Thursday, June 17, 2010

Shot Bar Zoetrope 4th Anniversary Akashi Malt

I promised something interesting the other week from Shot Bar Zoetrope and here it is: Shot Bar Zoetrope 4th Anniversary Akashi Malt . There are only 100 bottles and I am the very smug owner of one of them.

The significance of this bottling is that it is the first cask strength bottling of a whisky from the White Oak distillery. That distillery has been taking their first tentative steps into quality single malt production over the past couple of years and I know Atsushi Horigami at Zoetrope has been one of the people chivvying at them to do so. They long held off single malts, maintaining a proud allegiance to their blended whisky tradition but now seem convinced that they can make a go of premium whisky. I visited them last year and published a profile of the distillery in the April 2010 edition of Whisky Magazine.

Their first bottling was the Akashi 8 single malt, which I will publish a full tasting of asap. I characterised it in the Whisky Magazine article as having an extremely light and smooth profile, almost more like a soft barley shochu or even a sake than a whisky. It is an interesting approach which works well with some Japanese cuisine. Their latest official bottling, the Akashi 5 yo, about which I will also post notes, has a similar softness. This 5-year-old independent cask strength bottling, however, is something a very different and I think, by bottling it, Horigami san is taking a important next step in Akashi's emergence as a single malt distillery.

First let's get the technical stuff out of the way. It was distilled in July 2004 and bottled in October 2009. It was aged in American white oak hogsheads for four years and then aged for another year in a sherry cask. It has an alcohol content (ABV) of 59 per cent.

Smell: Quite subdued. The tiniest hint of smoke (very distant indeed) with sweet fudge in the foreground. On long car hot-plastic-seated car journeys in my childhood, my dad used to keep my me and my sister quiet with boxes of Smith Kendon travel sweets. I still remember the dusty sugar that covered your fingers when you dipped in. There was a smell here of the orange and wild berry tablets.
Taste (unwatered): Very dry and sour with hints of brine and rubber. Bitter. Not much sweetness, no coherent development in the taste and, to be honest, not very pleasant.
Taste (with a big splash of water): This benefited immeasurably from water. It changed completely, becoming much smoother and more drinkable. A sweetness emerged. "Caramel" is a much overused word when describing whisky, particularly in descriptions by newbies like myself, but this had the most pronounced caramel taste I have ever found in a whisky. The finish had more caramel and a hint of aniseed. Another glass and another splash. Much more wood; lime and chewing green sticks.

And, for me, that is why Horigami san's independent bottling is significant. A cask strength bottling may be riskier - this one would turn a few people off at full strength - but by letting go of the reins and making an undiluted bottling Eigashima have allowed so much more freedom and fun for the drinker.
Finally, Horigami san's labels are just uber cool in my opinion. We now have quite a collection of great labels in Japanese whisky.

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