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.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Hanyu 2000 for LMdW

Post by Stefan Van Eycken, Tokyo

A few weeks ago, we reviewed two Chichibus for LMdW. Today, we’re spending some quality time with the Hanyu that completes this year’s Venture Whisky/LMdW triptych.
 Hanyu 2000/2015 for LMdW, ‘Tay Bak Chiang II’ series, Hogshead #63, 59%abv, 300 bottles

The initial impressions on the nose are: new furniture, smoked burdock and lots of ‘earthy’ notes – an autumn forest, decomposing fallen leaves, porcini, … In fact, this is a bit reminiscent of some post-1984 Karuizawas. It has a strong vegetal dimension, too, with potato gratin, leek mashed potatoes, turnips and a hint of spinach (with some fried bacon). There are some subtle floral notes in the background and a hint of grilled sardines. If you give it time in the glass, you get some beautiful balsamic-glazed apricots. What a feast.

On the palate, it’s like Hanyu on speed. Very thick, concentrated and compact, you get lots of orange preserve, tons of assorted candied citrus peel (with some candied ginger thrown in, too), spices (nutmeg, cloves), sweet-and-sour pork with pineapple and a little bit of foie gras. The finish is very long and coloured by a lovely sustained – but light! – bitterness (grapefruit albedo, kale).

Water transforms the experience so it’s good to have some handy. On the nose, it dials down the vegetables (which my son would love) and brings out more fruit, especially stewed fruits (peaches, mostly). On the palate, you get more of the subtleties involved: lotus root, yokan and kashiwa mocha. The finish is a bit controversial – some may find the increased bitterness too much, others will find it stimulating.

Having completed a tasting of the full Ichiro’s Card Series (which are all Hanyu, for those new to Japanese whisky) earlier this month, and then tasting a few recent Hanyu bottlings (that is to say, post-Card Series Hanyus), I am starting to feel that, for Hanyu, maybe the best is still to come… This bottling for LMdW certainly lends weight to that argument!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Arran Distillery 20th Anniversary Event & Special Release in Japan

Post by Stefan Van Eycken, Tokyo

Isle of Arran Distillery turned 20 this year, and while most other places in the world are waiting until next year to bring out the bells and whistles, in Japan this is the big celebration year. Here, coming of age is celebrated at age 20 – that’s when people can vote and drink alcohol.
To mark the occasion, Whisk-e (Arran’s distributor in Japan), is throwing a big party at the Park Hotel in Shiodome on 12 November (7:30-9:30pm). Arran Distillery Managing Director Euan Mitchell is flying over for the party, and in addition to some recent and not-so recent releases – stuff that you can only find at auctions or bars, if you’re lucky – people will also get the chance to try two new bottlings that haven’t made it to these shores yet: “Illicit Stills” (the first in a new trilogy called “The Smuggler’s Series”, which we had the chance to try straight from the vatting tank when we were at the distillery earlier this year and is a real treat!) and “The Bothy” (finished in quarter-casks). But there’s more… a very special Japan-only release will be unveiled at the party.

We spoke with David Croll, CEO of Whisk-e, and asked him to put the special release and the anniversary in perspective:

“Arran Distillery has a very special meaning for us as a company and for me personally. Purchasing one of the Founders' Bonds back in 1995, after a long phone conversation with Harold Currie (who fulfilled his dream to open his own distillery when aged 70 – an inspiration to us all!), was our first step into the drinks industry and the start of the business we have today.
 Arran was a craft distillery before the term had really been invented and many of the current new market entrants can learn from their experiences. They have been through challenging times but now as they celebrate their 20th anniversary, the words 'new' and 'young' are long-forgotten and many of their recent releases have been launched to critical acclaim.

I was lucky enough to spend a year living on Arran during my transition from banker to purveyor of fine whiskies, and strolling across the Lochranza golf course for the morning ritual of a chat, a coffee and often something stronger with the sadly now-deceased Gordon Mitchell was something that will always live with me. Gordon was the first distillery manager at Arran, one of the ‘old school’ but a master of his trade. Many of the bottlings receiving such praise now were distilled and casked under his leadership. One of them is the 20th Anniversary Cask- 1995 #007 – yes, the 7th cask ever to be filled at Arran.
 This was one of my own personal casks and I wanted to keep it longer but was persuaded that this anniversary was a fitting time to release it. It was re-racked several years ago into a fresh sherry hogshead and with a strength that has dropped naturally to close to 50%, combines a powerful richness with a soft elegance.

But don't take my word for it – why not come and join us at the Arran 20th Anniversary Party at the Park Hotel in Shiodome on Nov 12th. You can try a sample of this 20th Anniversary Cask as well as previews of other upcoming releases and a few bottles from the archives.”

The special 20th Anniversary decanter and box were designed by Glencairn Crystal. The decanters were hand-blown so they vary slightly in size. Because of this, the fill levels appear to be different (they aren’t!). This special release will available from the better liquor outlets in Japan in the near future.