Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Ichiro deals new cards

Ichiro Akuto, of Hanyu saga fame, has released four new bottlings for his Ichiro`s Malt Card series:

Queen of Diamonds - Distilled 1985. French Oak cognac cask finish. Alcohol 58 per cent. 223 bottles. Cost: 20,000 yen.

Jack of Spades - Distilled 1990. New American Oak finish. Alcohol 54 per cent. 349 bottles. Cost: 10,000 yen.

Seven of Hearts - Distilled 1990. American Oak Sherry butt. Alcohol 54 per cent. 636 bottles. Cost: 10,000 yen.

Four of Clubs - Distilled 1991. Rum cask finish. Alcohol 58 per cent. c. 9,000 yen. 266 bottles. Cost: 9,000 yen.

All of these are of course single malts and were distilled at the old Hanyu. Like all Ichiro`s Malts I have ever come across, they are not coloured or chill filtered. There are all sorts of tasting notes for the new releases on the Japanese web, mostly from people trying to hawk the stuff, so I think we will wait until someone more reliable tastes them. Another tugged forelock to Katotomo for the tip.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Bar info: Quercus Bar, Ikebukuro, Tokyo

I am flying blind on this one. I haven`t yet had a chance to visit the Quercus whisky bar in Ikebukuro, Tokyo and had been hoping to take a peek before giving the Nonjatta seal of approval. It seems visits to Tokyo keep getting shunted off my agenda, though, so I thought I would pass on this little gem of a tip sooner rather than later.

Fellow Japanese whisky quaffeur Dr John Hawkins, who returned to the UK from a stint in Japan at the end of last year, writes:
"I used to go to a bar called Quercus in Ikebukuro. It was a really great little place, a lot more casual (and more reasonably priced!) than some of the other whisky bars I tried in Tokyo. I got very friendly with the owner Watanabe-san and some of the locals there. This place is one of the things I miss most since leaving Tokyo. Ichiro Akuto of Chichibu/Hanyu fame was a regular customer there - I occasionally had the pleasure of enjoying some of his excellent malts with him.

"Quercus has its own single cask bottlings, just once a year on the anniversary of the bar's opening (around September or October?). To date the ones I've tried have always been from Scottish distilleries, but they're no less interesting for it. Watanabe-san also keeps a good stock of Japanese malts as well - a definite bias towards Chichibu, but I've also had some other interesting specimens there such as Karuizawa, and of course the more commonly available Yoichi, Yamazaki, etc..

"Coming back to London I have been hit by the strange irony of just how few whisky bars there are in the UK compared with Japan. Tokyo seemed to be teeming with them. Those nights where I'd end up staying until 5am and getting the first train back comprise many of my fondest memories of my time in Tokyo!"

As soon as I can get into Tokyo, Quercus is on the itinerary. ("Quercus", incidentally, is the Latin word for oak.)


"Basically you need to get to Toshima Ward Office (Toshima Kuyakusho), and it is more or less next door to that, just a short walk from the east exit of Ikebukuro station. On leaving Ikebukuro east exit you should turn to your left, and follow the big main road, going past a Bic Camera and I think a Zara until you get to the ward office. It's on the right hand side, just after the ward office, in the basement of a building which also has a Mos Burger (if I recall correctly). I'm pretty sure anyone in the area around Ikebukuro station would know the way to Toshima Kuyakusho if you get lost and need to ask for directions."

Open 6pm - 4am, Mondays to Saturdays. Closes 2am on Sunday.

Okuma Bld. B1, 1-32-5, Higashi-Ikebukuro,
Toshima-ku, Tokyo, 170-0013

Address in Japanese characters
東京 都豊島区東池袋1-32-5 大熊ビルB1 (Can`t see it?)

There does not appear to be an official website for Quercus but John has posted some basic information including a small map at his site.
Quercus on Nonjatta's map of Japanese whisky bars.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Tigers toast puny triumphs

If what makes a great sports club is a massive and fanatical fan base, a glorious history and years of miserable sporting failure then the Hanshin Tigers must be challenging my own team Newcastle United and the Chicago Cubs for the global honours.

They definitely have the most bonkers set of supporters in Japanese baseball. They do nice things like singing adieu to the other team's pitcher when he gets switched. They riot when they win, dig graves when they don't and are convinced that Colonel Sanders has a thing against them.

Hanshin fans also seem to like to toast their paltry successes with malt whisky. I have seen a number of whisky bottlings to mark their 2003 Central League pennant win (eg. 1,2) but I never knew there was a pure malt complete with moving manager and music box produced for the obviously delirious Hanshiners:

This one was found by "Katotomo", whose excellent Japanese language blog about the good stuff has become regular reading for me. He bought it at auction and reports it came with a note saying it was a 22-year-old "pure malt" made at the Mars distillery at Shinshu. Bit of a problem there because Shinshu was opened in 1985 and this is a 2003 commemorative bottling, so it could only be a maximum 18 years.

Katotomo contacted Mars and found out that it actually contained malt from when Mars were making whisky at their winery in Isawa, Yamanashi Prefecture (not sure whether it was mixed with stuff from the Kagoshima distillery or somewhere else, which would explain the "pure malt" rather than "single malt" designation). They now have only a few drops left of this Yamanashi liquor.

I am green with envy!

Photograph from Moaksey.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Fourth Mizuwari Death Match

Whisky in a tin can. Crumbs! I was down at my local convenience store and found this little heresy on sale for 179 yen (75p/$1.50), which is not much more than a coke in these parts. It is actually a mizuwari, rather than a full strength whisky, so I brought him home to challenge for the Fourth Mizuwari Death Match:

The Champion: Nikka Black
The Challenger: Nikka Black mizuwari in a can.

Hey, this can't be right! The challenger is already landing his flying kicks as the champion is still to mixing himself with the regulation mizuwari ice and water. No, the judges say it's fine. Is this all going to be over before it has started? The champion is made of sterner stuff than that. He still on his feet and now he's all mixed and ready to rumble. They are toe to toe.

All you tin can sceptics out there, think again. There is really not a lot of difference between these two. But, hold on, the can is a little bit watery. The champion has just that little bit extra rounded sweetness. Bottled Nikka Black wins on a points decision. Shall we put it down to the excellence of the Nonjatta mizuwari recipe? Let's do that.

The result: Nikka Black retains the boater.

New release: Single Coffey Malt 12 Years

Nikka will release a new single coffey malt on November 22.

It is the product of a Coffey still at Nikka's Nishinomiya distillery. Coffey stills are usually associated with making grain whisky but I don`t think Nikka are totally new to Coffey malt experiments. I seem to remember being offered something along these lines at the Nikka Blenders Bar.

Anyway, there will be 3,027 bottles: 2,031 for the Japanese domestic market and 996 for the European export market, where it will be distributed by Nikka's European representatives La Maison du Whisky (see this post for more information on that relationship). I suppose this shows us how significant the export market is becoming for these specialist Japanese malts.

Here is Nikka's pretty slick promotional web page for the single coffey malt.

Alcohol: 55 per cent
Price: 8,400 yen for a 700ml bottle in Japan. The European price is 109 Euros (£75/$150/18,000 yen).

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Hibiki 30 years

Update: Winner of the best blended whisky in the world award at the World Whisky Awards 2008. This, of course, puts my scepticism below in some sort of perspective. Perhaps it is worth all that money after all!

I liked the Hibiki 17 but will have to save quite a few more pennies to afford this most prestigious of Japanese blends. At 100,000 yen (ie £400/$800), I could buy a computer for the same price as one bottle!

I am not sure about prices when they get to this sort of altitude. Sure, if the whisky has some kind of real rarity but this is really part of Suntory's standard range. You get the feeling someone is sitting with a supply and demand chart and figuring that some people will just buy things because they are expensive. It seems to be aimed at the market for leaving presents for top executives or for toasts for sealing big business deals, rather than at individuals who like good whisky.

Most of the people who get to drink this are probably either
non-whisky drinkers who have to say thank you politely or red faced suits, smashed after multiple rounds of celebratory sake. This is a pity because, as Serge tells us, it is a stonking blend.Review by Nonjatta contributor - Serge Valentin

Visit Serge`s website, the definitive

"Hibiki 30yo (43%, OB, Suntory, Blend, circa 2000)
This one has already been coined ‘the best blend in the world’ by some Maniacs so we’re very curious now.
Colour: Dark gold.
Nose: Absolutely stunning. Very complex right at first nosing, starting on a very wide array of various aromas such as marzipan, orange marmalade, nutmeg (a lot, really), apricot jam, quinces (lots), chamomile and many others... The oakiness is just perfect. Then gets quite spicy, with still a lot of nutmeg but also ginger, juniper berries, saffron... Also old Sauterne of the highest grade, vanilla crème, bergamot... Exceptional, certainly the most beautiful blend I have ever nosed, although I must confess I haven’t tried many.
Mouth: A little less classic and surprisingly sweetish for a short while (marshmallows and bubblegum) but it’s soon to get back on track, with an excellent oak up front and a spicy cortege progressively joining in (some nutmeg albeit less than on the nose... white pepper, very sweet curry, something like satay...) Also, some spearmint. Gets maybe just a tad drying at the ‘end of the middle’.
Finish: Long, certainly oaky but nicely so, still spicy, even a little mustardy (wasabi, of course). Anyway, certainly a blend that will keep most single malts at bay, Scotch included. 91 points (and thanks, Ho-cheng)."

43 per cent (abv)
Price700 ml - c. 100,000 yen