length.

Comment: This is an exceptional whisky that is quite rightly suited to the warmer months of the year. The colour of the whisky in the first release is much darker than the second release - both in the bottle and by glass. This may suggest malt in the first release spent more time in casks compared to the second release (there may be a slight influence in lighting).

● Pure Malt Whisky - Hokuto - Aged 12 Years - Suntory 2005 (pictured right)

Nose: Whipped cream, fried pineapple, fresh banana fritters, dusty wood chips, integrated subtle sweet smoke, Allen’s fruit tingles: lemon and orange, sweet oak, salt rock, and strangely but pleasant spicy tomato juice.

Taste: Lush. Smooth and silky with gorgeous oak, a dash of concentrated lime juice, and a drop of pineapple juice from a can. The whipped cream makes itself present before spiced mixed nuts roll into the equation. The malt becomes very creamy the longer it sits.

Finish: Dry, tame, and oaky, and like the first release medium in length.

Comment: Although a mass marketed line-up of Suntory at the time, it is now ever so scarce due to its popularity, and effectively cheap price for excellent quality. It originally took me months and months to find my first bottle (second release), followed with the first release. Now I can never stop finding them. This Pure Malt ticks all the right boxes, it offers something different to Suntory’s core Yamazaki and Hakushu single malts.

To conclude, both versions retain a clean-cut, fresh, mellow citrus presentation. Both versions are very similar. However, the second release in my opinion has a sweater top note (creamy) on the nose, and is slightly more richer than the first release (only by a point or two). At the same time the first release has a slightly more sumptuous mouthfeel (again, only by a point or two). At the end of the day there are only very subtle differences. Both versions are of exceptional quality with great blending - a must have for every drinker.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Japanese Drams of Yesteryear (3): Suntory Special Reserve NAS Circa 1980's 43% abv

Suntory Special Reserve was launched in 1969 to commemorate Suntory's 70th anniversary. The original and earlier batches display the 70th anniversary insignia that is embossed in the glass at the back of the bottle. Like most bottles of whisky you can distinguish the era of release by taking notice of the label. In the case of the Special Reserve expression, bottles from the mid 70s were labeled "A Rare Blend", while 80s batches were labeled with "A Supreme Blend". Furthermore, certain releases have additional information to pinpoint a specific year, like the red stripe below the tin capsule and above the Suntory crest in the picture above. This (according to research) apparently indicates the bottle I bought was a batch from 1986. Currently the malt used in today's Special Reserve is Hakushu key malt that has been matured in white oak, in my personal opinion this was not the case back in the 70s as my bottle shows very strong evidence of sherry maturation in colour, aroma, and taste respectively.

Nose: Delicate, moderately rich sherry - no mistake here! The tiniest hints of grain is immediately overcome with again, quality, tame, cream sherry. Assorted fruits are at the leading edge (dried figs, apricots, Australian plums, and evidence of underripe nectarine). It continues to roll with a fruity peach sauce, Muscovado, and mellow coffee toffee. Pleasantly oaky. On the artificial sweet front you get red jellies and Werther's soft cream caramels. There's an interesting soy berry marinade and cranberry sauce going on. Tilt the glass at certain angles (with your nose encased) and you'll get a dose of scones saturated in lightly salted butter, and quality honey. Water accentuates a mildly tangy orange, which was really always there. What lovely assorted aromas.

Taste: Moderately spiced honey-soy marinade. Dry sherry. Very oaky. Muscovado. Burnt toffee, and spicy cheery coconut. Bitter-sweet orange with cocoa. I also detect suggestions of espresso. The grain is much more evident on the palate compared to the nose however, it carries itself well on the tongue with a peppery butter mouthfeel. Along with all pleasantries there is an interesting vegetal note - my thoughts are stir-fry Zucchini.

Finish: Moderate to reasonably long with a combination of bitter sweetness (cocoa soufflé with orange).

Comment: I can picture salary men at the time possibly slugging this back with copious amounts of water added for their Mizuwari. I'm all for the policy of 'drink it how you like', but this blend is too good to think it was drank in any other way than neat. My new 'Daily Dram'. Lovely blending with evident cask and malt quality at the time.

Click (here) for Japanese Drams of Yesteryear (1) and (here) for part (2).