Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Nine Leaves (6): Angel’s Half

Post by Stefan Van Eycken, Tokyo

Last year, we introduced a newborn rum distillery in Japan – the first and only one on the main island (check 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 for more information). Today, we’re happy to bring you the next chapter in the story of Nine Leaves Distillery: the release of the first aged products.
© Nine Leaves
In August of 2013, owner/distiller Yoshiharu Takeuchi filled two virgin oak casks with his ‘clear’ rum. Curious to explore the impact of different types of wood on his new make, he decided to go for two casks of the same size (about 250l) toasted to the same level (medium), but one made of American and the other of French oak. A little over 6 months later (in March 2014), Takeuchi-san decided the time was ripe to bottle his first single casks and share them with the public. He named this twin-release ‘Angel’s Half’ – they are available as of now, but in Japan only for the time being.
© Nine Leaves
We had the pleasure of sitting down with Takeuchi-san last week for a special preview tasting of ‘Angel’s Half American Oak’ and ‘French Oak’.  To put his new releases into perspective, Takeuchi-san used a musical metaphor: whereas the multilayeredness and complexity of a rum such as ‘Havana Club’ could be compared with an orchestra, the ‘Angel’s Half’ bottlings are closer to the sound of a single traditional Japanese musical instrument (a tsuzumi, a shamisen, a shakuhachi, and so on). They don’t revel in complexity (yet!), but allow you to focus on the personality of the spirit as developed by the wood, the subtleties and the quirks – the ‘grain of the sound’, as it were.

‘Angel’s Half American Oak’ is sexy, fresh and sweet with notes of butterscotch, vanilla and caramel popcorn. As Takeuchi-san says, “it has the vibe of a high school girl – bright, boisterous and fun’. ‘Angel’s Half French Oak’ is very different – more subdued, but spicier with more subtle pockets of flavour and an extremely long finish. “A mysterious woman at a party, this one is,” says Takeuchi-san, “someone you would want to spend hours and hours with.” Whereas we were immediately swayed by the ‘French Oak,’ Takeuchi-san is keen to remain on the fence: “one is Disneyland, the other an old chateau – there is a time and place for both.”
© Nine Leaves
So, where does Nine Leaves go from here? The plan is to release ‘Angel’s Half’ expressions twice a year from now on. Takeuchi-san is about to fill some new virgin oak casks and the nectar from those should be on the shelves by the end of the year. At the same time, he is keeping some barrels aside for longer maturation. Most of these are ex-wine casks (red, white and rosé) sourced from Wente Vineyards in Napa, California. It will be interesting to see what those casks will bring to the Nine Leaves spirit.

Takeuchi-san is excited by the maturation process but he also knows that his daily focus must be on what comes off the stills. “What happens after the clear rum is filled into wood is in the hands of the angels,” he says. “All I can do - what I must do - is make sure that the spirit comes out of my hands the best it can be.”

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