Friday, January 30, 2009

Miyagikyou 1998

The Yoichi 1988 has now arrived in Europe. Two hundred bottles have been shipped by Nikka to La Maison du Whisky.

Meanwhile, the Yoichi`s sister tipple, Miyagikyou 1988, hit the shelves in Japan this week. It costs 21,000 yen a bottle. 1,500 bottles available. 50 per cent alcohol.

Kilts, cummerbunds and kimonos at Whisky Live

Congratulations to the organisers of the Whisky Festival for a really great occasion. We now roll on to the biggest of all Japan`s whisky conclaves, Whisky Magazine Live! 2009.

This year`s event is a must for any Japanese whisky enthusiast within striking distance of Tokyo`s Big Sight (how to get there?) on February 22. There are more Japanese whisky focused master classes than ever before.

I should apologise to readers for not getting this up before the Yoichi and Chichibu talks sold out, but there are still tickets for Suntory`s Yamazaki and Hakushu master classes at the time of writing (Update: only a few seats left in the Yamazaki). Suntory is Japan`s biggest distiller but it is also one of its most innovative. I would recommend those sessions without reservation. If last year is a guide, however, you will need to understand Japanese if you want to do more than just sample Suntory`s excellent drinks.

Of course, there are also loads of fascinating non-Japanese whisky classes, some of which will be in English. One of the great things about Whisky Live is that it is largely bilingual. In line with this, their website is in both English and Japanese. This page explains in English how to buy tickets and master class passes.

Ulf Buxrud [1,2] will be signing copies of his new book Japanese Whisky - Facts, Figures and Taste at the Whisky Magazine Shop in the foyer. If you want to expand your knowledge of Japanese whisky just go and pick Ulf`s mind for a few minutes. I know I will be.

There is also a signing by master blender Richard Paterson of his book "Goodness Nose". Nonjatta has mentioned before that Paterson is a manga superhero in his spare time. Millions of people know of him only through this comic book alter ego. I have never met a manga character in real life before!

Event organiser David Croll says: "I guess also of interest to lovers of Japanese whisky would be the announcement of the heat winners of the 2009 World Whiskies Awards. As you remember, Yoichi 1987 and Hibiki 30 year old won the global awards in their categories last year.

"There will also be some interesting news about Whisky Magazine Japan, to be announced by editor-in-chief Dave Broom, and a Live! debate about the relative merits of official and independent Bottlers."

Finally, by way of justification of my clumsily alliterative headline, the organisers were so taken with the couture on show at last year’s Whisky Live (looks better in the high quality version) that they have decided to offer prizes to the best turned out drammers. Dust of the kilts, cummerbunds and kimonos and dress to impress!

The logo displayed at the top of the article is from the Whisky Live website. Superb design this year, don`t you think?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Rushing the Haggis

Haggis is served to some enthusiastic drammers

I have just got back from the Whisky Festival at the Aoyama Diamond Hall in Tokyo. It was big. I could smell an overpowering hum of whisky as soon as I got the main hall. There were hundreds of people knocking back the free samples on dozens of stalls. The range of whiskies on offer, Scottish, Japanese and others, was even more impressive in reality than it had been on the press release.

As things currently stand, February's Whisky Live Tokyo, which I will be giving a full preview to in the coming days, is a more bilingual affair than the Whisky Festival. I saw a few foreign faces today but I think I am right in saying that all the talks were in Japanese. Of course, it doesn't take any Japanese to gesture at a bottle and sup the contents! It was the day before Burns Night. There was a proper addressing of the Haggis, accompanied by a very accomplished Takeshi Mogi on the pipes, and then a veritable stampede for the samples of haggis (see above).

The highlight for me was a talk by Ichiro Akuto of Ichiro's Malts and Chichibu distillery fame about his new distillery and his newborn whiskies, which I have tasted and will post about as soon as I get a moment. I suppose I should reveal to impatient readers that I am in the middle of writing a book about Japanese alcohol. I hope it is going to really be a definitive guide to the subject (not just whisky or sake but the entirety of what I think is quite possibly the most exciting alcohol culture in the world but the research and writing is taking up a lot of time and that means that sometimes I find it difficult to do all that I want to do on Nonjatta. I apologise. After that, I have a contract to write a book about Japanese whisky so, rest assured, my eye is not being taken off the Japanese whisky ball. I will write a little more about what Akuto san said and some of the other things I picked up at the festival when I get a moment (it is 2 am Japan time now). In the mean time, here are a couple of photos of Akuto-san's talk.

Ichiro Akuto talks at the Whisky Festival 2009

Audience members at Akuto san's talk, inluding Atsushi Horigami of Bar Zoetrope (centre)

Thank you Takeshi Mogi for bringing me up to speed with this event and, of course, to the Scotch Whisky Research Centre for making it happen.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Whisky Festival in Tokyo

Japan's big whisky festivals are upon us once again. The first is the Whisky Festival 2009 at the Aoyama Diamond Hall in Tokyo on January 24.

This is only the second Whisky Festival but it has already established itself as second only to Whisky Live Tokyo, which will be held on February 22, in terms of size.

Among 28 companies attending will be Suntory, Asahi (Nikka distillers), Kirin (Karuizawa and Fuji-Gotemba distilleries), Venture whisky (the people behind Chichibu Distillery and Ichiro's Malt), Whisk-e, Veuve Cliquot Japan, Diageo Moet Hennessy , Acorn, Kokubu, Sanyo Bussan, Japan Import System, Scotch Malt Sales, Three Rivers, Nihon Shurui Hanbai / Diageo Japan, Pernod Ricard, Bonili Japan, Maxiam Japan and Meijiya. Some of these exhibitors do not attend Whisky Live, so both events should be in any truly devoted whisky buff's diary. There will of course be lots of opportunities to sample whiskies from all over the world.

The seminar list provided for me by Takeshi Mogi looks very interesting. I think I am right in saying that all of these seminars will be in Japanese. They cost 2000 yen each and there are 25 seats in every seminar.

12:30~13:30 Mamoru Tsuchiya: About Taketsuru Note (Sold Out)
14:00~15:00 Seiichi Koshimizu: Suntory's Attractiveness
15:30~16:30 Ichiro Akuto: Ichiro's Malt
Ticket at JPY 3000
11:15~12:15 Yasuhiro Koinuma and Motohiro Tanishima: Recent News about Cognac (Sold Out)
12:45~13:45 Koji Nomura: Recent News about Burbon
14:15~15:15 Mamoru Tsuchiya: Life of Robert Burns
15:45~16:45 Talk with SWRC's tasters (Sold Out)

Ticket information in Japanese is available here. Admission costs 3,000 yen in advance (there are still tickets available) or 3,500 yen on the day. Map and route guidance in Japanese is here but this Google map may be a bit easier to use. The event will be held in Sapphire Room (BF1) of Aoyama Diamond Hall from 11:00 AM to 18:00 PM on the 24th, which is of course the day before Burns night, so there will be some Haggis ceremonials. Takeshi will be playing his pipes.

Address of the event in English:
Aoyama Diamond Hall
3-6-8 Kita Aoyama
Minato ku
TEL: 03(5467)2111
FAX: 03(5467)2259
Google Map

Address in Japanese:

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Gold & Gold Shirobin (and Orson Welles)

Gold & Gold has been one of the mainstays of Nikka's range of blended whiskies since its launch in 1968. This version is actually called "Shirobin" or "White bottle", even though the labeling is all in black. I think the "white" probably refers to the transparent glass, which I think can also be described as "shiroi" in Japanese. Anyway, there were some great ads for "G and G" in the late 70s and early 80s:

Orson Welles liked it, or at least liked the Nikka signed cheque enough to say so, but what does the real expert think:

Review by Nonjatta contributor - Serge Valentin

Visit Serge`s website, the definitive

"Nikka 'Gold & Gold' (43%, OB, blend, +/-2008)
Colour: Gold.
Nose: We’re close to the ‘Blend’, only even drier and a little maltier. Hints of beer and soft spices (ginger, cumin). Just as austere, but these whiskies are probably not made for deep nosing.
Mouth: Not very big at the attack but rounder and creamier than the ‘Blend’. Notes of beer again (gueuze, fruit flavoured Belgian beer), marzipan, quite some malt and the same kind of salty peatiness as in the ‘Blend’. Really warms up after a few minutes. Hints of kirsch.
Finish: Medium-long, maybe just a tad too sugary but the peatiness blends well with soft spices and something slightly ‘oriental’ (orange blossom water). Aftertaste a tad too spirity.
Comments: A blend of good quality. SGP:342 - 76 points." (Serge`s scoring system is explained on this page.)

Here is that old G and G campaign again:

Orson's alcoholic dabblings were of course not limited to Japanese whisky. In this clip he seems to have mixed his private and professional interests:

Nikka Whisky "The Blend"

Review by Nonjatta contributor - Serge Valentin

Visit Serge`s website, the definitive

"Nikka 'The Blend' (40%, OB, +/-2008)
They write ‘Malt Base Whisky’ on the label… Doesn’t that just mean ‘Blended Whisky’?
Colour: Gold.
Nose: Rather spirity, pretty malty and a tad cardboardy, with also whiffs of warm paraffin and olive oil. Very little fruitiness, a rather austere profile. Not unpleasant, I must say, and certainly not ‘commercial’.
Mouth: Rather dry, not really weak at the attack but a little too cardboardy. Good proportion of peated malt it seems, and even a little salt, but that’s not enough to lift this one to recommendable levels, although it is certainly not undrinkable. Actually, it does improve over time, gaining body and a bigger peatiness. Also a little pepper and quite some ginger.
Finish: Short but clean and, again, nicely peaty.
Comments: A blend that reminds us of Black Bottle in a certain way (not the 10yo). The palate is much nicer than the nose. SGP:232 – 74 points." (Serge`s scoring system is explained on this page.)

Kingsland Nikka Whisky

Review by Nonjatta contributor - Serge Valentin

Visit Serge`s website, the definitive

"Nikka Kingsland (43%, OB, +/-2008)
What a ‘beautiful’ N°5-alike bottle!
Colour: Gold.
Nose: Once again, we’re close on the nose but this is a little bigger and certainly smokier. Also, quite a bit more grassy… A higher proportion of malt whisky, probably. Hints of banana skin.
Mouth: Similar to the ‘Gold & Gold’. Mouth feel a little oilier. The whole is a tad more candied and rich, and there are also more spices. Reminds me a little of some ginger liqueur I tried once.
Finish: Medium-long, even more gingery and sweet.
Comments: Another good one, with quite a bit of personality. The sweetest of this bunch of Nikka blends, a little less peaty as well. SGP:441 – 76 points." (Serge`s scoring system is explained on this page.)

Super Nikka Whisky

Review by Serge Valentin

Visit Serge`s website, the definitive
"Nikka 'Super' (43%, OB, +/-2008)
These bottles with very long necks are very clever. Even when the level goes down a bit because of evaporation, the contact surface with air remains very small.
Colour: Gold.
Nose: Ah, this is much more expressive than the ‘Blend’, ‘Gold & Gold’ and ‘Kingsland’. Much more honeyed and fruity (dried figs), with the same kind of waxiness. Also a little cardboard but the overall profile is very enjoyable. Gets smoky. Quality blended whisky.
Mouth: Pretty much the same as the Kingsland’s, only a little smoother at the attack, and a little grassier after that.
Finish: Maybe a little shortish but clean. Spicy baklavas.
Comments: A good blend. SGP:341 – 75 points."(Serge`s scoring system is explained on this page.)

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Blend of Nikka 17 Year Old

Happy New Year to all. I was about to post my impressions of the two "Newborn" spirits from Chichibu, but Serge Valentin has sent over his ratings of a drawer full of Nikkas. I will post Serge`s stuff first and save my own material for the depths of winter.

Review by Nonjatta contributor -
Serge Valentin

Visit Serge`s website, the definitive

"The Blend of Nikka 17 yo (45%, Official bottling, circa 2007)
Colour: Gold.
Nose: There’s peat, there’s a whole basket of fruits, there’s a rather beautiful spiciness (nutmeg, cumin, dried cardamom) and then a long development on coastal notes and pineapples. An unusual combo that works very well. Much more in malt whisky territory than some of the other Nikka blends. And keeps improving! On par with the best Hibikis so far. Mouth: Same feeling on the palate. Not a big bodied whisky but everything is there, from peat to fruits and from spices to herbs. Pineapple syrup, dried ginger, light caramel, lychees (very obvious). Tastes more and more like a spiced-up lychee and pineapple salad.
Finish: Long this time, balanced, lingering, spicier at this stage. More cloves.
Comments: A very, very good blend that will defeat many malts. The proportion of malt whisky must be huge. SGP:542 – 87 points." (Serge`s scoring system is explained on this page.)