Yesterday saw the release of a new bottling from the Mars Distillery. This one is a blend of American White Oak and Sherry Cask matured whisky and aged for a minimum of 22 years. According to the press release a total of 4 casks were used. I tasted this one at TIBS/Whiskylive Tokyo last month and initial impressions were favorable. Full tasting notes will follow at a later date as I have placed my order. Only 1359 bottles available at a price of Y9500. A fair price I believe, especially for a 750ml bottle. For international shipping orders Auc-claude whiskies still has a few in stock at the time of writing. If you are in Tokyo try Liquors Hasegawa.
I don’t think they are going to have a problem selling these but I still encourage all Japanese whisky enthusiasts to get behind small distilleries like Mars. Look out for another release from Mars on the 5th of June. I’ll post on this one when it hits the shelves but I can tell you it was a big hit at TIBS/Whiskylive Tokyo amongst the people I talked to and is amazing value for the quality.
Nose: Stewed pears, Stewed apples, bee’s wax, a bag of white peaches, licorice, raspberry conserve, light peat, coal, earthy.
Palate: Big peppery heat and ginger. Licorice powder, white peaches, burnt apple sauce, roasted chestnuts, medium peat. A touch of water adds, toffee, cocoa, rhubarb and balance to the hotter elements.
Finish: Coal fire, pepper, ginger, burnt apple sauce, peat, licorice, salt. Water adds rhubarb, cocoa and smoked fish. Long.
Last Word: Some like it hot. I do! Another fine young Hanyu. Nose works best without water, the palate and finish with.
For an alternate review check out Whiskies R Us
Nose: Stone fruits, praline, drying newly tanned leather, caramel, oak, soy sauce, ash, brine.
Palate: Brown sugar, nutmeg, toffee, pepper, brazil nuts, horse radish, mouth coating. A touch of water adds rhubarb, strawberry compote, ginger, almonds and the whole grows more palate smacking.
Finish: Rhubarb, strawberry jam, pepper, tobacco, leather and ash.
Last Word: A sweet/dry combo.
Nose: Peaches, nectarines, apricot jam, toffee, wood stain, leather, tobacco, lemon juice, fish sauce, soy sauce, fish sauce, peppermint.
Palate: Nutmeg, pepper, tobacco, wood spices, maple syrup. Opens up nicely with water with sugar glazed orange slices, walnuts, bubblegum, cinnamon, sherbet, cola, hint of peat.
Finish: Some pepper, earthy peat, bubblegum, wet cement and tangy sweet spice.
Last Word: Took about 18 months for this one to open up and reveal some extra complexity.
Nose: Light oak, incense, pepper, vanilla, lemon rind, pancake batter, apricot jam. All subtly delivered.
Palate: Again quite subtle. Lightly estery, oak, caramel, incense, aromatic wood spice.
Finish: Pretty much as per the palate. Quite oaky for the age. All perfectly drinkable but nothing special.
Last Word: Hanyu Light!
*Notes taken from a purchased sample
Nose: Pu-erh tea, struck match, burnt twigs, varnish, mixed peel, grapefruit.
Palate: Adds the following to the nose. Fig jam, burnt popcorn and green grapes. Water ramps up bitter elements.
Finish: Earthy, bitter and lots of burnt notes(twigs, popcorn, struck match).
Last Word: Fairly unpleasant and tough for me to finish, especially with water added. For lovers of ‘dirty’ sherry style whiskies a la many a Karuizawa.
*Notes taken from a purchased sample.
Nose: Malt, toffee, honey, pollen, tobacco, white pepper.
Palate: Follows the nose quite closely and adds butter, ginger, bran and oak.
Finish Chewy toffee, ginger, nutmeg, bran and some drying tobacco.
Last Word: Not particularly complex but tasty enough and like many Chichibu, belies it’s young age with no residual new make notes that I can discern.
Nose: Strawberries. White chocolate, light port, zinfandel, young plums, nutmeg, maple syrup a briny element, wood stained oak. Immediately young in nature though.
Palate: Quite of lot of pepper and nutmeg. White plums, zinfandel, white chocolate, light port, maple syrup, a little soapiness to the mouth feel. Again quite youthful.
Finish: Short on white plums, nutmeg and zinfandel.
Last word: The young age shines through in this one. Not in a base spirit kind of way, but a lack of richness/fullness to the flavors.
You can find another impression of this one at Whiskies R US
This post mainly effects Japanese readers and hopefully isn’t a portent of things to come for Single Cask Yoichi prices outside of Japan which are already sky high.
I tasted the following at Whisky Live Tokyo a couple of weeks ago; Yoichi Single Cask 1988-2013 23YO Warehouse 25 #100212 62%
Very impressive whisky and I was looking forward to it’s release, hoping to buy a couple of bottles. Well it has now been released on Nikka’s Asahi Shop website for a whopping Y31500!
Now I purchased the last 2 bottling’s of Yoichi Single Cask from the same website(with a Japanese contacts help), and both cost me about Y19000, the younger one maybe a bit cheaper. One was a 1994 and the other a 1988, both bottled in 2012. Both are also excellent. So we are talking about a 50%+ price bump between the last releases and the latest. Now I firmly believe these are Y19000 bottling’s, the 1988 cask 100129 being one of my all-time favorite whiskies. But Y31000, that’s the sort of pricing that takes the wind out of my purchasing sails. Strangely enough, Miyagikyo Single Cask prices do not seem to have been effected, with the latest release on par with the previous bottling at Y8400 for a 2001-2013. So, Miyagikyo here I come(for now)!
Day 11 and I decided the head back to Bar Hermit Regalo. Why, because when you are on a cheap thing stick to it I say. Basically stuck with 3 of the Ichiro’s Card Series malts they have on their special price list at the moment and one that wasn’t but had always wanted to try. That 4th one was the Ace of Spades 1st release. Even at the regular price of Y2500, this to me was still good value compared to many other bars. This Ace of Spades only had an outrun or 122 bottles so there could not be too many still floating around, at least not open and available at a bar that any adult can walk into off the street. There was a second release Ace of Spades with an outrun of 300 bottles, released in 2006 and bottled at 55.7%.
Ichiro’s Malt Vintage 1986-2007 21YO Hogshead 58%
Ichiro’s Malt Jack of Spades 1990-2007 17YO New Wood Finish #7002 54.2%
Ichiro’s Malt Queens of Diamonds 1985-2007 French Cognac Cask Finish #9109 58.5%
Ichiro’s Malt Ace of Spades 1st Release 1985-2005 20YO Spanish Oak Sherry Butt Finish 55%
Day 12 had me tidying up my bottle purchases. Had a few pre ordered before I arrived in Japan and there was few more to buy.
So this is what I am taking home and a big shout to my family who are with me and agreed to be whisky mules giving up their own duty free allowances.
2 x Ichiro’s Malt Hanyu 2000-2012 12YO Mizunara Heads Cask for Isetan 59.2%
1 x Yamazaki Single Sherry Cask for Isetan 1998-2011 #CU 70067 61%
1 x Yamazaki Heavily Peated NAS 2013 48%
2 x Karuizawa 12YO OB Hanshin Tigers Label 40%
1 x Karuizawa Colors of 4 Seasons 1st Release 2000-2012 #5329 64.2%
2 x Karuizawa Colors of 4 Seasons 2nd Release 2000-2013 #5173 64.8%
1 x Karuizawa OB 1966 21YO 43%
1 x Karuizawa Memories 1991-2013 21YO Sherry Butt #9106 63.7%
1 x Mars Single Cask 1990-2011 21YO American White Oak #902 64.7%
Not a purchase, but I also was kindly given a 180ml bottle of Yoichi Genshu Sherry and Sweet, Single Cask, Cask Strength.
Day 13 is leaving day. Evening flight back to Australia but we have to head to the airport just after 5pm. As most dedicated whisky bars don’t open until 6pm, whisky drinking for this trip is done and dusted. Hang on, the try before you buy bar at the Isetan department store in Shinjuku opens at 2pm and they have a couple of Single Cask Japanese whiskies available to try that I haven’t tasted before. Maybe enough time to sneak in 2 more………….
You’ll see in this post a picture of the latest collaboration between Ichiro Akuto of Venture Whiskies(Hanyu/Chichibu) and Shinanoya a liquor/fine food chain based in Japan. It is a 1986 26YO Hanyu finished in Madeira wood, bottled at cask strength with an outrun or 260 bottle’s. It’s official release was the 25th of April this year and I’m not sure it even made it to retail shelves before it sold. Places like this often advertise the product with the release date and those in the know and the coin to pay for this sort of gear, have already pre ordered. So why is this a relative knew phenomenon with Japanese whisky in Japan, not the ability to pre order, the fact that they are now doing it. In other words, the Japanese now have a growing appreciation of their home grown high end whisky.
When I first came to Japan 4 years ago, the first retail liquor store I visited was Shinanoya Shinjuku branch. They had 2 Owners Cask bottling’s from Suntory and Ichiro’s Malt The Game 1st Edition. I bought one of the Owners Cask Hakushu. I came back 6 months later and the other 2 bottling’s were still in stock, so I grabbed them. Nowadays something like Ichiro’s Malt the Game would pre sell before hitting the shelf. Not only that, it cost Y7900.
So, I get emails asking me to suggest places to buy Japanese whisky from people overseas travelling to Japan. When they turn up, mostly they can only find the standards, not the single cask stuff they read about on TJW Review.
So the local Japanese whisky appreciation scene has grown markedly in just 4 years, this often leaves ‘only’ the standard stuff for whisky fans from other countries when they come a knockin’ for the good stuff when they get here. As I wrote in the heading, herein lies the problem, at least with buying much of the good stuff from Japan when you don’t live here.
Spending a couple of days in the World Heritage town of Nikko. Mainly site seeing but thought this would also give me the opportunity to post on a rare, Karuizawa 1966-1987 21YO OB that I have been fortunate enough to secure on this trip.
So what do I know about this whisky. Mostly only the obvious. The years distilled and bottled, age, alcohol percentage and that there was 521 of these in total. That it is thought to have had only one previous owner, the person I acquired it from. That owner was in correspondence with Ocean in regards to this bottling back in the day and had lost most of the information on it, but his best recollection was that the wood shavings in the wooden box the bottle comes in is from the cask it was matured in. Myth or reality it is a romantic notion either way. So what will I be doing with bottle. As it is of far too much historic value, really a museum piece, I hope to find a suitable venue to display this bottle in as it may be the only one left in existence.
Arrived back in Tokyo from Osaka. Bit tired but there is a number of whisky bars near our digs in Shinjuku so only a short walk for a quality dram. As previously reported I had been to Bar Hermit West earlier this trip. I decided to try Bar Hermit Regalo this time. I knew there was also a Bar Hermit East, but one of the bartenders informed me there is a chain of 6 bars with 4 under the Bar Hermit Banner, all owned by the same person and all located in Shinjuku.
I know that I found the West Bar good value, but to my surprise this was even better for some very rare old Ichiro’s Card Series, Ichiro’s Malt Single casks and the Ichiro’s Malt 20YO. Photo of the list of specials included with the special price in red. As you can see, not much more than the Yamazaki 10 listed on the top right corner. Price list is not inclusive of all their Card Series bottling’s they have more. Also their own range of Suntory Owners Cask bottling’s but a slightly larger range than the West bar. Owners Cask offerings are Y1300 a shot and that price has not changed in 4 years.
Ichiro’s Malt 5 of Hearts 2000-2008 French Oak Cognac Cask Finish 60%
Ichiro’s Malt Single Cask 2000-2005 American Oak Puncheon #6076 60%
Suntory Owners Cask for Bar Hermit Hakushu Heavily Peated 2000-2010 #EL 41499 62%
Took a trip out to the Yamazaki Distillery. I went there 4 years ago but there was no access to visitors due to the bird flu out break at the time. There is not a lot to the tour actually. Small visitors center with museum, gift shop and tasting bar. The site of 7000 thousand bottles of whisky in the ‘library’ was something to behold though.
Tour runs for an hour but half of that is the tasting at the end. I didn’t bother with the tour tasting as it was for Yamazaki 10 and 12. As for the first part of the tour, mostly what you would expect, how whisky is made and stored. Whisky nerds may find it a little underwhelming in technical detail but I think it was good enough for the majority of the people on my tour.
I should add that the town of Yamazaki itself is a pretty little place and with the lovely grounds around the distillery there was many a good photo opportunity separate to the whisky side of things. Also a tip for first timers to Osaka. If you take the JR Kyoto Rail Line from Osaka station, go to platform 7 and it is an easy an easy 25 minute ride to Yamazaki. There is a small map of how to get to the distillery after you exit the train.
As mentioned, I didn’t attend the official tour tasting but headed straight to the tasting bar in the visitors centre.
Yamazaki 12YO Genshu Key Component Malt Mizunara Cask 50%
Hibiki 17YO Genshu Key Component Malt Mizunara Cask 52%
Hibiki 17YO Genshu Key Component Malt Peated Cask 55%
Yamazaki Single Cask Sherry Butt #6B 0168 20YO 51%
*Genshu basically means distillery only and Key Component that cask type that is used in the blend.
After far to many Highballs my Japanese whisky in Kansai guide Clint from Whiskies R Us, took me along to Bar Sharom Osaka. This is one of those religious experience bars. A virtual shrine to all things Nikka, my jaw dropped when I walked through the door. It wasn’t the number of bottles, though there were lots of them, it was the sheer quality and rarity of some of the stock. We only had 2 drams but it was the sort of stuff that belongs in the Pantheon of the gods of whisky. Not sure if it’s his usual practice but props to the owner for the volume of his pours which were around 45-50mls. Maybe he just felt sorry for us on spending so much on four drams. : )
Just a note that this was not one of those official Nikka bars but privately owned by a Nikka enthusiast. For directions to the bar please contact Clint from Whiskies R Us.
Yoichi Genshu Malt Sherry Cask #203634 25YO 54%
Yoichi Single Cask 1990-2001 10YO #223639 Warehouse No.2 62%
After a lay day on day four, we headed to Osaka on day 5. Despite a long day of travel I found the energy to meet with Clint from Whiskies R Us in Umeda for a few whiskies. Ended up at Bar Augusta. Not a huge range of Japanese whiskies, but a range none the less. By my reckoning about 25-30 different bottling’s. Plenty of Scottish whisky though. Staff were nice and we were well looked after by the Owner, who is very knowledgeable about whisky in general including the Japanese stuff. He had actually been to the Yamazaki distillery sometime in the last few days, I can’t remember exactly, and gave me some tips on a couple of drams he said I should try when we visit Yamazaki today.
Anyway, at Bar Augusta I tried a couple of newbies to me and a rare one I had tried on a previous occasion in Tokyo, the Golden Horse 14YO. The Golden Horse(Hanyu) being the pick for me, even better than I remember.
Golden Horse Single Malt 14YO 57%
Yoichi Vintage 1989 55%
SMWS Yoichi Virgin Oak Cask 116.17 Pinball Wizard in a Japanese Teahouse 59.2%
Nose: Lightly peated nose despite the name. Butterscotch, pink grapefruit, honey, incense, oak, autumn leaves and earthy tones.
Palate: Heavy ash, earthy peat,, burnt almonds, black pepper, lemon meringue, honey, salted chocolate.
Finish: Ashy with hot spices, honey, macadamias and earthy peat.
Last word A solid but not spectacular effort, though as I loved the ’93 single cask I had probably set my expectations a bit too high.
This was the opening day of TIBS/Whisky Live Tokyo 2013.
As this was my first time here, I was quite excited to check it all out. What I discovered was a well organized event with plenty to offer the non whisky drinker and whisky enthusiast alike. The combining of The International Bar show and Whisky Live works a treat. I don’t speak Japanese so the mini seminars are lost on me, but as the majority of punters were Japanese plenty of informative talks and demonstrations for those folk. If you click on the above link the stage programs are written in English so you will see what I mean.
Of course my focus was on Japanese whisky and there was more than enough to satisfy. I pre purchased my day ticket online which was Y5000. Basically this is an entry fee, though I did receive a glencairn glass on admission which was great as I didn’t really want to taste whisky from those little plastic cups. There was plenty to taste for free but also a premium tasting ticket system for those who wanted to taste the high end gear. These could be bought for either Y1000 or Y5000. I chose the Y5000 package which gave me 25 tickets from memory. I mean memory as I tasted 18 different whiskies on the day. Props to the Venture whisky(Hanyu/Chichibu) stand as almost everything was free except 2 bottling’s. As the freebies included all the latest from the Card series and some experimental bottles of Chichibu I felt this was very generous.
Plenty of water stands to keep you hydrated and clean your glass between drams but strangely no food stands. As most people at the show including myself were getting a pretty sauced on whisky or cocktails this would been a nice addition.
Some shout outs:
The nice guy who gave me a run down on the progress on this event in Tokyo over the years.
Jeff(Geoff) from Metropolis Magazine and Kyle from Japan Tourist.
The Hong Kong Posse.
The lovely Japanese couple who gave me the whisky bar recommendation in Shibuya.
All the friendly staff serving at the Suntory, Nikka and Venture whisky stands.
And a special mention to the team from Hombo Shuzo(Mars) whisky stand.
Tasted on the day with my absolute standouts highlighted in gold. Only the Nikka Black was disappointing.
The TIBS/WL Bottling of Chichibu
The TIBS/WL Bottling of Hanyu
Yoichi Single Cask 1988-2013 23YO Warehouse 25 #100212 62%
Mars Komagatake 22YO 43%
Mars Awai Tradition Wine Case Finish 40%
Chichibu Refill Barrel #2186 60.2%
Chichibu Refill Hogshead 2010-2013 #705 63.2%
Chichibu Almost 5(years Old) refill/hogshead finished #2472 61.8%
Whisky Shop W. 2nd Anniversary Yamazaki 1999 13YO Puncheon 57%
Nikka Black Rich Blend 40%
Nikka Taketsuru 25YO
Yoichi Single Cask ‘Old Nic’s Dram’ #400860 1997-2013 15YO 59%
Hanyu 23 Year Old 58%
Ichiro’s Malt Ace of Clubs 2000-2012 1st Cask Hogshead 2nd Cask Mizunara(Japanese Oak) 59.4%
Ichiro’s Malt 7 of Spades 1990-2012 1st Cask Hogshead 2nd Cask Cognac 53.8%
Ichiro’s Malt 6 of Hearts 1991-2012 1st Cask Hogshead 2nd Cask American Oak Puncheon 57.9%
Yamazaki Heavily Peated NAS 2013 58%
A quick run around today to check out some retail/department stores in Shinjuku and see what Japanese whisky they currently stock. There was Takashimaya, Isetan and a small liquor store that a fellow whisky enthusiast had put me onto. In order of merit Isetan had the best stock in my opinion, followed by the small liquor store then Takashimaya. Takashimaya being noticeably down in quality offerings since my last visit in November 2011. Full reports with to follow. Photo is from Isetan.
The good thing about Isetan was the chance to try a number of their Japanese whisky offerings. I tasted the following:
Ichiro’s Malt Hanyu 2000-2012 Mizunara Heads for Isetan 59.2%
Yamazaki Single Sherry Cask for Isetan 1998-2011 #CU 70067 61%
Karuizawa Brilliant Sherry 2000-2012 61%
Karuizawa Brilliant Sherry 2000-2013 60.2%
I enjoyed the Hanyu the most.
A big shout out to my new friends and fellow whisky enthusiasts from Hong Kong. Great having a chat to you at Isetan and see you again sometime over the Whisky Live Tokyo 2013 weekend.