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

The Nikka Premium Blended Whisky 12YO 43%abv

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

Rating: 83/100

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

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……………

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

Yoichi Single Cask # 204721 61%abv

Yoichi 204721Nose: Quite soft. Lemon, Raisins, mustard, ripe peaches, Arnott’s barbeque shapes, tobacco, sump oil, ash.
Palate: Ash, sump oil, burnt toast, tobacco, a little of that candy/bubblegum often found in Yoichi whisky. Also ginger ale, salt, cocoa and hot spices. Water neither adds or subtracts much in the way of flavors.
Finish: Drying on ash, tobacco and the hot spices.
Last Word: While not cheap tasting by any means this whisky is fairly one dimensional. Yes you can sift through and pick up some different flavors but the ash, sump oil and tobacco dominate. I’d still class it as lightly peated.

Rating: 80/100

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.

Nikka Taketsuru NAS Sherry Wood Finish 43%abv

taketsuru_sherry_wood_NASNose: Maltesers, caramel, oak, lacquer, dried fruits. Very gentle.
Palate: This is where things step up a few notches over the Taketsuru 12YO(I haven’t tried the standard NAS). Lots of juicy dried fruits, malt, quite a some pepper, sugared orange slices, and in lesser measure sherry, cloves and paprika. The oak is subdued.
Finish: Dried fruits, sugared orange slices, sherry, young tawny port and some decent length.
Last Word: Not amazingly complex but well balanced, the extra punch offered by the sherry cask finish is a welcome addition. Nose is a bit soft for my liking however.

Rating: 83/100

*Sample courtesy of Clint at Whiskies R Us