Ichiro’s Malt the Joker – In the Flesh!


Well in the flesh at Casa Dramtastic. Most readers would have seen some release images of these. I’ll go out on a limb and say this is the first time both of these have been shown to the general public by someone who now owns them. No need to go into any of the particulars of these bottling’s as you can read about that over at Whiskies R Us. My thoughts are around what it’s like to finally have these babies in my grateful hands.
First thing, is that I had my order in for over a year. Of course I didn’t now when the release would be but I knew I had to be ahead of the game to even have a chance. Nothing is set in stone either, some retailers will/have received an allocation, many won’t. I was lucky enough to be in contact with someone who did and who generously kept me in mind for one of each label. For me this is going to be hard to beat for Japanese whisky release of the year for a number of reasons. It is, as far as I know, the end of the Ichiro’s card series. No more cards or derivatives of playing card games up Akuto-sans sleeve so to speak. Also, the black and white labeled bottling of the Joker is now officially the oldest Hanyu released to date and the fact that it was finished in a Mizunara oak cask at that. No doubt a deliberate choice for a whisky of such significance. Finally, the colour label version of the Joker would seem to be the most ambitious vatting of different cask types of Hanyu yet.
In the photo, the whisky in the B&W Joker looks darker. This is not a trick of the light or angle of the photo, it is darker than the colour Joker. Could be because the colour Joker has some younger whisky in the mix, could be it’s a vatting of different cask types, could be a combination of both or none of the above. They both sure look tasty!
Now for the problem. The colour Joker I purchased for Y12777. In under a week these were already selling in Japan on the resale market for 5 times that price. I have not seen a bottle of the B&W Joker being resold yet, but heaven only knows what they will fetch when they do. That then put these in the, I can only dream of owning one these category for most whisky fans. Supply and demand can be a real bitch sometimes!
So, what am I going to do with mine? Stare at them un-opened for a while for a starters. The B&W will then be put away with the rest of my closed bottles. It’s such a wonderful piece of history that it will be a long time before it is opened. The colour label Joker, I guess I’ll crack that on a whim someday…….

Karuizawa “Balanced Sherry” For Isetan Shinjuku 2000 12YO 60.9%abv

karuizawa-2000-balanced-sherry-2Nose: Fruit jubes, vanilla, a fishy note, oak, raisins, cashews, peach skins.
Palate: Golden syrup, ginger ale, walnuts, dry sherry, pepper coated mixed peel, BBQ sauce.
Finish: Fades quickly with a little mixed peel, pepper, walnut and ginger ale.
Last Word: Solid if not remarkable, at least this is a Karuizawa sherry cask without sulphur!

Rating: 80/100

Thanks to Clint at WRU for the sample. You can check out Clint’s review here.

Kirin Collection 1998 45%abv

d7k_3934Nose: Mixed peel, marmalade, mouldy orange peel, flat cola, yeast, peanut oil, salt and pepper.
Palate: Pineapple, mixed peel, pepper, salt, savory shapes biscuits, ginger ale, peanut butter, touch of smoke.
Finish: Pineapple, pepper, savory shapes biscuits, peanut butter, the mouldy orange peel, a little ash. Fairly short.
Last Word: Would have been better without that mouldy orange peel note and flavor which I’ve found and never liked in other whiskies. I have a feeling that might come from some not so good sherry cask whisky in the mix. Also not sure if this is Pure Malt or a Single Malt. The Japanese script on the label might give more of a clue.

Rating: 80/100

Mars “Komogatake” Single Cask 1989 24YO American White Oak Cask #619 59%abv

mars-1989-24yo-awo-59Nose: Vanilla, banana, oak, orange, toffee, wood stain. Fish sauce, grapefruit, bbq hotplate and some minerals when a fair bit of water is added.
Palate: Massive grunt without water, the banana, oak and orange still show through with some big cayenne pepper heat. A little water smooth’s things a bit and brings out toffee, barbequed corn, sour dough, still plenty of spicy heat though(hot sauce). Even more water brings out vanilla custard, a metallic element though not unpleasant and even a little ash.
Finish: Depends on how much water of coarse but the following are present, grapefruit, toffee, banana, leather satchel, orange, nutmeg, mineral’s, oak, ash, bbq hotplate.
Last Word: A brute that needs taming with a fair splash of water. None the less, I have never had a Mars AWO cask matured whisky that has failed me yet.

Rating: 87/100

Kirin Lightly Peated Aged 12 Years 43%abv

kirin-lightly-peated-12yoNose: Pineapple, papaya, caramels, earthy peat, oak, orange, vanilla.
Palate: Fresh ginger heat, pepper, pineapple, papaya, caramels, blood orange, olive oil, earthy peat, brazil nuts, savory shapes.
Finish: Pineapple, brazil nuts, tobacco, smoke, earthy peat, ginger, pepper. A combo of sweet, hot spice and drying elements from the peat.
Last Word: Very tasty whisky worth looking out for if you are in Japan. Peating level I would say is a notch up from Hakushu 12. Kirin also made a 20 year old version which I have tasted and own a bottle of.

Rating: 88/100

Mars Whisky – It must be getting close.

A comment left today by a regular reader of The Japanese Whisky Review got me thinking. Basically it was in regards to my recent tasting notes on a couple of releases from Mars Shinshu and how difficult they are to source in Europe. These reviews were of stock that has been maturing at the current distillery site, but was distilled before production was stopped and at one stage, thought to be never starting up again.
Now I reviewed some New Pot peated Mars whisky a while back so I thought I’d go check the distilled dates. Yep, March 2011. So, potentially we may see the first of the new production spirit from this great little distillery that can be officially called whisky as early as April this year being 3 years old. Now that is something to get seriously exited about!

Mars “Komagatake” Single Cask 1988 25YO Sherry Cask #569 59%abv

mars-komagatake-single-cask-1988-25yo-sherry-cask-569-58Nose: Dry sherry, cocoa, cherry ripes, dried fruits, madeira, mixed peel, apricot jam, charred oak barrels. Water adds white pepper.
Palate: Cocoa, apricots, nutmeg, dried fruits, orange lifesavers, madeira cake, ginger bread, oak. Water adds some, fresh ginger, cola and praline.
Finish: Madeira, candied nuts, dried fruits, nutmeg, ginger bread, pepper, charred barrels.
Last Word: Old school sherry cask whisky. Think of a cask strength Macallan from yesteryear. What, no Christmas cake you say. It would have been a cliché if I had noted that. At any rate, this is excellent.

Rating: 92/100

Karuizawa Joint Bottling of HST 1999 14YO Sherry Cask #2316 61.3%

karuizawa-1999-14yo-sherry-cask-2316-61-3Nose: Dried fruits, marmalade, overripe apricots, oak, wood stain, maple syrup, oranges, pink grapefruit, praline, drying fresh tanned leather, tree sap. No sulphury notes, whoo hoo!
Palate: Very punchy without water with a fix of fizzy fruit sherbets, dried fruits, praline, nougat and oak. With water there’s some toffee, orange jus, pepper, strawberry conserve and licorice added.
Finish: Dried fruits, oak, strawberry conserve, mild peppermint and licorice. Finally dies on hints of leather and charcoal.
Last Word: A fine Karuizawa with a lot going on. Not a sulphury note to be found which puts it in the minority of Karuizawa sherry cask matured whiskies.

Rating: 88/100
*Note: Once again another problem with the cork on a Karuizawa bottling. On the 3rd opening of this bottle, the cork snapped in two. Had to fish out half the cork with wooden skewers and a pair of tweezers. Straight into the not good enough basket.

The Festive Season

As the Festive Season begins in earnest in many places around the world, I’d like the wish those are who are celebrating, a very happy and most importantly safe Christmas. I would also like to thank everyone for their patronage of The Japanese Whisky Review over the past year. The number of readers has far exceeded my expectations. I’ll be capping off my year with a trip up to Osaka and looking forward as always to tasting some fantastic Japanese Whisky.

Mars “Komagatake” Single Cask 1988 25YO American White Oak # 555 46%

d7k_7631Nose: Papaya, mango, vanilla, apricot jam, oak, leather, banana, toffee. Delightful.
Palate: Plenty of punch for 46%. Vanilla slice, banana, oak, mango, apricot, rhubarb, leather, ginger bread, sweet tobacco, white pepper, cashews, salt.
Finish: Leather, tobacco, white pepper, rhubarb, ginger bread, cashews, banana.
Last Word: Mars is to American White Oak cask whisky as Yamazaki is to Sherry cask whisky. You just can’t go wrong.

Rating: 91/100

Chichibu On The Way 58.5% abv

d7k_7561Nose: Dried pears, malt, bran, varnish, caramel, popcorn. Quite oaky for one so young. Some leather with water added. A little incense with a lot of water added
Palate: Quite fiery without water. Dried pears, malt, bran, whole meal, salt, popcorn, caramel, oak, mango, cayenne pepper. Even with water this is one hot whisky.
Finish: Without water the overriding impression is peppery heat and some dry oak. Needs a lot of water to find hints of the mizunara influence(incense).
Last Word: One whisky that may have been better suited bottled at a lower abv.

Rating: 80/100

Yoichi Single Cask 1990-2001 10YO Wharehouse No.2 #223639 62%abv

p1010368_0Nose: Deep earthy tones. Caramel popcorn, high end Cuban cigars, blueberries, mild peat, cloves, pepper, stewed rhubarb, nutmeg, ginger bread. All wrapped up in an elegant package.
Palate: Again very deep and rich. Incredibly complex. Chewy toffee and malt, cloves, Cuban cigars, leather, ginger bread, raisin toast, earthy peat, sweet peat, blueberries, nutmeg, some minerals, walnuts, papaya and a slight oiliness.
Finish: Follows on the flavors from the palate and lingers on and on with some lovely mouth coating oiliness. Extremely approachable even at 62%abv.
Last Word: This baby is rare and it was a privilege to taste it. One of the very best whiskies I’ve tried and the best 10YO whisky I have tasted. Almost a spiritual experience. Can’t see another 10YO topping this one.

Rating: 94/100

Japanese Whisky – More End of Year Releases

Although I wouldn’t exactly call it a flurry, we can add 2 more end of year releases to the 3 newbies from Mars I wrote about in a recent post. One is from the tiny White Oak(Akashi) Distillery, the other from the still small but far better know Chichibu Distillery. The Akashi is a 5 year old sherry cask number, with an ABV of 50% in their usual 500ml bottle. Price about Y3150 depending on the retailer. The Chichibu labeled On The Way, has an ABV of 58% and is a vatting of mizunara and bourbon casks. Price, around Y8000. I’m not aware that either have hit the shelves already, but I’ve pre ordered 2 bottles of the Chichibu just to be on the safe side.

Japanese Whisky – New Releases – Good News/Bad News

I wrote a little while back about the dearth of new releases of Japanese whisky in last half of this year. Well, apart from all those Karuizawa that have been ‘dropped’ by the cartel in selected markets at monster prices, yawn……………!
Anyway, rumor had it a while back that our friends at Mars Shinshu would release some bottling’s late 2013. Oh, you didn’t hear the rumors, sorry about that. Guess, what? One has ‘hit’, and I believe sold out already, Mars Komagatake 1988/2013 #555 46/700 18800yen with two more to follow that I know of: Komagatake 1988/2013 #569 sherry 59/750 21000yen and Komagatake 1989/2013 #619 american oak 59/750 18900yen. Prices may vary depending on the retailer. Now that is both exiting and worth celebrating. Hmmmm, except for the bad news. If your not in Japan you are unlikely to buy them or maybe even see them. TJWR, however, has managed to secure one or more bottles of all of these and will post some tasting notes at a later date. Friends in Japan, if you have a close relationship with your local liquor retailer, do your best to secure a bottle of two before they all sell out.

Ichiro’s Malt Ace of Spades 1985-2005 Spanish Oak Sherry Wood Finish 1st Release 55%

p1010665Nose: A ton of leather and tobacco. Sherry drizzled toffee. Wood stain, figs, orange jus, white pepper, marzipan, nougat, prune juice, wet earth, peach jam.
Palate: Creamed sherry, tobacco leaf, leather, licorice, roasted chestnuts, almonds, orange jus, cloves, toffee, dried fruits.
Finish: Sherry, creamy nuts, nougat, leather, tobacco, licorice, dried fruits.
Final Word: The best sherry cask finished Ichiro’s Malt I have tried and a true piece of Japanese whisky history.

Rating: 89/100

Japanese Whisky Prices Go Through The Roof!

Ok, if you come from Europe or the UK you might being saying yeh so what, we already know. That’s because you would have witnessed the steady and more often that not, huge increase in the price of Japanese whisky over the last few years in those places, especially single cask stuff and even more particularly whisky from Karuizawa and Hanyu. But in this case I am not talking about prices in the UK or Europe, but Japan.
The fact was, that if you lived in Japan or had contacts there up until 12-18mths ago you had access to some rare, though not always good Japanese whisky and a lot of it. Primarily I’m talking about old whisky not new releases. Happy days if you had some spare cash and a crystal ball. Now for the most part I’m not a fan of Karuizawa, but these and I mean Japan only release stock, could be had between 80 and 150 bucks all day long. In fact sellers had a hard time offloading them. Hanyu, even new releases up until about 18 mths ago would often not sell for 6mths. No fighting to get in line, if you had the readies then the Japanese whisky world was your oyster. At this stage I will add that even although I have a decent amount of Japanese whisky here at Casa Dramtastic, there were many bottles that I had to let pass by due to lack of funds.

So why the change of attitude about the collectability of their own whisky by our friends in Japan. Is it because they finally realized that they make world class whisky that competes with the best from Scotland? I really don’t think so. The Japanese love their Yamazaki, Hakushu, Yoichi and Miyagikyo. Those distilleries have not had to worry about demand for their ‘standard’ lines for a number of years. Nope, I just reckon the speculator market has taken hold as news of what’s happening to prices of rare Japanese outside of Japan has reached Japanese ears. The presales of new releases of single casks from Karuizawa and Hanyu released in Japan that appear within a week at double the price and more on the auction scene smack of we don’t know if it’s good or not but we figure we can make a quick buck by flipping whatever we can get our hands on. There are probably not any more rare Japanese whiskies hitting the auction market than there was a few years ago, but the prices being asked are out the of reach of most mere mortals. That is not to say people aren’t bidding, almost anything but the most basic blends attracts bids and a lot that are totally crazy. Why crazy, because I’ve tasted a number of them and they aren’t that good or not as good as the prices fetched would indicate. Recently there was a bottle of 21YO Karuizawa for sale, don’t know what it went for, but bids were up to Y100,000(USD1000) with a number of days left on the Auction. For sure this was a rare bottle in terms of how many I’ve seen over the years, maybe 3, but it wasn’t a single cask and very few people would have tasted it. The bottle wasn’t even full with evaporation dropping the level down by 15%. Crazy!
So what does it all mean for those who’s means are only average. Forget about getting your hands on this stuff anymore. I for one am not going to pay the 400 bucks being asked for a 6 year old Hanyu I saw for sale the other day. I have picked up a few rare Kirin recently that are in relative terms good value and often good quality. Beyond that I am trying to grab new releases before they sell out. Will the bubble burst, not in the short to medium term me thinks especially when the last stocks of Karuizawa and Hanyu have dried up.

Ichiro’s Malt Queen of Diamonds French Oak Cognac Cask Finish 1985-2007 58%

p1010664Nose: Soft and rounded. Earthy notes, oloroso sherry, oak, vanilla, dried fruits, mixed peel, apricots, fragrant woods.
Palate: Chinese five spice, dried fruits, fragrant woods, licorice, tobacco, leather and nougat. Tasty.
Finish: Long on the flavors of the palate and autumn leaves.
Last Word: Definitely more to discover with this one. To bad a full bottle is now out of my price range.

Rating: 89/100

Ichiro’s Malt Jack of Spades New Wood Finish 1990-2007 54%

p1010663Nose: Leather, oak, glazed oranges slices, sherry?, tobacco, mint leaves, molasses, potato skins, fresh peaches, pepper.
Palate: Sweet spices, vanilla, mixed nuts, chewy toffee, glazed orange slices, marzipan.
Finish: Marzipan, sweet spices, orange, vanilla, some ashy dryness. Water adds bubblegum, and creamy nuts.
Last Word: Quite complex for such a young whisky.

Rating: 87/100

Japanese Whisky – Not much happening at the moment……

Hi all,
There seemed to be a bit of a flurry earlier on this year in regards to new releases of Japanese Whisky. Probably had something to do with TIBS/Whisky Live Tokyo being held in April. Sure there has been some Karuizawa, but nothing new in that. Well except for the prices going up as fast as an rocket on the resale market once the initial offer has sold out. There is a couple of not particularly inspiring bottling’s coming up as per Whiskiesrus latest posts.
Let’s hope there is something juicy in the pipeline from any or all of the Japanese distilleries before years end. Rumors have included new stuff from Chichibu and Mars Shinshu.
On a personal front I have managed pick up some rare Kirin bottling’s over the last couple of months. Not only are some of these Kirin very good whisky, but relative bargains considering how few there are for sale.