Yamazaki Limited Edition 2017 43%abv

P1050309Nose: Turkish delights, creme brulee, red apples, red grapes, leather tobacco pouch, cinnamon, treacle, cloves, oak. Water brings out vanilla and intensifies the leather/tobacco notes.
Palate: Ginger snaps, cinnamon, cloves, vanilla, tobacco, hint of sherry, gentle oak. red grapes, nutmeg, Arnott’s savory shapes, Turkish delights, marzipan, fig jam, bran. Water brings out some tangy orange, nutmeg, cashews and papaya.
Finish: Brandy snaps, spearmint, cashews, Turkish delights and bran.
Last Word: As per the 2016 the finish is a little short which again drops the score. If you have had previous versions you pretty much know what to expect. Very Japanese/Yamazaki is style. These sold for around Y10,000 in Japan which I think is very reasonable for the quality.

Rating: 88.5/100

Suntory Ageing 15YO Blended Whisky 43%abv

P1050296

Nose: Rich and Fruity. White peaches, apricots, cherries, toffee, ginger snaps, white pepper, cinnamon, tobacco pouch, bourbony orange and rye.
Palate: Follows the nose closely and adds some salted peanuts and subtle oiliness. Nice balance of fruit and spice.
Finish: Peppery spice, the bourbon orange and rye, sweet tobacco and leather. The oiliness assists in allowing to flavors to cling to the palate for good length.
Last Word: A smooth whisky blended to to be a neat sipper not a mixer though no doubt a mixologist could use this in a fancy cocktail. I’d call it satisfying from nose to finish.

Rating: 86/100

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!

Hakushu Single Cask 1999 10YO Bourbon Barrel # AHAK2001 56%abv

P1050281Nose: 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.

Rating: 84/100

Suntory Blended Whisky Limited Edition Wa-Kyo Bottled For Shinanoya 43%bv

P1020588Nose: Citrus, wild flowers, almonds, macadamia’s, white peaches, sandalwood. Fresh and lively.
Palate: Delicate, yet with some viscosity. White peaches, wild flowers, vanilla, almonds, macadamia’s, butter, sandalwood, lifesavers fruit tingle candies.
Finish: Macadamia’s, almonds, sandalwood, white peaches and butter.
Last Word: A classy blend from the house of Suntory that is more malty than grainy. Would be stellar at 50%abv.

Rating: 88/100

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 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……………

Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve No Age Statement 43%abv

P1030190Nose: 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.

Rating: 85/100

Hakushu Distiller’s Reserve No Age Statement 43%abv

P1030189Nose: Light and crisp. Pear slices, lemons, grapefruit, moss/wet forest, a little acetone.
Palate: Crisp and clean. A little oily, pears, almonds, nougat, cloves, pepper, wet moss.
Finish: Short on pears, cloves and pepper.
Last Word: Some of the Hakushu distillery profile is there such as crisp mountain spring water, earthiness and pepper. The palate however lacks enough satisfying body and complexity and the finish is very short. Where is the nicely integrated peat I would normally expect? I’ve tried several bottles of this and have always been left underwhelmed. Not a patch on the 12YO which I poured a dram of to taste side by side.

Rating: 80/100 only because the base spirit itself was distilled with obvious care.

Yamazaki Limited Edition 2015 NAS 43%

BAL_0442Nose: 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.

Rating 87/100