Thursday, October 31, 2013

New Mars Single Casks

Post by Stefan Van Eycken, Tokyo
When we last spoke to our friends at Mars Distillery, they said they would be releasing a couple of new single casks in the fall. The first of these just went on sale a few days ago. For this release, distillery manager Koki Takehira selected an American White Oak cask (#555) and bottled it at 46% abv.

It’s dangerous to jump to conclusions when it comes to bottling strength (“oh, why not cask-strength?”). They’re extremely meticulous when it comes to deciding the appropriate bottling strength – it’s not a routine decision, at all, and it’s not driven by marketing considerations either. For the people at Mars, bottling strength is just another variable that they carefully investigate and tweak until they feel it results in the best possible drinking experience.

There’s more of this release to go around than the 22yo and 24yo offerings they put out earlier this year – 468 bottles, to be precise – but it’s priced a bit higher (at around 19,000 yen). Word on the street is they’re planning to unveil another 1988 at the upcoming Whisky Festival in Tokyo. Nonjatta will be there so you’ll find out first hand what that’s all about.

Read more about Hombo Mars Distillery here.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Nonjatta 2nd Release Lottery

Post by Stefan Van Eycken, Tokyo
The results of the lottery for our 2nd ‘Ghost’ release are in. We were overwhelmed by the sheer number of applications and wish to thank everyone who participated. The lucky winners – and we’re glad that, by pure luck, they come from all corners of the world – will be contacted on Friday, so keep an eye on your inbox (and your spam folder!). As per the rules outlined in our original post and on the Malt City page, those who have won have one week to respond and confirm that they wish to proceed and purchase the bottle.

We are working on other releases, from other distilleries, with a better outturn so that we can make more of you happy, so stay tuned. In the meantime, we want to thank all of you again for the kind words and support. It means a lot to us.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

2 Mysterious Mars Single Casks

Post by Stefan Van Eycken, Tokyo

Today, we’ll be looking at two rather mysterious Mars single cask bottlings – mysterious because nobody seems to know much about them, not even the people at Mars themselves. We asked the current master distiller and, despite having bottled them himself, he only vaguely remembered these two whiskies. Uncharacteristically, there’s also very little in the way of information on the labels: there’s a 20yo (‘Kansyou-issiki’) with no further details about vintage, type of cask or year of bottling; and a 22yo  (‘Rakugoku Shinshu’) that only specifies the wood type (American white oak) and the outturn (166 bottles). Both were bottled at cask strength (57% and 58% abv, respectively)… a couple of years ago. Don’t ask when!
We’ll start with the youngest, the 20yo. On the nose, there’s vanilla – loads of it –, crème brulée, custard pudding, cotton candy, … You get the gist. Basically, it’s a combo of advocaat and chinsuko cookies. Water brings out a bit of wood smoke and some fruit (ripe peaches). On the palate, you get cherry sauce, lemon pie, rhubarb jam, chinsuko cookies again and quite a bit of pepper (of the white and pink variety) as well as some tannins. The finish is medium-long and rather dry on dried apricots – apologies for the alliteration, it wasn’t intentional – and vanilla ice-cream. It’s nice enough, but rather one-dimensional, to be honest.
The 22yo is a completely different story. Just nosing it, you instantly know you’re in for a treat. You get the sweetness (cough syrup, butterscotch, honey-glazed doughnuts), but this time, it’s beautifully complemented by savoury (barbecued ribs, shepherd’s pie), spicy (cloves, nutmeg, cardamom) and baked-goods notes (shortbread, knäckebröd, pretzels). After a while, you get roasted coffee beans and even truffles. What a great nose. Then, on the palate, the whisky surprises with citrus (Seville oranges, ruby grapefruit), red fruits (berry compote) and a bit of spice (shichimi). The finish is long – endless, really – on citrus and honey, throat candy, red apple peel, blood orange sorbet and mild spices. Intense and gorgeous. We don’t know much about it, but a whisky like this doesn’t need credentials. Its beauty speaks volumes.

Special thanks to Aaron for bringing these rare Mars single casks to our attention.

Read more about Hombo Mars Distillery here.

Friday, October 11, 2013

2nd Exclusive Nonjatta ‘Ghost Series’ Bottling: Karuizawa 1995/2013

Post by Stefan Van Eycken, Tokyo

Today, we’re thrilled to be able to unveil the second bottling in our series of Japanese whiskies featuring artwork taken from the last great ukiyoe artist Yoshitoshi’s final series of woodblock prints “New Forms of 36 Ghosts” (1889-1892).

It wasn’t our original intention to follow up our first exclusive bottling with another Karuizawa but serendipity pulled us back to this distillery for something quite special. We didn’t resist. While looking for stellar whiskies from other distilleries, we came across a Karuizawa cask from 1995 – as it turned out, the last cask from the 1995 vintage. Those who are familiar with the history of the distillery will know that 1995 was the one year in Karuizawa’s 45-year history of production when the predominant use of sherry wood for the maturation of its whiskies was abandoned in favour of the use of barrels that had previously contained Japanese red wine, so called ‘Chateau Mercian Rouge Casks’. Most of the whisky in these casks was bottled for sale at the distillery shop and a few casks were released as private bottlings (a couple for Scandinavia and one for Shinanoya).

We’ve always had a soft spot for these Karuizawa ‘Rouge Casks’ but the moment we tried cask #5022, we knew this was something really special compared with its siblings. We immediately decided to bottle this – the last and oldest (18yo) Rouge Cask and the last of the 1995 vintage – but got a bit of a cold shower when we found out how much, or rather how little was left in the cask. The last time it was re-gauged (about a year and a half ago), it contained the equivalent of 30 bottles. But while bottling what little was left, it became clear the angels at Chichibu Distillery (where the cask had been transferred after Number One Drinks’ acquisition of the entire remaining Karuizawa stock) had been particularly greedy. They got away with almost 6 liters and left us with a mere… 22 bottles.

Over the past year, we’d received quite a bit of mail from our readers bemoaning how the Karuizawa situation had become a bit like a Russian roulette for the consumer: if you’re online when bottles go on sale, you have a chance of getting your hands on one; if you just happen to be doing something else, away from the internet for five minutes, you miss out. Together with our partners at Malt City (who take care of the actual sale of our bottles), we decided to embrace this roulette concept but with one crucial difference: we wanted a level playing field, a situation in which everyone interested has a fair chance at buying a bottle. Therefore, the sale of this 2nd Nonjatta-bottling will not be on a first-come, first-served basis. Instead, it’s organized as a lottery: everyone who’s interested has four days to register (October 11, noon to October 15, 9am, local Karuizawa time) at Malt City. After that, an innocent hand (our editor’s 5-year old son) will draw the lucky winners. Obviously, the bottle itself isn’t free, but keen to start a new trend – offering ultra rare whiskies at affordable prices – we’ve kept the price as low as we could: 14,000 yen + tax (approx. 105 euro + tax / 140 usd + tax). If you’re interested, do read the fine print at the end of this post and visit the Malt City page to register for the lottery.

So what’s the whisky like? On the nose, you’ve got raspberries, brambles, blood orange jam, dried apricots, dried leaves, antique furniture – then, after a while, candied lime peel, Brookside Dark Chocolate Acai with Blueberry, red miso, old leather-bound books, cigar boxes but also lychee liqueur and hints of manuka honey, mint, eucalyptus and fennel. Just gorgeous – a whisky with so many tiny aromatic surprises in its folds. On the palate, loads of berries again, very thick and concentrated, like jam, with propolis throat candy, liquorice allsorts, spice cake (‘peperkoek’) and rooibos tea added to the mix. Then, an explosion of fresh citrus mid-palate (sudachi most prominently, also a bit of lemon and grapefruit) with strawberry sauce in the background. On the back of all that, spices (cloves, aniseed, nutmeg) and then a lovely, subtly bitter transition (kale-apple juice, endives) to the finish, where you get a sweetness so delicate yet intense (strawberry macarons and Turkish delights) it breaks your heart to feel it fade. But in the afterglow, you get these little reminders of what the nose and palate have spoken to you about… This is the whisky equivalent of ‘One Thousand and One Nights’. We love it – simple as that.
For the label, we selected one of our favourite prints from Yoshitoshi’s “New Forms of 36 Ghosts”: “Kiyohime Changes into a Serpent at Hidaka River” (no.11). Kiyohime was the daughter of an innkeeper in the village of Masago. Anchin was a handsome young monk who, during his annual pilgrimage to the Kumano Shrine, stayed at Kiyohime’s father’s inn. After many years, Kiyohime declared her love for Anchin. The devout Anchin told her he could not possibly return her worldly love and ran off to a monastery. She set off in pursuit of him but found her way obstructed by the Hidaka River. Consumed by anger, she began to turn into a serpent and swam over to the other side of the river, half-transformed. Anchin had fled to a nearby temple where he hid inside an enormous bronze bell. Kiyohime found him and coiled herself around the bell. So intense was her fury that the huge bell melted, killing them both.

We feel there’s a certain resonance between the story and the liquid in the bottle. Even though the vagaries of time have left us with only a handful of bottles, we felt this extraordinary Karuizawa ‘Rouge Cask’ was too good to be left to the angels or to end up in the hands of just one person. As they say, sharing is caring… and we want to share this with you.

---Instructions to register---

- Go to this exclusive Malt City webpage.
- Please click the "Add to cart" button, and proceed in the NORMAL WAY. Entry is completed with this.
- No charge is made at this stage.
- Limited to one entry per person. Two or more entries by the same person will be disallowed.
- Entry is based upon the delivery address. Any entries with the same delivery address will be invalidated.
- Double (or more) entries will not be accepted.
- No forwarding services are accepted for this product. Malt City can only ship to a private address (the address of the person registering).
- Entry will close at 9am on October 15th.
- The Nonjatta team will draw the winners based on automatically assigned registration numbers.
- Malt City will email the winners and explain the purchase procedure on their website.
- The right to purchase the bottle is valid for 1 week after Malt City has contacted the winners (by email).
- Purchases by any people other than those chosen by the lottery will be disallowed.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Karuizawa 1999/2013 The Last Bottling

Post by Stefan Van Eycken, Tokyo
Yesterday, a new Karuizawa single cask was released in Japan and a wave of anxiety spread through the whisky community here: was this really – as the label proclaims – ‘the last bottling’? The answer is yes and no. No, it’s not the last Karuizawa to be bottled (although we are slowly but surely approaching the end of the line), but it is the last one for Isetan Shinjuku. They’ve released half a dozen excellent Karuizawa single casks over the past two years and this is, so we’re told, without a shadow of a doubt the final one. Try it while you can… and buy it while you can! We will be seeing more of the epithet ‘last’ applied to various upcoming Karuizawa releases – it’s a sad concept but unavoidable, really. All the more reason to enjoy the whisky while you still can… at affordable prices. This Karuizawa 1999/2013 retails for 11,500 yen and is also available in a 200ml bottle.

Read more about Karuizawa Distillery here.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Cadenhead’s in Japan: a barside chat with Mark Watt

Post by Stefan Van Eycken, Tokyo

Last week, Mark Watt of Cadenhead’s was over in Japan to introduce his new range of whiskies. We pulled him aside for a little chat and started by asking him about the structure of the new range.
Mark: The core of our range is ‘small batch’ and we’re really talking small batch here – 2 or 3 casks maximum. We’ve got small batch at cask-strength (square bottles) and small batch at 46% (dumpy bottles). There will be a single cask range, too, but the packaging is not ready yet. That’s going to be the square bottle but a little bit more gold. I’ve not seen the final designs yet... in Campbeltown, we’re on a different speed of time, you know. I was in the job for 281 days before I sold a bottle – and they were happy! Things take time.

Nonjatta: You’ve also got the ‘Creations’ range: blended malts (black label) and blends (white label). Are they your creations?

Mark: They are now. The first one was a vatted Islay malt and that was done by Frank McHardy. That’s a simple ABC recipe – Ardbeg, Bowmore and Caol Ila – and it was just three casks. They were vatted together 4 or 5 years ago and then returned to cask for marrying. The other ‘Creation’ is one I did. It’s a blend of 4 casks: a Mortlach sherry butt, a Bruichladdich bourbon hogshead, a Cameronbridge barrel and an Invergordon sherry hogshead. They were vatted together and left to marry for 8 months in sherry wood before bottling. It’s good fun being allowed to do this, but one of the things doing small batch blends with a small number of casks is: there’s nowhere to hide. Each of your components has got to be good. If you’re doing a vatting of 50 or 100 casks, you can lose a couple of casks in the vatting, but if you put a bad cask into a vatting of 3 or 4 casks, that’s 25-30% of your final product. That’s very important to stress: when we’re picking casks for these ‘Creations’, it’s whisky we would happily bottle in its own right.

Nonjatta: Unlike most independent bottlers, your range is spearheaded by small batch rather than single casks.

Mark: Yes, well, we’ve got 9 shops in Europe and we’re in 23 markets so far – we’ll probably go to 24, 25 and then stop at that – we’re not interested in world domination. And when we do a single cask – like the Glenfiddich 40 that’s coming out soon – there’s only going to be about 27 cases coming out of that. So you can’t keep people happy a lot of the time with single casks. Doing small batch releases – again, 2 or 3 casks – allows each market to get a more decent allocation. That’s the kind of thinking behind it. But also, it allows us to do things like we’ve done with the Craigellachie, which was a sherry hoggie and a bourbon hoggie married together, so you can play with the flavours a little bit.

Nonjatta: It’s good to see the Cadenhead’s bottles on the shelves again in Japan, because for a while there, it seemed like Cadenhead’s was gone.

Mark: It’s funny, because out here it feels like it was gone for a while… and you know, it’s great that I’m getting a lot of praise for putting out these amazing casks, but we’ve been bottling them all the time anyway! It’s just because we were only selling them to our shops and because it was kind of insular that no one was really speaking about them. I was brought in to start up the Cadenhead’s international range and the shops will be getting some of this stuff, but the majority is for export markets. We’ve been off the radar for too long, but we needed to do this, because we’ve got a phenomenal amount of stock…

Nonjatta: Let’s talk a little bit about that. Do you have a fairly good spread?

Mark: We’ve got stock from 102 different distilleries ranging in age from 2 to nearly 50 years old. We don’t have everything – unfortunately, we’ve bottled all our Lagavulin and Talisker in the past – but we’ve got plenty of other things to choose from. We’ve also got quite a bit of grain whisky. We don’t have any sort of 12 or 16 year old grain – it’s all either much older or much younger – but we’re buying stuff all the time. We’re lucky because when parcels of older stock come onto the market, we can buy them but we don’t have to bottle them immediately. We’re quite happy to buy stuff and then sit on it until we feel it’s ready to be bottled.

Nonjatta: When you started going through the stock, did you come across anything that you thought was really quite special?

Mark: Plenty of things, yes. Just to give you one example: we’ve got a 1966 Glenlossie and you know ‘old bottle effect’ flavour? Well, it’s got that but it’s still in the cask! Bizarrely, when I was researching that, I came across Serge Valentin’s notes for the sister cask that had been bottled about 10 years ago, and he also said: this has ‘old bottle effect’ but it’s new! I thought that was very interesting.

Nonjatta: Will there be any exclusive bottlings for specific markets – Japan maybe?

Mark: We’re starting to do some exclusive bottlings and Japan is getting quite a few. There’s one on order from the guys at Shinanoya and another one for Bar Campbelltoun Loch. And once I get back home from this trip, I’m going to be working with the Japanese importer to get some special things for them. But with every exclusive bottling we do, the shops in Europe will get a couple of bottles each so that fans elsewhere get a chance to try these whiskies too.

Nonjatta: The response to your first ‘Small Batch’ releases and ‘Creations’ has been phenomenal. Is it tempting to increase the output?

Mark: It’s true, things are going really well and we’re actually putting in a second bottling line at Cadenhead’s – that is to say, at Springbank distillery – to get everything bottled. Springbank production is up; Cadenhead’s production is up; Kilkerran is now on board, so there’s more stuff being bottled. We were looking at getting a new bottling line and – this is typical for Campbeltown! – we had trouble getting one that was slow enough! We managed to find one, though, so we’re on track. That being said, we don’t want to put out too much all at once. We’re looking to do about 4 ‘Small Batch’ bottlings at cask strength a year, with each bottling consisting of probably 2 or 3 single casks, and maybe 6 bottlings at 46%. And then, maybe twice a year, we’ll do the ‘Creations’. We don’t want to put out all the crown jewels at once. Besides, we’re not in a hurry. You know, you’re only as good as your worst bottling.

Nonjatta will be reporting on special Cadenhead’s bottlings for the Japanese market, so stay tuned... as always.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

SMWS-Japan 20th Anniversary Bottling (3): 7.84 (1985 Longmorn)

Post by Stefan Van Eycken, Tokyo
Today, the Japan branch of the SMWS is officially launching the 3rd exclusive bottling to celebrate its 20th anniversary. The label features a fragment of no. 94 from Hiroshige’s ‘One Hundred Famous Views of Edo’, showing the autumn maple trees at Mama. Apparently, Mama was a place of such extraordinary scenic beauty at the time that many people made the 15-kilometer trek from Edo (present-day Tokyo) just to admire the maple leaves in autumn. Let’s see if this Longmorn can take us to similarly enchanting realms of experience.

The nose is intriguing: baked pears, cashew nuts, gooseberries, a Honey Stinger energy bar, caramel sauce, iced peach tea, printing paper, wax polish, a bit of sage… and so much more – a kaleidoscope of tiny aromas. Only a refill cask that has been left to do its subtle communication work with the spirit over decades can make something like this happen. With water, you get a bit more fruit – brambles and boysenberries, to be precise. Nosing this, you feel like you’re sitting 24 inches off the ground, but then you take a sip and you’re out of this world. The impact on the palate is just incredible: oranges, apple peel, agave syrup, wood spices, lemon tart, honey candy, tamarind chocolates (the kind they make at Puccini Bomboni’s in Amsterdam), coconut macarons and a bit of mint… but everything so beautifully integrated. This is whisky to chew on and I mean that literally. Even though it’s quite light on the nose, it’s so rich and thick on the palate. But hold on, it’s not over yet… On the finish, you get a lovely surprise: lavender shortbread with honey lemon tea and raspberry sorbet. Forget about the maple trees at Mama – this is the trip you want to make: 7.84 – Longmorn 1985/2013, 27yo, 56.3%abv, 173 bottles. Tickets to paradise go on sale at 12:00 noon today.