Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Malt Of Kagoshima 1984, aged 25 years in sherry casks

Another new contributor to Nonjatta today: AshDLS from the Whisky Magazine Forum. He is a Nonjatta reader and currently lives in Australia, but has spent time in Japan. He also has a scoop because The Malt of Kagoshima 1984, about which he writes with winning modesty below, is from a tiny supply of whisky from Japan's most southerly, and now long defunct distillery in Kagoshima. For background on Kagoshima look at the distillery page and my previous review of Satsuma 1984, which came from the same year at the same distillery (the last year whisky was made there) and also was sherry cask aged. That earlier bottling was a vatting of 3 sherry casks. This one is, a combination of whisky from 5 surviving casks and has been matured for an extra 5 years.

Read the volume note at the bottom of Ash's review. He is right. Many Japanese whiskies are bottled in 720ml bottles. I think it is one of the reasons why they have had trouble getting their whisky the U.S. in the past, where the authorities have rigidly insisted on 700ml.

Review by Nonjatta contributor - AshDLS

"I think this may be my first ever attempt at a tasting note. I don't consider my nose or palate sensitive or experienced, so I've been a little hesitant to share my thoughts. But here goes! I received this bottle as a gift from a bartender friend in Japan.

The Malt Of Kagoshima 1984, aged 25 years in sherry cask, 46 per cent alcohol. Mars Whisky.
Colour: Straight gold, but still lighter than I would have imagined.
Nose: There's something very unusual about this I'm having trouble picking out, but otherwise, on one occasion I had a rubbery/gummy sensation. Another time, there was definitely citrus is there. Grassy and oil on another.
Palate: Medium bodied, quickly turns spicy. Not an enormous amount of sherry, surprisingly. Dry and biting.
Finish: Not terribly assertive, but something burnt and slightly sweet seems to pop its head up every so often.
Extra note: Interestingly it's a 720ml bottle... my friend explained that it's the equivalent of four - one being 180ml, the same volume as those small wooden boxes from which sake is drunk (and by which rice was measured, back in the day). Ten equals one shō, or 1.8l, the same volume as those enormous bottles of sake you often see at Japanese restaurants."

Suntory Pure Malt Whisky, Aged 7 Years (black label)

Review by Nonjatta contributor - Dramtastic

Suntory Pure Malt Whisky, aged 7 years (Black label, Yamazaki distillery) 43% alcohol.
Nose: Smooth, quite heavy sherry. Oak, raisins, stone fruit (plums?), toffee, wood stain. What seems like a touch of peat or smoke.
Palate: Ripe stone fruit, Christmas cake, milk chocolate, raisins, wood stain and again that hint of smoke/burnt twigs/matches.... or something like that. Well balanced.
Finish: Spicy, raisins, plums, chocolate, mint. Warming on the chest and of medium length. A little dry.
General comment: I wouldn't pick this for a young whisky. It's far too composed and focused. This has spent time in a very good sherry butt! Really enjoyable.

Updated Nonjatta note 30.04.2010 (based on further information given to me by Atsushi Horigami at Bar Zoetrope): My initial thought that this was a single malt from Yamazaki was not correct. This, according to Horigami-san, is a "pure malt" (or "vatted malt" or "blended malt", meaning that malts from more than one distillery have been used). Horigami-san tells me that there are actually two bottlings: one with a black label and a picture of Yamazaki, which is a vatted malt with mainly Yamazaki malt whisky in it. And one with a white label which is a vatted malt with mainly Hakushu malt in it.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Has anybody ever tried this stuff?

Aioi Unibio in Aichi Prefecture

An obscure Japanese whisky called "Rainbow". I think I briefly mentioned its maker at the bottom of this post, but basically I know absolutely nothing about it except for some very basic information about its maker, Aioi Unibio Co. Ltd.. Has anyone tried it?

They are a general alcohol maker and they trace their history back to 1872. I think they have always been fairly strong in mirin (a sort of Japanese equivalent of sherry, often used for cooking but recently experiencing a rebirth as a quality drink), shochu and sake.

"General alcohol" makers are a distinct breed in the Japanese alcohol industry. I`m not sure how their business model works (or worked) but they seem to carry ranges of products that touch on just about every type of alcohol. Quite often, these makers will have a page of their websites entitled "Other stuff" featuring one or two whiskies alongside brandies, vodkas, neutral spirits etc.. Long-time Nonjatta readers will know that I am fascinated by this liminal Japanese whisky world but that I have never quite known what to make of it. I have called it "ji-whisky", by analogy with small local Japanese producers of beer and sake but, whereas "ji-biru" and "ji-sake" are associated in my mind with good quality, I am afraid I am not so confident of these "ji-whiskies".

I have never tasted Rainbow. It might be great. But I am skeptical.

Back to the facts:

English address: Aioi Unibio Co. Ltd.
5 Shimomachi, Maruyama, Nishio,
Aichi Prefecture
Japanese address: 〒445-0891 愛知県西尾市下町丸山5番地
Telephone: 0563-56-2101

Aioi Unibio (what a great name!) appear to make two types of whisky.

Their basic offering is the 37 per cent alcohol "Rainbow Whisky". That 37 alcohol percentage is a dead giveaway for a cheap Japanese blended whisky. It is lower than a standard Scotch but you will find many of the cheapest blends in Japan sit themselves exactly on that 37 per cent fence because the Japanese tax regime charges extra for every percentage point of alcohol by which that figure is exceeded. This blend retails for just under 1,000 yen a bottle, which is just a little bit more than brands like Nikka Black and Suntory's Torys. The ingredients on the bottle say it is made of "malt and spirits", which implies to me that it uses neutral alcohol rather than grain whisky, the accepted Scottish second ingredient.

The company's premium offering is "Rainbow Sanshu" at 40 per cent. It appears to retail at just under 4,000 yen a bottle, which is not cheap. You could get a decent single malt from an established maker for that kind of price. It says it is 12-years-old. This is also a blended whisky.


Because this distillery does not appear to make single malt whisky, I have not put it on Nonjatta's main single malt distillery map. However, I have started a new map, called "Other Japanese Distilleries", to which I will add a few more of these obscure blend makers as they come up.

View Other Japanese distilleries in a larger map

Photographs from the Aoi Uniboi website and this prefectural marketing website.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Australian Whisky

The Nant Distillery, Tasmania

This entry is off topic and really just an aide-memoire for further delvings in my own spare time, but Nonjatta does do its best to cover whisky in the wider "Orient" and so I thought I might as well post it for other readers. A while back, I printed out a great pdf guide from Nick's Wine Merchants about Australia's thriving whisky scene.

Here are some of the distilleries mentioned in the Nick's Wine guide:
Lark (Tasmania)
The Tasmanian Distillery (Sullivan's Cove) (Tasmania)
The Nant Distillery (Tasmania)
Hellyer's Road (Tasmania)
Bakery Hill Distillery
Great Southern Distilling Company
Timboon Railway Shed

Some others to look at:
Mackey's distillery (website not complete)
Old Hobart Distillery (website not yet up)
Smith's Angaston (Smith's pdf about its whisky dabbling)
Small Concern (Tasmania)

Plus also some now apparently inactive makers:
Booie Range

Taiwanese whisky is already up and running. Indian whisky is established. Then, there is China (where, hopefully, there must be some more promising shoots than this one), Korea, Pakistan and, of course, New Zealand. If only I had the time and the budget to explore it all.

Vintage Komagatake 10 years

Review by Nonjatta contributor - Dramtastic

Nose: Honey, sherry, blood oranges, lime, a little bit of oak, a kind of burnt toffee smell, and something maritime, like seaweed.
It is biscuity, with some bitter chocolate, nuts, malt, toffee and smoke.
Mainly toffee, nuts, smoke and some lingering bitterness.

40 per cent
700 ml - C. 5,000 yen
The Hombo product page.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Karuizawa 14yo (Swedish Independent Bottling)

Life seems to be going by in fast forward. Back in October last year (I can't believe it was so long ago!) Tapani Kuusela and Johan Hofvander contacted me to say they had bottled their own Karuizawa 14-year-old single cask whisky (cask 5024). It was distilled back in 1995 and matured and aged in a wine cask. There are 114 bottles at 66 per cent alcohol and Tapani was kind enough to send me a sample. He also advised me to make sure I added some water when I tasted it. My impressions:
I tasted it a few weeks ago and then tried it again in my footy-viewing-cum-Chichibu newborn-tasting session. The nose was much less active than the newborn's: very controlled and not at all outgoing. A bit of snuffling around and slight cereal and butter smells began emerging. Despite Tapani's guidance, I sipped without water at first. It was very overpowering but I just about caught the sweet, slightly winey, piney tastes.

I added a number of drops of water, which it definitely needed, and found a pleasant, warming drink. A really dry character emerged. My notes read like this: "Dry. Wood, tobacco on my tongue like when smoking a badly made rollie. Finish: long brewed tea (no milk)." I liked it. Right at the end of the session, I added another drop or two of water and the taste seemed to take another sharp turn: the sweetness was back, with a really satisfying butterscotch taste in my last sip. But, sadly, the sample bottle was empty, so I could do no more exploring. I suppose it is experiences like this that make me skeptical about my (not other people's) ability to categorise whiskies with a wham-bam-thankyou-mam "Nose, mouth, finish" sort of classification. They move too much for me.
Overall, I enjoyed this experience and feel a little envious of of Tapani and Johan's enterprise in arranging this unique indy bottling. The dryness will stay in my memory.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Single Malt Newborn Double Matured (Cask 447; bottled October 2009)

I don't know what the drink writer's equivalent of a writer's block is called. A "drinker's block", perhaps? Anyway, I have spent a while now, deeply mired in a "drinker's block". While I have been happy tippling away and very happily writing whisky news and features on Nonjatta, I have not been posting my own tasting notes.

Back to my block: the reasons behind it are really mixed up in the book I have been writing on Japanese alcohol. My research took me to dozens of breweries, kura and distilleries all over Japan. I met people who were overflowing not only with a passion for their alcohol but a extraordinarily impressive understanding of its creation and appreciation. In some cases, I was meeting people from families with generations of expertise in distilling or brewing. It was an educative but also humbling experience and I am afraid one of the side effects was my "drinker's block". I have been tasting quite intensively in the mean time, struggling to work out how I am going to do tastings that I am happy with publishing, but I have felt a much greater weight on me than I used to. It is not that I feel purely subjective tasting notes from a non-expert like myself are a bad thing. Quite the opposite. Looked at logically, I think such notes are actually just as useful, perhaps more useful, for other newbies as the notes of extremely expert reviewers. But whoever said "writer's block" or, in my case, "drinker's block", was a rational thing?

Some constructive thoughts have come out of this block. Quite early on, I concluded that all I could honestly offer was a purely subjective description of my drinking experience. I have always tended towards this assessment of my tasting abilities, but, more recently, I have been thinking about how this relates to my method of writing reviews.

What struck me was that there was often a divergence in my experience of a whisky, depending on whether I was just drinking it for pure pleasure or sitting down and trying to "taste" it. Since alcohol is made for drinking for pleasure, this was a problem. I also noted that I would have quite different impressions of the same whisky in different tastings. And, perhaps most significantly, that the taste of many whiskies evolved and changed in one sitting: my mouth would change with the whisky, the second sip of a whisky would sometimes have a totally different world to offer me than the first, and the seventh sip was different again; the nose after 10 minutes of relaxed drinking was utterly different from the first sniff. This was probably a physical reality, to do with the coating of the glass and the exposure of the whisky, but it was also a subjective phenomenon too. So, how did this relate to my old: colour, nose, mouth, finish, final comments, method of writing my notes? That is the clearest, perhaps the only way for professional tasters to categorize a whisky for their readers but, for someone like me, who only aspired to subjective description of my experience, did copying this method from the experts really allow a free flowing enough structure?

To cut a long story short, the outcome of this is a slightly different, slightly less compartmentalized structure for my notes. You might not notice the difference, but I am hoping I will. I hope this will help conquer my "drinker's block". For my comeback match, I am going with the bloody marvelous Single Malt Newborn from Chichibu distillery:

I drank the double matured newborn from the new Chichibu distillery watching the Fulham-Liverpool match after a great meal over a shared bottle of Japanese white wine. My overall impression of the spirit was that it was extraordinarily good for such a young whisky. Quite phenomenal really for a drink distilled at recently as April-May 2008. It had quite an intense and complex smell. The first impression reminded me of standing in a hot field when pollen is heavy in the air: a floral, sweet smell. Later sniffs brought out a sharp lemon and honey (this had been my overriding impression on a previous tasting) and touches of melted butter. Sipping it straight, I got distinct lemon and pine tastes but little else because it was so overpowering. With a couple of drops of water, the lemon and honey really came out with an underlying wholemeal bread substance underlying the citrus sharpness. It finished with quite a piney taste. Later sips brought out liquorice flavours for me. I found this a really relaxing drink, much easier to drink than either of the newborn Chichibus from last year, which were interesting but extremely challenging (will try to dig out and post my notes on those over the next couple of weeks).
Some more data on the Newborn Double Matured Cask 447. It is a single cask whisky, distilled April-May 2008. It was first put in a Heaven Hill Bourbon barrel in May to June 2008. It was transferred to a New American Oak Hogshead in June 2009 and was bottled in October 2009. There are 352 bottles of it and it is 61.3 per cent alcohol.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Genshu Single Cask 10-year-old

Review by Nonjatta contributor - Dramtastic

"Genshu Single Cask 10-year-old (bought at the Yoichi distillery) Cask No. #408511 61%
Nose: Huge oak, huge stone fruits/stone fruit seeds, varnish, a hint of soapiness and some florals coming through with time. Then some nuttiness and smoked fish as the florals and oak get a little bigger. Sounds like it's a bit all over the place but it's a complex single cask and
I love them because of their individuality. The palate is massive, with giant hit of spice/salt infused oak and nuts. If it had had some of that lovely Yoichi peatiness in there somewhere it would have scored a point or 2 higher. The finish is long and warming and a little dry.

Note: Genshu means an alcohol that has not been diluted at bottling (cask strength). It is a word used in the sake and shochu industries but also seems to be increasingly used by Japanese whisky makers. This particular spirit was bought at the Yoichi distillery.

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Cask of Hakushu 1993 Spanish Oak Bota Corta

Review by Nonjatta contributor - Dramtastic
"The Cask of Hakushu 1993 Spanish Oak Bota Corta 60% 3C40789
Colour: Reddish brown
Nose: Sherry, oak, raisins and currants
Palate: Sherry, dark cherry, oak, dark chocolate, blood oranges, raisins, Christmas pudding.
Finish: Plums, nutmeg, lemon sherbet, mixed peel zing. Quite Aberlour A'bunadh like but smoother at a similar alcohol content.