Sunday, September 30, 2007

Suntory 1981 "Kioke Shiomi"



Distillery
Vatted malt (?). Probably Hakushu. Please see the comments.

The best translation I can offer for the name "Kioke Shikomi" is "matured in a wooden tub". The normal word for barrel is not being used here. Instead the vocabulary is more associated with the "tubs" used in sake making. The red characters say a "direct fired" distilling method was employed. The label also talks of a heavy and powerful taste.

This, like the "Furudaru Shiage", calls itself a "Pure Malt Whisky" and no particular distillery is mentioned, so again I am guessing it is the vatted product of more than one distillery.

Review by Nonjatta contributor - Serge Valentin

Visit Serge`s website, the definitive Whiskyfun.com.

"Suntory 1981 ‘ Kioke Shiomi’ (43%, OB, circa 2005)
Colour: Pale gold.
Nose: Much more happening in this one. Starts like a mix of nutmeg just like in the Hibiki 30 yo, butter, hay and mashed potatoes, getting then sort of smoky and oaky and finally rather grassy. Not particularly heavy I’d say.
Mouth: Again, much more happening in this one than in the "Furudaru Shiage". Heavier indeed, pleasantly rough, malty, quite candied again but also rather smoky, liquoricy, almost kind of peaty – or is it peat indeed? Gets slightly cardboardy after that but it’s fine whisky no doubt. I’d say ‘northern Highlands style’, and direct firing may well have brought that extra-punch and body to it.
Finish: Longer than the "Furudaru Shiage" for sure, still very powerful but probably grainier and more honeyed now. Good and very ‘Scottish’ if I may say so. 81 points." (Serge`s scoring system is explained on this page.)

Alcohol
43 per cent (abv)
Price700 ml - ?

Suntory 1991 "Furudaru Shiage"



"Furudaru Shiage" means "Old barrel finish" and the red characters in the middle of the label say it is filtered through bamboo charcoal. It says it has a "mild" character. Interesting.

It is labeled "Pure Malt Whisky" and no particular distillery is mentioned, so my guess is that this one is the product of more than one distillery. That is only a guess because my Suntory used to be very lax with their labeling of malts. They were known to call single malts "pure malts". They have since reformed their ways and the relatively recent 2005 bottling date Serge gives implies that it is indeed "pure" (ie. vatted) rather than single malt.

Review by Nonjatta contributor -
Serge Valentin

Visit Serge`s website, the definitive Whiskyfun.com.

"Suntory 1991 ‘Furudaru Shiage’ (43%, OB, circa 2005)
Colour: full gold.
Nose: Starts very caramelly and malty, with something toasted but no smoke. Goes on with quite some overripe apples and a faint soapiness, a little cardboard... Also quite flowery (buttercups) and marginally fruity (apricots). Quite nice but nothing really special so far, not sure that bamboo filtering added anything unusual to this one. Not sure I would notice it anyway...
Mouth: A rather punchy attack, all on caramel, honey and roasted nuts, with a rather huge maltiness and hints of cinnamon plus quite some ginger. Loads of candy sugar as well. Again, not bad at all but not too special either I’d say. Something reminding me of Chivas 12.
Finish: Quite long but very caramelly, cereally and candied, like many blends indeed I think. Average stuff in my opinion and average rating: 75 points." (Serge`s scoring system is explained on this page.)

Alcohol
43 per cent (abv)
Price700 ml - ?

Triple Cask Satsuma 1984 - "Airfix modeling"




Update: New review by Nonjatta contributor Serge Valentin added. Scroll below my review.

Ah, the glue, the glue! One whiff of this whisky sent me right back to my childhood days making Airfix kits of Hurricanes and Spitfires in the tiny top room of our house. Airfix modeling was kind of like the good boy's glue sniffing in those days. I used to squeeze way too much of the solvent based adhesive onto the models, so that it actually melted the wings. The smell in that room with door closed was powerful. I used to come out high.



Once back in the old glue room, I also detected a mown field, greengage plums, a box of travel sweets on this 1984 Satsuma but that may have just been the high. In the mouth, it was predictably boisterous but there was an organised core to the flavour - a well rounded brandy - that made it quite drinkable. Then the solvents kicked back in, like I had licked that glue covered cockpit. Not for the faint hearted but then neither was Airfix modeling.

The 1984 Satsuma is from three casks distilled at Hombo's old Kagoshima distillery in the early 1980s, aged for 20 years in sherry casks and bottled in 2004. As I explain on the Kagoshima page, it is a bit of an oddity and for that reason alone has a certain appeal. In my opinion, it is priced well above its taste bracket but it is definitely worth a tipple if you get the chance.

Review by Nonjatta contributor - Serge Valentin

Visit Serge`s website, the definitive Whiskyfun.com.

"Satsuma 20 yo 1984/2004 ‘triple cask’ (55%, OB, casks #1683-1684-1691, 1,752 bottles)
From Kagoshima Distillery, where the last malt was distilled in 1984. Will that be enough to make this one an historical bottling?
Colour: Gold.
Nose: Rather discreet attack on the nose, with a little colza oil, turpentine and whiffs of marzipan plus hints of peat and wood smoke. It gets then seriously grassy (newly cut grass, apple peelings,) and almondy, with just a little pepper in the background. Faint whiffs of camphor. Let’s see what happens with water (reduced to roughly 45% as usual): it got much ashier but the grassiness is still bold. Hints of ‘true’ porridge.
Mouth (neat): a punchy, rawish, fruity and peppery attack but a much weaker middle, which is very strange. Only the pepper and quite a grassiness do remain on your palate. Sometimes a whisky takes off again at the finish but it’s not the case here, as there’s only bitterness left. Maybe water will help: well, not really, it’s still very short – even shorter than a Britney Spears marriage – but the finish is better, with a little salt, lemon and tequila. Not too bad but certainly not first choice if you want to delve into Japanese whisky I think. Japan’s Ladyburn? 73 points." (Serge`s scoring system is explained on this page.)

Reviews by others
Ichiro Akuto reviews this one in Japanese on his blog. He says the nose is marked by a sulphurous, match striking stench. Bakery sweetness and grassy notes on the palate and a powerful burnt barrel finish. He says it is a "crispy malt", using the transliteration from English, but I am not sure precisely what that means in Japanese.

Alcohol
55 per cent
Price (April 2007)
720 ml - 10,000 yen
1,752 bottles
On sale here.
Hombo product page.

(Please note the dates on reviews if they are provided. There may be significant variation between different years of a single malt brand)
The photograph of the Airfix kit comes, with permission, from this web page.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

This means war!

You know when you have become a true anorak when you find yourself chortling loudly over a design of a Taiwanese whisky bottle.

This morning I skipped over to Whiskyfun.com for my daily Scottish to find a distinctly Nonjattaish Japanese character staring right back at me. To be more precise, the character for war! Ikusa!



Now, that is intriguing. Well, intriguing if you have become an incurable Japanese whisky dweeb anyway! Because that bottle is clearly a kakubin, Suntory's iconic turtle shell patterned blended whisky bottle:




The writing on the Ikusa label is in Japanese. The main Ikusa character could well be the same in Chinese, but the writing above it spelling out "Ikusa Whisky" is in hiragana, which is only used in Japanese. All of which sent me into a fit of dorky delight: a Taiwanese whisky called "War" which is apparently playing off the prestige of a famous Japanese brand which traces its history and iconic design back to the immediate pre-war period.

The bellicose name is, incidentally, not something any Japanese company would even think of calling its drink. Evidently, it is something some Taiwanese people, who were a colony of Japan's until 1945, find surprisingly congenial (maybe a bit like a British company selling "Blitz tea" or an Indian "Raj" gin or something?) Ignoring the war reference, there is a beautiful symmetry to all this. Japanese whisky makers were once inveterate and none too scrupulous copiers of other country's brands. What goes around, comes around, don't they say?

Anyway, I contacted Jeffrey Tan of the makers Universal Distiller Product Company. He explained: "We used to cooperate with OKINAWA small distilleries, so the tastes on based on Japanese like, so it show Japanese wards on label, as for the bottle, we tool it our own and based on KAKUBIN, but we adding a handle bar on it, so its totally different with the Suntory. Thanks. Is there anyone interesting in import it ? Feel free to let us know."

IkusaTaiwanese blended whisky
Alcohol
40 Per cent (abv)
More info
Whiskygrotto.com

Miyagikyou 12




Update: Review by Nonjatta contributor Serge Valentin added. Scroll beneath my sketchy recollections.

I tasked this one in the Blender's Bar. At first, the nose was not very distinctive. To be honest, I can't remember what I made of it and the notes I made are an illegible scrawl. Later, I picked up the glass and got a stink of boiled milk. Like the Miyagikyou 10, it started quietly in the mouth - sweet and fudgy - but quite quickly a harsher soapy taste made its appearance. This didn't overstay its disconcerted welcome and there was a moderate finish, with vanilla and cereals complicating the sweet dried fruits that had been loitering with intent. It didn't have quite the oomph at the finish of the Miyagikyou 10. Although the 12 is a bit more slick in its presentation, I think I would go for its virile younger sibling in a pinch.

Review by Nonjatta contributor - Serge Valentin

Visit Serge`s website, the definitive Whiskyfun.com.

"Nikka 12 yo 'Miyagikyou' (45%, OB, circa 2006)
Colour: Gold.
Nose:
Rather light, flowery, honeyed and slightly smoky, reminding me a bit of a young Highland Park. Develops on even more honey (heather indeed) and a slight mashiness. Well, this one isn’t complex at all but it’s nicely balanced and smooth. Inoffensive.
Mouth: Same. Honey and vanilla flavoured toffee, with a little ginger and again a little nutmeg from the wood. Also faintly resinous. Perfectly quaffable.
Finish: Medium long, on the same flavours. Excellent malt to pour your neighbours if you see what I mean (‘What, you say the Japanese make whiskey? And not bad at that!’) 80 points."

Other reviews
Although quite widely distributed, at least in Japan, the Miyagikyou 12 has had relatively little coverage by either Japanese or English speaking reviewers. A 2005 bottling attracted two write ups on the Maltmaniacs.org webpage. Robert Karlsson and and Michel van Meersbergen both quite established reviewers on the site, gave it 81 ("recommendable") and 87 ("highly recommendable") respectively.
On the Japanese web, the Ichiro Akuto blog describes it briefly on this page. He says it is a "lowland type" whisky with a mild, slightly oily, nose developing into an estery, fruity fragrance. The taste is "mild and smooth".


Alcohol
45 per cent
Price (May 2007)
700 ml - 7,343 yen

(Please note the dates on reviews if they are provided. There may be significant variation between different years of a single malt brand)

Monday, September 24, 2007

Hakushu "Pure Malt Whisky"




It is not clear to me whether this is a single malt or vatted (ie. the product of more than one distillery). Usually, "pure" means vatted but in the case of older Suntory products this is not always the case. Before the idea of single malt started to bed down in Japan (really over the past 5 or 10 years), Suntory used to be a bit slack with the two terms and was heavily criticised for it. People accused the company of trying to avoid the inconvenience of too strict terminology by referring to their prestige products by the vague term "pure" rather than the restricting "single", even though some were in fact single malts. The clear attribution of it to the Hakushu distillery seems to imply a single malt here, but I don't know.

Review by Nonjatta contributor - Serge Valentin

Visit Serge`s website, the definitive Whiskyfun.com.

"Hakushu ‘Pure Malt Whisky’ (43%, OB, special limited edition, green bottle) Distilled in direct-fired stills and matured in sherry cask.
Colour:
Full gold.
Nose:
Starts very toasted, oily (lamp oil, motor oil), quite spirity I must say. Whiffs of wet cardboard, orange soda, ginger tonic... Also toasted bread and caramel. Something pleasantly mineral and ashy as well but not the nicest Japanese malt ever, I’d say, even if some aspects remind me of the old Clynelish 12yo (the minerality). The orangey notes are a little too much I think.
Mouth:
Better! Creamy, oily mouth feel, and these mineral and somewhat smoky notes are here right at the attack. Also notes of thyme, orange marmalade with cloves, bitter caramel, candy sugar, malt, hints of Guinness... Quite caramelised indeed.
Finish: Long, coating, candied and jammier, with quite some milk chocolate. Mars? Good whisky, even if these caramelly notes get a bit tiring I think. 80 points." (Serge`s scoring system is explained on this page.)

Alcohol

43 per cent (abv)
Price?

Hakushu "The Owner’s Cask" 1984



Review by Nonjatta contributor - Serge Valentin

Visit Serge`s website, the definitive Whiskyfun.com.

"Hakushu ‘The Owner’s Cask’ 1984/2005 (58%, OB, cask #WJ41700)
Colour: Gold.
Nose: Closer to the 1988 this time, with more peat. More grass, more leaves, more of everything. Also quite almondy. Whiffs of beer (hops), wet hay, moss and fern... And always these notes of motor oil. Quite some oak again but it’s better integrated than in most other unsherried ones. Nice wood and cola smoke too. I like this one. Faint hints of fish, kippers, sardines...
Mouth: Very good attack, with more complexity now. The spiciness got ‘wider’ (ginger – lots -, white pepper, aniseed, cloves, curcuma, green curry) and so did the grassiness (our beloved fresh walnuts, herbal teas, green tea...) Notes of rocket salad just like in the 1985. At the fruity department you’ll find tangerines, lemons (lots), citrons... Quite some olive oil as well. This one is very good.
Finish: long, still quite compact but with an integrated oakiness, getting just a tad drying at the very end (after a good thirty caudalies). 87 points." (Serge`s scoring system is explained on this page.)

Alcohol
58 per cent (abv)
Price700 ml - ?

Suntory Vintage Malt 1985 Hakushu




Review by Nonjatta contributor - Serge Valentin

Visit Serge`s website, the definitive Whiskyfun.com.

"Vintage Hakushu 1985/2005 (56%, OB, white oak, Yatsugatake cellar)
Colour: Gold.
Nose: this one starts extremely oily again (motor oil, even cod oil), in the same style as the 1988, just a tad more polished. Also bold notes of orange squash and tinned pineapple, much fruitier than its younger unsherried siblings. Lemon peels. Little peat this time. Gets a little ‘chemical’ after a while (aspirin, plastic bag). A bit bizarre...
Mouth: very fruity, sweet, even sugary, with all of the oak’s spices but no over-woodiness this time. Vanilla pods, soft curry, hints of aniseed, carrot cake, rocket salad (enjoyable bitterness), artichokes. Lavender sweets and liquorice. Good profile, he oak seemingly calming down at twenty years of age (not that it may not gain steam again after thirty).
Finish: fruity and spicy, with just hints of peat. Still quite wildly oaky in fact but better balanced altogether. 81 points." (Serge`s scoring system is explained on this page.)

Alcohol
56 per cent (abv)
Price700 ml - 21,000 yen. Available here.

Suntory Vintage Malt 1987 Hakushu




Review by Nonjatta contributor - Serge Valentin

Visit Serge`s website, the definitive Whiskyfun.com.

"Vintage Hakushu 1987/2005 (56%, OB, sherry, Spanish oak, Omi cellar)
Colour: Amber / mahogany.
Nose: Maybe not exactly in the same league as the Yamazaki 1984 that won the Malt Maniacs Awards 2006 but the dryness is perfect here. Loads of chocolate, coffee, prunes... A lot of rubber as well (not sulphury at all, rather like bicycle inner tubes). Liqueur-filled chocolate, blackberry jam, liquorice. Not peat that I can smell (but the sherry is ‘loud’ so...) Anyway, this one is very clean and perfectly balanced sherried malt, no monster in any way. Now we know where all the great sherry casks have gone ;-).
Mouth: Ultra-bold, ultra-fruity and ultra-winey. As thick as if they had re-cooked sherry several times. Really like if there was at least 1/3 sherry in it. What’s interesting is that the result isn’t cloying in any way despite the relative clumsiness. Nice notes of orange liqueur as well, very bold. ‘Spoonable’.
Finish: long, thick, heavy, sweet but not sluttish. Kind of austere in it’s full sherryness. Extreme, in any case. Do I like it? Well, I’d say it is very remarkable. Is there any peat? How would I know? 82 points." (Serge`s scoring system is explained on this page.)

Alcohol
56 per cent (abv)
Price700 ml - ?

Suntory Vintage Malt 1988 Hakushu




Review by Nonjatta contributor - Serge Valentin

Visit Serge`s website, the definitive Whiskyfun.com.

"Vintage Hakushu 1988/2005 (56%, OB, white oak, distillery cellar)
Colour: dark straw.
Nose: very similar to the 1993 but grows more complex and more elegant, with a refined oakiness, hints of sunflower oil, ginger, new oak, cereals... Also something resinous, putty, cough syrup, marzipan, peat... Definitely peatier than the 1993, for sure.
Mouth: a very heavy oakiness again (and what a thick mouth feel!) but the spirit itself has a better backbone that counterbalances the wood. Mostly peat that is (even if less than on the nose). Now, the wood is very heavy, very, very heavy... to the point where it gets bitterish. Notes of horseradish, heavy ginger,
cinchona, very strong herbal tea... Gets a little hard I’m afraid.
Finish: long but extremely oaky, with tannic tides. Not a wood decoction but... It even kills your palate, a lot of water needed after that. 75 points." (Serge`s scoring system is explained on this page.)

Alcohol
56 per cent (abv)
Price700 ml - ?

Suntory Vintage Malt 1993 Hakushu




Review by Nonjatta contributor - Serge Valentin

Visit Serge`s website, the definitive Whiskyfun.com.

"Vintage Hakushu 1993/2005 (56%, OB, white oak, Yatsugatake cellar)
Colour: Straw.
Nose: Rather punchy and somewhat spirity, with quite some oak albeit not a dominant one. Quite some vanilla, hints of crushed pine needles, getting then very grassy and leafy (newly cut grass, green tea). Gets much more lemony after that (lemonade, 7-Up) but the oak is still there. Quite nice but lacks dimension and complexity a bit.
Mouth: Punchy, with a rather thick mouth feel, starting extremely sweet (pear sweets, apple compote with a lot of sugar) and oaky (typical spiciness). And a lot of vanilla. Simple but good result, reminding me of Glenmorangie’s experiments with various new oaks.
Finish: rather long but with no further development. Fruits and oak, oak and fruits. 80 points." (Serge`s scoring system is explained on this page.)

Alcohol
56 per cent (abv)
Price700 ml - 6,300 yen. Available here.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Karuizawa 1994 Full Proof Europe




The famous barrel tossing girl! A sequel to the classic caber tossing lass (see the bottom of this post). Nonjatta contributor Bert Vuik, a friend of the people behind Full Proof, says this one is from the same cask as the Ichiro's Choice "Peated Golden Promise"

Review by Nonjatta contributor - Serge Valentin

Visit Serge`s website, the definitive Whiskyfun.com.

"Karuizawa 1994/2006 (61%, Full Proof Europe, cask #2221, ex-Glenlivet sherry butt, 204 bottles)
Colour: White wine.
Nose: Much rawer, milky and mashy, leafy, with notes of tobacco ashes... But we know Karuizawa needs water, don’t we? With water: it got very farmy, herbal, leathery. Hints of ‘clean’ baby vomit (which is not bad, mind you), rotting apples... Definitely wild.
Mouth (neat): Very punchy, with good oakiness and spiciness. Definitely resinous and spicy but let’s bring it down to our favourite tasting strength, 45% (all pros will tell you it’s much too high – okkkkaaaaaay). Well, that didn’t work as beautifully as with the officials but that’s probably because of the much lower cask influence here. Still a bit raw and hot, spirity, grainy...
Finish: Long, fruity and mashy, with a little pepper and paprika. A little youngish but it’s good distillation, no doubt. Let’s just say this one is less outta this world than the older "Vintage" official bottlings’s, which makes perfect sense I guess (despite – or is it because of? – the ex-Glenlivet butt). 83 points." (Serge`s scoring system is explained on this page.)

Alcohol
61 per cent (abv)

Karuizawa 13 year old Vintage



Review by Nonjatta contributor - Serge Valentin

Visit Serge`s website, the definitive Whiskyfun.com.

"Karuizawa 13 yo Vintage 1992 (59.5%, Official Bottling, cask #3432, 25cl)
Colour: Full amber.
Nose: Oh, this is very exuberant again, with the same kinds of notes that we found in the 31 Vintage. Excellent coal smoke, plum sauce, walnut stain, strawberry jam... Something milky in the background, though. The pros would say it’s a bit butyric. Quite some rubber as well, but we’ve learned that Karuizawa needs water anyway, so with water: definitely younger in style, fruitier, with less ‘secondary’ aromas. The wood is also less integrated, with more ginger, cloves, pepper and something slightly varnishy. Slightly butyric again but the whole is still enjoyable.
Mouth (neat): very dense, uberfruity and jammy, hot, almost brutal. With water: all on candy sugar and fruit jam but there’s also a better spiciness than in the 21 Vintage. A more active cask it seems. Interesting notes of Japanese green tea, but that may well be my mind playing tricks to me.
Finish: long, more liquoricy and candied now, very compact, with quite some kumquat. Just a tad drying at the aftertaste. 85 points."(Serge`s scoring system is explained on this page.)

Alcohol
59.5 per cent (abv)
Price
The picture above is of a small 250 ml bottle. This one is also available in a 700ml for which you may have to pay between 6,000 and 10,000 yen. This shop sells this range.

Karuizawa 21 year old Vintage



Review by Nonjatta contributor - Serge Valentin

Visit Serge`s website, the definitive Whiskyfun.com.

"Karuizawa 21 yo Vintage 1984 (59.8%, OB, cask #7980, 25cl)
Colour: Full amber.
Nose: Simpler, narrower and smokier now. A more direct oakiness and whiffs of old roses and pot pourri. With water: yes, simpler this time, but still very nice, with quite some smoked tea, walnuts and coffee-flavoured toffee. The most coffeeish so far.
Mouth (neat): All on fruit spirit this time, slightly youngish, raw and spirity. With water: not very far from the 25 Vintage but still rawer and simpler. All on fruits and oak.
Finish: Long but slightly middle-of-the-road. Much less maturity. Very good, flawless whisky but not particularly interesting I’d say. 80 points (for being flawless)." (Serge`s scoring system is explained on this page.)

Alcohol
59.8 per cent (abv)
Price
The picture above is of a small 250 ml bottle. This one is also available in a 700ml for which you may have to pay in the region of 21,000 yen. This shop sells this range.

Karuizawa 25 year old Vintage



Review by Nonjatta contributor - Serge Valentin

Visit Serge`s website, the definitive Whiskyfun.com.

"Karuizawa 25 yo Vintage 1980 (58.1%, OB, cask #8185, 25cl)
Colour: Full amber.
Nose: Very, very clean, superbly malty, nutty and slightly smoky. Less sherry influence. Superb notes of chamomile tea and camphor and very faint rubber. Marzipan. Will water work as beautifully as with the older ones? Oh yes, it got even more superb, very pure, very clean, very compact. All on both old and fresh walnuts, vin jaune (or amontillado), ‘smoked marzipan’ (should that exist), walnut stain, hyme, fir honey... Quite fantastic.
Mouth (neat): Sweet, oaky, more drying than the older ones and more directly fruity (plums, apples). And very hot... With water: truly fantastic again, albeit not the most complex of them all. Greengage jam, resin sweets, cough syrup, mint drops, soft curry...
Finish: Long and perfectly spicy, with a lot of oak but a great one. This one really tastes ‘Japanese’ and it’s absolutely adorable I think. 91 points." (Serge`s scoring system is explained on this page.)

Alcohol
58.1 per cent (abv)
Price
The picture above is of a small 250 ml bottle. This one is also available in a 700ml for which you may have to pay between 30,000 and 40,000 yen. This shop sells this range.

Karuizawa 26 year old Vintage



Review by Nonjatta contributor - Serge Valentin

Visit Serge`s website, the definitive Whiskyfun.com.

"Karuizawa 26 yo Vintage 1979 (59.5%, OB, cask #7752, 25cl)
Colour: Deep amber.
Nose: More expressive than the 29 Vintage but the sherry still is less dominant than in the 31 Vintage at first nosing, sort of cleaner, the whole being maltier and nuttier. But quick, water... Yes! Kind of a blend of the 31 Vintage and 29 Vintage. Maybe subtler, less wham- bam. Antique shop, roasted nuts and various herbal teas. And grilled tea (Ho-chicha, Japanese indeed). Less jammy than the 31 Vintage and less gingery than the 29 Vintage. More straightforward I’d say, but just as totally enjoyable.
Mouth (neat): We’re approaching drinkability at 59%. Lots of fruit jams but also a huge vinosity and quite some rubber. But water is needed again: it’s funny, this time it got much mintier and more camphory. We have also argan oil, tea, bergamot, kumquats... Again, it’s more straightforward and less marked by the sherry than its elder bros.
Finish: Maybe a little shorter than the other ones’ but slightly cleaner again, on smoked almonds and oak. Good dryness. No reasons to rate this one lower than 90 points." (Serge`s scoring system is explained on this page.)

Alcohol
59.5 per cent (abv)
Price
The picture above is of a small 250 ml bottle. This one is also available in a 700ml for which you may have to pay between 30,000 and 40,000 yen. This shop sells this range.

Karuizawa 29 year old Vintage



Review by Nonjatta contributor - Serge Valentin

Visit Serge`s website, the definitive Whiskyfun.com.

"Karuizawa 29 yo Vintage 1976 (63.8%, OB, cask #6719, 25cl)
Colour: Deep amber with brownish hues.
Nose: Much more discreet than the 31 Vintage but the sherry’s well here. Water should wake it up. With water: again, that worked quite beautifully, even if we get more woody and resinous notes here, and less sherry. Quite some coal smoke, tobacco again, roasted almonds, incense again, ginger... And old walnuts. Rather clean. I like this one as well.
Mouth (neat): More ‘acceptable’ when neat but still very kirschy. Water needed again: my goodness, this is excellent again, even if a tad more spirity and rough than the 1974. More fruits and a little more rubber. Fruit eau-de-vie, walnut liqueur and prunes. Great smokiness and quite some toasted bread. Maybe the fruitiness is a bit excessive here actually.
Finish: Long, with unexpected notes of humus. Kind of a pleasant mouldiness. Very very good in any case. 89 points." (Serge`s scoring system is explained on this page.)

Alcohol
63.8 per cent (abv)
Price
The picture above is of a small 250 ml bottle. This one is also available in a 700ml for which you would have had to fork out 50,391 yen in September 2007. This shop sells this range.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Malt whisky pen!

While I am trying to get together the illustrations for another slew of Serge Valentin reviews (this time a whole lot of very interesting Karuizawas), how about this for something different:



Mitsubishi pencil is making a range of pens purportedly made out of white oak barrels used for whisky making.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Karuizawa 31 year old Vintage



Review by Nonjatta contributor - Serge Valentin

Visit Serge`s website, the definitive Whiskyfun.com.

"Karuizawa 31 yo Vintage 1974 (65.7%, OB, cask #4578, 25cl)
Amazing strength at 31yo, let’s have a lot of water on the table (on the side for now but...)
Colour: deep amber with brownish hues.
Nose: a sherried version, obviously. Rather rough, smoky, toasted, with whiffs of walnut stain, plum sauce and strawberry jam, but this one will destroy your nostrils as surely as night follows day if you don’t take immediate measures: add water. Ho-ho, but it got quite superb in the process! Very leafy and leathery, with a lot of Havana tobacco (new box of Partagas – whatever – that you just opened). Goes on with a little shoe polish, very old sweet wine (Banyuls), whiffs of camphor and incense... And a lot of plum jam and plum sauce (like the one they serve with Peking duck. I like this a lot.
Mouth (neat): err, this is very rough. Very kirschy, spirity and very hot... With water: oh yes it’s superb whisky! It’s amazing how water worked here (another Ian Thorpe – sorry, I don’t know Japanese swimmers). Beautiful oak, beautiful walnuts, beautiful sherry, beautiful plum sauce and excellent dryness.
Finish: long, maybe a tad tannic and drying now but still beautifully sherried, with hints of mint in the background and kind of a pleasant savageness in a certain way. 91 points." (Serge`s scoring system is explained on this page.)

Alcohol
65.7 per cent (abv)
Price
The picture above is of a small 250 ml bottle. This one is also available in a 700ml for which you may have to pay well in excess of 50,000 yen. This shop sells this range.

Yoichi Single Cask 1991



I`ve had problems tracing a photo for this one, let alone supping it. It was a bottling for The Whiskyfair and Bar Cask Tokyo. Nonjatta contributor Bert Vuik says there were actually only 36 bottles on the Whiskyfair side but "that there will me me more supply of this one in the near future (this year)."

Review by Nonjatta contributor - Serge Valentin

Visit Serge`s website, the definitive Whiskyfun.com.

"Nikka Yoichi 1991/2006 (63%, OB for The Whiskyfair & Bar Cask Tokyo, cask #129445, 75cl)
Colour: deep gold / pale amber.
Nose: same as the 1989, with maybe a little more mint and eucalyptus and less pepper. With water: it got more different from the 1989 now, with more peat, more pepper... And more ‘bestiality’. Very unusual whiffs of civet cat, rabbit cage, well-hung game, old Burgundy wine that came a bit off the road... Things are getting cleaner after a moment though, the whole getting more on ‘classic’ liquorice, ginger, cloves and a little wasabi (obviously – okay, make that mustard).
Mouth (neat): it seems that there’s quite some sherry in this one. We’re really on ‘spiced apricot pie’ here, but it’s... cough... hot... cough! With water: now it’s a little less peaty than the 1989 as well as more candied, gingery (speculoos again)... Notes of Turkish delights. The oak is well here but it’s less dominant. Very entertaining whisky.
Finish: long, a little wild again, peppery, peaty, candied, pleasantly acrid at the aftertaste – and very liquoricy. Again, very entertaining. 88 points."

(Serge`s scoring system is explained on this page.)

Alcohol
63 per cent (abv)
Price
750 ml - ?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Yoichi Single Cask 1989 ‘New Cask’



There appear to be several quite distinct versions of "Nikka Single Cask Malt Whisky 1989". The whisky Serge reviews below is from a new oak barrel and appears to be more easily available in Europe than in Japan.

Just to make things nice and complicated, there are at least two other bottlings with almost exactly the same "Nikka Single Cask Malt Whisky 1989" labels which will taste quite different from Serge's bottle. They are marketed in Japan at about 10,000 yen each and have a subheading describing their distinct styles: "Sherry and Sweet", "Peaty and Salty" (and some other headings, some of which seem to refer to Miyagikyou single casks).

Review by Nonjatta contributor - Serge Valentin

Visit Serge`s website, the definitive Whiskyfun.com.

"Nikka Yoichi 1989/2005 ‘New Cask’ (62%, OB, for France, Warehouse #15, cask #127 032)
Colour: deep gold / pale amber.
Nose: coffee, rosewood and caramelised peanuts – lots – plus pepper, ginger and cloves but the high alcohol is quite striking. Let’s not take chances. With water: well, this one isn’t exactly pencil shavings juice but the oak is still quite dominant, even if it lets a rather vegetal peat go through as well as notes of smoked tea, wet wool, wet hay, apple peelings, farmyard... Great profile but it’s like if it was all about wood support. Too bad, we know Yoichi’s spirit is great.
Mouth (neat): we can feel this is nice but the alcohol is high, so again, let’s not take chances. With water: yes, the story’s all about wood, spices, ginger, pepper, paprika. Yet it’s not tannic whisky at all, which is quite an achievement her I think.
Finish: long, a little fruitier (orange marmalade) but still all on oak. Definitely ‘modern’. Brilliantly crafted for sure and totally flawless, just too oaky for me. But I couldn’t give it less than 85 points." (Serge`s scoring system is explained on this page.)

Alcohol
62 per cent (abv)
Price
700 ml - Not clear on the Japanese price but probably in the region of 10,000 yen. It is on sale at this French site for 109 Euros.

Yoichi Single Cask 1987/2004




The world of Nikka single cask bottlings is fairly Byzantine. There are usually multiple bottlings with quite distinct characteristics bearing almost identical labels. Please see the Single Cask 1989 "New Cask" post for an exploration of the variety of distinct products there were for that year. I believe there are more than one 1987 single cask versions too, with Serge's version bottled back in 2004 while the one I can find on sale in Japan at the moment is from 2006 with a considerably lower alcohol content. So, be careful, don't assume you will definitely be getting a 91-rated-Serge-Valentin-endorsed stonker if you just reach for the nearest Nikka Single Cask 1987. Anyway, over to Serge:

Review by Nonjatta contributor - Serge Valentin

Visit Serge`s website, the definitive Whiskyfun.com.

"Nikka Yoichi 1987/2004 (Official Bottling, for France, Warehouse #15, cask #254830)
Colour: Gold.
Nose: Granted, there’s quite some oak in this one as well but the wood/peat balance is much, much better. All on coal smoke, peat smoke, cold fireplace, apple peelings, fresh walnuts and almonds, candle wax, smoked tea, newly cut grass... Well, I’m sure you get the picture. Rather perfect.
Mouth: Oh yes this is perfect. A ‘good’ peat and pepper blast right at the attack, followed by quite some fir honeydew, ginger and cloves again, notes of soft curry, paprika... And apple skins and fresh walnuts, notes of candy sugar, speculoos... It’s also a bit hot I must say, even if the ABV isn’t that high. Let’s try it with a little water (while the nose got grassier, beautifully so): we get more or less the same flavours, it just got smoother and more drinkable. Very, very well made.
Finish: long, balanced (peat, spices and candy sugar). Extremely compact and very satisfying. 90 points. Somewhat in the style of the excellent Nikka 1985 'Yoichi' (58%, OB, Warehouse #15, cask #250241) we had at the Malt Maniacs Awards last year and which I rated 91 points." (Serge`s scoring system is explained on this page.)

Alcohol
53.5 per cent (abv)
Price
750 ml - 15,750 yen. (This is the current 1987/2006 single cask. Serge's French bottling may have had a considerably higher alcohol content than this one's 49 per cent and have tasted quite different)
A 1987/2006 single cask is available here for 64.99 Pounds Sterling.

Yoichi 1986




I`ve lusted after this one on shop shelves but she hasn`t seen fit to entertain me. Not to worry though, Serge has got in there with the 2006 bottling.

Nikka has been releasing these 20 year old "vintage" bottles of specific years' single malts annually, according to Nonjatta contributor Bert Vuik (a man who knows a lot about his Japanese whisky). The 2005 bottling was Yoichi 1985 and 2004 brought the Yoichi 1984 . The "vintages" are usually released in limited editions of 500 bottles in December, although the 1986 version was actually released twice: 500 bottles in December 2006 and a further 430 bottles in May 2007 because of very strong demand after it won the Best Japanese Malt at the "World Whiskies Awards". The May bottling had a small award icon added to the label.

Anyway, back to the whisky!

Review by Nonjatta contributor - Serge Valentin

Visit Serge`s website, the definitive Whiskyfun.com.

"Nikka Yoichi Vintage 20 yo 1986/2006 (55%, OB) This one is a blend of two types of malts, one lightly peated, the other one heavily peated.
Colour: Full gold.
Nose: Rather similar in style to the single malt "Hokkaido" 12 yo, I must say, except for more oak and vanilla plus a bigger waxiness. Other than that it’s all on wood smoke, ashes, fresh putty, quite some varnish (new oak or first fill in the vatting it seems). More ‘modern’, oakier than the old 12yo and probably a little less complex.
Mouth: Modern style indeed, with the wood to the front. Vanilla, ginger, strong tea, liquorice sticks... Rather huge bitterness (very strong green tea). The oak almost masks the peat on the palate. Slightly sourish fruitiness in the background, a tad offbeat (kirsch).
Finish: Very long but still very ‘new-oaky’, with this varnishy aftertaste. It’s not that it’s bad at all but I’m too much into such heavy wood treatments I must say. Water works quite well, revealing the peat a little further but the heavy oak is still there. 78 points." (Serge`s scoring system is explained on this page.)

Alcohol
55 per cent (abv)
Price
700 ml - 21,000 yen

Nikka Single Malt "Hokkaido" 12 years old



I haven't tried this one and probably never will because, typically, the man Serge has given us a peek at a rarity for his first review. It is an old bottling, no longer on general sale, and is not to be confused with the current "Pure Malt Whisky Hokkaido 12" (6,800 yen, 43 abv), which seems to be vatted with a malt from some other distillery than Yoichi. The modern Hokkaido looks like this:



That's "Hokkaido" spelt out in Japanese script on the bottle and here it is in computer text, in case you want to search for these whiskies on the Japanese internet: 北海道 (Hokkaido), ウィスキー (whisky). (Can`t see it?)

Review by Nonjatta contributor -
Serge Valentin

Visit Serge`s website, the definitive Whiskyfun.com.

"
Nikka Hokkaido 12 year old (Official Bottling, 1980’s) Hokkaido is/was the same distillery as Yoichi, which is located on the Island of Hokkaido.
Colour: full gold.
Nose: Very Scottish at first nosing, whatever that means, sort of reminding me of older Glen Gariochs. Quite some peat, kumquats, Earl Grey tea (bergamots), growing smokier with time (wood and peat smoke, hot toast). It’s also slightly ashy and waxy at the same time. Perfectly balanced I must say, very appealing. Hints of raw incense (like the sticks they make in Tibet). Kind of ‘old Highlands’ style, I like it very much.
Mouth: Less Scottish I’d say. The smokiness is more subdued and we have more fruits (over ripe apples) and more liquorice. A little maltier as well. Notes of yoghurt sauce. Gets spicier with time (ginger and cloves).
Finish: Rather long, a tad bitterish now, peppery, liquoricy, resinous... But the whole is truly excellent whisky. 87 points." (Serge`s scoring system is explained on this page.)

Alcohol
43 per cent (abv)
Price
?

Uncork the Champagne!

Oh no, er, wait, this is a whisky site, isn't it? Perhaps a bottle of Yoichi 1987? Anyway, that is a very fumbling introduction to some fantastic news: Serge Valentin has sent me some of his latest Japanese whisky tasting notes. They are not even up on his site yet!

Yes, I mean THE Serge Valentin. The author of the awesome Whiskyfun.com and the uncrowned King of whisky blogging. If you haven't heard of his site, get over there at once! Not only does the man tipple prodigiously but he combines his notes with music and concert reviews in a wickedly entertaining cocktail.



I'll leave it to Serge to tell you a bit more about himself and his passion for whisky but it is worth mentioning that he scores on the Malt Maniacs` scale (and that he has a very useful tasting sheet on his site for newbs like myself):

90 plus - "The sky is the limit! The most amazing malts money can buy; absolutely legendary 'Aqua Vitae'."
85-89 - "Highly recommendable. This is the good stuff we crave, (almost) universally loved and appreciated."
80-84 - "Recommendable - plain & simple. You really can't go wrong with these whiskies. Satisfaction guaranteed."
75-79 - "Better than average, but not something worth hunting down. There are better single malts available."
70-74 - "Below average, but not something that should be actively avoided either. Could do better, though."
Below 70 - "Hold it! A score in the 60's or even lower is reason for extreme caution. It means: downright avoidable."

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Yamazaki 10



Sniffed this after tasting the Hakushu 10, which I said had a fairly pronounced nose. Well, this one very nearly took my nose off: freshly painted rooms and antifreeze were the first thoughts but I detected some floral and smokey notes in there after the paint dried. The palate was a bit of a surprise after the hyperactive nose: quite a restrained, well rounded drink. I definitely preferred it to the Yamazaki 12. It was sweet at first, then dried off a bit with a well controlled oaky flavour hitting the back of the mouth. It was never out of control like its elder brother.

Reviews by others
Although this Yamazaki 10 is widely marteted in Japan, there is limited information about it on the Japanese or English internets.
There is one review on the Maltmaniacs.org website by Ho-cheng Yao, who gave a 79/100 ("above average") rating on a 2004 bottling.
Gavin Smith at Whisky-pages.com described it as being a good "aperitif whisky". He found its nose light and fruity, with a touch of honey. In the mouth, he said it was "medium-bodied, malty and mildly spiced, with a drying, increasingly nutty finish".
For a Japanese take on Gavin Smith's aperitif idea, this place in Tochigi prefecture is serving it with some delicious looking smoked Ayu fish. The Japanese tend to like something a little more substantial than olives and crackers with their drinks.
On their Japanese website, Suntory themselves describe Yamazaki 10 as a "refreshing" dram that is "estery (florid)" on the nose. They say it has a smooth subtlety which strengthens to something more bold in the mouth. This is a market-place description and there may be a bit of snake-oil salesmanship in there but Yamazakis do tend to be in that floral type of territory.

Alcohol
40 per cent
Price (September 2007)
700 ml - 4,200 yen