Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Singlemalt Chichibu Golden Horse 12-year-old

Review by Nonjatta contributor - Dramtastic
The Singlemalt Chichibu Golden Horse 12-year-old, Bottle no. 0263, Bottled July 2008 56% Alcohol
Nose: Oaky, Caol Ila 12 type medicinal notes. Peat, butter menthols.
Palate: As per the nose with some big spices. Salt. Biscuity and a slightly oily mouth feel.
Finish: Spicy, hot, sweet peat and a little drying right at the end.
Comments: This is my favorite "didn't see it coming" whisky of the last 6 months (as opposed to the ones I expected to be good). It has a fantastic balance and I'm a sucker for a malt with big spiciness. For those you have tried Yoichi 12 (a whisky I love), this one is better in my opinion.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Cask of Hakushu Heavily Peated 1993 (White Oak)

Review by Nonjatta contributor - DramtasticThe Cask of Hakushu Heavily Peated 1993 58% White Oak #3B40573
Nose: Fairly subtle peat hangs over balanced oak, pine and varnish. Then, after a little time, that Japanese magic of lychees and cherry blossoms breaks the surface, followed by some cereal notes and earthiness. After about 20 mins, some brineyness becomes apparent.
Palate: Sweet peat comes through in a big way. A lovely spice hit of cinnamon/nutmeg/salt followed by a hint of Hubba-Bubba that I've found in few Japanese whiskies (particularly those from Yoichi). A little water brought out some chocolate.
Finish: Mainly on the palate with sweet peat, soft oak, and a sweet/hot spiciness dominating. Water brings out the chocolate.
Comments: Not a peat monster by any stretch, but an extremely well balanced and complex whisky.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Japanese whisky production up for the first time in a decade

An end to Japanese whisky market's decade long recession may be in sight. Or am I get over excited over a blip on a graph? According to a report in the Asahi Shimbun, Japanese whisky production increased for the first time in 11 years in 2009.

Shipments increased 10.3 per cent. The last time we saw in increase of more than 10 per cent was way back in 1983, the high-water mark the Japanese whisky boom.

Domestic consumption is up, partly due to some highly successful campaigns to push whisky based mixed drinks including highballs, but exports are also in unprecedented good health. According to the Asahi report, Suntory exported 106,000 cases last year, up 17 per cent and Nikka saw a 11 per cent increase in European sales. The Asahi Shimbun says Nikka plans to increase its whisky exports 40 per cent next year to 25,000 cases.
Disclosure: I work for the Asahi Shimbun.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The sublime Yoichi train mint julep and other manga stories

The latest volume of the popular manga "Bartender" is all about Japanese whisky and Hokkaido. I found it very evocative, having visited many of the spots and met some of the people featured in the stories as part of my research for "Drinking Japan", my book about Japanese alcohol (for those of you getting impatient waiting, it is expected to be in the shops by the end of the year. Tuttle have all the drafts but editing it and putting all the hundreds of photos and maps together is a lengthy task at their end).

The Susukino crossing in the manga and during my visit last year.

Bartender is a very popular manga by Joh Araki and Nagatomo Kenji (artist) that has been running in Super Jump magazine since 2004. It was made into an animated cartoon in 2006. The main character is Ryu Sasakura, who started the series having just returned to Japan from learning about bartending in France. He is a genius bartender (the main characters in mangas of this sort are always geniuses at something) and spends his time perfecting his skills and changing people`s lives with his (and other bartenders') magical cocktails.

Volume 16, released earlier this month, starts in Tokyo, where a foreigner called Judy is planning to get married to a Japanese lad. His family, and especially his grandfather, is opposed. Basically, the whole volume traces an arc towards her final acceptance by his family. But the clever bit is that the story echoes the relationship between Rita and Masataka Taketsuru, the founder of the Nikka whisky (of which more here). Taketsuru's marriage to Rita, a Scottish woman, was at first not welcomed by his family (or her's) but they lived out their lives together in Japan. The story of Rita and Masataka is introduced near the end of the manga and resonates with the modern couple's experience.

As is the way with Bartender, there are all sorts of cocktails introduced throughout the manga. They seem to pop out of every seam of life in Bartender world. On the train to Yoichi distillery, Sasakura does not make do with a Coca-cola, as I am afraid to say I did, he has a proper Super Nikka Mint Julep made for him by an eccentric old lady (who loves gambling on the horses, incidentally) . So, for those of you who are planning a trip to Yoichi, then, here is the definitive travel drink:
(or the ultimate Yoichi train drink)

Ingredients: One tbsp of sugar, 4-5 mint leaves, 20-30 ml of mineral water, bit cup of ice.

Crush the mint well in the glass then put in the Super Nikka (60 ml), then loads of ice and mint for decoration.

As I say, the manga was very evocative for me. A major character is a "Mr Yazaki" who run's a bar called "Bar Yazaki" right behind the Susukino crossing. This is clearly Tatsuro Yamazaki, the lovely old gentleman who runs Bar Yamazaki at Susukino in real life.

Mr Yamazaki

Mr Yamazaki features in my book in quite a major way. I felt he helped me understand Japanese alcohol culture much more deeply and I devote several pages to him. He also makes lovely cocktails and has earned a place in the Guinness Book of Records as the most prolific silhouette maker in the world. He cuts one of Sasakura in the manga and he did one of me too when I visited, his 43,299th to be precise!

Silhouettes: Sasakura (left) and me. I fear he came off rather better!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Another two golds for Suntory and Nikka

Japanese whisky makers scooped two of the top three awards for Scottish-style whisky at the 2010 World Whisky Awards.

The award for the World's Best Single Malt Whisky went to the Ardbeg Corryvreckan from Islay, but the two blended whisky awards went East. Suntory's premium Hibiki 21 years old blended whisky won the "World's Best Blended Whisky" prize while Nikka's Taketsuru 21 years old went home with the "World's Best Blended Malt Whisky" title. It won the same crown last year.

Tetsuji Hisamitsu, Nikka's chief blender, said: "As a blender, it was a great joy that Taketsuru 21 won the world best award for the second consecutive year. This is very encouraging. We owe this prize to everyone who is working to keep the spirit of [Masataka] Taketsuru alive and who is working to keep improving the quality of our product. I would like to thank everyone who supported the endeavour. Above all, I would like to share this occasion with those who love Nikka products and keep supporting us. Kampai to all of you. Thank you very much."

Other Japanese subcategory winners:
Best Non-Scotch Blended Malt no age blended whisky- Ichiro's Malt Mizunara Wood Reserve
Best Non-Scotch Blended Malt 12 and under blended whisky - Nikka - Taketsuru 12 Years Old
Best Non-Scotch blended malt 21 years and over blended whisky - Taketsuru 21 Years Old
Best Japanese Single Malt Whisky ~ Yamazaki Sherry Cask
Best Japanese Blended Whisky - Hibiki 21 Years Old
Japanese no age single malt - Yamazaki Sherry Cask
Japanese 12 and under single malt- Ichiro’s Malt, Six of Clubs, 10 Years Old
Japanese 13-20 single malt- Nikka, Yoichi 1989, 20 Years Old
Japanese 21 and over single malt- Ichiro’s Malt, Card King of Hearts, 23 Years Old
Japanese no age blended whisky- Nikka from the barrel
Japanese Blended 12 and under blended whisky - Hibiki 12 Years Old
Japanese Blended 13-20 blended whisky - Hibiki 17 Years Old
Japanese Blended 21 and over blended whisky- Hibiki 21 Years Old