Hakushu Single Cask 1999 10YO Bourbon Barrel # AHAK2001 56%abv

P1050281Nose: Strawberries, fresh cut timber, barley, pears, bourbon like orange. Water adds lychee and honeydew melon.
Palate: Without water overwhelmingly hot. It’s smooth enough going down, it just lights up the palate. Needs a good ‘splash’ of water and even then there is still some decent chili heat. With water the whisky opens up some with poached pears, nutmeg, Brazil nuts, lemon, lychee’s, raisins and strawberry compote.
Finish: The heat continues on the palate but again, water assists greatly. Lychees, raisins, cantaloupe and almonds.

Last Word: They really could have bottled this at 46% and it would have been more rounded from the start. Once you cut through the heat with a lot of water there are some nice flavors to be had.

Rating: 84/100

Miyagikyo 20YO Single Sherry Cask #117483 60%abv

P1050280Nose: Big rich sherry for sure. The usual suspects of raisins, prunes, dates, cherries, Christmas cake,caramelized orange juice. Also treacle, nutmeg, paprika, white pepper, black tea, pine, dark chocolate, licorice and old leather. For mine, a great sherry cask nose.
Palate: Again rich with well controlled oak. Nicely balanced bitter and sweet. Follows the nose closely but there is also, walnuts, Brazil nuts and peanuts.
Finish: Is long and fruity with some pine, menthol and tannins.
Last Word: Miyagikyo whisky is mostly thought of as light/soft/delicate. Try one of their single cask whiskies and you will discover how robust and interesting they can be. For myself this is a highly underrated distillery. With prices somewhat less that the Japanese big four, Karuizawa, Hanyu, Yamazaki and Yoichi, jump in and grab some Miyagikyo Single Cask Whisky while the going is still relatively good.

Rating: 92/100

The Nikka Premium Blended Whisky 12YO 43%abv

P1050275Nose: Tequilaesque pepper, butterscotch, ginger snaps, orange peel, marshmallows, oak, furniture polish.
Palate: Butterscotch, caramel, pepper, nutmeg, ginger snaps, salt oak, cocoa, nougat. A few drops of water brings out malt, juicy apples and pears and reduces the spices a little.
Finish: Oak, nutmeg, cocoa powder, ginger snaps, spearmint. With water green apple and malt.
Last Word: I prefer this with a few drops of water which engenders this whisky with a fresher, more lively character. Being fond of the older Blend of Nikka both the NAS 45% and the 17YO, I was hoping for some Yoichi smoke. None so far but it may develop as the level of liquid in the bottle diminishes. Classy bottle/presentation for a whisky that costs about $45-50 in Japan.

Rating: 83/100

Kirin Fuji Gotemba Blenders Choice Single Grain Whisky 2015 46%

IMG_3959Nose: Light and smooth. Apple, butter, creamed corn, dried pears, honey, cinnamon.
Palate: Brown sugar, nutmeg, honey, buttered scones, dried pears, cinnamon and apple pie. Nice balance between fruits, spices and baked goods.
Finish: Sweet spices, dried pears and apples, pie crust.
Last Word: A smooth, well balanced single grain whisky that would pair well with a platter of cheese, dried fruits and nuts.

Rating: 84/100

Mars Astronomical Observation Bottling 1991 24YO Sherry Cask #157 59%abv

IMG_4004Nose: If it did not say Sherry Cask on the label I would not pick this as a sherry cask matured whisky. Vanilla, toasted oak, grapefruit, orange zest, maple syrup on toasted crumpets, apple sauce. With water added a floral note and white peach emerge.
Palate: Heavy hit of spices that is pretty overwhelming. Ginger, pepper, chili. Baked apples, grapefruit, Brazil nuts. Really needs a large splash of H2O to quell the spicy fire but when added there is some lychee, coconut and nougat.
Finish: Ginger, Brazil nuts, slightly burnt apple pie, nougat and drying oak.
Last Word: Quite the oddity as it is not like any other sherry cask matured whisky I’ve tasted whether from Scotland, Japan or the Mars Distillery itself. Not an unpleasant dram when watered down but not a favorite especially when compared with the many great sherry cask whiskies I’ve tried. Long way to go to the end of the bottle so we will see how it develops.

Rating: 83/100

Ichirio’s Malt Hanyu 1991 23YO Madeira Cask # 1386 54.1%

IMG_4017Nose: Earthy field mushrooms, creosote, licorice, apricots, furniture polish, fermented orange slices, a touch of brine. Water adds some pear and white flowers.
Palate: Candied orange slices, creosote, Brazil nuts, olive oil, salt, nutmeg, ginger cubes. Almost no woodiness after 23 years in an oak barrel. Water adds some menthol, almonds and nougat.
Finish: Over baked scones, ginger cubes, creosote, earthy, powder like cocoa powder but without the cocoa taste and the nougat with some water added.
Last Word: Not your typical Madeira cask matured whisky, less fruity/winey for sure. A really nice experience and while not cheap to buy, a lot cheaper than a Card Series Hanyu of the same vintage.

Rating: 88/100

Yoichi Single Cask 2005 10YO #406975 58%abv

IMG_4014Nose: Dusty oak barrels, old wardrobes, licorice, vanilla, peppermint, apricots, old leather satchel, cracked pepper, quince jam. A delight to nose and I would happily do so all day. A little water adds hints of toffee and tobacco leaf.
Palate: Tangy, luscious stone fruits, old leather, big salt, candy coated nuts, nutmeg, menthol, quince jam. Water reduces the salt and ups the quota of tangy apricot and quince jams.
Finish: Leather, menthol, mint, quince jam, cocoa powder.
Last Word: Another fantastic 10YO Single Cask Yoichi. Really a never fail in my experience.

Rating: An easy 90/100

Mars Komagatake Sherry & White Oak Casks 3YO 57%ABV

P1020584Nose: Sherry, orange jus, cereal notes, a little struck match, bread dough, mouldy orange peel, grapefruit.
Palate: Vanilla, butter, cream, bread dough, pepper, mouldy orange peel, green vegetables.
Finish: Struck match, vanilla, sherry, orange jus, boiled greens.
Last Word: The casks blended into this don’t really gel. At the same age(3YO), Mars The Revival bottling is a far better option.

Rating: 79/100

Yamazaki Limited Edition 2016 43%abv

IMG_3975Nose: Raisins, figs, toffee, oak, cloves, cinnamon, custard apple, pepper, ginger bread, marmalade. A real pleasure to nose! Palate: Salt, cloves, marmalade, mixed nuts, candied nuts, toffee, Arnott’s savory shapes biscuits, raisins, figs. Very well balanced.
Finish:
A bit of a let down after the nose and palate as it is fairly short. May be down to the 43%abv?
Last Word: Loses points for the weakish finish, but still the best of the Yamazaki Limited Editions of the 3 released so far in my opinion and really is a pleasure to nose and taste.

Rating: 88.5/100

Ichiro’s Malt and Grain Kiyosato Field Ballet 26th Anniversary Bottling 48%abv

IMG_3985-2Nose: Earthy, licorice, molasses, fruity notes from a well aged rum, leather, tobacco, lapsang souchong. If you can call a nose smooth this is smooth.
Palate: Again the long aged rum is prevalent but not overwhelming. Caramelised orange juice, tobacco, leather, lapsang souchong, mixed herbs, ginger heat, salt. Well balanced, interesting, tasty and with no rough edges whatsoever.
Finish: Leather, tobacco, tar, pine, molasses and coconut.
Last Word: I’ve tasted a number of Ichiro’s Malt and Grain bottling’s and this one is a stand out! Not cheap, but if you have the readies this is a highly recommended whisky and better than the majority of Ichiro’s Card Series I’ve tasted.

Rating: 92/100
Note: A blend of 25YO Hanyu Single Malt from 1990 and 33YO Kawasaki Single Grain from 1982.

Mars Awai Tradition 2016 40%abv

BAL_3044-2Nose: Honey, sweet lemon, fresh cut timber, raisins, caramel, dried pears, putty.
Palate: Honey, cinnamon, raisins, toffee, dried pears, pepper. A richer flavor on the palate that the Awai Bourbon Casks but still fairly simple.
Finish: Honey, flat cola, yeast, toffee and a little oak.
Last Word: Will be joining it’s sibling the Awai Bourbon Casks as the whisky base for highballs.

Rating: 78/100

Mars Awai Bourbon Casks 40%abv

BAL_3040Nose: Sharp and acetone. Lemon, chlorine, sawdust, cheap bourbon.
Palate: Orange, toffee, dates, pepper, bourbon, a bit soapy. Simple but at least an improvement on the nose.
Finish: Mercifully short.
Last Word: Sells for AUD$94 “Downunder” which is ridiculous for a whisky that is going to end up as highball fodder.

Rating: 74/100

Suntory Blended Whisky Limited Edition Wa-Kyo Bottled For Shinanoya 43%bv

P1020588Nose: Citrus, wild flowers, almonds, macadamia’s, white peaches, sandalwood. Fresh and lively.
Palate: Delicate, yet with some viscosity. White peaches, wild flowers, vanilla, almonds, macadamia’s, butter, sandalwood, lifesavers fruit tingle candies.
Finish: Macadamia’s, almonds, sandalwood, white peaches and butter.
Last Word: A classy blend from the house of Suntory that is more malty than grainy. Would be stellar at 50%abv.

Rating: 88/100

Chichibu One The Way 2015 55.5%abv

P1050274Nose: Mushrooms, dried pears, fresh cut timber, figs, apple sauce, malt. After some time(with water) white flowers.
Palate: Really does need a decent amount of water. Fermented pears, baked apples, uncooked mushrooms, nutmeg, barley, marzipan, menthol, a little smoke.
Finish: Pepper and nutmeg, malt, fermented pears, a mineral element. The fresh cut timber makes a return adding quite a bit dryness at the very end.
Last Word: Not really a favorite Chichibu and neither was the 2013 On the Way. This one is a slight improvement. Lacks any elements to make it stand out or make me want to pour another straight away. It’s youngish and you can taste it which may sound obvious, but there have been other Chichibu I have tasted where you would be very hard pressed to guess the age.

Rating: 82/100

Buying Japanese Whisky in Japan 2016 Report

It’s been a year since I wrote the post Buying Japanese Whisky In Japan Nothing But Scorched Earth so time to see if anything as changed. The main reason for the 12 month update is that particular post still generates a huge number of views and the vast majority of emails I receive are from people travelling to Japan and asking where to by whisky. This new post is based on my experience travelling to Tokyo early last month.

If anything has changed it may be that things are even more bleak than last year. The situation where large groups travelling from other countries in Asia especially China on organised shopping tours pillaging all the limited release and age statement Japanese whiskies is now virtually non existent. The reason being is there is almost none of that stuff left to buy anyway.

Whether it be large liquor retailers such as Liquors Hasegawa, Shinanoya, the liquor section of department stores like Isetan or Takeshimaya or the local 7 Eleven the main offerings are pretty much the same. You’re looking at no age statement blends from Suntory, Nikka, Kirin, Mars and Akashi, no age statement single malts from Nikka and Suntory, Nikka The Blend 12YO, Nikka Coffey Grain and Coffey Malt, Taketsuru NAS, Hibiki Harmony. There is quite a lot mini bottles of Yamazaki 12 around. Isetan still had some of their in house only Mars Tsunagu Blend available. Liquors Hasegawa had some Yamazaki LE 2015 but as they sold out everywhere else last year the price was at a premium of Y22,000. You can buy something like Yamazaki 18YO Narita Airport amongst the very limited number of offering’s available there but it’s still the travel exclusive bottling with the fancy label for Y50000.
If you do go to Liquors Hasegawa it may be worthwhile asking if they have anything interesting not on the shelves, I know they had some but again be prepared to pay a decent premium above the original retail price. Shinanoya had some Hakushu 12YO. It is always worth while checking out any of these places as you may be lucky, well very lucky, to be there on a day when one of their in in house bottling’s becomes available. That’s if they haven’t all pre sold before they hit the shelves. I was lucky enough to grab the one bottle of Hakushu 18YO left on the shelf at Shinanoya Kabukicho branch, how that lasted I have no idea but of course even at Y24000 I didn’t hesitate. A bottle of Chichibu On The Way from Liquors Hasegawa for about the original retail price of Y9,500 and a bottle of Kirin Small Batch 18 YO Blend for Y26000 at a small liquor store in the vicinity of Hakoneyumoto Station. The latter two where also last bottles left. Yamazaki distillery had a dozen bottle of Hibiki 12 and their 300ml No age statement Single Malt available to buy but by the end of my 1 hour tour and a few whiskies at the bar they were all sold out. So you may walk into any liquor store and fluke an interesting bottle but they are not available on mass all of the time.
I was discussing the Japanese Whisky scene with the manager of Liquors Hasegawa and he mentioned that only three years ago they were lucky to sell 12 bottles of Japanese Whisky a month.

In relation to bars I only went to a few, you can still try the Yoichi age statement range at least up to the 15 year old, Takestsuru 17 and 21, Hakushu 12 and 18YO and the same from Yamazaki, also Hibki 12,17 and 21 year olds. The famous Zoetrope still has a lot of different bottling’s but you can forget about anything from Karuizawa or Hanyu Card Series. In fact I think there was only a few Hanyu left to try at Zoetrope and a very limited range of single casks from Yoichi, Yamazaki, Hakushu, Akashi and Mars. Yamazaki distillery(took a day trip with some family) is still a good place to try single cask component malts at very reasonable prices. I tasted one dram each of cask strength Heavily Peated, Sherry and Mizunara casks for Y2500 in total.

So what will happen moving forward. Not much in the short to medium term, say three to 8 years. It’s true that the big players such as Nikka and Suntory have ramped up production but when this will bear fruit in regards to age statement whiskies is anyone’s guess but I’d say maybe 5-6 years. There were quite a number of new bottling’s from Chichibu over the last 12 months but unfortunately many of these are single cask single malts or single class blends that sell out very quickly in Japan. Mars released a few new bottling’s but again most sell out quickly in Japan, same with Akashi. Good for those smaller output distilleries but not of much use to most Japanese whisky enthusiasts. Yamazaki LE 2016 was released last month and pretty much sold out straight away. Horigami-san owner of Zoetrope bar told there are three new distilleries coming on line this year. That’s great but they will not make any impact for at least 3 years when they can be classified as whisky and even then will they just be three new versions of Chichibu. That is to say, smallish production runs that sell out very quickly if they are good quality and hardly if at all impact the amount of Japanese whiskies available outside of Japan. In the meanwhile prices for no longer available at retail bottling’s of Japanese whisky will remain high due to supply and Japan. Still lenty available on the auction circuit for those with deep pockets. Is there a light at the end of the tunnel? Yes, but at them moment it’s a long tunnel and the light is fairly dim.

Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2016 48%abv

P1050273Nose: No surprises if you have nosed a good Yamazaki Sherry Cask matured whisky. Dark cherries, tinned plums, blueberries, cherry ripe chocolate, caramelized orange jus, raisins, molasses, mint chocolate. Not a heavy hitting nose but really top notch none the less and continues to improve as it opens up with time.
Palate: Chocolate coated coffee beans, raisins, Brazil nuts, caramelized orange jus, cloves, salt, pistachio nougat. Balance is good but I would prefer a little more mouth coating rich fruitiness.
Finish: Some drying oak, cloves and lingers on the bittersweet chocolate coated coffee beans. Short, or more to the point not a lot of power in the length. Still, one you would have memories of the finish the following day.

Last Word: I’ve seen these sell at auction for around 2000 British Pounds recently. In reality, worth about the the original retail price of USD$300. If your going to spend that sort of money or even half as much I’d be going for one of the Single Cask Yamazaki Sherry Butt whiskies. The nose is the highlight.

Rating: 88/100

Kirin Fuji-Sanroku 18YO Blended Whisky Small Batch 43%

P1050271Nose: Toffee, brown sugar, orange slices, wood chips, rye spice, pineapple, passion fruit, apricot jam.
Palate: Orange reminiscent of a bourbon such as Woodford Reserve. Rye spice, nutmeg, cloves, apricot jam, pineapple, wood shavings, passion fruit. Water adds some sherbet filled lemon candy.
Finish: Very well controlled wood for the age. Rye spice, smooth bourbon, passion fruit, pineapple and apricot jam.
Last Word: Very much in the Kirin house style. A bourbonesque style of whisky which makes sense as I have been told by more than one source in Japan that the Master Blender at Kirin has a penchant for American Whiskey. For myself this is smooth, well balanced, interesting and tasty. As per usual these day’s, very hard to find even in Japan.

Rating: 88/100

Karuizawa Topples The Macallan In 2015

Karuizawa1960.jpgI’ve just begun reading the March issue of Whisky Magazine and in this edition there is a quite significant post in regards to Karuizawa. The Whisky Magazine Index collates the prices of live auction sites over a 12 month period and has been running since 2007. Since inception, The Macallan has taken top spot for whisky prices each year. Well each year up until 2015. This was the year that a Japanese Whisky Distillery took over the number 1 position and unsurprisingly it was Karuizwa. To save a lengthy explanation in this post as to how the index works you can check out the following link.
Now back to unsurprisingly, I only say this because it is well known now in the whisky world the stratospheric prices being fetched by Karuizawa on the auction circuit. The WMI shows the average price for Karuizawa’s in 2015 at a scarcely believable GBP2,500 a bottle compared to second place Macallan GBP1,700. I also agree with WM’s assessment that prices consolidated in the second half of the year rather than any significant fall.
What is surprising is how quickly it has happened since Japanese whisky gained a foot hold in markets outside of Japan. Karuizwa produced and sold whiskies for decades including single casks in Japan before we starting seeing them outside of their homeland. It has been correctly stated a number of times that the Japanese whisky industry was in the doldrums for many years in Japan. Karuizawa was not much better known in Japan for all those years than it was outside of Japan. I would actually go as far as saying unloved for the most part in Japan, Hanyu the same. The bigger companies such as Nikka and Suntory could still churn out enough blended whiskies during that time to continue viable production runs. Of course this lack of love for Japanese whisky at home meant the smaller players either closed or stopped production of whisky in favor of producing other types of alcohol. Yes, we know that that it was a decision by the Japanese conglomerate Kirin to close Karuizawa, but if you think about the conditions at the time, from a purely corporate perspective there was no reason to keep it open.
Now for some personal perspective on Karuizwa whisky. Firstly, what is the formula to get to the number 1 spot for auction prices from what was really a base of zero about 7 years ago. Number one has to be lucky in historic timing. As the planet gets smaller through the world wide web, the upper middle and wealthy classes swell in developing economies and peoples tastes broaden, the conditions are right for something unknown to become a sensation. This is not just in regards to Karuizawa but Japanese whisky as a whole. Secondly was a company founded by non Japanese natives who took a leap of faith to distribute Karuizawa, Hanyu and Chichibu in the UK/Europe because the Japanese who owned these companies where never going to do that under the conditions in Japan at the time. That distribution began right around the time the first conditions where coming into play outside of Japan. Thirdly, that company have also proven to be brilliant at marketing. Fourthly, the world’s best known and influential whisky blogger writes for the most part dazzling high scoring reviews of Karuizawa and writes this type of review for a significant number of bottling’s basically since Karuizawa was first released outside of Japan. Fifth would be rarity, Karuizawa will always be rarer than any of the high prices Scottish whisky distilleries listed on the index. Sixth, the Japanese have fallen in love with their own whisky in the last 18 months and are now alert to the prices they can sell them for. Lastly myth, how many of these Karuizawa are actually being opened at these prices and how what sort of cross section of tasting reviews are there on the web and that includes whisky forums driven by consumers? Compared to Scottish whisky very few in either scenario. A lot of reviews have been by the retailers who are selling them so I am sure they are totally unbiased : ). So what are we basing the legend on, in reality bugger all! Still, if you are retailer or collector who is buying and selling Karuizawa for a profit, you are more than happy to perpetuate the myth even if you have never tasted a Karuizawa in your life.
Personally I think Karuizawa is the most overrated whisky distillery in the world and have found a number of bottling that I just cannot drink, certainly more than from any other Japanese distillery. Basically the one’s I can’t drink just sit in the cupboard though I have allowed some family to use them to drink with their favorite mixer. This is not to say I have not tasted some very good to excellent Karuizawa, it’s just they are not anything like equal to the legend to my tastes.
To finish I’ll add that there are 5 Japanese distilleries/brands listed in the top 25 of the index in 2015, the others being Hanyu, Yamazki, Hibiki and Nikka. Hanyu is sitting at number 6 and although the rise in prices for 2015 were 5.6% compared to Karuizawa’s 7.4% I believe the greatest part of the percentage for Hanyu was in the second half of the year’s compared to Karuizawa where it was in the first half of the year. Any bets that in the next few years it will be a one-two for Japanese whiskies at the top of the index……………

Ichiro’s Malt Hanyu Salon de Shimaji Mizunara Heads 2000 14YO Cask 1504 57.7%

P1020589 (1)Nose: Some classic Hanyu notes of juicy stone fruits and aromatic woods. Red grapes, port pipe whisky, butter menthol’s, werther’s originals and white wine gums.
Palate: Sweet fruit sherbets, vanilla, werther’s originals, white peaches, nectarines, cocoa. Sandalwood, ginger bread and butter menthol’s.
Finish: White peaches, white nectarines, port pipe whisky, ginger bread, vanilla and butter menthol’s.
Last Word: Can’t really say what the Mizunara Heads adds to this one. Pretty much a classic style of Hanyu which I generally prefer over the cask finished versions.

Rating: 89/100

Mars Burn The Barrel Blended Whisky Virgin American White Oak Cask Finish 40%abv

P1050175Nose: Quite oaky. Fried banana’s, oranges, apricots, bran, pepper, Makers Mark or similar type bourbon.
Palate: Caramelized orange juice, fried banana’s, fresh cream. pepper, rye, the Makers Mark, oily and oaky.
Finish: Cream, oranges, savory shapes biscuits, fried banana’s, olive oil, drying oak.
Last Word: Very much a bourbonesque style of whisky. A bit heavy on the oak.

Rating: 80/100