Friday, May 16, 2008

Hakushu 25 - "nice for a price"

Read our updated post at Whisky Hills: Hakushu 25 and Yamazaki 25

Last week, the Yamazaki 25 years. This week, the new 25-year-old from Suntory`s other distillery, Hakushu. These are the top of Suntory`s range and I have raised my eyebrows in print before about their price. At 100,000 yen (ie. about £400/$800) a bottle this sherry barrel aged number is certainly not for the average punter or even the moderately loaded one.

But what does it taste like? One reason Whisky Live is a must for any whisky fan is because you get a chance to taste whiskies like this without emptying the family food budget for the next two months. I tried Hakushu 25 at the February event just a few days after it was released and was very impressed despite my previously stated misgivings about the price. Apologies for the delay in reporting. I lost my notebook.

It smelled very understated - pine wood and roses - but in the mouth it was a different kettle of fish altogether. Not fish. Forget fish! Whereas the smell is noticeably understated, the taste is well rounded but powerful: marmalade, dark chocolate and berry fruits. It develops smoky influences and aniseed. Very warming.

Abv 43 per cent
Price (January 2008)
700 ml - 100,000 yen

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Yamazaki 25 - "jams and black treacle"

Read our updated post at Whisky Hills: Hakushu 25 and Yamazaki 25

I forgot to mention that Takeshi Mogi and I washed down our first meeting with a few drams. Or rather, I had a few and Mogi-san drank water because he had to get back to the pharmacy in the evening. Poor fellow!

I have been looking forward to trying the Yamazaki 25. Opinions are deeply divided, as you can see in the reviews in the next section, and I wanted to make up my own mind. This sort age of any Suntory whisky comes with a very hefty price tag (c. 1,000 dollars) and I think there are just as interesting Japanese whiskies for a lot less, but I am adding myself to the pro-25 brigade if we are judging only on taste.

It was a feast. Nose: like a nice breakfast with a hangover - rich jams and Weetabix, with the heavy wines and ports from the night before still on the breath. In the mouth, you are immediately manhandled by dark jams, red wines and tannins. There is a lot of vanilla and wood in there with a delicious memory of quietly opening my mother's kitchen cupboard for a twisted spoonful of Lyle's black treacle. Later on, it dries in the mouth. Some very good judges of whisky have been underwhelmed by this Yamazaki. I enjoyed it.

Reviews by othersA wide range of opinion on this one, rating it from superb to mediocre. Robert Karlsson, Malt Maniacs 101, February 2007 said a 2006 bottling was heavy, "something for the sherry sadomasochist". (Hmmm, sherry sadomasochism! Sounds good!) Karlsson said it had a syrup-like sweetness with raisin and date flavours: "Also dry, derived from wood. Spicy. Taste is special, lots of wood influence, dry, bitter, slighty perfumy... Too much for me!" Karlsson was tasting it for the 2006 Malt Maniacs awards and gave it 75/100 points ("above average"). Despite this low score, the Yamazaki 25 managed to come out of the awards with the gold medal for Best Non-Scotch Whisky for 2006.
Johannes van den Heuvel, top man at, agreed that the 2006 bottling was a bit extreme but liked it: "Whoaah! Sherry & smoke. Tea? Some Maggi? My kind of profile... Smoky toffee. Dry, smoky & woody palate." He went for the smoke and strong tannins, although a hint of soap kept his score to 90/100 ("excellent").
Serge Valentin on also gave it 90/100. "Whiffs of varnish at first nosing, soon to disappear. Starts then on heavy notes of plum sauce and high-end balsamic vinegar, wine sauce, prunes and armagnac. Just superb. We have also lots of salty liquorice, game and coffee. Really concentrated, to say the least." And that before he had even put it in his mouth. He said it had heavy sherry taste, complicated by bitter chocolate, coffee, ripe kiwi fruit and cinnamon flavours. He said it got a bit drying on the mouth but enthused over a long finish with a "great kind of sourness. "
Out of 13 reviewers on the website, the 2006 bottle scored an average of 91/100 ("excellent"). Karlsson's 75 was the only one below 80/100 ("recommendable").
However, the reviewers at Whisky Magazine were less enthusiastic. Martine Nouet gave it a lukewarm 7/10 and Dave Broom 6.5/10 in reviews in the 1/6/2006 issue. Their descriptions were not out of keeping with those of the Malt Maniacs but Dave Broom found the palate "dull and over wooded". Both reviewers commented on the bitterness of the finish. " Bitter bitter bitter. Mouth drying," said Broom. He twisted the knife: "Old and over the hill".

43 per cent
Price (April 2007)
700 ml - 105,000 yen

(Please note the dates on reviews if they are provided. There may be significant variation between different years of a single malt brand)

The treacle image is from Sifter on Flickr