Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Hakushu & Yamazaki Single Casks for Whisky Shop W. 4th Anniversary

Post by Stefan Van Eycken, Tokyo
Photo courtesy of Whisky Shop W.
We had already picked up rumours last year, in the run-up to the 3rd anniversary of Whisky Shop W. (Suntory’s flagship whisky store, located in their HQ building in Osaka) that it was getting harder and harder – even for them! – to arrange single cask bottlings. Well, they weren’t kidding. To ‘celebrate’ their 4th anniversary, they have just released two single casks - a Yamazaki and a Hakushu as usual – in … 190ml sample bottles! Whatever the reason for this decision, it is clear now that single cask bottlings are no longer a priority for Suntory – which probably explains why (in the wake of Karuizawa and Hanyu) prices for old Yamazaki and Hakushu single casks – from the days when they were everywhere and cheap, but relatively unknown and unloved – keep rising on the secondary market.

The 4th anniversary releases can only be purchased as a set, i.e. one of each. The Yamazaki is drawn from a Spanish oak ex-sherry cask (vintage 2003, 55%abv), the Hakushu from a White oak hogshead (vintage 2000, 60%abv). Price for a set of two 190ml-sample bottles is 6,000 yen. More than a few people – when we told them about these new sample bottle releases  – wondered if this was a deliberate strategy to make certain Japanese whiskies (from very much active distilleries) seem rarer than they really are. Time will tell…

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

3 New Shinanoya Releases

Post by Stefan Van Eycken, Tokyo
Busy as ever, the guys at Shinanoya have just announced details of not one, not two, but three exclusive bottlings: two whiskies and a rum – all single casks bottled at cask-strength.

There seems to be a bit of a Caroni-boom at the moment. For their first new rum bottling in three years, Shinanoya teamed up with A.D. Rattray to do a split-bottling (like they did with their Bowmore release a while ago): they have bottled half of the cask now (Barrel #105, 1997) and that is batch 1 (125 bottles) and leaving half in the cask for an additional four-month maturation period (meaning batch 2 will be ready after December). Reasonably priced at 8,980 yen a bottle, this is sure to be an instant hit.

Talking of instant hits… here’s another one. Single cask Islay malts are becoming harder and harder to source. The guys at Shinanoya managed to persuade The Whisky Exchange to let them bottle a special 15yo Laphroaig (a first-fill barrel) to celebrate the 15th anniversary of Yokohama bar ‘Sheep’. This yielded 175 bottles – it’ll be interesting to see how many minutes it will take for those to be gone!

The last offering is a 26yo ‘Celebration of the Cask’ Tomatin (1987 hogshead #508), sourced by Morrison & Mackay. Ridiculously priced at 13,800 yen a bottle (where else can you find a single cask of this caliber at a comparable price?), this is bound to attract a lot of attention, too. They are not making life easy, the folks at Shinanoya… hard choices!

Friday, August 29, 2014

TIBS/Whisky Live Tokyo 2014 Preview

Post by Stefan Van Eycken, Tokyo
In a few weeks time (September 20-21), the third edition of the Tokyo International Bar Show / Whisky Live will be upon us. It’s the undisputed highlight of the whisky year in Japan so we thought it was high time we spoke to the masterminds behind the show to see what they’ve got up their sleeve.

Nonjatta: Every year, there’s a specific theme. What banner is this year’s edition organized under?

TIBS: The theme/concept of TIBS 2014 is “The Gift from Autumn”. We would like visitors to enjoy spirits from all around the world and bar culture, in conjunction with the nice Japanese food of Autumn.

Nonjatta: TIBS / Whisky Live Tokyo will be held in yet another venue this year.

TIBS: That’s right. Central Tokyo is surprisingly short of quality venues that are both big enough and affordable. We chose Prism Hall at Tokyo Dome City because it was exactly what we wanted - in terms of location, space and convenience.

Nonjatta: TIBS / Whisky Live seems to be reinventing itself with every edition. What is new and worth spotlighting about this year’s edition?
TIBS: As overseas guests, we are inviting Charles Schumann, and Anistatia Miller & Jared Brown. Charles Schumann is based in Munich and he is a leading bartender in Germany. He is the author of American Bar, a book famous among bartenders worldwide. We look forward to quizzing him about new trends on the European bar scene.

Anistatia Miller & Jared Brown are the co-founders of the Museum of the American Cocktail and are known as authors of drink-related books such as Mixologist: The Journal of the American Cocktail and Spirituous Journey: A History of Drink.

The idea is for these guests to provide ‘academic’ seminars – not just the usual ‘cocktail performances’ – and it is our hope that visitors will be able to deepen their knowledge of spirits and their appreciation of the art of the bartender.

On the Main Stage, we will once again be holding the Nadeshiko Cup, a bartending challenge by female bartenders. Also scheduled is a Sherry Cocktail Competition, and that is a first in the history of the BarShow. We’ve also planned a barista-bartender collaboration seminar. We should also mention that TIBS will also be the testing site for the Cocktail Examination, administered for the first time this year.
Detailed information about the various programs and participants will be up on the official TIBS / Whisky Live site on Monday (September 1st).

Nonjatta: Every year there are official bar show bottlings of Japanese whiskies. These are usually instant sell-outs. What can you say about this year’s commemorative bottlings?

TIBS: There are no official bottlings scheduled for the show this year. However, there a few weeks left before we open the doors – and one or two discussion are still underway – so … never say never.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

“The Nikka 12yo”: a new premium blended whisky

Post by Stefan Van Eycken, Tokyo
Next month – September 30th to be precise – Nikka is launching an exciting new product. Simple called “The Nikka 12yo”, this premium blended whisky is the latest addition to their core range.

It’s exciting for a number of reasons. First of all, it ducks the recent trend – in Japan, as elsewhere in the world – towards NAS releases. Secondly, it is priced very reasonably in comparison with obviously younger NAS siblings on the Japanese (single malt / ‘pure malt’ / blended) whisky shelf – recommended retail price is 5,000 yen, but it will be offered by some retailers for around 4,500 yen.

Third, and most importantly, the quality is superb. We got an advance sample and it really is a great sipping whisky. On the nose, the presence of the Coffey grain is immediately clear (with notes of roast coconut flakes and banana leaves), but it’s balanced with orchard fruits (green apples and pears) supplied by the Miyagikyo malt and a slight whiff of peat from the Yoichi malt. On the palate (it’s bottled at 43% abv, by the way), you get annin dofu, orchard fruits again, barley sugar and a touch of white pepper. The finish is medium-long on Oreo cookies and shortbread with a bit of grapefruit peel and some spice thrown in the mix.

Nikka is promoting this as a whisky to have on the rocks, but it’s great ‘as is’, and it wouldn’t surprise me if it worked a treat in a highball, too (something which the small sample didn’t allow me to ascertain). The year isn’t over yet, but so far, this is the release of the year for me, as far as generally available Japanese whisky goes. It’s clear that the master minds at Nikka have set themselves a great many challenges in this their 80th anniversary year. This is certainly one they’ve pulled off beautifully!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Chichibu Fino Sherry Single Cask for Shinanoya

Post by Stefan Van Eycken, Tokyo

Our friends at Shinanoya are celebrating another milestone with yet another really special release. Their latest bottling is the 100th since they started their flagship “Chess” series, way back in October 2007. They're not scared of a bit of hard work there, that's for sure. Their 100th bottling is a 4yo Chichibu. "So, what's new?" I hear you say. Well, what's new is that for the first time, we have a sherry-matured Chichibu: this single cask (#2625, 2010/2014) was drawn from a Fino sherry hogshead (bottled at cask strength, 59.7&abv). What a treat!

Even though almost everyone is on holiday here, it would surprise me if it took longer than a day for the 322 bottles to be gone. And along with demand, prices keep rising, too (this one is priced at 12,500 yen). We at Nonjatta can’t wait to try this – and we hope to be able to get back to you with some tasting notes soon… but we’re on holiday, too. Just so you know…