Friday, November 7, 2014

2 New Japanese releases for Shinanoya x Salon de Shimaji

Post by Stefan Van Eycken, Tokyo
Start warming up your clicking finger, because chances are a new record will be set this Friday at noon when not one, but two highly-anticipated new Japanese single cask whiskies will go on sale. Selected by Shinanoya and Pen for Salon de Shimaji, one is a 1987 (27yo) Mars Komagatake single cask (drawn from a refill - ex-Scotch whisky that is - American white oak cask, #479); the other is a Hanyu from the final vintage (2000, 14yo) finished in a hogshead fitted with Mizunara heads (#1504). It is highly likely that these bottles won't live - online that is - to see the 12:01 mark, so be warned... it will be a mad scramble for crumbs!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Chichibu PX & Oloroso: 2 Single Casks for Modern Malt Market Tokyo 2014

Post by Stefan Van Eycken, Tokyo

All of our reviews so far of single cask Chichibus have been of ex-bourbon ones. Last month, at Modern Malt Market in Tokyo, a pair of sherried Chichibu single casks were released – a “PX” (Pedro Ximenez) and an “Oloroso” – so we figured this was the perfect time to check how the Chichibu spirit interacts with ex-sherry wood.
Chichibu 2010/2014 “Oloroso”, Spanish Oak Hogshead #2622, 59.8%abv (338btls.)
Chichibu 2010/2014 “PX”, Spanish Oak Hogshead #2640, 59.7%abv (275btls.)

On the nose, the PX is characterized by stewed fruits, porridge, baby formula, liquorice allsorts, spices and bread dough. There are hints of croissant aux amandes and aromatic bitters, too, but some slightly rubbery notes, as well. It is obviously young on the nose – atypically for bottled Chichibu! – and is somewhat reminiscent of similarly young, sherried Eigashimas.

With the Oloroso, the initial impressions are throat candy, herbal bonbons, pine trees as well as assorted floral, grassy and fresh herbal (sage, thyme) elements. There are also suggestions of blueberry jam and it is, at times, almost cognac-like. On the nose, the Oloroso wins.
On the palate, the PX is very spicy and fiery. You get stewed fruits again together with fruit cake and orange marmalade, but there are strong undefined sour and bitter undertones that obstruct the flavour interaction quite a bit. The finish is long on dark chocolate and (uncandied!) grapefruit peel.
Back to the Oloroso then. After a sharp lime attack, it goes through a short but very sweet phase (Buddy Fruits, cuberdons, Butterfinger) before developing along more sour and bitter lines, again. The finish is long and lingering on white pepper, orangettes and kimchi chocolate.

Water makes the PX somewhat more approachable but really cranks up the sour and bitter levels on the Oloroso.

As early exponents of sherried Chichibu these two single cask releases are interesting, but they feel very much like works in-progress. It should be pointed out, however, that these two specimens only spent a little under / over a year in ex-Oloroso / PX Spanish oak hogsheads (10 and 14 months, resp.). There have been some absolutely stellar ex-bourbon Chichibus in recent months, but it’s clear that Mother Nature and Father Time have their work cut out for them when it comes to the Chichibu spirit maturing in sherry wood...

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Chichibu Single Cask for Sushi+Soul / Bar Zoetrope

Post by Stefan Van Eycken, Tokyo

Doesn’t happen every day: two of our favourite Japanese whisky hangouts joined hands and bottled a stunning Chichibu single cask together. They couldn’t be farther apart geographically (Sushi+Soul is in Munich, Germany; Bar Zoetrope in Tokyo, Japan), but their respective owners – Chris Herbst and Atsushi Horigami – share the same passion for Japanese whisky. Incidentally, this is the first time a single cask Chichibu was bottled for a European customer other than LMdW. Without further ado, let’s give it a try…
Chichibu 2009/2014, 1st Fill Bourbon Barrel #609, 61.6%abv, joint bottling for Sushi+Soul (Munich, Germany) & Bar Zoetrope (Tokyo, Japan)

On the nose, the initial impressions are a lush forest in springtime (new plank, shrubs and grass); then, a lovely ‘dirty’ sweetness hits you (honey on toast, agave syrup, marshmallow fudge) followed by light fruity elements (orchard fruits mainly: apricots, pears, apples) as well as some fresh ginger. Underneath it all, there’s a vague suggestion of lard and grilled burdock. Given time, the sweeter elements begin to dominate, but if you leave it for about 10 minutes, the fruit starts gaining in prominence. It’s a really dynamic whisky…
The attack on the palate is slightly bitter (bitter oranges and candied grapefruit peel), which develops into the orchard fruits hinted at by the nose (but in ‘abstract’ form – like in soft candy). You also get clear cereal notes, brown sugar on toast and hints of steamed new potatoes and burdock soup. It is so drinkable, even at this relatively young age and high abv – the Chichibu paradox!

The finish is long and sweet but with a slightly bitter edge… a bit like eating slightly burnt toast drizzled with Manuka honey and a bit of peach on the side. With water, you lose some of the tertiary notes on the nose, and it becomes a bit sweeter on the palate. I prefer it without and, as said before, the abv is no obstacle whatsoever.
If you’re in Germany, this is worth making a detour for (to Sushi+Soul) and if you’re in Japan, head to Zoetrope. The labels are different and there’s more bottles in Germany (2/3 of the outturn), but I wouldn’t wait too long either way… word is already getting around that this is a pretty superb Chichibu.

Fresh Bourbon wood works a treat for Chichibu, but how does it respond to sherry? Join us again tomorrow, when we review two recent sherried Chichibus (a PX and an Oloroso).

Monday, October 20, 2014

New manga about Japanese whisky by Japan's financial news group

Post by Chris Bunting

The NHK morning drama "Massan" is putting whisky history front and centre of Japanese popular culture at the moment. An interesting little sidelight on the interest this is provoking among the mainstream media is a new manga in Campanella, a web magazine run by Nikkei (Japan's equivalent of the FT or the Wall Street Journal).

It's called "Whisky ni sasageta futari--Rita to Massan" (Roughly, "Two people who gave their lives to whisky--Rita and Massan") and the first installment starts off pretty much at the same point as the NHK drama, with Rita and Masataka Taketsuru's arrival in Yokohama having returned from Scotland with the techniques of Scottish whisky making.

It is written by a new manga artist writing under the penname "Inumoto" (he/she does have a track record as an illustrator) and it looks like it is going to diverge from NHK's storyline. The first couple of strips feature a maid worrying about Rita's expensive tastes in meat, butter and fuel and trying to teach her to keep house more efficiently in the Japanese style (there was no such interaction in the NHK version).

Anyway, for those Japanese speakers who can't see/bear the Asadora (I've heard mixed reactions), how about a little light manga reading?

Friday, October 17, 2014

Nikka Single Cask Quartet for LMdW: 2014 Releases (2)

Post by Stefan Van Eycken, Tokyo

We’re continuing our review of the new quartet of Nikka single casks for LMdW with their Yoichi and Miyagikyo offerings, both peated (heavily and lightly resp.).
Miyagikyo 1996 (Lightly Peated), #66535, Remade Hogshead, 62%abv, 293btls
Yoichi 1991 (Heavily Peated), #129459, Virgin Oak Puncheon, 62%abv, 423btls

On the nose, the Miyagikyo is an explosion of fruit (apricot jam, pear drops, green apples, grape skin) but with lots of intriguing secondary notes floating by, too: pumpkin pie (with a good dose of nutmeg), smoked dried pineapple, maraschino cherries, honey doughnuts and a little bit of bacon in the background. The peat is very subtle – on the nose it adds something reminiscent of clothes the day after a barbeque, or a campfire doused with water.

With the Yoichi, the peat is much more pronounced, but not as much as you would think. It certainly doesn’t obstruct other aromatic dimensions – and there are plenty of those to be found: initially, a carpenter’s workshop, a humidor and old leather; then mango chutney, thick berry jam, hints of menthol and sage; a bit later, smoked mackerel (saba), smoked daikon, band-aids, muscle cramp spray, and chinsuko cookies. Very eclectic but it works, so why not…

On the palate, the Miyagikyo has the same fruits spotlighted by the nose at its centre but surrounded by sour (kabosu, shikwasa jam) and bitter (grapefruit peel, walnut skin) elements. It evokes crêpes Suzette but it’s also markedly spicy (chili peppers, sansho) and everything comes wrapped in a lovely faint peat furoshiki. What a delight.

The Yoichi is very different. It opens with a blast of pepper and smoke. Then, the thick berry jam hinted at by the nose appears in full glory with some applewood smoked turkey and smoked daikon on the side, all of this supported by a blend of exotic spices. Just like with last year’s Yoichi for LMdW, you’ve got virgin oak and heavy peat complementing (and complimenting) each other wonderfully.

The finish on the Miyagikyo is long and intense. It leaves an afterglow of woody aromas and it’s here that the light peat comes through most cleanly and clearly. The Yoichi’s coda opens with a gorgeous accent of sudachi and then fades on smoked agave, Nutella and candied orange peel. Both work well with water. Water cranks up the bitterness in the Miyagikyo, which is nice if you like that. With the Yoichi, water plays with so many ‘sliders’ on the aroma-and-flavour mixing console that you’ll just have to try and find your own sweet spot.

These two stellar single cask malt whiskies from the Nikka stable may be the only ones available this year anywhere in the world (since Nikka seems to have suspended their regular single cask releases in Japan), so I’d get them both if I were you. If I really had to choose, I would probably pick the Miyagikyo this time around… it’s a quirky take on the classic Miyagikyo profile and full of surprises unlike any other Miyagikyo single cask that’s been bottled in recent years.