Monday, June 28, 2010

Kirin 20th Anniversary Pure Malt Whisky

Review by Nonjatta contributor - Dramtastic:
Kirin 20th Anniversary Pure Malt Whisky. 40 per cent alcohol (abv)
Nose: Chopped walnuts mixed in with a tropical fruit salad of pineapple, mango, papaya (paw paw) and pear. Very fresh and clean with some wood varnish, pencil shavings and nutmeg spice adding to the complexity. After about 20 mins, there are notes of vanilla and sweet tobacco.
Palate: Lovely clean malt with a delightful interplay between the walnuts and a coconut oiliness. White pepper and nutmeg. The fruits on the nose are in there but in a more concentrated dried form. Fresh passion fruit.
Finish: White pepper, nutmeg, walnuts, pineapple, papaya, coconut, passion fruit and sweet tobacco. The passion fruit and sweet tobacco flavour hangs on for an age.
General comment: This a highly individual whisky of great complexity. Well done Kirin!

Nonjatta note: This one calls itself a pure malt, which implies it is made from the products of more than one distillery. It is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Fuji-Gotemba distillery, which opened in 1973, which would date this bottling to 1993, when Japanese distillers were sometimes a little casual with their use of whisky terms. It was not unknown for single malts to be called pure malts. The distillery's name is plastered across the top of the label in Japanese but it does, however, say "vatted and bottled" by Kirin distillery on the bottom of the label, which implies it is indeed vatted, which raises the interesting question of where the whisky that was not distilled in Fuji-Gotemba came from. The Japanese companies don't tend to share their malts and they certainly did not do much sharing in the nineties, so it would seem quite likely that some of the whisky may have come from outside Japan. Does anyone know any more about this whisky? It certainly sounds delicious.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

White Oak Akashi Single Malt Aged 5 years

Akashi 5yo (right), with Akashi 8yo (centre) and Zoetrope Akashi (left)

Review by Nonjatta contributor - Dramtastic
White Oak Distillery SM Aged 5 Years. 45 per cent alcohol.
Nose: The colour is honey and the nose follows suit. Is this only 5 years old? No roughness at all! Also soft oak, tinned apricots, pear, treacle and fresh dough. Smooth and balanced.
Palate: Honey and treacle on crumpets, soft oak, pear, dough, nutmeg and ginger.
Finish: Nicely spicy, yet also creamy, with good length. Some mineral-like qualities and lingering.........lingering smoke. Where did that come from?
General Comment: Really fantastic for the age. This is a working distillery so I wish these guys all the best. From what I've tasted they have a big future if they can get their product out and don't go the way of the Dodo.
Extra note: I've had this bottle open now for a few days since writing this review and the smoke that revealed itself on the finish is now starting to on the nose as well. Shared this with my father in law, he wants a bottle next time I order from Japan!

Nonjatta note: Over the next few days I will update the page on the 2007 8-year-old bottling. The 8yo represented the start of Akashi's journey into premium single malts and I understand this 5-year-old will be the standard bottling from the distillery for the next few years, as they try to build up a older stock of whiskies (their previous focus on young whisky for cheaper blends means they do not have a large amount of older matured whisky). The other significant bottling from Akashi at the moment is the Zoetrope independent bottling, which I reviewed a few days ago. As Dramtastic indicates there is also an older bottling expected later this year, but that will be very limited.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Cask strength posting on Japan

I have just noticed an interesting post on about a trip to Japan. This first post is about expertly made cocktails and the Yamazaki distillery. There is another coming on Hakushu.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Shot Bar Zoetrope 4th Anniversary Akashi Malt

I promised something interesting the other week from Shot Bar Zoetrope and here it is: Shot Bar Zoetrope 4th Anniversary Akashi Malt . There are only 100 bottles and I am the very smug owner of one of them.

The significance of this bottling is that it is the first cask strength bottling of a whisky from the White Oak distillery. That distillery has been taking their first tentative steps into quality single malt production over the past couple of years and I know Atsushi Horigami at Zoetrope has been one of the people chivvying at them to do so. They long held off single malts, maintaining a proud allegiance to their blended whisky tradition but now seem convinced that they can make a go of premium whisky. I visited them last year and published a profile of the distillery in the April 2010 edition of Whisky Magazine.

Their first bottling was the Akashi 8 single malt, which I will publish a full tasting of asap. I characterised it in the Whisky Magazine article as having an extremely light and smooth profile, almost more like a soft barley shochu or even a sake than a whisky. It is an interesting approach which works well with some Japanese cuisine. Their latest official bottling, the Akashi 5 yo, about which I will also post notes, has a similar softness. This 5-year-old independent cask strength bottling, however, is something a very different and I think, by bottling it, Horigami san is taking a important next step in Akashi's emergence as a single malt distillery.

First let's get the technical stuff out of the way. It was distilled in July 2004 and bottled in October 2009. It was aged in American white oak hogsheads for four years and then aged for another year in a sherry cask. It has an alcohol content (ABV) of 59 per cent.

Smell: Quite subdued. The tiniest hint of smoke (very distant indeed) with sweet fudge in the foreground. On long car hot-plastic-seated car journeys in my childhood, my dad used to keep my me and my sister quiet with boxes of Smith Kendon travel sweets. I still remember the dusty sugar that covered your fingers when you dipped in. There was a smell here of the orange and wild berry tablets.
Taste (unwatered): Very dry and sour with hints of brine and rubber. Bitter. Not much sweetness, no coherent development in the taste and, to be honest, not very pleasant.
Taste (with a big splash of water): This benefited immeasurably from water. It changed completely, becoming much smoother and more drinkable. A sweetness emerged. "Caramel" is a much overused word when describing whisky, particularly in descriptions by newbies like myself, but this had the most pronounced caramel taste I have ever found in a whisky. The finish had more caramel and a hint of aniseed. Another glass and another splash. Much more wood; lime and chewing green sticks.

And, for me, that is why Horigami san's independent bottling is significant. A cask strength bottling may be riskier - this one would turn a few people off at full strength - but by letting go of the reins and making an undiluted bottling Eigashima have allowed so much more freedom and fun for the drinker.
Finally, Horigami san's labels are just uber cool in my opinion. We now have quite a collection of great labels in Japanese whisky.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Suntory Single Malt Whisky Hakushu Aged 15 Years

Review by Nonjatta contributor - Dramtastic
Suntory Single Malt Whisky Hakushu Aged 15 Years. 56 per cent alcohol.
Nose: Sweet oak (reminds me of a number Hanyu's I have tasted in this respect), which is beautifully intergrated into the malt. Varnish, roasted chesnuts, fresh baked scones with butter and a slightly burnt apple crumble.
Palate:Hot, Hot, Hot! Not a burning alcoholic heat, more like chillis. Probably the hottest whisky I have tried and I love it. Huge spice: pepper, salt, chilli, nutmeg and cinnamon. Lots of sweet oak, peanuts and marshmellows.
Finish: Long, hot, spicy and oaky, but with a certain candied sweetness. This was not a whisky I would choose to add water to because I enjoy the rush of it at cask strength.
General comment: I'll make no bones about it, I love this whisky. Probably one of my top 5 Japanese malts and I've tasted more than a few.

Pure Malt Black, Product of Nikka

Review by Nonjatta contributor - Dramtastic
Nikka Pure Malt Black. 43 per cent alcohol
Nose: A big step up from the Nikka Super blended whisky I just sampled. A little bit floral. Peaches, oak, peat, varnish, and pineapple. Malty, complex and smooth.
Palate: Very malty, bubblegum (a trait I find in many a Nikka/Yoichi/Miyagikyo whiskies), pepper, nutmeg, sweet peat and gentle smoke.
Finish: Excellent length, with peat, pepper, nutmeg, mint chocolate and lingering smoke.
General comment: I think this is more complex than the Pure Malt White, but overall I prefer the White's peaty wallop.

Nonjatta note: This is one of three pure or vatted malts marketed by Nikka under one word colour titles - Red, Black and White. The "Red" is mainly made up of whisky from Miyagikyou distillery. The white is based on whisky from Islay in Scotland with some Yoichi in the mix. This one, the "Black" is mainly based on whisky from Yoichi.

Ichiro's Choice Single Grain Whisky 1981

Review by Nonjatta contributor - Dramtastic
Ichiro's Choice Single Grain Whisky 1981 62.4%
Nose: Smooth for such a high alcohol content; earthy, notes of chocolate, liquorice, orange and asphalt.
Palate: Again, pretty smooth with soft grain, molasses, liquorice, pepper and orange.
Finish: Medium length: soft oak, orange, liquorice, with a mix of some classic rum (molasses) and Bourbon (liquorice, orange) qualities.
General comment: A good if not outstanding grain whisky. Lacks the wow factor.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Whisky Round Table

I`m a bit late with this but the Whisky Round Table is an fun collaboration between bloggers. Basically, a different blog each month will post the answers to a question from the bloggers. This months question was:

What rules have you set for yourself in your whisky lives and how have you rationalized breaking them?

It was hosted at