Post by Stefan Van Eycken, Tokyo
The 6th installment in the Ghost series has been out for a while, but this one’s a little different from the previous 5. The bad news is: you won’t be able to get your hands on a bottle. The good news is: your chances of trying it are much higher than any of the previous releases… How can that be? Well, bear with us. This is the story, in a nutshell.
We’ve been longtime fans of Ichiro’s Wine Wood Reserve, from back in the days when he produced this ‘leaf label’ release as a one-off for the liquor department in Takashimaya, Shinjuku (about 5 years ago). This was by far our favorite in the leaf series (the others being the “Mizunara Wood Reserve” and the “Double Distilleries”), and it’s highly regarded among whisky fans in Japan, but not so well known abroad. Due to the scarcity, very few bottles made it to retailers abroad. It did very well in blind tasting competitions in Japan, but never made it to the top (can’t blame the whisky when it’s up against the likes of Yamazaki 25 etc.). So, in the summer of last year, we approached Akuto-san with the request to do a special bottling of the WWR at vatting strength for the Ghost series. We were thrilled when he agreed, but he had just added some components to his WWR, and being a solera whisky (a rare example of one in Japan!), it needed a few more months in the vatting tank to marry properly. (That’s the egg-shaped vat in the picture below, the so-called OVUM – Latin for ‘egg’ – made by French coopers Taransaud.)
Weary to do another lottery – like with Ghost 2 and 4, most of which ended up being sold at auctions for up to 50 (!) times the original price, and because of this perceived increase in value, unopened and just put away in closets – we realized there was a way to still make this a “drinker’s Ghost”. We decided – in agreement with our partners, Number One Drinks – to make this exclusively available to bars in Japan. Yours truly made a selection of bars all the way from Hokkaido to Kyushu, delivering each bottle in person… and ordering the first dram there and then, so that 1) the bottles would be open and ready to be enjoyed by people visiting the bars, and 2) no bottles could ever end up at auction. We figured that, being at bars throughout the country, about 700 people could try this phenomenal whisky, rather than 28 people worshipping and/or flipping their bottle.
“Sogi was a seventeenth-century priest who spent much of his life traveling, preaching and teaching poetry. He would pay for lodging at the homes of people he met with his wit and literate conversation. Here, he has taken refuge for the night in an abandoned house. The weather is clear but extremely cold. He notices two ghosts muttering to each other in the shadows of the house. As in a traditional Japanese poetry contest, they are arguing about a poem; they have composed the first half but are having problems with the second. Sogi immediately completes the poem. Rather than thanking him, the ghosts are angry at being bested; they gesture threateningly at Sogi before disappearing, leaving him to a lonely and uncomfortable night.” (John Stevenson)