Japanese Whisky World Record Auction Prices August 2015

Karuizawa1960.jpgTonight at Bonham’s Auction Hong Kong a world record price was achieved for a single bottle of Japanese whisky. The bottling, a Karuizawa 1960 52YO Cask #5627 one of 41 bottles. Price with buyers premium was approximately US118,000, Euro105,000, GBP77,000. Original Price was GBP12,500 back in 2013. Also as reported in a recent post, an almost complete collection of Ichiro’s Card series was up for sale. This lot sold with buyers premium for approximately USD490,000, Euro436,000, GBP319,000. Obviously this is also a record for a single combined lot of Japanese whisky. I reckon that they would have cost no more than around USD10,000 if you were lucky to buy them all at retail prices. Share markets in turmoil…… seems at least for now we have a new ‘investment’ winner, or like gold, a bulwark during hard economic times?

Ichiro’s Malt Chichibu Chibidaru 2010 -2014 53.5%

BAL_3880.jpgNose: Dried pears, apricots, fresh cut timber, hay, stewed apples, maple syrup and custard apple.
Palate: Stewed apples with currants, custard apples, dried pears, hay, bran, malt, fresh cut timber, Arnott’s savory shape biscuits, maple syrup on toast.
Finish: Custard apples, malt, pears, hay and the savory shapes.
Last Word: Not stellar by any means but the spirit is still of very good quality for the age.

Rating: 84/100

Ichiro’s Malt Card Series – (Almost) Complete Series For Sale

ichiros-malt-cardsWell the catalogue is out for Bonham’s Hong Kong auction on August the 28th 2015. Masses of Japanese whisky on offer but the highlight would have to be an entire Ichiro’s Malt Card Series being sold as one lot. I say entire but to my mind the collection is not complete. There were 2 bottling’s of the Ace of Spades and this collection has only one of them. Yes they were from the same cask but the release was staggered, one bottling being 55%abv and one being 55.7%abv. Obviously this also means one spent a little longer in the cask so is a bit older in whisky terms and as it was aged in oak the profile will be slightly different. Also I believe the auction catalogue for the bottling of the Ace of Spades being sold contains an error. They say it is the bottling 113 of 300 but this should have an ABV of 55.7% not the 55% listed in the catalogue. The first series of 122 bottles(in total) was the 55% version.
The catalogue estimate, HK$ 1.8 million – 2.4 million = USD$232,000 – $310,000
Gulp, not to shabby for a collection of whiskies that if you paid retail would not have cost more than USD10,000 in total. The cheapest bottling was about 60 bucks and I paid about 350 bucks for the most expensive, the Joker Monochrome. Also hard to believe is that this upswing in value happened in less than 10 years.

***Note: I have already been updated and I apologize for any discrepancies in my original post but the are 4 double cards in the series. Ultimately this extends to the fact that the series for sale is not complete. Thanks to Ulf Buxrud for the clarification.
Ichiro’s Malt Full Card Series

Akashi White Oak Ariake Virgin Cask 5YO Oloroso Cask Finish 50%abv

BAL_3887.jpgNose: Dark cherries, cracked pepper, Christmas cake, marmalade, creamed corn, black currents, balsamic, some burnt twigs.
Palate: A richness that belies it’s young age. Pretty much follows the nose but adds ginger bread, sweetened tea, nutmeg, cocoa, creamed sherry and tangy orange.
Finish: Creamed sherry, peppermint, sweetened tea, tobacco, raisins and the tangy orange.
Last Word: Nicely balanced whisky with a maturity to the package beyond it’s age and the Oloroso cask finish adds richness and fullness. I’ve given this whisky to a few people to try and they have all enjoyed it.

Rating: 86/100

*Note: Although I have not been able to confirm 100% the origin of the Ariake Virgin Casks used for this whisky, you can read about the Ariake Cooperage here at Whiskies R Us

Ichiro’s Malt Bartender’s Choice Special Blended Whisky 2015 59.8%abv

BAL_3885.jpgNose: Surely some sherry cask matured whisky in the mix? Cherry cream chocolate, Raisins, pink grapefruit, papaya, sawdust, pear wine gums, California Zinfandel.
Palate: Nutmeg, apple pie, pink grapefruit, cloves, salt and pepper, paprika, California Zinfandel, creaming soda, cherry, orange jus.
Finish: Paprika, fermented pears, California Zinfandel, lemon cough drops and finishes with some ashy dryness.
Last Word: Typical Japanese ‘Clayton’s’ blended whisky. The blend you have when your not wanting a blend. The person I bought this from kindly approached the bottler and could not get any concrete info on what the make up of this bottling is. The whiff of sherry and the cherry has me thinking there is some Kawasaki single sherry grain whisky in the blend. Overall a very nice whisky with good complexity.

Rating: 86/100

Ichiro’s Malt Chichibu The Peated 2015 62.5%abv

BAL_3886.jpgNose: Ash, coal fire, earthy peat, lemon infused peat, Werther’s Originals, vinegar, butter menthols, fermented pears, brine, sawdust, pork crackling.
Palate: First thing that strikes me is how smooth this is at 3 years old and 62.5%. I don’t hesitate to say phenomenal. Lots of palate coating licorice, sweet peat, earthy peat, coal, pipe tobacco, leather, lemon merengue, fermented pears, pink grapefruit, butter menthols, lapsang souchong, chewy malt, pork crackling, dark chocolate.
Finish: Lingers on in a beautifully balanced way never too sweet, dry or bitter. You can add coffee with cream to the peat, licorice, dark chocolate, lapsang souchong, tobacco and coal.
Last Word: I’m not a massive peat head by any means but this heavily peated whisky is a total joy. Balanced, smooth, complex and not one of those heavily peated whiskies trying to hide a multitude of sins under a heavily peated bushel. This is an instant classic in my book and I could not envision a 3YO whisky being any better. Bravo Akuto-san!

Rating: 90/100

Buying Japanese Whisky In Japan – Nothing But Scorched Earth!

LH.jpgWe’ll consider this as a bit of a follow up to my post Japanese Whisky “Where To From Here”. So, first time back in Tokyo in a couple of years starting last Friday night(we were in Osaka about 18 months ago) and on the following day I hit the ground running as soon as the stores opened at 10am. Now I’m not going to tell you I went to every store I could possibly find in Tokyo. If you’ve been to Tokyo you know that would be logistically tougher than a manned mission to Mars. The places I did go to however, were, and you’ll see very soon why I write “were” very reliable sources to buy Japanese whisky.
So with my trusty notebook in hand I started at Takashimaya Shinjuku. I’ll keep it straight forward and list what I found at each place. Hibiki Harmony NAS, The Nikka Blended Whisky 12YO, Hibiki 12 and 17 mini bottles and Yamazaki 12 mini bottles………..Yep that was it!. But wait there’s more(to the story). When I went back a couple of days later The Nikka Blended Whisky 12YO and the Hibiki 17 and Yamazaki Mini bottles were all sold. Quickly checked on our last day and that status quo remained. I certainly didn’t get writers cramp from listing those.
Next over to Isetan Shinjuku and mind you the last time I was there we are talking about single cask Yamazaki and Hakushu, Hanyu, Karuizawa, Chichibu, the standard single malt ranges and more. This time, Mars Blended Whisky 46%, Nikka Coffey Malt and Coffey Grain NAS, Suntory Kakubin and Suntory Premium Blends, Hakushu 12, Kirin 18, Hibiki Harmony NAS and the one for the Billionaires, Nikka 40YO. Phew, at this rate I’ll definitely be done with my research by lunch time.
Shinanoya Shinjuku/Kabukicho – A bit more range not but nothing really special. Nikka Pure Malt NAS, Kirin 18 YO, Hibiki Harmony, Mars Iwai Tradition, Mars Twin Alps, Mars 3 & 7, Kirin 50% NAS, Suntory White, Black and Yellow(Kakubin) blends, Nikka Super, Nikka Black Clear, Nikka All Malt, Nikka HiHi and Nikka Gold & Gold Blends, Suntory Royal NAS, Suntory Old(not really old) and Suntory Special reserve NAS, Ichiro’s Malt Double Distilleries 200ml, Nikka Malt 100, Hakushu and Yamazaki Distillers Reserve, Miyagikyo Date and Kirin Robert Brown Deluxe Blend. Ah, for the good old days when Ichiro’s Malt the Game 1st Edition sat on these very shelves for a year at about 7000 yen.
I’m not sure of the name of the next store or the name of the building but it is on level 3 of the building next corner past the BIC Camera in the Odayku Department store Shinjuku. I was there on a different day and I didn’t have my note book, can’t remember any single malts but they did have Hibiki 12 and 17 YO. WooHoo!
The Bic Camera on the East Side of Shinjuku Station heading towards Isetan had about 4 bottles, I think the highlight was the very rare Yamazaki 12. I would say that was sarcasm but in Japan Yamazaki 12 is hard to come by in stores.
The best of the lot would have been Liquors Hasegawa at Tokyo Station. There are 2 branches at the station and I’m speaking about the Main Branch. This was the only store that had 3 single Malts, Yamazaki 12, Yoichi 10 and Kirin 18YO. They also had Hibiki 12 and 17YO. The Nikka Blend 12YO and Malt 100. The only store that had some Akashi as well. The picture attached is from Liquors Hasegawa so you get the idea. Unfortunately you can’t see the Yoichi 10 as it’s on the shelf below the bottom of the picture. All up I’d say about 25 different Japanese whisky but again, I remember Karuizawa Single Cask Japanese release sitting on these shelves gathering dust and some selling for under 10,000 yen.
Last though not quite least, Takashimaya taking that unenviable prize, Tokyo Narita Airport. Now Narita always had a pretty soft offer of any whisky from any region. There is a new terminal, terminal 3 and this is the one I’m talking about specifically though I doubt the others are any better. I’ll start with Nikka, they sell Taketsuru 17, 21 and 25, all sold out. Then there is Suntory’s “Travel Exclusives” basically the same contents with a flash label. So, instead of paying 18000 yen or so for Yamazaki 18, drum roll please, you get to pay 50000 yen for the fancy label! Hibiki 21 is the same price and there are about half a dozen bottling’s with same sort of mark up. Rich gullible tourists step right up!
I’m sure many readers would have seen those Nat Geo documentaries about the army ants in Central and South America, the ones that file through the jungle on mass leaving nothing but desolation and destruction in their wake. Well the human version has been to Japan and left the same sort of desolation in regards to Japanese whisky. There is no doubt that the Japanese have finally caught on to the fact that they can make high quality whisky and are buying more than ever. Taiwan is also a very strong market and I’m sure many a Taiwanese whisky enthusiast has made their way to Tokyo on a buying spree, but I will tell you a story told to me by Horigami san the owner of Zoetrope Bar in Shinjuku. Now this is a guy how has done more than most to promote Japanese Whiskey and his Bar is still by far the best place in Japan to try a huge variety of rare Japanese whisky. There was a new Chichibu being released at Isetan Department Store Shinjuku. Horigami san waited at the doors to go and buy some but by the time he got downstairs to the liquor department Chinese Customers had managed to get in through another entrance and bought every bottle. Horigami san also mentioned the Bonham’s rare whisky auctions run out of Hong Kong. Now I’ve seen the prices for Japanese whisky at these auctions and they are astronomical. Not just single cask stuff, but I’ve seen bottles you can, or more to the point could, have bought in Japan for 10-20 bucks sell for hundreds. I was told by a Hong Kong based Japanese Whiskey enthusiast a couple of years back that it was folks from mainland China who come over to HK all cashed up and for the most part without a clue as to what they are buying who are paying these big bucks. So, why not a quick flight over to Japan and strip the shelves and the distilleries clean knowing you can make a handy profit? This is a theme you will read about in many another blog post so I’m sure there is a lot of merit to it.
So what now? Well as a point of fact there is no point for any foreigner to come to Japan in search of Japanese whisky. You will in many countries almost certainly find a better offering at home and if not, one of the online retailers. You can still find some bars that have a good range of stuff to try but don’t come just to buy. Hey, if you’re a Scottish whisky fan, or a Bourbon fan, or even Rum or Tequila(I’ve seem stuff in Japan I haven’t even read about on Tequila.net), by all means bring some spending money. The Japanese get their own exclusive bottlings as well.
I will add that it makes perfect sense that companies like Nikka and Suntory will send a lot of their premium bottlings to overseas markets. Sure they were caught out by not reading how popular they would be and distilling enough product years ago, but now the hook is in you wouldn’t just pull back out of those markets and say we’ll get back to you in 5 years or so. You have to be able to keep supplying these markets until there is more mature stock, even if the domestic market has to suffer a little. I mention 5 years because again when talking to Horigami san of Zoetrope bar, this was the number of years ago he said the distilleries decided they better get a production wriggle on. So, it’s going to take a number of years but we should see plenty of Japanese single malts back on the shelves in Japan down the track as well as the return of single casks from the big players and older stock from Chichibu and Mars. One benefit of the drought is players like Mars, Chichibu and Akashi have a lot more confidence about producing whiskey and knowing there will be a ready market, eager and willing to buy and that’s got to be a good thing.

Yoichi Single Cask # 204721 61%abv

Yoichi 204721Nose: Quite soft. Lemon, Raisins, mustard, ripe peaches, Arnott’s barbeque shapes, tobacco, sump oil, ash.
Palate: Ash, sump oil, burnt toast, tobacco, a little of that candy/bubblegum often found in Yoichi whisky. Also ginger ale, salt, cocoa and hot spices. Water neither adds or subtracts much in the way of flavors.
Finish: Drying on ash, tobacco and the hot spices.
Last Word: While not cheap tasting by any means this whisky is fairly one dimensional. Yes you can sift through and pick up some different flavors but the ash, sump oil and tobacco dominate. I’d still class it as lightly peated.

Rating: 80/100

Japanese Whisky – Where to From Here?

Firstly, apologies if any one reads this with the expectation that I have all the answers to question posed in the title. The current state of play with Japanese whiskey does however beg the question to be asked.
Back to the beginning, well not back to the beginning of when the Japanese starting producing commercial quantities of whiskey back in the early 1920’s, but the beginning of the phenomenon that has taken Japanese Whisky from zero to hero in by my calculations, about 7-8 years. Why about 7-8 years, this was the time when a well know UK liquor retailer was selling the Karuizawa 1971(2008). This Japanese whisky, at least in sample form, was reviewed by a very influential whisky blogger who is also famous for being a huge fan of this distillery. I will add that the very same UK liquor retailer uses this whisky blogger to promote their Japanese whisky, so are well aware of said influence(though I’m sure they are not the only ones).
Now there will be at least one professional whisky writer and more than likely a few others who will claim they were extolling the virtues of Japanese whisky before this time, which they were, but I have no doubt that before 7-8 years ago, Japanese whisky was still largely viewed as a novelty. Also from memory, that Karuizawa 1971 was only sold for somewhere between GBP90-110(I can never quite remember as being from Australia we could order it without VAT so it was cheaper than if you lived in the UK). That price point is significant, we are not talking about 1988 but 2008, only 7-8 years ago. We know what they sell for on the resale market but we also know that if it was a retail release today, it would be hard to believe a 1971 Karuizawa would sell for less that GBP1000. The novelty value of Japanese whisky extended back to Japan itself. Forget about the cheap blends used for highballs which have been around since day one of Japanese whisky production, when I first travelled to Japan which was within the time frame mentioned, I saw bottles of Ichiro’s Malt the Game 1st Version for Y6900. At the time that was about USD$69. I gave some thought to grabbing a bottle but decided on some other stuff. Back then Karuizawa was still distilling and you could buy their OB 12, 15 and 17 year olds from liquor stores. Anyway back to that bottle of Ichiro’s Malt, I went back to Japan 6 months later and at that same store the bottles were still sitting there(try and picture that happening these days) and I grabbed one. Now this was a single cask 9YO distilled in the year 2000. Now your looking at Euro1500 for one of these on the resale market. Of course with 20-20 hindsight I should have bought them all : ). I can also tell you that in Japan up until about 4 maybe 5 years ago, there was not a single bottle of Karuizawa or Hanyu for that matter that was selling for more that Y20000 so about US$200 at the time. Here is a link to Ichiro’s Akuto’s Venture Whisky site from about 7 years ago. www.iiosake.com/venturewhisky-card.html and hit the translate button. Trust me it’s ok to cry a little, actually a lot, when you see the original prices if you are not familiar. These days if you want to buy this stuff and really I’m going to include any rare non standard offering from any Japanese distillery you only have a few choices.
a) Pay what’s being asked for and gotten on the resale market. Average Joe’s need not apply at those prices.
b) Get email notifications of upcoming releases from the few retailers that control this market. Then set your calendar and hit the go button as soon as they appear online. Of course wait for the page to time out ‘cuz every other man/woman and their dog are trying to buy them at the same time because they know the prices will double as soon as they are gone. Actually I take that back, it’s more like triple.
c) Be on great terms someone who works for or owns the store that controls this market. In Japan something like Ichiro’s Malt The Joker(as an example), will not make it onto the retail shelf or online retail. They are all pre-spoken for before then.
Now we even have ballots or expressions of interest or similar for Karuizawa and Hanyu not only internationally but also in Japan. I have seen this on the last single casks released of Yoichi and Miyagikyo on the Asahi shop site.
Exploring prices a little more every one can remember when the likes of Yamazaki and Hakushu 18YO’s climbed steeply in pricing a few years back. Two things I’d like to mention in this regard, firstly the prices internationally only went up to roughly the equivalent they have been selling for in Japan for years before. Secondly I speculate supply and demand. I really think that the major whisky produces in Japan are happy if they sell fewer bottles of long aged whiskies due to low stocks and have deliberately put the brakes on through pricing.
More evidence of dwindling aged stock are the likes of Hibiki 30 and Takatsuru 35 YO no longer being bottled. Takesturu 25YO was a replacement for the 35 year and even though you can still pick it up I’m not sure Nikka are bottling any more. Also there are the retailers that have been known for stocking Japanese whisky either in Japan or Internationally. Where it was not uncommon for these retailers to sell 50-60 different bottling’s a year or two back, now they are stocking 30 maybe 40 on a good day.
Lets have a distillery by distillery check of the action over the last 12 months or so:
Asahi(White Oak) – Only have one or two small production runs every year subject to whether would they would even bother to do that in any particular year(they produce other liquor as well).
Chichibu – We had the Chibidaru 2014 and a few limited production bottling’s(well even more limited than the Chibidaru) that very few people outside of Japan would be aware of because they were only sold there. By the by, if you wished you could get a hold of those Japan only release Chichibu, happy day’s only if you thought paying anywhere between $180-500 for 5-6YO whiskies was good value!
Hakushu – Well of coarse Suntory knowing they are struggling with aged casks have released the N0 Age Statement “Distillers Reserve” I think they’ve cut back or cut out the 10YO and we still have the 12 and 18 year old. We had the 2014 Sherry Cask but the Bourbon/Heavily Peated Casks annual releases went by the wayside. I think you may be able to find the 25YO if you could be bothered paying the stupid price it sells/sold for. Single casks, forget about it.
Hanyu – A smattering of limited releases if you could source them or afford them and usually both.
A big disappointment for me was they ‘finished’ the Card Series with the Jokers then in what I would call a cynical marketing ploy released the double card bottling/s. I can’t remember it there was more than one but that’s because I didn’t care.
Karuizawa – I would say pretty lame for the Karuizawa fans. Releases are getting fewer and farther between. Not such a big deal if your like me and can’t afford them(and the fact that I think they are the most over rated distillery on the planet).
Kirin: They actually released a blend and a young single malt. See, it was worth them closing Karuizawa when they had such a strong whisky output themselves : ). You can also pick up some other Single Cask and Single Grain stuff from these guys if you are in Japan.
Mars: Released a couple of blends and more importantly a couple of young single malts. This is actually really important for the future health of the Japanese whisky scene. I do believe they have some single cask stuff left from back in the ‘olden day’s’ but I have also heard that the cartel that controls Hanyu and Karuizawa are trying to get a hold of them.
Miyagikyo– Their standard range of 10/12/15 are still being bottled. Wait, I never see the 10YO any more. Single casks, forget it unless you were one of the privileged few who’s expression of interested was accepted by Asahi.
Yamazaki: See Hakushu. I should mention and this also goes for Hakushu, Suntory had the owner’s cask program running for a number of years and that seems to have sucked up most of the single cask offering’s they were prepared to release. Yes, places like Isetan in Japan do get single cask bottles from time to time from Yamazaki and Hakushu, but you you’ve got to be in the right place at the right time to get them. Of coarse we all know that the 2013 Sherry Cask(non single cask) release won a 2014 Whisky of the Year award!(I don’t have a sarcastic smiley). Far more importantly there were no 2014 releases of the sherry/bourbon/Puncheon/Heavily Peated/Mizunara casks released outside of Japan. Mizunara was a released in Japan but none of the others to my knowledge.
Yoichi: See Miyagiyo. I also believe that the 20YO, although you can still pick it up is not being bottled anymore or is certainly on the way out.
Nikka – Their pure malts, Black etc and blends such as From the Barrel are still readily available as is the Coffey malt and Coffey grain offerings.
Suntory – Their standard blends, think Kakubin, are still kicking along, Hibiki, the 12 and 17 are readily available but as mentioned the 30 although there might a few bottles left on shelves is now defunct in regards to new bottling’s and the 21 year seems to be coming rarer if not extinct in the neat future.

So where does this leave us at least the short to medium term in regards to what we will see from the Japanese Whisky producers, by short I mean in the next 12 months, medium at least the next 5 years:
From the major players such as Nikka and Suntory pretty much what we have come to expect over the last 12 -15 months. What you see on the shelves now with some limited stuff in Japan.
From players like Asahi/Mars/Kirin, you really need to be in Japan to buy their whisky. Hopefully Mars will be able to get their production numbers up so they can start creating a rep outside of Japan by making their whisky available in at least the UK/Europe. I think this would take quite a while though.
Hanyu/Karuizawa, doesn’t matter how many casks are left in reality, in any real terms there are sweet bugger all left and I bet pounds to peanuts very few are good enough to be released as single casks. The cartel won’t tell you that though!
Chichibu, of course we know that Akuto-san can make fine whiskey. Not only that you can taste the family heritage back to Hanyu. Biggest problem is price. Yep, I was happy to spend up to 100 buck on a fine young whisky. But when you are talking about 180-500 bucks, I like many people will baulk. We will have to wait and see what happens when Chichibu gets to producing a 10YO whisky and where Akuto-san sets the pricing at. There is also the major issue of the limited production capability or the numbers of bottles that Akuto-san is prepared to make. At the moment it would seem hard to envision at least in the next few years, there being enough production to start releasing Chichibu in the US.
Time to wrap things up. I get a lot of email from people asking where they can buy the rarer Japanese whiskey they read on whiskey reviews. They read about the many awards that Japanese Whiskey has won over the last half decade or so. Whisky drinking folk, or a lot of them at least, are finally convinced that Japanese Whiskey is not a novelty any more, but a product that can equal and often exceed the finest from Scotland. So what has happened now that so many whiskey drinkers have reached this epiphany?? They can’t buy the stuff that created the Legend! Sure in the US and Australian you can now buy more varieties of Japanese whisky than you could ever buy before, a whopping 6-8 varieties. There was a time a couple of years ago or so that you could jump on a whisky forum and read reviews about Japanese whisky from average punters even Hanyu and Karuizawa. You could see on the ‘what are you drinking now’ page or the ‘what is your latest whisky purchase page’, people mentioning a dram/bottle of Japanese whisky. Now seeing this is few and far between. Regular bottling’s have gone up in price relative to their Scottish counterpart and the single cask/rare bottling’s have gone into the yeh I can afford a bottle if I’m listed on the Forbes Richest 400 people list.
Could it be that legitimacy of Japanese Whisky that has been forged over the last 7-8 years will slide simply back into novelty?
*Note: Please take time to read the comments being posted on this page. There is lots of interesting reader feedback, experiences and updates including Chichibu in the US and Mars Revival in France, I seem to have dropped the ball on those 2.

Karuizawa Kohaku 1995 Vintage 10YO 59.9%

Kohaku 2Nose: Leads with a heavy acetone note, wood stain/varnish. Oranges, grapefruit, marmalade, black pepper, spearmint, Dijon mustard, cucumber, peanut shells, burnt sugar cane.
Palate: Immediately more appealing than the nose with the acetone mellowing out. Lots of red grape sweetness, ginger ale, sweetened grapefruit, peanuts, savory shapes biscuits, salt, raisins. Some hot spices rise after a few sips. Adding water brings out some oak and butter menthols.
Finish: Short-medium on red grapes, oak, butter menthols, ginger beer.
Last Word: The heavy acetone notes of the nose diminish an otherwise decent whisky.

Rating: 80/100

Mars Single Cask 1989 20YO American White Oak Cask #618 58%abv

P1020346Nose: Big hit of banana to start. Pineapple, peaches, butterscotch, walnuts, sawdust, honeyed porridge, guava, papaya, caramel, oak. Water adds and incense/sweet tobacco note.
Palate: Hot spices of pepper, cayenne, ginger. Some nuttiness, banana, papaya, salt, sawdust, sweetened pink grapefruit, rum such as Ron Zacapa XO Centenario. Water adds dragon fruit and a nicer balance between heat and sweet.
Finish: Papaya, rum, banana, a mineral element, butter menthols, then drying oak and right at the death pineapple.
Last Word: Another strong AMO cask effort from Mars Shinshu.

Rating: 90/100

Ichiro’s Malt 5 of Diamonds 2000-2012 Sherry Cask Finish #1305 57.5% abv

Ichiro's Malt Five of DiamondsNose: Subtle sherry influence or more to the point, not a full blown sherry cask single malt. Quite yeasty not unlike homemade whole meal bread. Raisins, 5 spice, oak, pepper, golden syrup, barley, bran.
Palate: Volume(think loudness) goes up a fair whack compared to the nose. Golden syrup, honey, peanuts, apricots, raisins, cloves, melted butter, oak, 5 spice, salt and fresh ginger heat. A little water adds marzipan.
Finish: Medium length on golden syrup, cloves, caramelized orange slices, 5 spice. Something odd but not awful like devilled eggs(well if you like them). Drying oak.
Last Word: Nice balance between the first cask, hogshead, and the second cask, sherry. A touch of water doesn’t go astray. This one grew on me over the coarse of the tasting. Not a hint of sulphur and very nice at only 12 years old.

Rating: 86/100
*Note: Sample courtesy of Clint at Whiskies R Us.

Nikka Taketsuru NAS Sherry Wood Finish 43%abv

taketsuru_sherry_wood_NASNose: Maltesers, caramel, oak, lacquer, dried fruits. Very gentle.
Palate: This is where things step up a few notches over the Taketsuru 12YO(I haven’t tried the standard NAS). Lots of juicy dried fruits, malt, quite a some pepper, sugared orange slices, and in lesser measure sherry, cloves and paprika. The oak is subdued.
Finish: Dried fruits, sugared orange slices, sherry, young tawny port and some decent length.
Last Word: Not amazingly complex but well balanced, the extra punch offered by the sherry cask finish is a welcome addition. Nose is a bit soft for my liking however.

Rating: 83/100

*Sample courtesy of Clint at Whiskies R Us

Kirin 40th Anniversary Single Grain 46%

BAL_7976Nose: Gentle notes of bees wax, butterscotch, butter menthols, creamed corn, raisins, grapefruit.
Palate: Immediately spicy. Cloves, oregano, pepper, paprika, salt. Also creamed corn, stewed apples, maple syrup, cashews, ginger ale, butter menthols.
Finish: Fairly short considering the spiciness of the palate. Fades on creamed corn, stewed apples, cashews and butter menthols.
Last Word: A decent grain whisky when the mood strikes for something a little different. The short finish is disappointing after the punchy palate.

Rating: 80/100

Yoichi Single Cask # 419534 57%

BAL_7982Nose: Massively fruity! Nectarines, white peaches, dates, papaya, blackcurrants, leather, tobacco, a little oak and wood stain. Water adds toffee.
Palate: Again huge fruitiness. Nectarines, peaches, apricots, papaya. Leather, tobacco, toffee, pepper, wet forest logs. Water adds nougat, cherries and enhances the drier elements of tobacco and leather.
Finish: Long! The impression of the flavors lasted for 12 hours plus.
Last Word: I know at least a few readers have tried these Taradeshi Genshu(distillery only) 10 year olds and have been impressed. This one maintains that high standard.

Rating: 90/100

Hakushu Sherry Cask 2014 48%abv

suntory_hakushu_sherry 2014Nose: Christmas pudding, demerara rum, chocolate, coffee grinds, red apple skins, mixed peel, all spice. Pretty much as expected though it’s not a potent nose.
Palate: Way more punch than the nose. A mix of sweet and savory spices. blackcurrant jols, raisins, barbeque shapes, sweet red apples, dark chocolate, peanut brittle, touch of menthol, a fair whack of drying oak and the typical Hakushu earthiness.
Finish: Raisins, peanut brittle, demerara rum, earthiness, menthol and oak.
Last Word: Solid sherry cask matured whisky I personally prefer the richness of Yamazaki’s efforts for these yearly NAS sherry cask whiskies over the dry/earthiness of Hakushu’s.

Rating: 87/100

*Sample courtesy of Clint at Whiskies R Us

Ichiro’s Malt the Game 5th Edition 2000-2013 #1302 59.5%abv

Ichiro's Malt the Game 5Nose: Screams Hanyu. Stewed apples, ripe apricots, currents, Japanese temples, strawberry jam, smooth oak.
Palate: Follows the nose closely and adds blueberries, maple syrup, honey, macadamias, nougat, custard powder, all-spice. Every sip a delight.
Finish: Incense, stewed fruits, blueberries, macadamias, all-spice, Wurthers Originals.
Last Word: Another excellent Hanyu from the Final Vintage. An expressive whisky, I only needed 15-20mls to write up the tasting notes. Very much reminiscent of Ichiro’s Malt The Game 2nd Edition.

Rating: 91/100

**Sample courtesy of Clint over at Whiskies R Us.

Mars Komagatake The Revival 2011-14 58% – First Impressions

Mars The Revival 2011 2

Unfortunately I’ve had a bad head cold for over a week so the sinuses are shot. Still, the excitement of Mars(Hombo Shuzo) first official(over 3 years old) whisky release has gotten the better of me. I just had to post up my first impressions. Even though my nose is MIA I can still pick up some of the fundamentals on the palate.
First thing that comes to mind is a peated version of Chichibu the First with an extra dollop of honey and olive oil. There’s lemon curd/meringue, chocolate, Wurther’s Originals, almonds, wheat bread dough, star fruit, honeycomb, pink grapefruit, salt and pepper. Quite a hot whisky at first but not in an alcoholic/acetone way, more like chili heat. The peat lingers and the oiliness coat’s the palate. Overall, very accomplished for the age and every bit as good IMO as Chichibu’s the First(which I enjoyed a lot). The mild peating adds an extra dimension.
Here’s my tip, forget about mega dollar Karuizawa and Hanyu’s, Mars and Chichibu are on the ascendance so start collecting as many of their ‘standard’ offerings as possible. Sure, not cheap for their young age, but not 1000 bucks plus either!!
I had high hopes for this one after tasting all of Mars New Pot Peated Whiskies from 2-3 years back. I am not disappointed in the least. Pour one and like me you’ll be onto your third in no time!

Suntory Hibiki 17YO 43%abv

Hibiki 17 2

Nose: Chewy malt, barley sugar, butter menthols, toffee, honey, cantaloupe, butter scotch.
Palate: Toffee, toffee apples, malt, barley sugar, candied oranges, butter menthols, honey, mixed peel, cashews, cantaloupe, some fizzy candy. A feint wisp of smoke.
Finish: Butter Menthols, barley sugar, honey, toffee apples, yeast, cashews, pipe tobacco. Nicely warming.
Last Word: Smooth as quality blend should be but with the character of a single malt. A step up from the 12YO for sure. Tasted this a few times before but this is the first bottle I’ve bought. Begs you to pour another!

Rating: 87/100

Nikka Takesturu 17YO circa 2013 43%abv

nikka-takestsuru-17yo

Nose: Oak, grated orange rind, fabric softener, strawberries, dates, honey oats, mild rose petal, scallop’s.
Palate: Hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, mustard, Arnott’s savory shapes, pepper, bubblegum, nougat, scallop’s. There is a unbalancing bitter element in the mix I’m not fussed about.
Finish: Nougat, mixed nuts, strawberries, bubblegum, some ashy dryness, ginger ale.
Last Word: Not mentioned in the above but it feels a little weak. I remember my first bottle being robust of nose and palate. This one feels a little watered down for want of a better description and the bitterness on the palate is a little off putting. The bitterness does tend to diminish after a couple of drams however.

Rating: 80/100