I thought I would never taste anything from Shirakawa. The distillery closed around five years ago and I understood it was really hard to get hold of any of its single malts. Then, juking around on the internet, I found this site quietly selling it by the 100ml. I chuckled at the way this legendary old whisky arrived: in a placky bottle!
Beautiful! There was something very Rikyū about the whole thing. The masking tape used to secure the top was the piece de resistance.
We've had Nikka vs. Suntory. Now, among the niche marketers, we can have Ichiro's Malt vs. Vom Fass. While Ichiro is marked by its clever packaging and great market placement, the Vom Fass Shirakawa comes in a placky bottle with only "Shirakawa, Japanese Single Malt Whisky", "300ml" and "55 per cent alcohol" to tell you what it is. The website adds that this whisky is over 30 years old. How much older we are not told.
Ichiro (left) and Vom Fass (right)
Vom Fass is originally a German company which started out selling oil. The name literally means "from the barrel" and the company makes a thing of not bottling its products in fancy packaging. If you want packaging they will sell it to you separately, but their philosophy is to sell the product in whatever quantity the consumer wants and to separate the product price from the packaging price. It goes against the bottling culture of single malt whisky but it is refreshing. There are Vom Fass shops in lots of different counties doing the same sort of thing, but Vom Fass Japan`s Shirakawa cask is a bit of a coup. I put 180ml straight into an empty small glass whisky bottle I had to hand. Not sure whether the plastic bottle was going to harm it if kept in there for a long time but didn't want to take the risk at 1050 yen per 100ml.
What of the whisky? Without water, I liked the nose: butterscotch notes, orange liqueur, a developing smell of mown grass. For my mouth, it was too strong neat: plastic, burned rubber, eating a matchbox, soapy tongue. The finish was surprisingly short for all the early aggression. With a few drops of water it backed off a bit. The smell was much more in the grassy field in summer, chronic hayfever attack territory, and then a return of the matchy notes: a field after a firework display. It was much more drinkable with the water: sweet, slightly cabbagy, the taste of a glass of water after you have brushed your teeth.
If only this had been a classic! I could have reveled in my plastic bottled 30-year-old malt for years to come. My talk of cabbages etc. may give the impression to some people that this isn't very nice. Not the case. It is perfectly palatable and interesting. But not a classic, in my opinion.
"At least 30 years old", according to the website.
Straight from the cask.
55 per cent
Price (April 2007)
100 ml - 1,050 yen
Available from this site.