Yoichi Peaty & Salty NAS 55%abv

P1050306Nose: 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.

Rating: 88.5/100

Nikka Pure Malt Red 43%abv

P1050291Nose: Cantaloupe, rose water, vanilla wafers, white peaches, fresh cut timber, pink grapefruit.
Palate: A bowl of mixed nuts, white peaches, peanut butter, there’s both savory and herbal elements, strawberries.
Finish: Salt, nuts, herbs such as cloves and oregano.
Last Word: Not a whisky that is going to blow your mind but blended with a purpose to be lighter in style to accompany food or as a summer sipper and with an emphasis Miyagikyo Malt Whisky. If this was Scottish it would be a Lowland Whisky.

Rating: 82/100

The Blend of Nikka 17YO 45%abv

P1050283Nose: Blueberries, malt, brandy snaps, a candy note, nicely controlled oak, pepper and a hint of sherry. Water adds nougat.
Palate: Currants, brandy snaps, salt and pepper, mixed nuts, menthol, blueberry bubblegum, some ash and smoke. Water adds some toffee and assists with the balance and smoothness.
Finish: Works best with water and has impressive length. I’m talking 10 minutes and counting as I write up these notes. Pepper, menthol, blueberry, ash, smoke, tobacco, brandy snaps and some mouth coating oiliness.
Lat Word: Very heavily malt based and I would say on the Yoichi side. The nose is subtle and clean, the palate smooth and balanced with water and the finish impressively long and satisfying.

Rating: 87/100

Buying Japanese Whisky in Japan 2017 Report

004Kicking 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!

Nikka Coffey Malt Whisky No Age Statement 45%abv

P1050286Nose: Red apples, maple syrup, banana, grilled corn, toffee, nutmeg, cafe latte. 
Palate:
Red grapes, maple syrup, peanut butter, cafe latte, ginger ale, honey, marzipan, tangy orange.
Finish: Nutmeg, toffee, cafe latte, cocoa.
Last Word: Smooth with the mellow vibe of a well made grain whisky. Fairly sweet but I personally don’t find the sweetness cloying. Good value for the quality.

Rating: 86/100

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

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

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.

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……………

Nikka Coffey Grain Whisky NAS 45%

P1020898Nose: Soft. Caramel, lemon, grapefruit, mixed dried peel, hint of wildflowers.
Palate: Caramel, leather, sweet tobacco, vanilla, cinnamon, honey, brazil nuts, dried pears, red onion, herbaceous especially rosemary.
Finish: Good length. Herbaceous, dried pears, vanilla, red onion, leather and sweet tobacco.
Last Word: If you have tasted a few grain whiskies you will find this quite a surprise packet in regards to the depth and complexity of the palate. Very tasty and the spirit is of a high quality. Kicks Suntory’s latest Chita Grain NAS whisky straight to the curb.

Rating: 85/100

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.

Yoichi NAS 2015 45%abv

BAL_0457Nose: 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

Miyagikyo NAS 2015 45%abv

BAL_0459Nose: 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.

Rating: 84/100