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.
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.
Nose: 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.
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.
Nose: 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.
Nose: 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.
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.
Nose: Eggnog, toffee, key lime pie, lemon drops, barley, overripe pineapple, wood chips, papaya. Water adds apricot jam.
Palate: Honey smacks, fruit loops, toffee, wood chips, lemon fizz, honey yoghurt. Water brings our nougat and pineapple lumps. Smooth enough even without adding H20.
Finish: Shortish on apricot jam, pineapple lumps, barley and wood chips.
Last Word: Would have cracked 90 points I reckon with a stronger finish. At any rate a lot better/more interesting than most of those simple sulphur ridden sherry Karuizawa numbers that are overhyped in certain circles. Yes I’ll tell you how I really feel ; )
*Note – Cork warning. I keep all my bottles upright of course but the cheap cork that came with this bottle has already cracked in 2 and I may have opened this 10 times at most. Not good enough!
Nose: Fresh peaches, oak, straw, oats, dried pears, fabric softener, hint of sherry.
Palate: Cashews, dried pears, orange rind, salt, barbeque shapes, oak, a little ash, touch of mint.
Finish: Short on dried pears, barbeque shapes, honey and some drying oak.
Last Word: Easy drinker that I remember being more impressed with when I first opened the bottle.
Nose: A little toffee, raisins, tobacco, peanuts, wood stain, cinnamon, cloves and moulding oranges.
Palate: Toffee, raisins, orange, yoghurt, marzipan, ginger, peanut butter.
Finish: Short on yoghurt, marzipan, peanut butter and sweetened lemon.
Last Word: I expected far more complexity as I really enjoy the Rye Base 43%.
*Note- This is a blend of malt, coffey grain and rye whiskies.
Nose: First whiff is fairly acetone. Creamed corn, fermented pears, golden syrup on waffles. Water brings out some vanilla and pineapple.
Palate: Stewed apples, salt and pepper, fermented pears, creamed corn. Some vanilla and orange with water.
Finish: Pretty much follows the palate.
Last Word: As you can tell, pretty simple and uninspiring stuff. I’d did prefer the 43% version, though not by much.
Nose: Maple Syrup, mild chicken korma, BBQ grilled pineapple, vanilla, honey, buttered crumpets, licorice, damp earth, butterscotch, walnuts, Pineapple Lumps, Granny Smith apples, mango, light tobacco. Plush!
Palate: Sharp blue cheese, pomegranate’s, mixed peel, papaya, hot spices, tobacco, burnt banana, oak, big saltiness. Water smooth’s things out, the maple syrup and honey make a return and some burnt lemon meringue is added. Big stuff at ‘only’ 46%.
Finish: Some coal, dried fruits, papaya, burnt lemon meringue pie, BBQ grilled banana, oak, butter, salt and pineapple.
Last Word: The nose is exquisite. Palate is fiery and needs water. A powerful and interesting whisky.
Nose: Pecan pie, stewed rhubarb, overripe peaches, orange liqueur, earthy sherry, luscious dried fruits, almond nugget. Water makes this more musty/earthy.
Palate: Nutmeg, almond nugget, tangy dried fruits, salt and pepper, drying oak. Water adds orange and enhances the tangy dried fruits.
Finish: Nugget, cocoa, dried fruits, nutmeg, earthy, a little ash and drying oak.
Last Word: Sherry and not that sweet.
Nose: Cantaloupe, white peach, licorice, strawberry flan, touch of burnt orange. After about 5 minutes some mild peat and dried seaweed.
Palate: Toffee, vanilla, licorice, camphor oil, white peach, burnt orange jus, nutmeg, marzipan and a little peat. Quite oily.
Finish: Burnt orange jus, toffee, licorice, peat, marzipan, the oily element continues and the vanilla returns on the finish with a little water added.
Last Word: Quite a brute really. There is an ever present base spirit element that diminishes the whole experience a few notches.
Nose: Rich and deep. Rosehip, dried fruits, creamy nuts, burnt toast with a little vegemite, apricots, orange jus, peaches.
Palate: Vanilla, burnt brown sugar, glazed orange slices, creamed corn, bean curd, nutmeg, pepper, tobacco and a hint of cayenne.
Finish: Burnt toffee, white peaches, orange jus, tobacco, cashews, apricots, pepper and cayenne.
Last Word: Another fine young Hanyu.
Every now and again I troll the pages of Google looking for news about Japanese whisky. One of those occasions was this evening when I came across an article in the almost famous/infamous Huffington post.
Now apparently the article was written, at least in part, with commentary from Suntory brand ambassador and again I assume ambassador to the US, Neyah White.
Talk about perpetuating nonsense. Well, not all of it, but certainly some sterotypical artistic marketing license is used to be sure.
So, please let me quote some of the most annoying, lets say cloying to add a term often used in tasting notes, stereotypes and misdirection’s(from reality) to highlight.
“Hibiki 12, which White described as “the most Japanese” of the product line,” Huh, seriously, the whole product line from Suntory!!. It is at best a good blend and like all blends compromises on a heavily defined set of tasting values, a la single malt, in favor of appealing to as many easy going palates as possible. Yes I know that many single malt drinkers rate it highly, but as far as I can tell only those who have a limited option of Japanese whisky to buy/try in their home market.
Furthermore, “is a blended whisky that ends up taking on many of the best characteristics of both of the single malts in one glass”. This tastes nothing like a Yamazaki single malt or a Hakusuhu single malt, which are very singular in their focus and profile indeed. As Suntory blends are more ‘grainy’ than many a Nikka blend, there is as much or more influence from grain whisky from Suntory’s Chita grain distillery than there is from the Yama and Hak malts in the blend.
Moving on, “As White explained, “In Japan, you just don’t drink without eating. It isn’t done.” This means that whisky-drinking occasions in Japan tend to last longer, but it also means that the whisky has to be able to complement a wide variety of foods. White compares the flavor profile of Suntory’s whiskies to a bento box, “as you go around to each compartment, you hit all the flavor receptors on your tongue.” It’s this flexibility in the whiskies that often causes people to describe them as “light” and “easy to drink.” They simply taste good with everything else.
That one deserves a double huh. Maybe he has never been to a bar in Japan. Or maybe, he thinks a bowl of nuts or other nibbles is a wide variety of foods. Maybe Mr White has never tasted a single cask Japanese whisky. The type of whisky that one would spend 20 minutes just nosing and even a newbie wouldn’t consider combining food with. No, in Japan there is a very sophisticated whisky market and there has been for at least 30 years. What was true in the early days of Suntory, when the average Japanese palate was only coming to terms with whisky as a beverage has not held true for years. Yes, there is a big market for highballs as a refreshing alternative to beer, but this has no relation to the Suntory single malts and blends that have been released or being released in the States.
Next cab off the rank, and I believe this one is from the journalist writing up the story, “Our favorite of the line is definitely the Yamazaki 12. It has the robust butteriness of our favorite bourbons, the gentle smokiness of an easy-drinking Scotch and just a hint of the bright astringency of our favorite Irish whiskies” Gotta love that the gentle smokiness???? Maybe she was thinking of Hakushu. Have the feeling though the author has never tried a Japanese whisky in her life…..
In summary, after at least a half a dozen years of Japanese whisky appreciation at the more sophisticated end of the market in many countries around the world, it would seem the main stream press continues to portrait Japanese whisky as a quant, novel curiosity and they still can’t be bothered to scratch any further that skin deep. It also seems that at least one of Suntory’s brand ambassadors is happy to oblige.
P.s For readers who miss the reference in the title of this post, it comes from one of the Austin Powers movie and denotes something that is quite silly. I would also like to point out that the post was not meant to be a singular dig at only one media article/outlet, but reflects my opinion on just about every story on Japanese whisky I read online from the regular press.
There has been some updated info about Japanese Konara Oak attached to a my post on the White Oak Akashi 15YO Konara Oak Cask. It has been supplied by a long time Japanese whisky enthusiast. Just click the above link and track down the page to view and if you have any more feedback, please leave a comment.
Nose: Young and spirity. Japanese pears fermented in cloudy sake. Loads of grunt. Apple cider, grilled pork, heavily lacquered teak, tobacco, icing sugar, white peaches.
Palate: Actually quite light compared to the nose. Vanilla, banana, oak, tobacco, toffee, pepper, fermented pears. Fairly simple.
Finish: Creamy nuts, vanilla, banana, icing sugar, pork fat.
Last word: Young but fun.
Nose: Dry sherry, Japanese plums, candied orange glaze, brown sugar, Ron Zacapa XO Centenario, maple/golden syrup, nutmeg, tobacco, leather.
Palate: Mouth coating. Canned prunes, cantaloupe, high end coffee, strawberry glaze, pine, rhubarb, pipe tobacco, Bovril, chicken stock, oak(but just enough).
Finish: Long, powerful, balanced and complex with most of the flavors on the palate.
Last Word: I’d love a bottle.
Nose: Lots of toasty notes. Roasted chestnuts, charred leather, caramelized orange jus, mixed peel.
Palate: Tangy orange, dates, nutmeg, cinnamon, leather, tobacco, chocolate, ginger, nougat, coconut, salted brazil nuts and a little smoke.
Finish: Dried fruits and nuts, cloves and some oaky dryness.
Last Word: Less sweet/rich than a typical dark sherry Yamazaki. Nice, but I’d prefer a bit more punch.