Friday, June 20, 2008

Yoichi SMWS Cask No: 116.12 - "green sticks and building bricks"

The smell is quite subdued: yeasty, honeyed. Sweet milky coffee. Three distinct facets to the flavour. Chewing green sticks: astringent, bitter. Licking building bricks: a mouth full of gravel, ash, dust. And through it all, some sweetness. Oaked white wine. 

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society has put out some interesting bottlings of Japanese single malts in recent years. It specialises in single cask, single malt whiskies of approximately 230-250 bottles per cask. This 21 year old Yoichi, distilled in July 1986 and bottled this March, is uncompromising but I liked it. According to the Society's publicity, the Yoichi 1987 20 year old that won the best single malt prize at the World Whisky Awards 2008 is retailing for £120 at present. I can't confirm that but, if anything, it looks like a bit of an underestimate. This 21 year old, then, is a bargain compared to its younger sibling. I should point out, however, that the flavour is dissimilar. I have tasted the award winner (I didn't take any notes so I am holding fire on a write up for Nonjatta) and it does not offer the opportunity to lick bricks like this one.

More information

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society's own tasting notes: "Tinned Peaches and tobacco pipes. The only distillery on Japan’s northern island, Hokkaido, was built by Nikka’s founder, the legendary Masataka Taketsuru in 1934. It produces a range of styles of malt whisky for use in its blends, and this bottling is highly phenolic. The immediate scent is of tinned peaches and charcoal scattered with lavender. There is lilac blossom in the background, and traces of bath oil, so the taste at full strength – which is like chewing charcoal or licking the bowl of an old pipe – comes as something of a surprise. Water develops the fragrant theme, with floral notes, scented honey and sugar soap; slightly waxy, and only a hint of tar. This passes across into the flavour at reduced strength: a nice smooth mouthfeel, pleasant balance of sweet and vinegar-sour, and only an ash-like trace of smoke. A common descriptor for this whisky is ‘welcoming’."

54.2 per cent
Price (Junel 2008)
700 ml - £61
For further details see the Scotch Malt Whisky Society website.

Declaration: A 150 ml review sample of Cask 116.12 was sent to Nonjatta by the SMWS. Nonjatta subscribes to the Drink Bloggers` Code of Conduct, which means we try not to be influenced by such free samples.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Bar info: Zoetrope, Shinjuku, Tokyo

Photograph of Zoetrope by Tony McNicol

Zoetrope is the best place in the world to drink Japanese whisky. It is that simple.

Atsushi Horigami has 250 Japanese whiskies on his shelves and 100 other bottles, including Japanese rum, Japanese vodka and even Japanese grappa. The focus, as you have already surmised, is on Japanese alcohol, and specifically Japanese versions of foreign alcohol. Among the intriguing bottles that I will definitely be returning to sample was a couple of versions of Suntory`s fabulously named "Special Mysterious Whisky", so called not because of some nefarious blending ruse but because of a hook up with the Mystery Writers of Japan association.

Zoetrope is the only independently run bar specialising in Japanese whisky. Unlike the bars run by Suntory and Nikka, it therefore offers a full range of Japanese drams including Nikka, Suntory, Karuizawa, Mars, Eigashima, Ichiro`s malt and I am sure a few others that I have never heard of. Atsushi himself is a very engaging man with an infectious enthusiasm for his subject. He has all sorts of goodies under his bar: a facscimile of Masataka Taketsuru`s diary from Scotland and a full Nikka "Rare Old Whisky Bottle" from the 1960s are among the treasure trove.

It is probably only in Japan that you could call a bar "definitive". Zoetrope is the "definitive" Japanese whisky bar. Yet, despite the incredible range of drinks on offer, Zoetrope lacks that slightly obsessive edge you get in some Tokyo specialist establishments. The theme of the bar itself has nothing to do with whisky: at the far end of the bar there is screen showing a continuous loop of silent movies and the sound track is randomly selected from more modern film soundtracks. The name comes from a 19th Century device that prefigured moving pictures - a drum with slits in the sides which, when rotated, animated a series of pictures arrayed around the inside of the cylinder. Horigami-san has a zoetrope under the bar to show anyone who asks. I am not quite right when I say there is no connection between the film theme and whisky: zoetrope means wheel or circle or living wheel which of course has a nice resonance for fans of the water of life (uisge-beatha, whisky).

Taylor Smisson switched me on to Zoetrope. His review of the bar is here.

Opening hours
7pm to 4am
Closed Sundays and national holidays.

3rd floor, Gaia Building #4,
7-10-14 Nishi Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku,
Telephone: 03-3363-0162
Zoetrope's Website.
Address in Japanese characters (sometimes useful to show to taxi drivers):
ガイアビル4 3F

Zoetrope's Map
A google map of Zoetrope (far better than the bar's own version) is here.
Basically, go out of either the east or west exits or Shinjuku station (the east is slightly easier) and walk north, with the tracks either to your immediate left or immediate right until you get to the big underpass under the tracks. There should be a stream of people passing under the tracks to go and get their rocks off in Kabukicho. I have marked it with a red cross on the map. If you are to the the east of the tracks, go under the underpass. If west, stay where you are. You should be able to find it using the google map from there.

World Whisky Award confusion

There is a bit of confusion out there about exactly which 20-year old Yoichi single malt won the World Whisky Awards 2008 prize. I have seen at least one online store saying that the standard Yoichi 20 was the winner. I have not received final confirmation but my impression is that the winner was the 1987 Yoichi 20-year-old that Nonjatta covered here.

There is absolutely no suggestion here that the retailers are making anything other than an honest mistake here. The award announcement is a little confusing and I apologise if Nonjatta's early coverage did not make this distinction sufficiently clear. On a broader point, there can be a real problem in clearly identifying particular whiskies in a market in which producers are putting out hundreds of specialised bottlings with overlapping designations. On Nonjatta, I try to clearly distinguish different products without weighing the posts and indexes down with multiple line titles which I feel would just put-off newcomers and make the site unusable. So, for instance, I called the 1987 20-year-old "Yoichi 1987" to distinguish it from the "Yoichi 20" of the standard range. In the end, I think the photos can be as useful in correct identification as the written detail. This is always a bit of a trade-off between usability and nerdiness and I would appreciate feedback from readers.