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…

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Mars launches 'The Revival 2011'

Post by Stefan Van Eycken, Tokyo
Mars Shinshu (Hombo) has just launched their latest expression - the first one from the 'new regime'. Mars stopped distilling whisky in 1992. After a hiatus of almost two decades, they started again. The first spirit produced under the new regime - under master distiller Koki Takehira, that is - came off the stills in February 2011. It was kept in a stainless tank for a few months before being filled into wood - which is why the people at Mars had to wait until summer 2014 to be able to launch their first 3yo.

'The Revival 2011' is a vatting of lightly peated (8ppm) whisky exclusively matured in ex-bourbon casks, bottled at vatting strength (58%). There are 6,000 bottles, and - somewhat surprisingly, since it breaks with Mars' policy of sensible pricing - is priced at 10,000 yen a bottle. It remains to be seen whether whisky fans at home are willing to part with this kind of money for a 3yo whisky... The jury is still out on whether the quality of the whisky justifies the price tag.

Friday, August 1, 2014

‘Spirits for Small Change’ raises over 6.5m yen

Post by Stefan Van Eycken, Tokyo
Spirits for Small Change’ has just announced the results of their fundraising efforts (which included a whisky charity event held at BrewDog Roppongi and the online auction of the highly-limited Karuizawa ‘4 Decades’ bottling). The highest bid in the online Karuizawa ‘4 Decades’ auction was 550,000 yen, and the lowest 220,000 yen.
The total raised for the two charities comes to 6,509,114 yen (roughly 63,000 USD / 47,000 EUR) – of which 3,621,767 yen goes to Carillon Kodomo Centre, which operates shelters for abused and neglected children in and around Tokyo, and 2,887,347 yen goes to the Japan chapter of Shine On! Kids, specifically their program to provide children with cancer with therapeutic dogs.
‘Spirits for Small Change’ wishes to thank everyone who contributed to the success of this first charity event: Number One Drinks for their generous donation of the Karuizawa ‘4 Decades’ whisky, the many companies and individuals who kindly contributed bottles to the charity event (see below), Mark Watt and everyone at Cadenhead’s for creating a phenomenal one-off bottling for the event, the staff at BrewDog Roppongi, Malt City and Whisk-e for their structural support over the past couple of months and all of you who showed your support by attending the BrewDog event, bidding on the Karuizawa ‘4 Decades’ or sending us kind words of encouragement. It means a lot to us and to the children who benefit from the work of Carillon Kodomo Centre and Shine On! Kids.

Structural support for "Spirits for Small Change" is provided by:
BrewDog Japan, Whisk-e and Number One Drinks Co.

We gratefully acknowledge the liquid support of (in alphabetical order):
Archives (The Netherlands), Bar Gyu+ (Japan), Bar Zoetrope (Japan), Cadenheads (Scotland), Aaron Chan (Hong Kong), Eastern Faeries Tokyo Whisky Club (Japan), Kennis Ko (Hong Kong), HJ Konigs (Germany), La Maison du Whisky (France), Liquors Hasegawa (Japan), Malts of Scotland (Germany), Masaharu Minabe (Japan), Nahoko Nakajima (Japan), Nine Leaves Distillery (Japan), Hasse Peters (Sweden), Sansibar (Germany), The Scotch Malt Whisky Society (Japan), Shinanoya (Japan), Venture Whisky (Japan), Westland Distillery (USA), Whisky Faessle (Germany), The Whisky Exchange (UK), Stefan Wieschollek (Germany)