The Japanese Whisky Review Japanese Whisky 2015 Summary

2015 was a massive year of change for Japanese Whisky though let’s start with the one thing that definitely hasn’t changed, the stratospheric prices of some Japanese whisky. This is really a continuation of what has been happening for a few years now but there were also record prices paid for a single bottle and a single lot at auction. Hanyu and Karuizawa continue to lead in this respect but really, any single cask or limited release Japanese whisky from all distilleries are not going to be cheap. That’s the halo effect cascading down from the “big” two. Over the last 12 months from my observations, prices have still been on an upward trend overall. Prices must be nearing a practical limit though except for most sort after rarest/oldest Japanese whiskies.
So why have the prices of Japanese whisky been outstripping their Scottish cousins of comparable age, and quality. Well I use the term quality in relation to how they are rated by both whisky writers and whisky enthusiasts in general, using a point scoring system out of 100. I often read comments from punters such as why would I buy a Japanese Whisky that has a rating of 90/100 for many times the prices of a comparable Scottish whisky. The first answer I would give is rarity. Wait a minute you may say, isn’t a single cask of 300 bottles of Scottish whisky from a closed distillery as rare as a comparable single cask from a closed Japanese whisky? Only in relation to the number of bottles produced from those casks. If you check out whiskybase the entire number bottles from the 21 Japanese whisky listed is 1732. Scotland has 157 distilleries and Macallan alone has 1860 bottlings listed, Caol Ila almost 2500. Closed distillery Port Ellen as another example has 970 bottlings listed and has a similar overall rating to Karuizawa which has the highest number of bottles listed of any of the Japanese whisky distilleries at less than half of Port Ellen, 400. Now I have no idea how many casks of Port Ellen are left but we all know that there are very few casks of Karuizawa left in relative terms and even less of Hanyu. I can only recall 1 single cask bottling of Yamazaki this year and none from Hakushu. Rarity from my observations will always outstrip quality when it comes to prices and Japanese whisky, especially rare and single cask whisky, is and ever will be far rarer than rare and single cask bottlings from Scotland. Supply and demand!
Another reason for the high prices of Japanese Whisky is the markets where it can be bought. There is a certain arrogance in the west that trends and opinions that are found there are universal. The fact is Asia sets it own trends. Cashed up buyers in Asia love Japanese whisky and they also do their homework. They know the rarity value of Japanese whisky. Now even with the Chinese economy slowing down and dragging other Asian economies with it, the number of people with a fair amount of disposable income is growing. We are also talking about an area with billions of people especially if your include India which happens to have the largest middle class in the world. Ok, so the middle class probably isn’t spending a couple of grand on a bottle of whisky but if there is middle class of 400 million in that country the upper middle and wealthy classes will also be large in size. Plenty of cash to splash. There is also a cultural aspect where it is prestigious to have rare stuff and the expense be damned. I’m sure that many would be surprised that some of the biggest prices paid at the record breaking auction for Japanese whisky were from Malaysia and Indonesia.
So what about the prices of standard age statement Japanese Whiskies. Unfortunately as Nikka are no longer producing age statement single malt whiskies, those standard age statement whiskies that are still left are all selling for anything between two to 5 times(in the case of Yoichi 20YO) the retail price on the resale market. I’m not even sure how long age statement Hakushu and Yamazaki single Malts will be available. The largest discount liquor store chain in Australia were selling 10 different bottling’s of Japanese Whisky. For a few weeks now they have been out of stock of Yamazaki 12 and Hibiki 12 and 17 year olds and no notification of a restock.
One positive outcome of the big players dropping some of their age statement whiskies and the general rise in popularity of Japanese Whisky in it’s homeland is that the smaller Japanese Whisky Distilleries are not only surviving but thriving. The domestic market alone can support these distilleries which gives them the opportunity to expand outside of Japan. The previously mentioned Australian discount liquor store is now stocking Mars Awai Tradition blended whisky. This would have been inconceivable even a year ago.
Things get a little tougher when I cast a critical eye over the offering’s from Nikka and Suntory that have replaced or are supplementing their whisky ranges.
Hibiki Harmony is fairly insipid and Chita Single Grain NAS is young and a bit rough around the edges.
Yamazaki Distillers Reserve NAS I think is an excellent representation of both the Yamazaki distillery and Japanese whisky in general. I’ve bought and opened 4 bottles of the Yama NAS this year. Hakushu Distillers Reserve NAS is lacking if you have tried Hakushu 12 or even the old 10YO.
Nikka Coffey Malt NAS I found a bit strange but I know others who really like it and the Nikka Coffey Grain NAS is a far more convincing effort than the Chita Single Grain NAS. I would certainly buy another bottle of the Nikka Coffey Grain.
Miyagikyo Single Malt NAS is nice and I’m not unhappy about having a couple of spare bottles. Yoichi Single Malt NAS in a big disappointment and I wish I would have tried before I loaded up on spares. I would add that I prefer Nikka From the Barrel, Nikka Pure Malt White and Nikka Pure Malt over both of the new Single Malt NAS bottling’s.
It’s going to be very interesting to see how Nikka and Suntory are going to manage expectations with these new bottling’s and in the case of Nikka with no standard age statement single malt whiskies at all. I mean, if you were just getting into Japanese whisky after reading reviews of Yoichi/Miyagikyo Age Statement bottling’s and you bought a bottle of the NAS, you really would be asking what all the fuss was about and just go buy a 10-12YO Scottish single malt instead. If your already a fan of Japanese whisky and can’t afford hundreds or thousands of dollars on the rare stuff(I’m one of those by the way), you will still be disappointed at least in regards to Nikka and Suntory stuff. Will this have been a big expansion proceeded by a big contraction for Japanese whisky from Suntory and Nikka. My only saving grace is that I bought enough when it was cheaper and can probably get through with what I already have until age statement SM whisky hits the stores again.
Of the other open distilleries I tasted some fine whiskies from Kirin, Akashi, Mars and Chichibu in 2015 though I wasn’t a fan of Mars Cosmo. Chichibu had quite a few bottling’s this year, unfortunately most were only available in Japan. I find Kirin under rated but again hard to find outside of Japan and I have to hand it to the little White Oak(Akashi), who despite their tiny output happily experiment with different cask maturation. Do a pretty good job of it as well.
So there you have it, some constants still in play such as the price of some Japanese whisky, and some huge changes where the ramifications are still unknown. Japanese whisky has also finally become a big hit domestically after many years in the doldrums.
Wishing all the readers of the Japanese Whisky Review and safe and happy festive season and a great 2016.

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.

Ichiro’s Malt the Joker – In the Flesh!

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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…….

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!

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.

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.

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.

Japanese Whisky in the Press – Honestly, who throws a shoe….

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.

Whisky Samples – Let me make this clear!

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On various whisky forums there is often much debate/finger pointing/conjecture, about whisky blogs and whisky samples. Mostly around who is getting freebee’s and what repercussions this has for objectivity or even the ability to write accurate notes from sometimes very small samples.
So to set the record straight, here at The Japanese Whisky Review I will confirm the following:
The closest I have ever had to receiving free samples comes in 3 parts.
I received a sample to go with a very expensive bottle I bought once. This may happen again, but only when I have purchased a full bottle. I wrote notes on this site from this sample.
I enjoyed tasting some samples at a bar once and then went out with the owner to another bar where I picked up the tab for food, whisky and cab fare. I only wrote tasting notes for this site on one of the samples(which I subsequently bought a bottle of).
I have swapped a small amount samples, often sending more than I have received and of greater rarity.
I buy 99% of my samples from whiskysamples. So when you read at the bottom of a review, notes taken from a purchased sample, 99% of the time, this is where I bought it from.
So why don’t I solicit samples? Because I believe it is the only way to remain totally objective when writing tasting notes. I am a Japanese Whisky Enthusiast pure and simple, just like my readers, putting my hand in my pocket to support a passion that I love, just like they do.

Auction watch. What a a difference an award makes – Mars 3 Plus 25 Pure Malt 28YO 46%

So this whisky has won a couple of ‘whisky awards’ of late. As you will see from my notes, I was already a big fan back when it was first released. So what’s going on with this bottling outside of Japan a couple of years later. Now I follow whiskyauction fairly closely. I think this may be the first time I have seen this particular Mars bottling listed. Now I paid about Euro 115 in 2011. Bidding is currently at Euro 242. Auction finishes on the 8th of June. I’ll be tracking to see where this one ends up.

UPDATE 27/5/2013 – I’ll add that some retailers in Japan who did not stock this bottling when it was first released, now have it on the shelves with a ‘NEW’ tag. Price in Japan however, remains the same as in 2011.

Dramtastics Japan(whisky) Road Trip April 2013 – Days 11/12/13

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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%.
Tasted:
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%

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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………….

And herein lies the problem!

ichiros-malt-salon-de-shimaji-pen-x-shinanoya-1986-26yo-madeira-wood-finish-1383-55-3You’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.

Dramtastics Japan(whisky) Road Trip April 2013 – Day 8

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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.

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Tasted:
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%

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Dramtastics Japan(whisky) Road Trip April 2013 – Day 7

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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.p1010385
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.p1010402
As mentioned, I didn’t attend the official tour tasting but headed straight to the tasting bar in the visitors centre.
Tasted:
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.

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Dramtastics Japan(whisky) Road Trip April 2013 – Day 6

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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.
Tasted:
Yoichi Genshu Malt Sherry Cask #203634 25YO 54%
Yoichi Single Cask 1990-2001 10YO #223639 Warehouse No.2 62%

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Dramtastics Japan(whisky) Road Trip April 2013 – Day 5

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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%

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Dramtastics Japan(whisky) Road Trip April 2013 – Day 3 Part 2

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So later that evening, moved onto the Golden Gai(Guy) area for a few easy going Suntory Highballs at Bar Albatross with some family members.
Lots of fun. Decided to have a few more ‘serious’ whiskies at Zoetrope and then
Bar Hermit West. First 2 single malt photos from Zoetrope and the next 2 from Bar Hermit West. All were good but the Ichiro’s Malt Queen of Clubs was a beast and I loved it. Click thumbnails to view.

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Dramtastics Japan(whisky) Road Trip April 2013 – Day 2

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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.

Dramtastics Japan(whisky) Road Trip April 2013 – Day 1

9 hour Flight from Brisbane Australia to Tokyo with part of the family in tow.
Straight down stairs from our digs at Hotel Southern Century Shinjuku for a cultural experience at the Mexican restaurant ; )
Back to one of our rooms for a Suntory Kakubin Mixer.
Dramtastic heads out on his own at 11.PM to Bar Hermit West in Shinjuku and enjoys the following. Full bar review and tasting notes to follow.
Suntory Owners Cask Bar Hermit Private Stock Yamazaki Hogshead 1999 11YO #DQ 60668 55%
Suntory Owners Cask 1986-2007 20YO Mizunara Cask #6B0018 49%
Suntory Single Cask Hakushu for WhiskyLive Tokyo 10th Anniversary 1997-2009 12YO Hogshead 56%
Suntory Owners Cask Bar Hermit Private Stock Yamazaki Sherry Cask #AX 70004 60%
Ichiro’s Malt The Game 3rd Edition 3rd Edition 2000 11YO Mizunara Hogshead Finish #917 59%
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Japanese Whisky- Auction Case Study 1 Karuizawa

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All figures taken from Whiskyauction.com
Bottling’s from any given decade chosen at random, though other bottling’s were viewed and the below trends seemed to hold true.
Bottling                                       Auction Date                  Price in Euro’s
Karuizawa 1967 Cask 6426      09/2011                           865
“                                      “           01/2012                           850
“                                      “           04/2012                         1205
”                                      ”          11/2012                          1330
Karuizawa 1968 Cask 6955      02/2011                           510
”                                      ”          11/2011                            456
”                                      ”           04/2012                           652
”                                      ”          11/2012                            621
Karuizawa 1973 Cask 6249      03/2011                           290
‘’                                     ‘’           08/2011                           276
‘’                                     ‘’           01/2012                           370
‘’                                     ‘’           09/2012                           365
Karuizawa 1976 Noh # 6719     02/2011                           400
”                                     ”            07/2011                           393
‘’                                     ‘’           12/2011                           405
‘’                                     ‘’           07/2012                           426
Karuizawa 1977 Noh # 7026     02/2011                           555
‘’                                     ‘’           07/2011                           500
‘’                                     ‘’           01/2012                           555
‘’                                     ‘’           12/2012                           535
Karuizawa 1982 Cask 2746      03/2011                           241
‘’                                     ‘’          12/2011                            222
‘’                                     ‘’           04/2012                           236
‘’                                     ‘’          12/2012                            290
Karuizawa 1985 Cask 7017      03/2011                           238
”                                     ”           06/2012                           203
”                                     ”           07/2012                           225
Karuizawa 1992 Cask 3434     03/2011                           135
”                                     ”           08/2011                           134
”                                     ”           05/2012                           200
”                                     ”           10/2012                           174
Karuizawa 1994 Noh # 270      04/2011                           145
‘’                                     ‘’          11/2011                            160
‘’                                     ‘’          06/2012                            160
‘’                                     ‘’          12/2012                            260
Karuizawa 1995 Noh # 5039    06/2011                            261
‘’                                     ‘’           09/2011                           355
‘’                                     ‘’           05/2012                           268
‘’                                     ‘’           07/2012                           180
My conclusions:
Ok, so it’s early days for the Japanese whisky collectors market, but so far. Most bottling’s receive the greatest jump in price after the batch has sold out at retail and then the first time sold at auction, often doubling in price in a matter of months. If purchased in Japan where the retail price is considerably lower, it can be triple. That in general, Noh or other fancy labeled bottling’s jump the highest from retail price to auction price whether the liquid in the bottle is superior or not. That once the initial jump in price is made from retail to auction, that the price often remains relatively static, with some small/medium percentage gains from time to time depending on the bottling. Bottling’s such as the 1967 are the exception to this rather than the rule. That there are some that have dropped in auction price such as the 1995 listed, though these are also exceptions. Still, for those with patience relative ‘bargains’ can still be had. It would also seem that as the initial retail price of bottling’s from the ‘70s are now so high, there are relatively little if any gains when these are sold at auction, at least initially. Karuizawa is by far the most heavily listed Japanese whisky distillery on this auction site. Your best bet is to pull the trigger as soon as you see a new retail release. Bottling’s from the ‘80s and ‘90s would now seem the best bet for short term price gains if your into whisky investing, and although speculating about the future of whisky prices is purely speculative, you’d be hard pressed to bet against prices of these ultimately rising once all the Karuizawa casks have been bottled.