Monday, May 31, 2010

Shot Bar Zoetrope 3rd Anniversary Ichiro's Malt

I am really excited about this Zoetrope Ichiro's Malt, not solely because of its own qualities but also because it is a bottling by Shot Bar Zoetrope, which, as I never tire of pointing out, is the world's best Japanese whisky bar. The owner Atsushi Horigami is one of the key personalities on the Japanese whisky scene. Far from sitting back and simply flogging the excellent drinks Suntory and Nikka put out, he has taken on an active role in encouraging some of the exciting independent distilleries that have begun to emerge in recent years (more on that theme next week). This whisky was Horigami san's independent bottling for his bar's third anniversary last year.

It was distilled in 2000 at the Hanyu distillery. That, incidentally, was the last year that Hanyu made whisky. This one was matured in a hogshead and then a rum cask (no. 9800) and bottled for Zoetrope by Venture Whisky (ie. Ichiro's Malt) in 2009. A total of 263 bottles were produced. At 60.7 per cent alcohol, it definitely benefits from a few drops of water:
Nose: Quite subdued. The first smell was of honey and lemon with a bready aroma underneath. There was a very distant hint of smoke - gun barrel and matches - but that stayed firmly in the background. Perhaps I was trying to hard but I also got a rather bizarre smell of muddy knees and rugby changing rooms but I will leave that sort of spiel to Ron Manager.

In the mouth:
Without water, this was quite overpowering for me: bitter and dry, with sharp grapefruit tastes dominating traces of caramel. I added water. Contrary to my expectation, the sweeter caramel actually subsided and the citric (lime) tastes continued to dominate. If often like very dry, controlled whiskies and this definitely fell into that category. It was quite linear, by which I mean that it maintained a very similar profile from nosing, through first tasting to the finish, which was shortish, with a chewing sticks bitterness.
I was tasting this Zoetrope Ichiro on one of the hotter evenings May threw at us this year and it occurred to me to try it with some ice. I don't normally go for ice with whisky, but given the very controlled profile of this whisky it seemed an experiment worth trying. It turned out to have a peppery dryness, with the struck match taste I had detected on the nose. Very clean. I poured myself another one and popped in another cube.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Rice Whisky?

"Rice Whisky"? I put those inverted commas around the whisky because this is not whisky as we know it: it is 70 per cent malt and 30 per cent rice (Note inserted on 14/9/2015: please see comment below asserting that this should be 30 per cent malt and 70 per cent rice) .

I think it was bottled at Kirin's Fuji Gotemba distillery some time before 2002. I say that because it appears to be labeled as a "Kirin Seagram" whisky and the Kirin-Seagram Ltd. joint venture was renamed as Kirin Distillery Co., Ltd. in 2002.

My first guess was that this was just some sort of shochu with a fancy name but that does not appear to be the case because there is no mention of "koji", which is necessary for shochu production. There are loads of barley shochus and mixed barley and rice shochus, but unmalted barley rather than malted barley is ordinarily used. Instead, the koji breaks down the ingredient into sugars (for an explanation of what the hell koji is, see my brief explanation here or wait for my much better description in my upcoming book!) Anyway, this one has no mention of koji in its ingredients so I am guessing they used a vaguely whisky-like process. What is not clear to me is how they got the sugars out of the rice, if they were not using koji. Presumably, we are not talking about pot stills being used, but a column still?

Anyway, an interesting curiosity.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Suntory fishing in Irish waters

David at the excellent Irish Whiskey Notes put me on to a one line mention in the Scotsman newspaper at the start of May saying that Suntory had been foiled in an attempt to grab itself slice of the Irish whiskey industry. David is in a much better position than I to give the Irish background to the story but the long and the short of it is that Suntory had been in the bidding for a number of spirit brands owned by the C&C Group, including Tullamore Dew whiskey. William Grant, the Scotch whisky company, fought off the Japanese interest with a £260 million acquisition.

It seems Grant are now planning a new Irish distillery. As Irish Whiskey Notes says: "Now that they've thought about Irish whiskey seriously, perhaps Suntory would like to build their own distillery here? C'mon, Japan, everyone's doing it!"

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Suntory Pure Malt "Hokuto"

Review by Nonjatta contributor - Dramtastic
Suntory Pure Malt "Hokuto". Aged 12 years. 40 per cent alcohol.
This has the black label and top. There is also a Suntory Hokuto blended whisky with a white label and top.
Nose: A dreamy mix of gentle oak, vanilla, cream, tropical fruits such as banana, papaya (paw paw) and guava.
Palate: Smooth and creamy mouth feel and basically follows the nose, with some white pepper spice thrown in.
Finish: Warming and of medium length. Spicy, oaky and herbaceous.
General Comment: I have loved this whisky from the moment I opened the bottle. Nothing changed tonight. It's been a while since I've tasted the Yamazaki and Hakushu 12 year old single malts, but if memory serves me correctly, I prefer this fruit from the same Suntory tree. Great value too, at about 20 euros in Japan.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Japanese whisky tasting in Dublin

The Irish Whiskey Society is holding a Japanese whisky tasting at Brooks Hotel, Drury Street, Dublin from 7.30pm on Thursday, May 27.

Committee member, Zoltan Vari, a committee member of the society, visited three Japanese distilleries (Nikka, Yamazaki and Hakushu) on the Japan leg of a world trip in 2009. He will share some of his photos and experiences from the trip and also at least two Japanese whiskies that are hard to find in Ireland: Nikka All Malt (a very unusual blend of pot still malt and Coffey still malt) and Nikka Tsuru 17yo.

Entry is €15 for IWS members. You can purchase membership along with your ticket. Entry is €22.50 for non-members. Book here.

You scratch my back... 2007 St. Patrick's Day Parade, Harajuku

The photo comes from SeanP on Flickr. It has a creative commons license.

Pure Malt White, Product of Nikka

Review by Nonjatta contributor - Dramtastic
Pure Malt White, Product of Nikka, 43 per cent alcohol.
This whisky is a vatting of Yoichi malt and an Islay whisky.
Nose: There is a good whiff of peat as well as walnuts, wet moss, leather, sea spray, pepper, wood stain (after breathing for a while) and nectarines. After some time, there is a hint of lemon.
Palate: Nicely oily (nut oil). The peat comes through big time. Also charcoal, pepper and a slight bitterness. The second sip adds walnuts, creamy macadamia and a kind of minted toffee to the picture.
Finish: Medium length with earthy/vegetal peat dominating; macadamia, spice and mint. Slightly drying.
General comment: This is ever so moreish and a real bargain. One for lovers of peaty whisky.

Nonjatta note: This is one of three pure or vatted malts marketed by Nikka under one word colour titles - Red, Black and White. The range has been around a surprisingly long time. I think it was first put out in 1987. The "Red" is mainly made up of whisky from Miyagikyou distillery. The "Black" is mainly based on whisky from Yoichi. This one, the white, is a bit different: it is based on whisky from Islay in Scotland. It also has a good quantity of whisky from Yoichi in the mix.

The mystery, of course, is which Islay distillery the Scottish portion came from? I am assuming it is just one distillery. A post on had a shot in the dark at the question a couple of years ago: Caol Ila. Two distilleries were ruled out because they were either owned by Suntory or involved in partnerships with Suntory (Bowmore and Laphroaig) and others were eliminated because they were not known for the style of peaty whisky evident in this vatting. To be honest, I am not sure the logic quite takes us all the way to Caol Ila's door but it is an interesting guess anyway.