Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Breaking News: New Malt Whisky Distillery to be opened in 2016 in Japan

Post by Stefan Van Eycken, Tokyo
Photo: Hokkaido by Chi King (CC BY 2.0)
News has just come out that Japan will get its 9th malt whisky distillery next year. It is a project of Tokyo-based export/import company Kenten Jitsugyou (who import raw food materials into Japan and export liquor), but the actual distillery will be in Hokkaido.

It will be the second distillery in Hokkaido (after Yoichi) but the first one in the Doutou area (i.e. the east of Hokkaido). Kenten Jitsugyou submitted its construction request to the town office of Akkeshi, a town known for its oysters, yesterday (25 November). The plan is to acquire the distilling license by September 2016 and to start production soon after.

The 2,960m² site will have a still house (with 5 washbacks and 2 pot stills) and an administration building. Projected output is 30,000 litres, and it will offer employment to two or three people initially. There’s no word on how much the company is investing in this distillery project but it’s likely to be several hundred million yen. The company is planning on launching its first whisky in 2019.

This is further proof – if any were needed – of an unparalleled Japanese whisky boom. There are rumours of at least one other distillery project in the early stages of planning – no surprise really with Japanese whiskies (new and old) fetching unreal prices in retail and at auctions at the moment, in some cases just by merit of being… Japanese whisky.

We’ll keep you informed of further details when they become available.

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?