Nose: Fresh cut timber, apricot, straw, pineapple, mustard, prune juice, passion fruit. Palate: Passion fruit, strawberries, rye spice, nutmeg, salt, orange, pineapple, saw dust, balsamic. Light bodied. Finish: Lots of chewy mints, passion fruit, pineapple, orange, timber. Last Word: Has a number of typical elements found in many Kirin whiskies. Pineapple, passion fruit and Bourboneque is style. If your not a bourbon fan you probably won’t fancy this, but I like the fact that Kirin has it’s own house style at least in relation to other Japanese distilleries. This one although smooth and well made is not outstanding.
Nose: Caramel salted popcorn, earthy peat, salted peanuts, mushrooms, fishing trawler diesel exhaust, marmalade, blueberries, vanilla.
Palate: Very salty, possibly the saltiest whisky I’ve tasted and no problem for me as a saltoholic. Peanut brittle, salted caramel chocolate, mushrooms, the earthy peat, mint chocolate biscuits, cola, nutmeg, pepper, seaweed. Water brings out vanilla and toasted marshmallows. Where the nose is reasonably soft/subtle, the palate is big and bold. Finish: Heavily salted pork crackling, earthy peat, peanuts, ash, toasted marshmallows, mint jelly, seawater. Last Word: Pretty much gives you all it has from the get go so don’t expect this to have many hidden treasures. One thing is for sure, I wish this was Yoichi’s standard NAS single malt instead of what they are currently bottling.
Nose: Antiseptic, diesel, smoked ham hocks, fresh potato skins, stewed apples, currants, soy sauce, soot, apricots. An approachable nose. Palate: Big hot alcohol hit for ‘only’ 54.5%abv. Paprika and chili’s. Soot, sump oil, toffee, nougat, lemon meringue pie. Water adds. salt, orange sherbet, Brazil nuts, bitter dark chocolate. Finish: Iodine, soot, antiseptic, nougat and menthol. Last Word:The palate is a bit unbalanced with the amount of alcoholic heat. Water does quell the fire but you need a fair splash. The nose is really nice and the finish has decent length. Overall it’s still a solid young peated whisky but not as good as the 2015 version.
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.
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 : ).
Nose: Peated and while by no means to Ardbeg or Laphroaig level peating, this would be classed as heavily peated by most Japanese whisky distilleries. You can pick up the peated note from 2 feet away. Diesel, creosote, barley, candy apple, dried pears, pomegranate, shoe polish, toffee. Palate: Toffee coated nuts, nutmeg, toffee apples, tar, dried papaya, dried pears, spearmint, licorice. Water adds milk chocolate and cafe latte. Finish: Tar, spearmint, toffee, a mineral element and lingers on cafe latte. Last Word: I am not a peated whisky fanatic but this has a nice balance between the peaty and the sweeter elements of toffee, dried fruit and the bitter sweet cafe latte. These single cask Kirin have been available at the Fuji Gotemba distillery from time to time. I have tried a few but this one being bottled in 2005 is even rarer. Liked this whisky a lot from the start and I’ll definitely grab another if one becomes available.
Kicking things off early this year. A big thanks to all who posted reports over the last coupe of years especially the regulars. Great work and an invaluable source of reference if the 10’s of thousands of views these posts have received is anything to go by.
I though we’d start off with a report added by Martin 2 days ago in the 2016 post but is from January 2017 .
FYI . . .
In Hakata earlier this month found an Hibiki 21 at Daimaru. Then bought one of them Kurayoshi 18 year old at BIC Camera Hiroshima on a whim (wondering about this one, will taste when back home). Also found, but decided not to buy, an Hibiki 12 YO at a side street retailer. Just today found the last bottle on shelf of Hakushu 18 YO at BIC Camera in Ikebukuro (the bigger one, closer to station). Also bought some miniature Hibiki 17 YO at Seibu in Ikebukuro.
This post is open to anyone who wishes to contribute so keep the reports coming folks and happy hunting in 2017!
Nose: Granny Smith apples, dried pears, maple syrup, malt, dried mixed peel, some wet moss and a small acetone note. Water brings out a zinfandel note plus toffee and white flowers. Palate: Quite malty, crunchy fresh apples, salt, maple syrup on toasted crumpets and nutmeg. With water we have the zinfandel, chili heat and some nuttiness. Has a nice clean quality to the spirit. Finish: Grapefruit, fermented pears, nutmeg, pepper, a little dry oak and leather. Last Word: Has some youthful elements but this is quality distillation and cask selection.
Nose: 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.
Nose: 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.
Nose: 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.
Nose: 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.
Nose: 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.
Nose: 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.
Nose: 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.
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.
Nose: Oak, caramel, wood spices, ginger bread, figs. Immediately Yamazaki/Japanese whisky if you know what I mean. Palate: Lovely tangy spiciness. Ginger bread, tobacco, cloves, fig jam, cashews, pepper, cola, oak, cocoa, peanut butter. Tasty! Finish: Medium length on oak, oak, cocoa, ginger bread, fig jam, tobacco and peanut butter. Last Word:: For mine easily the most successful of the no age statement replacement single malt bottling’s from Nikka and Suntory. This is my 3rd bottle in the last 12 months and I have been very satisfied each time. Happy enough to have this as a subsitute for the 12YO at about 20-30 bucks less.
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.
Nose: Mixed nuts, toffee, apricots, peaches, malt. Quite a light nose. Palate: Mixed nuts, peanut butter, ginger, cola, oak, leather, a little rhubarb, menthol. Oily mouth feel. Finish: Short on the mixed nuts, peanut butter, leather, rhubarb and menthol. Last Word: The quality of the spirit is there no doubt. Nothing cheap or nasty about it though it’s not particularly complex. This whisky has a big problem though, it’s not very Yoichi. Where’s the peat, the maritime notes and flavors, the lovely smoke that magically appears after a number of seconds then rolls around the palate and compliments the usual stone fruits? Doesn’t have that bubblegum thing that’s often found in Nikka/Yoichi whisky either. Come on Nikka, if this is going to be the staple Yoichi single malt for the foreseeable future, lovers of Yoichi whisky deserve a whisky that truly represents the style we have come to expect from that great distillery.
Rating: 80/100 as a single malt whisky, 78/100 as a Yoichi whisky
Nose: Barley sugars, red apples, dried pears, lemon pie, nougat, apricots, subtle wild flowers. Palate: Lemon sherbet, barley sugars, dried pears, oak, nougat, macadamia nuts, marzipan, white pepper, spearmint, a little smoke and ash. Finish: Nougat, macadamia nuts, barley, oak, ash, mineralized water. Last Word: This is a smooth and subtle style of whisky with enough quality and complexity for the price point in Japan. Nice summer sipper. As this will be the main single malt offering from Miyagikyo for a number of years to come I hope they will tweak the make up from time to time to give us some variety. I have open bottles of both the 12 and 15 year olds and they are definitely bolder and more complex whiskies.
Nose: Pretty much a replica of the 2014 limited edition posted below. This one has a little more of the sandalwood and is a tad sweeter with vanilla, fruit tingles added. Palate: Creamier/richer than the 2014 and I would say the oak is a little better integrated/balanced. Apart from that we still have the raisins, licorice, leather, tobacco, cloves, papaya and brazil nuts.
Finish: As per the 2014 limited with the vanilla added. Maybe a little more bourbon cask in this one. Last word: Richer(in a good way) and a bit better balances than the 2014.