Friday, June 15, 2012
Post by Eric at Malty Moments in Japan
Editor's Note: Tasting rules have changed since we published this article. Check our update here.
The best place in Tokyo to try many single malts at the cheapest prices is Liquors Hasegawa located in the Underground shopping area just outside Yaesu exit of Tokyo station. Not only do they have a great selection of single malts but also miniatures and other premium spirits. The prices are good too. For example they were selling a bottle of Glenmorangie "Original" 10 for only 2,990 yen. That is cheaper than what I got for it at Rakuten Kawachiya.
The coolest thing about this place is that you can try nearly all they have on offer for a small tasting fee. For example Johnnie Walker Blue Label can be sampled for a low price of 200 yen for 10mls. I dare you to try and find a price like that in any bar. While browsing around a friendly customer allowed me to try some of the tasting samples he bought. I tasted an Ardbeg Renaissance and a few other premium single malts. I myself sampled Ardbeg 10 and Port Charlotte. The man kindly took a picture of me. The total price was 200 yen for the two samples.
The procedure for tasting is very simple. On the bottles that can be sampled is a white sticker with red kanji that says tasting fee with the price of the tasting fee. It looks like this 有料試飲 (yu-ryo shi-in). There is also a label that says not to open the bottle (it's very tempting to take a whiff but don't) but to take the bottle to the counter where the shop attendant will, after paying the small fee, get a tasting glass and make a small space for you to enjoy. Bring a bottle of water to water down the sample is necessary. This place is highly recommended to try premium single malts at a reasonable price for your whisky education.
It's a little hard to describe how to get there but the best way is the exit the underground Yaesu exit of Tokyo JR station and look for Yaesu Underground shopping center. Once you are there look for an information booth and ask how to get to LIQUORS HASEGAWA リカーズハセガワ 本店. Also be care to go to the main shop and not the west branch locate in the same shopping center. If you do manage to get to the west branch then ask them how to get to the main shop. The west branch specializes in wine and doesn't offer whisky tastings.
Opened 10:00am to 8:00pm daily.
I forgot the mention that it's not only Scotch whiskies that can be tasted but also Japanese whiskies and other spirits. The prices for the tasting depends on the price of the 700ml bottle. The below information was taken for their website.
Under 5000円 - 100円
Over 5000円 but under 10000円 - 150円
Over 10000円 but under 15000円 - 200円
Over 15000円 but under 20000円 - 250円
Over 20000円 but under 25000円 - 350円
Over 30000円 but under 35000円 - 500円
Over 35000円 but under 40000円 - 600円
Over 40000円 but under 50000円 - 700円
I also translated the tasting rules that can be found on the website here.
Liquors Hasegawa Tasting rules
1. Liquors Hasegawa is not a drinking establishment.
2. Tap water is available. You can bring your own bottled water.
3. You cannot taste 3 samples at once. 2 samples is okay.
4. Please wait patiently if the cashier is busy.
5. The tasting tables are located within the bottle aisles. Please be mindful of other customers.
6. Intoxicated customers may be refused service.
Map can be found here (flash)
Monday, June 11, 2012
Post by Stefan of Tokyo Whisky Hub.
Today, I would like to introduce a series of Karuizawa releases that is not very well-known abroad (thankfully, maybe) but that I am really fond of: the Karuizawa "Rouge Cask" series. The single casks that constitute this series all come from the 1995 vintage and, as you may have guessed, they were ex-red wine casks. It's important to understand that these whiskies spent their entire period of maturation in these ex-wine casks, so they were not "finished", "ACEd" or what-have-you. The quality is incredibly high (some of my all-time favourite Karuizawas are part of this series) and they were equally incredibly cheap, a situation that we're not likely to witness anymore, I'm afraid.
Before I give you some more specific details of the bottles in this series, a word of caution: it would be extremely difficult for a collector not based in Japan to get hold of the complete series–even when you are based in Japan, it’s well-nigh impossible, you can take my word for it. The main reason for this is that these bottlings were not aimed at the whisky afficionado/collector, but at the accidental tourist. They were available at the distillery shop only and aimed at the kind of person who wouldn't dream of shelling out 10,000 yen for a bottle of "domestic whisky" (that's 99.9% of the population) but with an interest in trying something that they had probably never seen before: a whisky matured in wine casks. They actually looked like wine bottles and I almost missed them the first time I was there. I always suspected this was to trick people into buying something they thought was wine (of which there was plenty in the distillery shop), only to find out when they were home that they had actually bought whisky. The distillery people were probably confident enough (and rightfully so, I would say) that people would have been pleasantly surprised. Anyway, these bottles were very modestly priced as I mentioned before (4,000 yen for a bottle!), and so they were the perfect “omiyage” (souvenir) - to take back home for yourself or for friends / family - for those visiting the museum adjacent the distillery and for tourists, newly-weds, shopaholics and other people with a good reason or a good excuse to escape the hustle and bustle of the capital for a few days. Most of these bottles would have been opened and drunk not long after they were purchased. Another reason why it’s hard to get hold of them now is that they were bottled in small batches. I remember asking the distillery staff about this, and they said they would bottle a hundred or so and wait for those to sell out before bottling some more. That’s also the reason why you can find bottles drawn from the same cask but with a different bottling date.
As far as I know, nine casks were bottled between 2007 and 2011, just before the Karuizawa stock was bought up by Number One Drinks. The details (from left to right: age, cask number, bottling date(s) and abv) are as follows:
12yo [#5012] 15.06.2007 (63%)
13yo [#5021] 04.06.2008, 08.08.2008, 20.10.2008 (63%)
14yo [#5031] 17.09.2009 (66.2%)
14yo [#5036] 03.02.2010, 03.03.2010 (67.4%)
15yo [#5034] 14.07.2010 (66.7%)
15yo [#5028] 19.08.2010 (67.0%)
15yo [#5018] 16.12.2010 (68.7%)
15yo [#5027] 26.05.2011 (69.4%)
16yo [#5022] 12.07.2011 (69.7%)
The 12- and 13-year old were bottled at 500ml; afterwards, they switched to 480ml (that way they didn't have to fill the bottles all the way up to the top). They were sealed with the black wax people will be familiar with from the standard, original Karuizawa single cask bottlings. The 12-year old, however, is a bit special as that was sealed with red wax. Don't ask me why. This wax, incidentally, is a collector's nightmare - regardless of the colour. Sooner or later, the wax will break and your bottle will be open whether you like it or not. (This actually happened to my 13yo Rouge Cask bottle a few weeks ago - the only one I had... You can imagine I wasn't very pleasant company that evening.)
Some ex-red wine casks from this vintage (if you see cask number #50** you know what you've got!) have also been bottled by Number One Drinks (some "Noh" casks, some bottlings for private customers...) but they're in a different price range, as you can imagine.
When I see those slim, sexy Rouge Casks Karuizawas now - those rare beauties - I think of a time not so long ago, when people still had the chance to discover something absolutely stunning by accident, available (also in terms of price) to everyone and anyone willing to take a chance on something... willing to be seduced on the spot... and it makes me a little sad that it is just so much harder to have that experience now... The latest Karuizawa single cask release (over 400 bottles for TWE) sold out in less than 24 hours... but it's already back in Japan, on auction sites, for double the price. A sad state of affairs, if you ask me. Call me a romantic, but I do hope that somewhere in Japan, there is still a place - somewhere - where Karuizawa whisky is just waiting for people to fall in love with it... where neither the highest-bidder nor the fastest-clicker can get to it... where only serendipity can lead people to it.
Post by Stefan of Tokyo Whisky Hub.
The new "Asama" 11-year old Karuizawa expression has just been released in Sweden and is available at Systembolaget. It is a vatting of casks from the last two vintages (i.e. 1999 and 2000), but unlike the TIBS bottlings - vattings of the same vintages - it's bottled at 46% abv, i.e. not at cask-strength. It's priced at SEK649 (which is a little over 7,000 yen), extraordinarily and uncharacteristically reasonable. The TIBS vattings were far from spectacular, and that's putting it mildly. It would be interesting to hear from whisky enthusiast in Sweden what they think of the new "Asama". Number One Drinks got a large number of casks from the last two vintages when they bought the entire remaining inventory. Here's hoping "Asama" is not just an attempt to get rid of some not-so-desirable casks, but that it's actually a well-composed vatting. The jury is out...
Tuesday, June 5, 2012
I suppose this is the point where I realise the whisky geekishness has gone too far. I was amused to find that the big Japanese clothes retailer Uniqlo is selling a T-shirt devoted to Suntory Old whisky while passing through one of their stores on Sunday. I have posted quite a lot on Suntory Old`s label history (1,2) because there seems to be a lot of interest in dating those bottles from readers of Nonjatta. Anyway, there they all are on the front of a T-shirt. I think you can buy them on U.S. ebay as well as in the shops over here, although personally I prefer my whisky in my stomach rather than on it.
It is not the only Suntory-Uniqlo collaboration.
Posted at 7:05 PM
Saturday, June 2, 2012
Post by Stefan of Tokyo Whisky Hub.
When the people behind Whisky Magazine Japan decided to revamp their website, they also had the brilliant idea to set up a "members only" area (Bond #1) where you can sign up for exclusive events and releases. I don't think it makes much sense for people outside Japan to become a member, but for those living in the land of the rising taxes, it's an exciting development. The first exclusive release is a 30-year-old Karuizawa (drawn from cask #5208, distilled October 1981, bottled May 2012, 53.9 percent abv). It's the first time I've seen a handwritten (not very nice penmanship, btw) Number One Drinks label - I don't know if that means it's bottled bit by bit, as and when demand dictates, but it's not unlikely. There's not really a big interest in Karuizawa here in Japan. If you don't believe me, try this experiment: go to a whisky tasting, and I'm talking about a tasting with serious whisky freaks, and slip in a nice single-cask Karuizawa. By the end of the evening, it'll still be 90% full! (Been there, done that, you see...)
Anyway, back to the Bond #1 Karuizawa. It's priced at 24,000 yen, which is fair, it must be said. The nose has lots of forest notes, also that distinct burnt cereal note I find in a lot of good Karuizawas, glazed cherries, dried pineapple, a bit of lychee; also big notes of oak polish, the smell of grass after rain, some pink pepper and a slight hint of chantilly cream. With water, I get a lot of green apples (which is nice, if you like green apples... which I do). The palate takes you to a completely different place: it's remarkably light and dry, slightly savoury - you get more mineral notes, "dusty chapel" notes (I spent most of my teenage years playing the pipe organ, so I know what I'm talking about!), a hint of rosemary, a tiny hint of walnuts. Very enigmatic, just plays with your head when you go back and forth between nosing it and tasting it.
Don't add water, though: it's too delicate for that and completely falls apart, especially on the palate (it becomes kind of like a young calvados). The finish is medium-long, and again very light and dry and slightly tannic (in a pleasant way!).
If you're a Karuizawa fan with a fruit bomb fetish, this is not for you. If you're a fan of the "in-your-face" Karuizawas this is not for you, either. This is a Karuizawa that makes you work hard - kind of like entering a strange world in which you have to get used to smaller dimensions, but then, once you do, you find all kinds of marvels in the tiniest corners. It also reminds me a little bit of Salman Rushdie's "Midnight Children" in which - among a thousand other plot lines - a young girl falls in love with her husband of an arranged marriage piece by piece, one fragment at a time.
Drinking this Karuizawa is a bit like that: the "whole" doesn't offer itself up as such all at once... and not even after you spend some time with it. Instead, you find yourself piecing fragments together, but the puzzle is always slightly different, and you're never there where you think you've figured it out. Whereas in life no sane person would want the anxiety that comes with this, in art (read: whisky) that's what you really need, isn't it?