Post by Stefan Van Eycken, Tokyo
Best wishes for the new year, folks. It’s an understatement to say that last year has been a quiet year here on Nonjatta, but that doesn’t mean we were sleeping on the job. Far from it.
The main reason for the lack of activity was the fact I was working on my book. Research, traveling and writing literally took up any free time I had for the first half of the year, and then the second half was taken up by the production side of things. That’s behind me now and what a relief it is! The book will be out in March. It’s called “Whisky Rising” and is available for pre-order from the usual suspects (apologies for the shameless plug). In truth, I could have posted some things in the margin of my work on the book, but then I happen to know a few people are working on a book on Japanese whisky so I had to keep some of my powder dry.
Nonjatta has always been about spreading enthusiasm for Japanese whisky, informing people and helping them find their way to (and into) the liquid. Now that everyone is crazy about Japanese whisky – not only about the liquid, sadly, but also as an “alternative investment”, as it’s usually phrased – it is harder to pursue those lofty ideals. Reviewing whisky with the idea of helping the reader make up their mind whether it is likely to appeal to them so that they can then go out and buy a bottle for their private enjoyment or track one down at a bar is… well, let’s face it, not going to happen anymore. When a single cask bottling or a limited release comes out, it is a mad scramble for crumbs and with a few hundred bottles available it is gone faster than you can say “oh, look there it is at auction for 5 times the retail price”. The result is that, even when you DO manage to get hold of a bottle, this situation leads people to fetishize their bottle. Even those who genuinely buy to drink can’t shake off the feeling that the bottle they were lucky to score is now worth the equivalent of a week’s holiday in Hawaii.
Best Blended Whisky: Kirin Fuji-sanroku 50° Non-Chillfiltered
Best Single Malt Whisky: Mars “Komagatake” Tsunuki Aging
Best Single Grain Whisky: Fuji Gotemba Small Batch 25yo Single Grain
Best Single Cask Whisky: Chichibu Malt Dream Cask for Bar Kitchen
With the exception of the grain whisky – which is an anomaly, really – these are all young whiskies. The reality is that, for a very long time, we will be drinking very young whisky coming out of Japan. Six new distilleries started producing last year. It will obviously take a while before anything ‘mature’ will come out of the warehouses of those distilleries. Other smaller distilleries – Chichibu, Mars Shinshu and Eigashima – have relatively young stock and can’t splash their older stock about the place too much. They need it for the future and they know that the future lasts a long time. The only ones able to offer a bit more variety in terms of aged stock are the big boys but whether they will remains to be seen. There has been very little coming out of Suntory and Nikka in terms of new, special or limited releases recently. They’ve been replenishing their warehouses for almost a decade now – producing around the clock. It may be that we will reap the fruits of that labour in the years to come. Then again, it may just be that all the stock that has been laid down since the highball boom is needed to satisfy mass demand for their entry-level products – i.e. that there is no space, real or mental, to release small-batch / single cask / limited edition products aimed at whisky enthusiasts.
This is turning into a long post, so we’ll let you get back to whatever it was you were doing, dear reader. We’ll just leave you with a promise to try and return to the level of activity pre-2016 on Nonjatta. The angles may be somewhat different, and posts may be a bit more brief, but we’ll do our best! Here’s to a year filled with better whiskies at better prices! Kanpai!