Thursday, October 30, 2008

Noh Whisky, Karuizawa Single Cask 1995 #5004 (Number One Drinks)

Taste it without water and the Karuizawa 1995 Single Cask (cask number #5004, bottled 2008) is full of character but is not something worth breaking the bank for. Diluted, it is worth investing half your retirement savings in Sub-Prime Brothers plc. and withdrawing the rest to spend on however many cases of the stuff you can get your greasy hands on. I have two small crumpled pages of hastily written notes in front of me which I have delayed to long in writing up. I am not quite sure what some of it means, so I will just copy out the first page:

: pastry dough, plums (green), Demerara sugar, very very faintly ammonic. Taste: Parching. Sweet at first but quickly becomes quite gamey. Meaty soup stock. Bovril. Doesn't sound appetising but quite rounded and satisfying. A salty after taste."
The second page deals with it diluted and I am afraid I descended into mere hyperbole. It seems the closer a drink gets to perfection the less this reviewer is able to capture it in anything other than abstracts and exclamations. So, here, for what it is worth, is what I wrote after dropping a couple of drops of Hakushu spring water into the Karuizawa:
Nose: toffees, sweets, apples, sweeter. Taste: Fantastic!! (double underlined). A real charmer. Cooked apples and dark sugar. Chocolate in there somewhere. Rounded. So classy, so balanced, so right that I can't find the specifics. Contentment. Warmth. Leather chairs and smelly environment destroying fires. Slightly maritime aftertaste."
You get the drift. I liked it very much.

Abv 63.0 per cent
£75.00. Distributed by Number One Drinks.

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.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The first Chichibu bottlings

I will give a few more details when I can grab some time but here is your first glimpse of the new spirit from the new Chichibu distillery set up by Ichiro Akuto of Ichiro's Malt fame. They are Chichibu Newborn Bourbon Barrel (c. 63 per cent alcohol) and Chichibu Newborn New Hogshead (c. 62 per cent alcohol). Three casks of each have been released and about 1800 bottles in total.

This stuff is so young it cannot yet be called whisky. This this is an interesting story to follow from its inception.

There have been a couple of other interesting Ichiro's Malt bottlings recently, which I will also update you on asap. By the way, I think Bar Zoetrope in Tokyo has these Newborns in his crib.

The photographs are taken from the incomparable Katotomo's blog.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Book Review: Malt Whisky Yearbook 2009

I promised a review of this year's Malt Whisky Yearbook 2009 a few weeks back. Ingvar Ronde, the editor of the Yearbook, told us from the outset that the 2009 Yearbook's Japanese section had been significantly cut back from 2008's excellent chapter. In the latest edition, there are six rather than 11 pages devoted to Japan. Some of the reduction is accounted for by smaller photographs but there are significant losses in some parts of the text. Hideo Yamaoka and Taylor Smisson's succinct but informative introduction to Japanese Malt Whisky has gone missing and the individual distillery entries have lost some of the excellent detailed data that was present last year. That said, the information has been updated, with a new entry for Ichiro Akuto's recently opened Chichibu distillery. There is of course a wealth of excellent information about the whisky world outside Japan.

What I always value about the Yearbook is its accuracy. It provides a comprehensive view of the entire whisky world. I often find that books of this sort come up short if you carefully read their information on particular subjects. This is particularly common when it comes to Japanese whisky, where the author is often winging it a little in a linguistic environment in which they have little or no expertise. I have never found this sort of problem with the Yearbook, perhaps because Ingvar has had the good sense to seek the help of Japan based experts like Hideo Yamaoka and Taylor Smisson.

I understand that this year's Japan chapter was abbreviated because Hideo and Taylor were busy with other work and could not devote the time necessary for a complete update. It is essentially a condensed version of 2008 with some news added, which still makes it one of the most reliable and thorough sources of information on Japanese whisky currently in print.

Ingvar writes: "It is our intention to present an expanded section on Japanese whisky in the next edition of the year book." Can't wait.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Yamazaki Plum Liqueur Cask Finish

I visited Zoetrope the other day as part of the research for my new book (you'll have to wait until well into 2009 for more info on that rather daunting project!). Anyway, I finally got to taste what for me had been one of the most interesting bottlings of the year. The focus of attention these last few months has understandably been on the world beating feats of the Yoichis and Hibikis, but we might look back on the quiet arrival of this "Plum Liqueur Cask Finish" as almost as significant.

We already knew that Japan was capable of making superb whiskies but this was something new: a selection of Yamazaki whiskies aged for more than 12 years in white oak, mizunara, and Spanish oak casks but then finished for two years in an barrel that had previously been used for umeshu making! Umeshu is a traditional Japanese plum liqueur, made by steeping tart green plums in sweetened alcohol (usually shochu, but you can make it with whisky).

Only 3000 bottles were released in August and it was limited to the bar trade, so I made sure I took the opportunity at Zoetrope to sample this intriguing bottling. Nose: A definite whiff of umeshu. Then, dough and bubblegum. Mouth: Surprisingly dry after the sweet smells: instant coffee and a very subtle, rounded smokiness. It had simple, clean development. The umeshu flavours came home forcefully at the finish. My mouth really tasted like I had been drinking umeshu.

Abv 40 per cent
700 ml - Difficult to get hold of because the release was restricted to bars. I have seen it on the Japanese internet at about 9,000 yen. It is on (deadline 25 October). In November 2008, it was on sale at Shinanoya, Roppongi for a similar price.

The photograph of the plums comes from Yosshi under this Creative Commons licence. The bottle shot is used with permission from Katotomo.