Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Yamazaki ‘Vintage Malt’ 1979/2005

Review by Serge Valentin

Visit Serge`s website, the definitive

"Yamazaki ‘Vintage Malt’ 1979/2005 (56%, OB, sherry butt, Japanese oak "Mizunara")
Colour: Full gold.
Nose: As expressive as the Cask of Yamazaki 1979 but with more sherried notes that make it a little less ‘focused’ right at the attack, but it then gets comparably superb. A little more mint and camphor plus hints of game (hare). With water: it behaved quite differently from the Cask of Yamazaki 1979, keeping its fruitiness (hints of coconut from the wood as well as pineapples) beyond the same kind of grassiness. A tad phenolic. More game, more animal notes as well. Superb nose, very complex, which is maybe not what was expected.
Mouth (neat): Contrary to what happened on the nose, I like this one a little better than its brother at the attack. Somewhat drier, more elegant and just as big. Oranges, tobacco and herbs, then the same kind of spices plus a little chilli (Thai red sauce.) Perfect balance between the big spiciness and the fruits. With water: wilder, even spicier, with an even bigger presence. Spearmint, cardamom, coriander, basil and bitter oranges. Yes, an unusual mix. Finish: long, more liquoricey and herbal.
Comments: It’s hard to decide between these two marvellous 1979’s. Let’s not even try… SGP:553 – 91 points." (Serge`s scoring system is explained on this page.)

The Cask of Yamazaki 1979/2002

Review by Serge Valentin

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"The Cask of Yamazaki 1979/2002 (56%, OB, Japanese oak "Mizunara", cask # RF1013)
Colour: Full gold.
Nose: A rather beautiful attack on the nose, compact, as is often the case with ‘crafted’ Yamazakis, but with very distinct notes of ginger and soft curry added to a rather waxy and oily character (paraffin, linseed oil, olive oil.) With water: it got much more vegetal and grassy, which is a little curious, I must say. Whiffs of peat arising. No sweetness or fruitiness.
Mouth (neat): Hugely concentrated but not thick, which is quite an achievement. Loads of spices, crystallised oranges, ginger, cardamom and pepper. A lot of wood but it’s great wood, I must say (spices.) With water: rounder of course, and more ‘oriental’ as well. Turkish delights, lychees, like we found in other versions; orange squash, mint flavoured tea. Excellent now. Finish: rather long and a tad more resinous.
Comments: An ultra-dry nose and a rounder and fruitier palate, which is exactly the contrary of what happens with many old Scotch. Two whiskies in one!
SGP:552 – 91 points" (Serge`s scoring system is explained on this page.)

Yamazaki ‘Vintage Malt’ 1980/2004

Review by Serge Valentin

Visit Serge`s website, the definitive

"Yamazaki ‘Vintage Malt’ 1980/2004 (56%, OB, refill sherry)
Colour: Amber.
Nose: Not very different from the 1982 as far as the profile is concerned, only much bigger and expressive. Please read above. With water: wilder, more animal (soy sauce, beef bouillon.) Pu-erh tea, Habano, bitter chocolate, coffee. Hints of peat.
Mouth (neat): Explosive, very fruity, very ‘sherried’ and very spicy. Huge concentration! Much nicer than the 1982 in that sense. Pepper, strawberries, hawthorn tea, blackberry jelly and strong honey (chestnut and the likes.) Gingerbread. With water: smoother of course but not less flavourful. More spices and more herbs (interesting hints of thyme and mother-of-thyme.) Liquorice. Finish: long, with silky tannins and more notes of blackcurrants (fruits and buds.)
Comments: Very, very good, this one pulled excellent comments and scores at the MM Awards 2007.
SGP:552 - 88 points." (Serge`s scoring system is explained on this page.)

Yamazaki 1982/1997

Review by Serge Valentin

Visit Serge`s website, the definitive

"Yamazaki 1982/1997 (45%, OB, sherry wood)
Colour: Amber.
Nose: Very, very compact, starting on hints of dried mushrooms and cigar box and displaying notes of honey, caramel, roasted nuts and whiffs of smoke and peat after that. Also gets a little meaty (grilled beef.) Less exuberant than many of its Yamazaki colleagues.
Mouth: Much, much more sherry influence on the palate. A little drying (blackcurrant leaves, grape pips, green tea) and a little too vinous for my taste. Prunes, blackcurrants, bitter oranges. Finish: rather long, still vinous but also spicier (cloves.)
Comments: Not as ‘crafted’ as more recent bottlings but still good – if you like heavy sherry influence, that is.
SGP:451 - 81 points." (Serge`s scoring system is explained on this page.)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Yamazaki ‘Vintage Malt’ 1989/2005

Review by Serge Valentin

Visit Serge`s website, the definitive

"Yamazaki ‘Vintage Malt’ 1989/2005 (56%, OB, hogshead, white oak)
Colour: Full gold.
Nose: Much more austere than the 1986, it’s having a rather hard time after that one. Vanilla, a little cardboard, newly sawn oak and ginger. It’s only after deep nosing that some fruitier notes arise, such as pineapples and ripe apples. With water: it got a tad more organic. Hay.
Mouth (neat): Much closer to the 1986 here, but the woodiness is much more obvious, and even a tad drying. Tinned pineapples plus a lot of spices (ginger, pepper, cloves, Chinese anise, liquorice). With water: more of the same, with also some slightly disturbing cardboardy notes. Finish: medium long, rather tannic but not excessively so.
Comments: The oak really stands out here. Quite good but not my favourite.
SGP:461 – 80 points."(Serge`s scoring system is explained on this page.)

Yamazaki ‘Vintage Malt’ 1986/2005

Review by Serge Valentin

Visit Serge`s website, the definitive

"Yamazaki ‘Vintage Malt’ 1986/2005 (56%, OB, sherry hogshead)
Colour: Pale amber.
Nose: How jammy! Very big notes of plum jam (Mirabelle), apricot jam, honey… Also rather flowery (yellow flowers, nectar, orange blossom) and ‘oriental’ like many of its bros (sandalwood, incense, cardamom.) This isn’t whisky, it’s jam. Almonds. With water: a wonderful oakiness, very straight, complementing the huge fruitiness. Extremely pleasant.
Mouth (neat): Superb attack, half fruity, half spicy. Perfect mouth feel. Longans, figs, bananas, ginger and white pepper. A tad less extravagant than on the nose but the balance is perfect. With water: it all mingled, giving something very compact and very coherent. Immensely drinkable. Finish: long, with the oak getting more distinguishable (lactones).
Comments: this one offers huge pleasures. Perfectly crafted.
SGP:641 - 90 points."(Serge`s scoring system is explained on this page.)

Yamazaki 16 yo 1986/2003

Review by Serge Valentin

Visit Serge`s website, the definitive

"Yamazaki 16 yo 1986/2003 (45%, OB, sherry wood)
Colour: Full gold.
Nose: Starts more on the waxy and oily notes (linseed) that one can often find in Yamazaki, rather than on sherry. The sherry is quite discreet actually, most probably refill. Notes of olive oil, sawdust… Slowly takes off after a few minutes, getting maltier and nuttier, the sherry being more obvious now. Fig jam and walnut liqueur, with whiffs of incense. Very very nice now, with something Irish.
Mouth: Soft and very fruity attack, once again very Irish (Bushmills). Pineapples, bananas flambéed, honey sauce, papayas… Goes on in the same vein, with a little more oak after a while (soft pepper.) Finish: medium long, very fresh and very fruity.
Comments: One of the fruitiest Japanese we could try. Perfectly composed and highly drinkable. An easy, sexy dram.
SGP:720 – 85 points.
"(Serge`s scoring system is explained on this page.)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Cask of Yamazaki 1990/2008 Sherry Butt

Review by Serge Valentin (August 2008)
Visit Serge`s website, the definitive

"The Cask of Yamazaki 1990/2008 (61%, OB, cask #0N70646, 2nd fill Spanish oak sherry butt, 504 bottles) Another brand new one, bottled in June.
Colour: Mahogany.
Nose: Very punchy and very chocolatey. Hints of old books and old roses and a little strawberry jam. Needs water! With water: much, much nicer. Beautifully vinous and ‘roasted’. Old Port, green cigar like they make in Indonesia, Smyrna raisins, dates and hints of aniseed (or Ouzo/Raki). Superb but really needs water.
Mouth (neat): The winey notes are rather big here, with quite some strawberry liqueur, backcurrant crème and a little rubber. Heavy wine influence it seems, but the whole is very strong. Water needed again. With water: once again, it’s way better at roughly 45% than at cask strength. Complex development on tobacco, dark chocolate, rum, prunes, cocoa powder and overripe strawberries. Fruitcake. No more rubber. Finish: long and spicier (cloves, pepper) which is quite normal.
Comments: Another one that really needs water but that gets truly wonderful when reduced. Super sherry.
SGP:651 – 90 points."(Serge`s scoring system is explained on this page.)

The Cask of Yamazaki 1990/2005 Hogshead

Review by Serge Valentin

Visit Serge`s website, the definitive

"The Cask of Yamazaki 1990/2005 (55%, OB, cask #0W70223, Ohmi cellar, hogshead)
Colour: Pale gold.
Nose: Oily, mineral and waxy at first nosing, with quite a bit of vanilla in the background as well as hints of flour (‘clean dust’, sawdust.) Linseed oil, fabric. Gets dustier over time. Tapioca, cedar wood. With water: it got more organic and even maritime, not dusty anymore, with whiffs of oysters and iodine, wet hay… Also a little more ‘oriental’ (sandalwood, incense), with quite a bit of plain oak all the while, and some smoke. Very ‘natural’.
Mouth (neat): Rather explosive and very fruity, on fresh pineapples, apples (golden delicious) and hints of bananas. A little spirity. With water: more of the same, only smoother and much better balanced. Pineapple sweets and vanilla crème. A tad simple but perfectly compact, which isn’t the same. Finish: long, jammy and smokier now.
Comments: A fruity/sexy one that’s an excellent swimmer.
SGP:731 – 86 points." (Serge`s scoring system is explained on this page.)

The Cask of Yamazaki 1991/2002 Sherry

Review by Serge Valentin

Visit Serge`s website, the definitive

"The Cask of Yamazaki 1991/2002 (61%, OB, sherry, Ohmi cellar, cask #1O70047, 468 bottles)
Colour: Pale gold.
Nose: This seems to be extremely fine! Obvious notes of Palomino fino, old walnuts, petrol, coffee, tobacco… Very hot, though, so let’s not wait and add water. With water: stunning nose now. Not really complex but so wonderfully straightforward, on a magnificent trilogy of resin, peat and pears, and then these notes of walnuts, marzipan and fishing boat (including diesel oil and tar). Yes it’s a tad maritime.
Mouth (neat): Exceptional profile – or so it seems because once again, this is very hot. We’re no sissies (yeah, yeah) but we need our throats, so… With water: this one is a winner. It’s not that it’s really more complex than its brothers (1991 Bourbon and 1992 Vintage, reviewed below) but the general feeling is much more satisfying, and the wood extracts rounder. Soft curry, cinnamon, ginger, vanilla and hints of pineapples. Finish: rather long, an extension of the palate.
Comments: The kinship with Dr Lumsden’s work at Glenmorangie is very obvious here, and even if it’s a sherry cask, it tastes like brand new American oak. Not really romantic but beautifully made.
SGP:561 - 87 points." (Serge`s scoring system is explained on this page.)

The Cask of Yamazaki 1991/2002 Bourbon

Review by Serge Valentin

Visit Serge`s website, the definitive

"The Cask of Yamazaki 1991/2002 (60%, OB, bourbon, Ohmi cellar, cask #1O70640)
Colour: Pale gold.
Nose: Extremely similar to the 1992 but the high alcohol blocks many aromas, or so it seems. Hops and tobacco. With water: once again, it did not really get more complex but what a great profile! Smells almost like a newly opened pack of mentholated Dunhills. Hints of fresh butter.
Mouth (neat): Round, fruity, grassy and peaty but very, very hot. Aargh… With water: very compact, reminding us of Glenmorangie’s experiments with new oak. Less vanilla and more peat but the style is sort of similar. Brown sugar, crystallised ginger and cinnamon. Finish: long and spicy/oaky.
Comments: Good again but maybe a tad ‘fabricated’. Well made of course but lacks a little magic.
SGP:532 – 81 points." (Serge`s scoring system is explained on this page.)

Yamazaki ‘Vintage Malt’ 1992/2005

Review by Serge Valentin

Visit Serge`s website, the definitive

"Yamazaki ‘Vintage Malt’ 1992/2005 (56%, OB, hogshead, white oak)
Colour: Pale gold.
Nose: Expressive, starting on quite some olive oil and peat, very vegetal, organic and leathery. Chlorophyll, leaves, ginger, sandalwood, incense and pine resin. With water: oh, it got quite simpler, more on grass and vanilla. As if water had shut it down – and yes we gave this one time (it just got a tad more pearish). Bizarre…
Mouth (neat): Punchy but ‘drinkable’, with a little peat and a rather big ‘greenness’. Walnuts, salicornias, mint flavoured nougat, mastic sweets… Notes of pears and pineapples behind all that. Very good, extremely satisfying if not very complex - yet? With water: once again, it got somewhat simpler. Not bad at all, but simpler (pineapple and green spices, cardamom?)
Finish: Medium long, fruity, with a ‘return’ on vanilla crème. Comments: a good Yamazaki but it seems to lack most of its brothers’ complexity and ‘fullness’.
SGP:542 – 80 points." (Serge`s scoring system is explained on this page.)

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Cask of Yamazaki 1993/2008 Heavily Peated

Review by Nonjatta contributor - Serge Valentin

Visit Serge`s website, the definitive
"The Cask of Yamazaki 1993/2008 (62%, OB, puncheon #3Q70048, 492 bottles) This is a brand new peated version (26ppm) and the puncheon was a 2nd fill one (American oak).
Colour: Pale gold.
Nose: Similar in some respects to the Osaka Kita NBA bottling reviewed below but more phenolic, resinous, smoky (pinewood) and herbal (patchouli, hashish). Quite spectacular, even at 62% ABV. With water: a tad less resinous but also a tad peatier. Greens, shoe polish, mushrooms (do you know blue foot or wood blewit? They smell exactly like this malt.) Big stuff. Mouth (neat): almost the same whisky as its sister cask, only fruitier and more flavourful. Unusual notes of lychee liqueur and rose jelly. With water: again, close to the NBA’s cask but with an extra-dimension, brought by these very fruity notes (lychees and such) that I never found in any Scotch – I mean, to this extent. Spectacular whisky. Finish: long, on a very unusual lychee/peat combo.
Comments: Had you told me a whisky would taste like peated lychees, I’d have told you to stop drinking. It’s like a mixture of 80% Ardbeg and 20% fine Gewurztraminer. I love this, mind you.
SGP:555 – 91 points." (Serge`s scoring system is explained on this page.)

Yamazaki 1993/2006 ‘NBA Osaka Kita Private Choice’

Review by Nonjatta contributor - Serge Valentin

Visit Serge`s website, the definitive

"Yamazaki 1993/2006 ‘Private Choice’ (62%, OB, NBA Osaka Kita) A special bottling for the Nippon Bartenders' Association.
Colour: Gold.
Nose: Whiffs of dead leaves and cigarette tobacco, pine resin and putty. Let’s not try too hard, at 62% it would be a bit hazardous. With water: resinous and leafy indeed. Obvious notes of game, smoked tea (lapsang souchong), argan oil, putty, fern, moss, mushrooms… and a beautiful peat. Top notch on the nose, compact yet complex.
Mouth (neat): Rounder than expected, concentrated, certainly peaty. Peated pears and pineapples - should that be possible. This seems to be very, very good but again, let’s not take chances. With water: excellent! Unlike other any Scotch, blending resinous and peaty flavours most wonderfully. Again, hints of tinned pineapples. Finish: long and just a tad tannic – nothing embarrassing here.
Comments: The NBA know how to select a cask it seems. No wonder… Maybe it’s just a tad too mono-dimensional, but let’s not split hairs.
SGP:465 – 90 points." (Serge`s scoring system is explained on this page.)

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Yamazaki ‘The Owners Cask’ 1995/2006

Review by Nonjatta contributor - Serge Valentin

Visit Serge`s website, the definitive

"Yamazaki ‘The Owners Cask’ 1995/2006 (56%, OB, for World Liquor Brutus, cask #5C3009, 401 bottles)
Colour: Mahogany.
Nose: Fantastic sherry here. Sure it’s a tad vinous but it’s so spectacularly compact! Walnuts, dark chocolate, blackcurrant buds, grilled beef, balsamico and espresso coffee. With water: gets very close to the ‘Vintage’ version, maybe a tad more complex (various herbs).
Mouth (neat): Ooh-aah! As concentrated as if they had cooked this one for three days before bottling it. Plum jam, blackberry jam, prunes, lees, cherry stem tea, caramel, orange liqueur, spearmint, cough syrup… What a monster! With water: it got really amazing. Dry sherry at its best. High-end tea, tobacco, thousands of spices, fruit liqueurs, herbs… Finish: endless but more on spices.
Comments: Maybe this is a tad ‘engineered’ but all I can say is that it’s awfully good. Sherry lovers should try to track this down, honest.
SGP:652 – 92 points." (Serge`s scoring system is explained on this page.)
The photograph is from the website of the home of Japanese whisky drinking, Bar Zoetrope.

Yamazaki ‘Vintage Malt’ 1995/2005

Review by Nonjatta contributor - Serge Valentin

Visit Serge`s website, the definitive

"Yamazaki ‘Vintage Malt’ 1995/2005 (56%, OB, sherry) This one is said to be very rare.
Colour: Mahogany.
Nose: This is a sherried version, and a rather beautiful one. Chocolate, cigar box, leather, fudge, Parma violets, coffee and walnuts. Flawless. With water: now it got truly wonderful. Old Spanish ham (pata negra) and very old white Madeira. Almost stunning.
Mouth (neat): What a beast! Concentrated, even sort of heavy, with quite some oak (tannins – maybe a bit green) and truckloads of prunes plus English brown sauce. Sticky. With water: stunning whisky. More coffee and chocolate and then more fruits (blackcurrants, prunes, blackberries). Cleaner and less meaty than when neat. Finish: long, clean, fruity and jammy (blackberries).
Comments: Luv’ this. ‘Natural’ sherry maturing perfectly handled.
SGP:652 – 90 points." (Serge`s scoring system is explained on this page.)

Yamazaki ‘Vintage Malt’ 1994/2005

Review by Nonjatta contributor -
Serge Valentin

Visit Serge`s website, the definitive

"Yamazaki ‘Vintage Malt’ 1994/2005 (56%, OB, barrel)
Colour: Gold.
Nose: Dry, oily and waxy. Whiffs of lovage. Quite some oak, fusel oil, pencil eraser, charcoal... Hints of cedar wood in the background. Vanilla, grass, beer (yeast) and green tea. Rather sharp. With water: more phenolic and resinous. Wet hay, linseed oil, wet chalk. We like it much better now.
Mouth (neat): Much, much sweeter and fruitier than on the nose. Loads of pineapples (fresh, tinned and dried) and an excellent oakiness behind these pineapples. With water: reveals an elegant spiciness but the pineapples are still there, together with coconuts and bananas. Finish: medium long, very clean, fruity, still on pineapples and honey.
Comments: A tropical Yamazaki that needs water – and then it gets excellent.
SGP:731 – 86 points." (Serge`s scoring system is explained on this page.)

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Yamazaki 15 yo "Tarudashi Genshu"

"Tarudashi genshu" means "straight from the barrel" and so is roughly similar in meaning to "cask strength". Serge says this one was bought at the distillery but I believe it is available on the Japanese internet (here, here and here, for example).

Review by Nonjatta contributor -
Serge Valentin

Visit Serge`s website, the definitive

"Yamazaki 15 yo (56%, OB, circa 2004)
Colour: Pale amber.
Nose: Even more wood here, Japanese style. Cinnamon, cigar box, cinnamon… Notes of fresh putty and almonds, leaves, tannins… Then chlorophyll, green tea, bay leaves, juniper… Rather ultra-dry. Hints of rubber bands.
Mouth: Punchy and very expressive, with a good fruits/wood combo. A lot of ginger, white pepper, nutmeg, cloves and mint. Peppered quince pie. Let’s see what happens with a little water (while the nose got woodier and more tannic): it got a little rounder, more ‘polished’, but the resinous notes got even bigger. Finish: long and very tannic/peppery.
Comments: Not unlike the old 12yo in style, only bigger and punchier, with more oak and more mint. A tad too much for my taste but it’s good nevertheless.
SGP:371 – 83 points.
"(Serge`s scoring system is explained on this page.)

Yamazaki 12 yo (old official bottling)

Another review by Serge Valentin. I am taking a bit of a punt with the photo because Serge does not have access to images of the original bottles from which his samples came. I am guessing that this old official bottling is one from the period when Suntory liked to calls its single malts "Pure malts" and bottled a Yamazaki 12 at 43 per cent under that flag.

Review by Nonjatta contributor -
Serge Valentin

Visit Serge`s website, the definitive

"Yamazaki 12 yo (43%, OB, bottled in the 1980’s)
Colour: Gold.
Nose: Drier and more phenolic than the more recent 15yo. Tea, sandalwood, cedar wood, patchouli… Gets maltier after that. Hints of olive oil, waxed paper, fresh almonds. Less sexy, I’d say. No OBE yet on the nose.
Mouth: We’re extremely close to the 15yo now, with roughly the same profile. Same rather big dryness. Grassy. Bigger spiciness arising, though (pepper, mustard.) Not an easy whisky. Finish: long, peppery, liquoricy and a little resinous.
Comments: Very punchy and very, very spicy old Yamazaki.
SGP:362 – 80 points.
" (Serge`s scoring system is explained on this page.)

Yamazaki 15 yo ‘80th Anniversary’

The phenomenal Serge Valentin of has been generous enough to send Nonjatta another great slew of Japanese whisky reviews, this time a bonanza of Yamazaki tastings. Nonjatta will be chock full of the "Summer Yamazaki Sessions" over the next few days.

Review by Nonjatta contributor -
Serge Valentin

Visit Serge`s website, the definitive

"Yamazaki 15 yo ‘80th Anniversary’ (43%, OB, 2003) This was bottled to commemorate Yamazaki’s 80th anniversary.
Colour: Pale gold.
Nose: Very expressive, fruity (plums, apricots) and pleasantly oaky (vanilla). Develops some mint and whiffs of cinnamon and ginger, as well as chocolate, vanilla fudge and acacia honey. A very sexy and very well composed nose.
Mouth: Again, quite a lot happening on the palate, even if the general profile is much, much drier. Notes of cider, apple peel, green tea, mead, vanilla… Gets more peppery and gingery after a moment. Quite chewy. Finish: medium long, prolonging the palate in the same style.
Comments: A very good malt, with a big personality. A huge difference between nose and palate though.
SGP(on average):551 – 86 points.
" (Serge`s scoring system is explained on this page.)
Thanks for the photo goes to this Japanese blog.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

A new single malt distillery

There are rumours flying around that there will be an official single malt bottling issued by Monde Shuzou in Yamanashi prefecture by the end of the year. I have no idea if those whispers have any basis in fact and will try to firm them up with Monde when I can. In the meantime, an independent bottler called Tokuoka Ltd. has bought a supply from Monde and stolen a march on the story. Tokuoka's product is called "Usuikyou" and is a single malt.

Usuikyou's name literally refers to flute playing but is derived from the characters used in writing Fuefuki, the city from which it comes. The whisky was distilled in 1983 but appears to have been cask matured for only 20 years. It is cask strength at 64 per cent alcohol. Katotomo has tasted it and, though he did not exactly rave about it, was not wholly dismissive either. He described the nose as oily, rubbery, burned corn with a touch of ammonia. The taste combined sweetness and sourness. There was a lot of grain on the palate with grilled soya beans.

So, we have a newcomer to add to our list of single malt distilleries! Monde Shuzou, established in 1952, is a reasonably well established wine maker. Yamanashi is one of the main Japanese wine making areas and Monde (pronounced Mon-duh in Japanese) can pump out 20,000 bottles of the stuff a day. It has a workforce of 44 people.

Like many Japanese wine makers, it has a long history of dabbling in other foreign alcohols. It has been selling very small amounts of its two brands of blended whisky for a while: "Royal Crystal" and "Fuji no Sei". I have never tasted them

Monde's Royal Crystal and Fuji no Sei blends

These are not mainstream whiskies and belong to an interesting category of the Japanese industry that I have been meaning to post about for some time: "Ji-whisky".

The "Ji" in "Ji-whisky" means local and is roughly equivalent to the concepts of "micro-brewing" or "micro-distilling". There are very healthy "Ji-biru"(beer) and "Ji-zake" (sake) sectors in Japan, with lots of bars specialising in selling their often delicious products. The "Ji-whisky" sector is still very much in a formative stage. In fact, although I have heard this term bandied around recently, I had to think carefully before adopting it myself because it gives the misleading impression of a movement of new and high quality distillers. Hopefully, that will come to pass but at present there is a tremendous variety in the quality of the spirits being sold and no clear focus from many of these small distillers on producing the small batch single malts that would start to get them a toe-hold in the market.

Ichiro Akuto's Venture Whisky, which opened the new Chichibu distillery this year, might be defined as a "Ji-whisky" operation but they are so far ahead of the bunch that they should perhaps get their own category until the rest catch up. Other small batch whisky sellers/producers are Sapporo Shusei (Hokkaido), Sasanokawa Shuzou (Fukushima), Kanemasu Shuzou (Niigata), Gyokusendou Shuzou (Gifu), Aioi Unibio (Aichi), Wakatsuru Shuzou (Toyama), Chugoku Shuzuo (Hiroshima) and Herios Shuzou (Okinawa). Eigashima Shuzou in Hyogo prefecture is a slightly larger operation than the rest, selling the well established blended whisky brand "White Oak". Not all of these companies are necessarily currently distilling. Some may be selling old casks from previous whisky experiments, and the general feeling I had until I saw this Monde single malt is that they just didn't get it: that they were just trying to hawk a few cheap bottles of whisky in their winery shops and were doomed to obscurity. I must say it is rather typical of the sector that this innovative Monde single malt should have come from an independent bottler. If, however, the rumours of an official Monde single malt bottling are correct and that turns out to be a high quality product then perhaps the idea of "Ji-whisky" isn't just a pipe-dream after all? This may be the start of something significant.

Monde distillery's Location on Google maps.

476 Shibu, Ishiwa-machi, Fuefuki City, Yamanashi Ken
Address in Japanese:

I am usually religious about asking permission from everyone whose images or content I use/refer to on Nonjatta. On this occasion, however, I had a computer crash just as I was about to do this. I lost a browser full of open pages of blogs with the images used in this post and have no way of matching the photos I had already downloaded, short of starting the picture research from scratch. They were all, I think, either publicity photos or amateur blogs so I am just going to publish and be damned and, on this occasion make do with sending out a general thank you to the Japanese blogosphere. Never again though. The only exception is the photo of the new whisky itself which comes from Katotomo, who also tipped me off about the whole Monde whisky story. As usual, a big thank you to Katotomo.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Japanese drams at the Pavillon Gabriel

Bird's eye view of Paris's Pavillon Gabriel

If you are interested in Japanese whisky and happen to be down Paris way in September, make sure you pop into Whisky Live Paris. La Maison du Whisky, the main organisers of the event, are one of the key players behind the the arrival of Japanese whisky on the world scene. It is no surprise, then, that the Land of the Rising Sun features prominently at this year's convention.

The two main main Japanese distillers, Suntory and Nikka, will have stands as well as the British distributor Number One Drinks (which sells both Hanyu and Karuizawa malts). If Whisky Live Japan is anything to go by, there will be loads of free samples.

Alexandre Vingtier of La Maison says: "Expect to taste many new single casks bottlings with unexpected versions : Yoichi, Miyagikyo, Coffey grain, Yamazaki, Karuizawa and Hanyu. There will be also a specific mizuwari session with a new Yoichi NAS (No Age Statement).
Also, expect some Japanese stuff in the collectors / VIP area!"

As Nonjatta has mentioned before, Ulf Buxrud will be presenting his new book on Japanese whisky at the event. He is part of a
strong line up of authors bringing some choice new offerings on some interesting subjects: Ardbeg by Gavin Smith, Bushmills by Peter Mulryan, Laphroaig by Marcel Van Gils, and the really interesting sounding "An Echo of Whisky" by Hans Offringa, about Whisky and jazz. Add to that the hundreds of tastings and presentations from across the world and the entry tickets look reasonably priced: 25 Euro for a half day, 40 Euro for the day, 75 Euro for a weekend package. It all goes off on 20 and 21 September at the The Gabriel Pavilion, 5 Avenue Gabriel, 75008 Paris. There are a limited number of free invitations for trade customers available for the day after the public show (22 September). Book here or phone +44 147 30 71 93.

The bird's eye view was snatched from Google Maps. Thank you Google.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Yamazaki Plum Liqueur Cask Finish

Photograph from Katotomo.

I often get asked whether there is a Japanese style of whisky making and usually respond by playing down any idea that it really can be considered as something separate from the Scottish tradition. The Japanese distillers have spent far too much effort trying to make excellent Scottish whisky to really be regarded as a distinct style, in the manner of US or Irish whiskey. That said, the Japanese distillers do have access to a very different alcohol heritage and that is going to occasionally produce things that are unique. This is one of those products.

The new Yamazaki Plum Liqueur Cask Finish (tug of the forelock to Katotomo's website for alerting me to this) is a fascinating hybrid: a combination of whiskies stored in white oak, mizunara, and Spanish oak casks for more than 12 years, then finished in an umeshu barrel for 2 years. We have discussed umeshu on Nonjatta before. It is a staple of Japan's long humid summers, a delicious traditional plum liqueur based on shochu spirit (or, more rarely, whisky) combining sweetness with the tartness of green Japanese plums.

Hiroyoshi Miyamoto, general manager of the Yamazaki distillery, let slip at Whisky Live Tokyo in February that Suntory had a few innovative projects in the pipeline. I didn't think too much about it at the time but this certainly fits snugly into that category. Suntory have not gone in for much cask finishing in the past and nobody that I am aware of has ever tried an umeshu finish. According to Katotomo, there are some whiskies being stored in umeshu barrels at Hakushu but this is a Yamazaki single malt. Can we expect a Hakushu version in the near future?

It is not going to be easy getting hold of this whisky. There are only 3,000 bottles and I have not yet found it on general sale.

But what does it taste like? Katotomo says it tasted more like umeshu than he had expected, which is not terribly helpful, I know, to those of you who have never tasted umeshu. Imagine a slightly tart plum liqueur. Katotomo liked the combination of sweetness and sourness in the whisky. A real "Love it or hate it" dram, he said. He also detected chocolate, banana and some smoke. It is only 40 per cent alcohol, but has a solid whisky kick. But what really struck Katotomo was the transformation when water was added: the sourness really came to the fore. In a mizuwari, it just tasted like umeshu. Got to taste this stuff.

Thanks to Katotomo for the photograph as well as the tip-off for the piece.

Stop Press! Stocks of world`s best whisky available in Europe

Any European eager to taste the Yoichi 1987 which won the best single malt award at the World Whisky Awards this year, should get over to the Maison du Whisky`s website pretty sharpish.

Alexandre Vingtier of Maison du Whisky, the European distributors for Nikka, says: "Only 150 bottles of Yoichi 1987 55% 20yo have arrived from Japan for Europe, simply the best single malt of the world according to Whisky Magazine. I personally regard it as one of the best dram I have ever had... I tried it a few month ago in Japan and I just poured myself one more dram of it in order to celebrate this award!"

"The new Master Blender of Nikka is extremely talented [Ed.: This is Tetsuji Hisamitsu, the chief Yoichi blender who we understand has either got or is getting the Master Blender title]. It has a special vibrance for him, as he designed it for his daughter's 20th birthday, when Japanese get adults and drink and smoke with their parents for the first time," says Alexandre.

You can order it online here. There is a restriction of one bottle per customer and it will set you back 220 Euros which, though it looks high, seems a remarkably reasonable price given the likely demand for this one. The whisky available through Maison du Whisky consists of 24 bottles from the original bottling and 150 bottles of a second bottling which was done by Nikka after winning of the World Whisky Award. The label on the second bottling records the prize. Nikka has done these second bottlings of popular limited edition whiskies in the past and the fact that whisky from the same batch is left unbottled for a few months does not effect the taste of the whisky by all accounts.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Karuizawa Single Cask 1986 (Number One Drinks)

The nice people at Number One Drinks Company sent Nonjatta a sample of this Karuizawa 1986 Single Cask (cask number #7387, bottled 2008).

It had quite a distinctive smell: standing in a rose garden drinking Horlicks. There was a real attack on first tasting. I was left reeling. It is very dry but has several quite distinct stages of development in the mouth: first, overwhelming dry bitterness, then a hint of petrol station forecourt runoff, before it finally settles down to Marmite and bread. I usually taste my whiskies without water because that is the way I like them but this one definitely needed a soakiing. I used Tokyo metropolitan water, a liquid of such prodigious foulness that I don't even make my tea with it. I added a fair bit too because this Karuizawa was not compromising. It brought out vegetation, citric rind and a doused fire smells. The taste was much more amenable, mellow even: orange barley water, some wood with raisins and aniseed at the end.

At last, I am put to the test! I got this sample free from Number One Drinks and, despite all my posturing about giving honest opinions, I must admit to desperately wanting to like it because someone was nice enough to help Nonjatta along by putting a sample bottle in the post. The fact is, however, that this one is not really a favourite. Don`t get me wrong, it is a sophisticated and very characterful whisky, as Karuizawa products almost always are. I think they are probably the most fearless Japanese distillery. Some people are going to love this one. Not I.

Other reviews

David Broom, quoted on the Number One website:
"Colour: Throbbing amber. Golden highlights.
Nose: Intense, indeed incense with a suggestion of gentleman’s moustache wax. Resinous then a mix of crystallised fruits, dried fig, cep, cassia, diluted tamarind paste. Exotic! There’s smoke and and increased spiciness with time. Water brings out a dried citrus peel note, the waxiness continues alongside a hint of tarragon dried peach. Fresher but still mysterious.
Palate: Intense. Picks up blazing heat as it progresses, before the smoke starts to reveal itself. Slight astringency on the sides of the mouth. After the initial burn the dried fruits come to the fore. Things calm down a little with water allowing a better (physical) spread of flavours and less bitterness. Scented: rosewood, light chocolate and dried mint. The richness just holds the tannic grip at bay.
Finish: Dry, fairly short and slightly tannic when neat. Dilute there’s more spiciness (cinnamon in particular). Still quite tight and dry though in time there’s fresh menthol. This is one for a cigar, or given the moustache wax, a pipe."

Abv 60.7 per cent

Thanks to the Number One Drinks Company for sending the sample.
Nonjatta tries to live up to the Drink Blog Code when reviewing samples sent free.