Thursday, December 27, 2012

Karuizawa 21yo 1991/2012 ‘The School of Malt – Lesson III’ selected by Dave Broom

Review by Ruben of WhiskyNotes

The School of Malt is a series of whiskies selected by whisky critic Dave Broom and bottled for Whisky-E, Prior to this Karuizawa 1991, there was a Tomatin 1976 and a Ballindalloch 1976 (Glenfarclas) in the same series.
Karuizawa 21 yo 1991 ‘The School of Malt – Lesson III’ (63,7%, No.1 Drinks 2012, sherry butt #9091, selected by Dave Broom)

Nose: a fairly dry start, with a typical oriental spiciness but also the kind of slightly sour tobacco leaves and a flowery aroma that I often get in 1990’s Karuizawa. Oranges and lemon. Some varnished oak. Chocolate notes and a faint hint of smoke in the distance. Mouth: at first dried fruits and sweetness of baked pears, evolving to more tangy flavours like zesty oranges and ginger. Pepper. Then some liquorice and earthy notes. Again a hint of smoke. Finish: long and dry on oranges, spices and roasted nuts.

A good educational dram to show some typical characteristics of this distillery, but in term of sheer enjoyment I’ve had better ones. Around €145. Sold out.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Karuizawa 31yo 1981/2012 Shinanoya Private Cask 5th Anniversary - Bourbon Barrel

Review by Ruben of WhiskyNotes

This Karuizawa 1981 is another commemorative bottling for the 5th anniversary of Shinanoya. As you know bourbon versions of Karuizawa are quite rare.
Karuizawa 31 yo 1981 (60,0%, Shinanoya 2012, bourbon barrel #4961, 228 btl.)

Nose: a carpenter’s workshop really. Polished oak, freshly sawn pine wood, sandalwood. A little paint varnish and glue. It’s rather hard to find other aromas behind this wall of oak, but there’s definitely vanilla and cinnamon. A few drops of water bring out hints of apple pie and orange candy. Quite some eucalyptus too. Mouth: whoa, that’s heavy oak. Very concentrated and very oaky. Just spicy at first (ginger, pepper, aniseed) but it evolves to dry oak with quite some leathery notes and plain tannins. Green tea and a zesty bitterness. Wax and mint. Again it gains a little fruitiness and vanilla with a bit of water. Finish: long, oaky with pepper and ginger alongside some baked apples.

Very powerful and quite interesting although I think it’s overoaked. You’ll have to fiddle with water to get the best out of it. Around €250. Sold out.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Hanyu 12yo 2000/2012 ‘The Game III’ for Shinanoya

Review by Ruben of WhiskyNotes

Shinanoya is a well-known food & spirits importer / retailer in Japan. They gained quite a reputation by selecting excellent casks and have them bottled exclusively for the Japanese market (the BenRiach 1976 cask #3029 to name just one).

At the Whisky Festival 2012 in Tokyo, Shinanoya presented a new bottling of Karuizawa 1981 as well as this Hanyu 2000, bottled for their 5th Anniversary. It’s the third release in their acclaimed The Game series which contains only Hanyu from the final year of production.

The spirit was finished for three and a half year in an experimental hogshead with Red Oak ends. Red Oak (Quercus Rubra) is rarely used for whisky casks as the oak has very open pores in the growth rings. In white oak they are filled with tyloses but in red oak they are wide open so casks have a tendency to leak.
Hanyu 12 yo 2000 (57,5%, Ichiro’s Malt for Shinanoya 2012, red oak heads hogshead finish, cask #360, 309 btl.)

Nose: a very powerful nose, spicy but also quite sweet and fragrant. There’s vanilla, sugar coated nuts and herbal honey, a distinct biscuity aroma and even faint marshmallow notes. Coconut oil. A little plum compote. Plenty of furniture polish and hints of cigar boxes, the whole is oaky but beautifully so. Lots of mint and eucalyptus notes which balances the sweetness nicely. Some white pepper and a faint hint of smoke in the background. Mouth: again quite powerful, slightly hot even. It shows a malty sweetness, plum eau-de-vie and chocolate notes first, before moving towards slightly more earthy flavours, herbs and a peppery sharpness. Some tobacco leaves. Nutmeg as well. Water seems to kill part of the sweetness and puts emphasis on the herbal, slightly bitter notes. Finish: long, fairly dry, very herbal. Nicely balanced by a warm vanilla afterglow.

A great release, powerful and elegant at the same time. Very rich, especially if you consider the age. Around 9000 yen, that’s €80, excellent value but now sold out.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Hakushu Sherry Cask 2013

Post by Chris of the WhiskyWall.

Suntory’s annual Yamazaki Sherry Cask has been a whisky fan favorite and 2012 saw the inaugural release of the Hakushu Sherry Cask (Hakushu new-make aged entirely in carefully selected sherry casks). It sold out rather quickly even for a limited release of 3,000 bottles and there was no clear indication that there would be subsequent releases like the Yamazaki. Fortunately, Suntory just announced that it is indeed releasing a 2013 Hakushu Sherry Cask. The release date across Japan is set for February 5th. Like before, the 2013 release will be limited to 3,000 bottles and will come in at 48%ABV with a sticker price of 9,000 yen.
The demand for Hakushu has increased significantly. According to Suntory, sales were up 307% during the months of January through November 2012 from the prior year. With that, I imagine this release will not be on the shelves very long – if at all.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Memories of Karuizawa 1999/2012

Post by Stefan of Tokyo Whisky Hub.

Just when you thought there couldn't possibly be any more Japanese whisky to distract you from your year-end shopping, along comes this new release and what a stunner it is. It's the first in a new series of Karuizawa single casks for the Japanese market (but those of you living abroad, read on!), entitled "Memories of Karuizawa". It's a younger Karuizawa - a 1999 vintage, the year before the distillery stopped producing - aged for 13 years in a sherry butt (#879), and bottled at a cask-strength of 62.9% abv. It is incredibly dark so you would be forgiven for thinking this was one of those ex-sherry-cask whiskies on steroids ... that is, if you didn't know Karuizawa very well. If you did, you would know to always expect the unexpected, and this is no exception - or is that a contradiction in terms?
Anyway... one of the first things that struck me on the nose were notes of dry summer grass and heather. Immediately after, you get figs (like a "fig log") and Ehime mikan juice; then, mint, rosemary and a hint of porcini. If you give the whisky a few minutes in the glass, a wonderful stew of pears and apricots appears, and then a mild espresso note. If you're really patient - I know, it's a difficult concept - you get a couscous with loads of raisins and sliced almonds. It doesn't really need water, in my opinion, but if you do add a splash, you will find it tends to foreground the grassy notes for a little while, which is nice. The palate is rich, thick and meaty (pork ribs with a cranberry-whisk(e)y sauce, chicken mole, ...) but you also get notes of roasted marshmallow and kuromame (sweet black soy beans, one of the many Japanese dishes traditionally eaten on New Year's). The finish is long and lingering, leaving a lovely chocolate afterglow as it gently fades. Young (well, relatively young), sherried whisky just doesn't get any better than this: multi-dimensional, little surprises left and right, wonderfully balanced... what more can I say?

Oh yes, where to get it. Here things get a bit tricky. The official release date is Christmas Eve (if you haven't made any dining arrangements yet, just get a bottle of this - it's the best Christmas meal you can imagine, albeit in liquid form). Some shops in Japan have already started pre-selling. Googling is pointless - the handful of shops that have put them up for sale online already sold out their allocation in no time. So, you'll just have to wait and keep your eyes peeled. If you live abroad, I have some good news for you. In spite of the overwhelming domestic demand, Whisk-e has been so kind as to set aside a few bottles for die-hard Karuizawa fans abroad. These will go on sale on December 24th, from 6pm local time, limited to 1 bottle per customer (to make as many people happy as possible). Consider this tip to be our Christmas present to you: Memories of Karuizawa at Malt City.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Suntory interested in Jim Beam maker

Suntory, Japan's biggest whisky maker, has its eye on a takeover of the U.S. distiller that makes Jim Beam and Canadian Club whisky, according to a Bloomberg article quoting an unnamed Suntory official.

The source confirms a Sunday Telegraph story yesterday that Suntory has talked to Diageo plc about a possible joint offer for Beam Inc. But the Bloomberg story goes on to say that the Japanese company, which declared 225 billion yen ($2.73 billion) of cash and savings in its last accounts, also has the wherewhithal to launch a bid on its own. Diageo faces regulatory hurdles that may discourage involvement.

Suntory has not talked officially with Beam and believes the company's current share price is too high to launch an immediate bid. It is compulsory in these Japanese-company-looking-abroad stories to say that this is because the Japanese population is shrinking. The Bloomberg article obliges.

It might also have been worth mentioning that the current high value of the yen makes foreign acquisitions pretty attractive at the moment, and that Suntory is currently in the middle of a major recasting of its North American whisky portfolio that is making it intimate with Beam for the first time. The backdrop to this story is that Suntory and its biggest whisky rival Asahi (Nikka) are about to swap U.S. partners. Suntory had a 40-year partnership with Brown-Forman (which makes Jack Daniel’s , Southern Comfort and Canadian Mist) while Asahi had been distributing Beam's Jim Beam and Maker's Mark. By the end of December, the portfolios will have switched, which means no more glorious Jim Beam marketing from Asahi and MTV's VJ Boo:

Monday, December 10, 2012

"The Game III" Washed Cheese

Post by Stefan of Tokyo Whisky Hub.

Sometimes, it's amazing how information moves in mysterious ways. What am I on about? Bear with me... Some of you may remember we wrote a post about a wonderful bar up in Hokkaido called "Gyu+" (also known as "The Fridge Door Bar"). Ioanna - who runs the bar with her husband, Hisashi - was in Tokyo for the weekend, so we had arranged to meet up first thing after she'd landed. Among the many omiyage she had brought, was a "Bourbon"-washed cheese, made in Hokkaido. Obviously the bourbon isn't made there (it's I.W. Harper, I was told), but the cheese is. It's a camembert-type cheese "washed" in bourbon. (If you don't know what that means, Google's your friend!) I dropped Ioanna off at Shinanoya in Shinjuku, but not before advising her to get some "The Game III" for her bar, which she did - just in time, because as of today it's officially sold-out. This morning, I get a lovely email telling me how the staff at Shinanoya were really helpful. She also wrote that they'd told her they would be releasing a cheese "washed in The Game III". Surely, the same company -Tokachino Fromages - couldn't be involved? (That's a rhetorical question - in case you were wondering.) She asked, and although the staff couldn't be sure, they thought it was the same company up in Hokkaido. (On further inspection, the box is exactly the same, so it probably is.)
I was kind of enjoying the coincidental serendipity of the whole situation, when I did something I shouldn't have done: I checked my email. In my in-box was a link to an electronic flyer announcing the release of ... "The Game III"-washed cheese. Anyway, it'll be out soon, so keep your eyes peeled. I tried a bit of the "bourbon"-washed cheese Ioanna had given me, and was surprised that - although the process starts with a camembert-type cheese, the result is completely different - closer to a Gorgonzola Dolce, and with a definite influence from the bourbon. I only tried a little bit, because the makers feel it gets better and better as it gets closer to its "eat-by" date, which is still three weeks away. It'll also be interesting to try it side-by-side with "The Game"-washed cheese, and both of the cheeses with the whiskies they were washed in... (or is that: washed with?) And so now, I have one more reason to look forward to New Year's Eve - which happens to be my birthday - as that's what I'm planning on having before or after dessert (depending on whether the company I'll be in prefer to do it the French or the English way): some cheese and whisky.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Nikka Whisky to the US Market

Editor's note: We are pleased to welcome Chris - who co-writes for the blog WhiskyWall - to the Nonjatta team. Chris will be our man in the US, keeping an eye on the exciting developments surrounding the increased presence of Japanese whisky there. In his first post written for Nonjatta, he spotlights the entry of Nikka into the US market.

Post by Chris of the WhiskyWall.

We in the US have been waiting and waiting and waiting for Nikka's whiskies to be available here. After years of being tortured by rumors and whispers of Nikka's impending arrival, it has finally become a reality. Following up on a hugely successful campaign to expand into the European market, Nikka Whisky is making a move to establish a presence in the US. Like much of the rest of the world the US has seen a huge increase in the popularity of Scotch whisky as well as Japanese whisky. Unfortunately, there just wasn't much Japanese whisky to be had here. Now after long being the sole stomping ground of Suntory, we in the US will finally have another Japanese whisky option.

Anchor Distilling Company, based in San Francisco, is responsible for importing and assisting with the distribution of Nikka's whisky. Anchor is focused on being the bridge between fine spirits and the consumer. At this time Anchor imports spirits from over 20 different countries for distribution in the US, including several Scotch whiskies. You might also be familiar with some of Anchor's own products such as their very popular Old Potrero line of rye whiskies and Junipero Gin. Anchor's close relative Anchor Brewing, one of the pioneers in the craft beer movement here in the US with their Anchor Steam Beer might also ring a familiar bell.
To much excited anticipation the beginning of December saw the launch of Nikka's Taketsuru 12 (Pure Malt) and Yoichi 15 (Single Malt). These two expressions were initially rolled out in major cities such as San Francisco, New York and Chicago. However, many were able to get an early sampling of them at WhiskyFest San Francisco and WhiskyFest New York. The Nikka booth at WhiskyFest San Francisco in early October was one of the most crowded ones there the whole night.

Nikka plans to target authentic/specialty bars and whisky shops to market to. The goal is to expand the current two expression line up as Nikka's popularity grows. At this time the US allocation for 2013 is set at 36,000 bottles. This seems like a healthy initial allocation but my local whisky shop here in San Francisco went through its first delivery within a couple of hours. I'm hoping that the excitement for Nikka's whiskies continues and that sales are high enough for them to feel comfortable expanding the line up past 2 expressions. But for now I am happy that I don't have to hop on a plane to pick up a bottle of Nikka.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Eigashima 14yo Batch 2

Post by Stefan of Tokyo Whisky Hub.

In the spring of this year, we wrote about the oldest Eigashima expression to date, a 14-year old that was matured in Spanish oak ex-sherry wood for 12 years and a half and then "finished" for a further year and a half in an ex-white wine cask from their winery in Yamanashi. The second batch has just been released and is available from their webshop now, but this one is slightly different. It started life in the same way -12 years and a half in a Spanish oak ex-sherry cask - but the whisky was then transferred to an American oak ex-sherry cask where it spent about a year and a half before being "finished" once again in an ex-white wine cask, but only for half a year. The bottling strength is slightly different (58% for the 1st batch, 56% for this 2nd batch) and the tasting notes provided by the company seem to suggest a marked difference in profile. Make sure you get your hands on a bottle or two, because - unless they've got some casks they forgot about lying in a dark corner of their warehouse (distilleries have been known to forget about casks "on purpose" - makes for a nice publicity stunt) it may be a while before the stock maturing at the moment reaches this age.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Hop Revolution Whiskies

Post by Stefan of Tokyo Whisky Hub.
A few weeks ago, we wrote about a brand new event called Hop Revolution. We also wrote there would be whiskies available selected by the people at Whisk-e. I'm happy to report there will be some amazing drams at unbeatable prices at the event, so even if beer is not your thing, the whiskies alone are worth the trip to Shibuya. For one coin (500 yen), you'll get to try the likes of the Arran 1997 Rowan Tree, Springbank 12yo Sherry, Hazelburn C.V., Benriach 10yo Peated and 12yo, Glendronach 12yo, Bladnoch 9yo Peated and 10yo Sherry, and more. For a mere 1,000 yen, you can choose from Arran Manager's Choice 1996, Springbank Rundlets & Kilderkins, Glendronach 18yo and a selection of Peerless bottlings (Caol Ila 1983, Miltonduff 1984, Linkwood 1989) and for the same price you can get half-shots of bottles that you would normally have to seriously cripple your bank account for: Springbank 32yo, Benriach 1972 for the Bar Show, Glendronach 1971 (that would set you back well over 50,000 yen for a bottle!) and the long-gone Ballindalloch School of Malt 1976. They will also be bringing the Oceans and Stellar Selection range that we raved about a little while ago.
If you haven't got your ticket to part 1 of the event yet, I've got some bad news for you: they're all gone, and there won't be any tickets sold on the day. Don't despair, though: you will still be able to get into part 2, but it will be on a first-come, first-in basis (you can get your number at the door from 1pm). So just treat yourself to a nice, early lunch - and as far as the afternoon is concerned... well, you've got nothing to worry about: Hop Revolution will take care of you!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Whisky Festival in Tokyo 2012

Post by Stefan of Tokyo Whisky Hub.

It's clear the people behind the Whisky Festival in Tokyo - that would be Mamoru Tsuchiya and his Scotch Whisky Research Centre - are doing something right. More and more people seem to find their way to the festival every year, and while many of the same whisky makers and retailers show up year after year (but - I hasten to add - always with new and interesting products), there are always a few whisky producers making their debut. The surprise of the day for me was Box Whisky, a Swedish distillery I'd heard a lot about but not seen or tasted any whiskies from. Of the three different cask styles available at the festival (ex-bourbon, ex-sherry and Hungarian oak - and each of these had a peated and a non-peated expression), I thought the Hungarian non-peated oak expression showed incredible promise. It was only a few months old, but I can easily imagine what a beauty this will be a few years down the line.
For most people, the first port of call was the Shinanoya stand. Not just one, but two store-exclusive bottlings were available for pre-order. Judging from the queues at their stand, I can't imagine there's much left of either. After their 1995 Karuizawa - released earlier this year - people had been waiting impatiently for the follow-up and there it was: a 1981 single cask Karuizawa drawn from an ex-bourbon cask (a first for the Japanese market, if I'm not mistaken), bottled at 60.0% abv with an outturn of 228. The second Shinanoya bottling unveiled at the festival was a little more surprising - although word had already leaked on the internet a few days earlier: a new Hanyu in their acclaimed "The Game" series. This is the third one in the series, and this time it was finished in a hogshead with red oak heads (outturn: 309 bottles). I had the chance to try them at the festival - with people breathing down my neck from all sides - but releases of this caliber deserve peace and quiet and undivided attention which is why we'll be bringing you detailed tasting notes later this week.

Another place where things were pretty hectic was Whisky Venture's booth. No new Chichibu releases this time but four new "cards" (if you don't know what that means, just skip this paragraph), all with different finishes: "Seven of Spades" (1990/2012, finished in a cognac cask), "Six of Hearts" (1991/2012, finished in an American oak puncheon); "Five of Diamonds" (2000/2012, finished in a sherry butt) and "Ace of Clubs" (2000/2012, finished in a mizunara puncheon). Everybody seemed to have their own favourite(s) - I was instantly seduced by the "cognac" card - but they were all stunning, as always.

I was happy to see the wonderful people from Mars distillery again. They had brought their 3rd "New Pot" release (which will be available from tomorrow). Last year, they'd put out 2 "New Pot" bottles, to show people what they'd been doing since they re-fired the stills after a 19-year hiatus: those two were lightly-peated (7.9 ppm) and heavily-peated (19 ppm) respectively. This year's offering is a really-heavily-peated one (50 ppm) and just like the other ones, it was distilled in the winter (i.e. the first months of the year) and then kept in a stainless steel tank for 9 months, so it really is "new pot" and not matured new-make spirit. If you're not into that kind of stuff (whisky-in-progress, or whatever you want to call it), reconsider now! This heavily-peated new pot spirit is of such an incredible elegance that I'd buy up the entire stock in the blink of an eye - if they'd let me... which they won't, because there's not much to go around. They produced only about 1,800 liters of this 50 ppm spirit this year (just 3 batches) - and put most of it in American white oak ex-bourbon barrels, some of it in virgin oak (which I predict will work very well!), a bit in a port pipe (an experiment of sorts) and the rest in 1099 little 200ml bottles, and that's what you can try now! The idea with these little 200 ml bottles of new pot spirit is to give the consumer the chance to keep "monitoring" the progress. Each type will get a follow-up when the whisky reaches 3 years, and then more later, so don't finish everything... or buy a few of these little bottles, because this is really a unique chance to see how distillery character and wood influence change over time. If you're a fan of Mars distillery's older output (i.e. the pre-hiatus casks), start saving up for February. The master distiller and his team are currently choosing some new single casks to be bottled soon: one has already been selected and there may be one that will surprise more than a few people, so watch this space. They also had a new bottling for the local market - for people to take home as souvenirs - which isn't really a new bottling, as it is basically the same as their "7&3" blend. It's reassuring to see they're pretty busy up there in Nagano.
There were a lot of other brilliant things to experience: Suntory W. Shop's single grain whisky (which we wrote about earlier this week), an unexpectedly nice Highland Park festival bottling (a vatting of casks from 1973, 1976, 1991 and 1998, done by the head honcho of the Scotch Whisky Research Centre), smoked foods from those wizards at Yokohama Kunsei, some lovely pipe tunes played by the incomparable Takeshi Mogi, but for me the absolute star of the event was a bottle quietly sitting among its label-mates, a hidden beauty if ever there was one: this Berry Bros' and Rudd 1974 single cask (sherry hogshead) Glen Grant. Pure magic.