White Oak Akashi Single Malt Uozumi Sherry & Bourbon Casks NAS 46%abv

P1050305Nose: Oloroso sherry, honey, charred oak, pepper, nutmeg, paprika, maple syrup, dried apricot and dried mango. A floral not that becomes stronger though not intrusive when water is added.
Palate: Some big wood spices, Oloroso sherry, orange, nutmeg, cocoa. Water adds some chili heat, roasted nuts and dried mango.
Finish: Chewy mints, honey, pepper, dried fruit and palate drying wood.
Last Word: Solid mix of sherry and bourbon cask whisky that can often be hit and miss in my experience and I’m a fan of spicy whiskies.

Rating: 85/100

Largest Known Collection of Karuizawa Hitting the Auction Block

Whisky Auctioneer, a UK based auction house, has announced an exclusive auction of the largest know collection of Karuzizawa whisky. 290 bottles in total and while nothing like their claim of “includes close to every expression created by the renowned Japanese distillery”, Whiskybase lists 460 expressions, it is still very impressive. The lots include the 1960 pictured. Karuizawa1960.jpg
According to the website the lots are being sold individually and while there may be a record price broken here or there for individual bottling’s, I would have loved to have seen a single lot auction where I’m sure the single lot price would have been smashed for any collection of whisky. Auction kicks off on the 5th of April and runs through to 17th of April. FYI, with the prices of Karuizawa these days I didn’t bother registering to bid : ).

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

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

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

Buying Japanese Whisky in Japan 2016 Report

***Please see the 2017 report here for the latest buying reports***
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

Karuizawa 1979-2013 33YO Sherry Butt #7752 59.9%

Karuizawa 1979 33YO Sherry Cask #7712 59.9%.jpgNose: Candied nuts, caramelized orange slices, mixed peel, sweet spices, cloves, cola, leather.
Palate: Mixed peel, caramelized orange slices, caramel, black cherries, wood stain, peach fuzz, cola, red grapes, Christmas cake.
Finish: Leather, mixed peel, cola, cloves and the caramelized orange slices.
Last Word: Nice complexity and I would say a well rounded and refined Karuizawa.

Rating: 90/100