Monday, February 1, 2016

Ghost #7: Karuizawa x Kawasaki “Time Slip”

This release is now SOLD OUT. More Ghosts on the way, so watch this space.

Post by Stefan Van Eycken, Tokyo

Towards the end of 2014, we were contacted by a friend who had made an incredible discovery in a forgotten warehouse up in the cold north of Japan (Hokkaido, to be precise): a blend of Karuizawa malt and Kawasaki grain from the late 70s that had been slumbering in glass for over 3 decades. We tried to curb our enthusiasm until we had tasted it… When we finally got round to tasting it, we knew we had to do something with it. It wasn’t just a historic curiosity. It was a pretty fine specimen from the days when most Japanese whisky was… well, quite frankly, nothing to write home about.
During the last phase of its life, the liquid was returned to wood (an ex-Karuizawa Spanish oak cask from the 80s, to be precise), which had had a reinvigorating effect on the whisky. The revitalizing phase was limited by the danger of the abv dropping too low, which fortunately did not happen. It was bottled during the last days of 2015, by which time the whisky had acquired a depth and vitality rarely encountered in whiskies from the late 70s.

It’s a unique whisky and there were many people involved in making it happen. This makes it slightly more expensive than the previous Ghost releases, but we couldn’t have done it without the chain of people that it took to complete this project. Another reason why it’s slightly more expensive is that 10% of each bottle is donated to Spirits for Small Change (stay tuned for more on the second edition of this whisky charity event, coming in early July).

The label features the print “The Ghost of Taira no Tomomori Appears at Daimotsu Bay” from Yoshitoshi’s “New Forms of 36 Ghosts”. The historical context behind the print is so complex that we are pretty sure none of our readers would reach the end of the paragraph without clicking the shopping link. In a nutshell: clan 1 (the Minamoto) destroys clan 2 (the Taira); the latter, trapped in a small bay and vastly outnumbered, realize their position is hopeless and decide to commit suicide by jumping in the sea tied to a very heavy anchor. Months later, the Ghosts of the Taira attempt to take revenge by stirring up a gale in Daimotsu Bay where the king pin of clan 1 happened to be. The ghosts of clan 2 tried to pull their enemies into the sea, but fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on whose side you’re on), the latter had a Buddhist priest on board who was able to disperse the ghosts by holding up a rosary and reciting Buddhist prayers. Ah, those were the days…

The analogy is far from perfect, but we felt there was some resonance between the story behind the liquid and the story behind the print… Feel free to contemplate the parallels as you sip this whisky. We don’t want to spoil all the fun.

So what’s it like? Well, you tell us! There are 282 bottles so more than plenty to go around. Just approach it with an open mind. This whisky is in a category of its own. It’s a blended whisky, but you can’t really compare it with your average blended whisky now. It’s finished in a single cask, but you can’t compare it with a single cask Karuizawa (don’t expect that… if it was that easy, we could all make single cask Karuizawas). It is what it is… a “Time Slip” whisky, a flash from the Showa past in high definition.

It’s available now from our friends at Malt City, here. But just a few things before you head on over to their site:

-       it’s 1 bottle per person, folks… (we have sophisticated ways of removing people who try to play the system, so it’s best not to try);
-      it’s not possible to select a delivery date for this product;
-       there’s considerable work involved in shipping these bottles, so after you’ve placed your order, do be patient… shipping will commence mid-February in the order that orders come in, and final delivery will be completed by the end of March. It takes a bit longer than usual, because the outturn is much higher than with previous releases and the delivery capacity of Malt City is limited.
-     Malt City is not responsible for any trouble occurring because of local import/liquor rules, laws and regulations. Please confirm the rules for having liquor sent to your country before placing your order. Some countries have very restrictive laws about this. If it’s risky and you still want to proceed, please understand the risk is yours.
-     the Malt City server will be down for maintenance on 2nd February: from 5am for approximately 30 minutes (Japanese time.)
Our friends of Malt City have a ton of work with the Ghost releases and this is the most mammoth one so far, so please help them by refraining from contacting them about details of this bottling. They simply don’t have the staff to be able to cope with loads of enquiries. Everything is set out clearly in this post.

Good luck and enjoy!

Oh, and Ghost 8 is in the works and that will be ultra-limited again (in terms of outturn). Stay tuned, as always!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Going Ape for the Year of the Monkey

Best wishes, dear reader, to you and your loved ones for the new year. We hope it’s filled with many good dr(e)ams (at reasonable prices - now there’s a good dream!).
Here in Japan, the first release of the year is upon us… or better, “was upon us” because it sold out in a flash. That doesn’t seem to have changed. Bottled exclusively for Takashimaya and released yesterday, people went ape for this single cask Chichibu (2010, Bourbon Barrel #644). In a matter of hours, it was all over the auctions. That hasn’t changed either...

Regular Nonjatta-readers will have noticed that things have slowed down a bit on the site. Part of this has to do with the fact that it’s getting harder to write about new releases, because either (a) we can’t write about them in advance because of embargoes on information imposed on us by distributors/retailers (understandably so, given the risk of speculators hijacking releases), or (b) we find out about a release just when it’s out but by the time we can sit down and put pen to paper (well, fingers to keyboard) it’s already long gone, sold out. People have a hard time believing that releases come and go at the speed of light, but that is the reality at the moment.

We haven’t been sleeping on the job, however  - far from it! -  and the main reason why things have slowed down a bit on our site is because Stefan, our editor, has been traveling up and down the country, speaking with whisky makers past and present, visiting bars in every nook and cranny and digging through dusty archives left and right in preparation for what is meant to be the definitive book on Japanese whisky. It’ll be filled with tons of information never before published (not even in Japanese), but it’s absorbing every spare minute of his time, so there hasn’t been as much on the site as we would have liked. We’re only human (we know that’s a terrible excuse, but it’s true...). Stefan’s got a few more months of work ahead of him, during which he has to keep a lot of his powder dry, but when the book is done we’ll step on the accelerator and continue providing you with up-to-date news and insights from the ground, as we always have. There’s still snippets we will share with you over the coming months, so do check in from time to time. Without giving away too much, we can say that those who do may be able to get their hands on something really special in the weeks to come. ‘Nuff said...

Our wish for the new year is that people would actually start opening and drinking more Japanese whisky, like they used to before the boom. There are some really stellar drams out there, past and present, but it is only liquid at the end of the day… so don’t spend too much on it and don’t fetishize or worship it. We seem to be forgetting this more and more but whisky only fulfils its destiny in its consumption. So kanpai, here’s to lots of whisky sipped and savoured in 2016!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

W-E Love Craft

Post by Stefan Van Eycken, Tokyo

On December 5th, Whisk-e is throwing a big end-of-year party at Club Diana near Hibiya Koen (Tokyo). More than 100 craft products from the Whisk-e portfolio will be available for tasting. This includes a range of craft beers (BrewDog, Mikkeller, Brewfist, 8Wired, De Molen and many more), a selection of stellar whiskies (from the likes of Arran, Springbank, Kilchoman, BenRiach, GlenDronach, Glenglassaugh, Samaroli, SMWS, Duncan Taylor, Berrys Bros. & Rudd, etc.) and craft spirits and cocktails (Adnams, Sipsmith, Sacred, Fever Tree, William Chase and so on).
The party starts at 1pm and runs until 5pm… so it won’t interfere with any evening plans you may have. Advance tickets are 4,000 yen (on the day, it’s 5,000 but you risk being sent back home if the venue reaches full capacity before you get to the door). You get 40 tasting vouchers and a raffle ticket for that – which you can use to sample any of the products available there. It’s an unbeatable deal, really. To give you an idea of how good it really is: for something super high-end like a Brora 1977 you need 10 tickets (which comes to 1,000 yen – try drinking that anywhere in the world for less), but if it’s quantity you’re after, you’ll be well pleased too (with beers, premium G&Ts, etc. priced at 2 or 3 tickets, i.e. a few hundred yen).

We’ve heard through the grapevine that James Watt himself (of BrewDog, not the inventor) will be at the party, and Alex Davies (ex-Chase/Cotswolds, soon to be head distiller at Kyoto Distillery) may be there, too. In any case, this will be the perfect way to start wrapping up 2015. Forget the stress and hysterics associated with big whisky events these days (“ooh, I need to start queuing at booth x to get a chance to buy/sample forthcoming whisky y”), just kick back and enjoy the best that craft brewing and distilling has to offer. Even better, bring your friends and family along (as long as they’re over 20) and spread the joy! For more information and to book your tickets, check here.

Monday, November 16, 2015

New Gin Distillery in Kyoto

Post by Stefan Van Eycken, Tokyo

Plans have just been announced to set up a new craft distillery in Kyoto. The company behind the distillery is Number One Drinks Company Japan, which is a re-invention of Number One Drinks Co. – i.e. David Croll and Marcin Miller, who have been exporting fine Japanese whiskies since 2006 – with the addition of Marius Vestnes of Cask Owners as a third partner to spearhead the company’s distribution in Scandinavia.
The new distillery will be located in the south-west of Kyoto and hopes to be able to start producing by the middle of May 2016. Water will be sourced from a well in Fushimi, located in the grounds of one of the area’s most famous sake producers. Some essential botanicals, such as juniper, will be imported but the distillery plans to utilize a number of local ingredients as well. Copper stills are currently being produced by Caril GmbH and will be installed early in the New Year, as soon as they clear customs.

Alex Davies – of Chase and Cotswolds Distillery fame – will be the head distiller, assisted by Yoichi Motoki, who has been in the drinks industry for over 20 years, including a period spent distilling in Scotland.

A week doesn’t go by without a new gin being launched somewhere in the world, either as the main product of a distillery or a side-business for new whisky distilleries to create some cash flow, but the founders of Kyoto Distillery are confident theirs will be distinctive enough to make its mark. As Miller says, “The gin category remains dynamics but we are entering a period of natural selection where quality and a genuine backstory of craft and location is becoming increasingly important.” Croll adds: “ Our plan is simply to make the finest gin possible with a focus on Japanese botanicals. We realize that there are plenty of new entrants in the gin category but are confident that, by offering an exceptional spirit with a genuine point of difference, we will attract discerning consumers. Our initial emphasis will be on engaging with the Japanese bartending community and, thereafter, exporting to a small number of markets on allocation only.”

As soon as the stills are in place, we will be making a little visit to Kyoto Distillery, so watch this space.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Yamazakura 16yo: a new expression for the European market

Post by Stefan Van Eycken, Tokyo

In February 2016, French importer Les Whiskies du Monde will be releasing a new Japanese whisky specifically developed for the European market: Yamazakura 16.
The whisky is ‘produced’ by Sasanokawa Shuzo, a liquor company – mostly active in the sake and shochu field – based in Koriyama, Fukushima prefecture. They have been selling liquor since 1765, and entered the ‘ji-whisky’ field in 1946. Like most ‘whisky producers’ at the time, provenance of the liquid that went/goes into making the products is shrouded in mystery (spanning the spectrum from spirit imported in bulk from abroad and aged in Japan to actually making it from scratch). Sasanokawa may be known to Hanyu / Ichiro’s Malt fans of the first hour, since it was that company that helped Akuto-san with the practicalities of saving the stock from the old Hanyu distillery after its bankruptcy. Post-2004 and pre-Chichibu, the Hanyu stock was stored at the Sasanokawa warehouses and some of the first Ichiro’s Malt expressions were bottled there.

‘Yamazakura’ is a relatively new brand in the Sasanokawa portfolio – a high-end brand to complement their bottom-shelf whiskies destined for mixing. A few expressions are available in Japan (some of them at prices that are a bit steep, e.g. a 20yo single cask – again, provenance undisclosed – retails for over 30,000 yen), but this Yamazakura 16 will be exclusively available in Europe. It was aged for 16 years in ex-bourbon casks before being transferred to tanks for an undisclosed period of time, and then briefly returned to ex-bourbon casks to ‘wake up’ the spirit. It contains a relatively high proportion of grain whisky (80% corn, 20% malt) and is bottled at 40% (which may be the abv at which it was resting in the tanks). It’s limited to 1,992 bottles. Expected to retail for around 130 euro.