Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Eigashima and LWdM speak out on the Akashi blend

A draft label for the exported Akashi Blend. It says in Japanese that it contains only malt and grain whisky.

Update 28.7.2011: Les Whiskies du Monde have responded to some of the questions raised in this post and I have posted that response at the bottom of the text.

Les Whiskies du Monde have just sent a reply to the questions raised on Nonjatta about the legality in Europe of their Akashi blended whisky (1,2).

Basically, they say that the whisky is made entirely of malt and grain whisky and is perfectly in line with European regulations. They have a signed statement from Mikio Hiraishi, president of Eigashima Shuzo, which makes the whisky, to back them up. This is interesting because it appears, at least at first sight, to be contradicting a very clear email I got from Hiraishi san himself last month talking specifically about the content of the exported whisky, but I will return to that at the end of the post. First, the statements:

The statement from Hiraishi-san was forwarded to me by Les Whiskies du Monde (who say in their own statement below that henceforward all queries about Akashi range whiskies will be dealt exclusively by them because Eigashima Shuzo are "not wishing to communicate on this subject anymore.") Hiraishi-san's statement is very brief, saying only that the Akashi Blend exported with Les Whiskies du Monde contains only malt and grain whisky:
With the agreement of Les Whiskies du Monde which is our exclusive distributor in Europe and in concordance with the European regulations, our whisky Akashi Blended exported for Les Whiskies du Monde is made with malt and grain whiskies.
Sincerely yours,
Eigashima Shuzo
I was also sent a statement from Les Whiskies du Monde, which repeats that the whisky is in conformity with EU regulations and talks about "rumours" circulating on the internet (I will address that question below the statement because it directly concerns Nonjatta and its coverage (1,2)). But first the statement:
To whom it may concern,
With this statement, our Company Les Whiskies du Monde wishes to specify the following

For several months, our company Les Whiskies du Monde has been working in a close partnership with the company Eigashima Shuzo located in Japan.
Our company distributes on an exclusive basis in Europe the various Akashi Single Malt whiskies and the Akashi Blended whisky produced by Eigashima Shuzo which have been precedently imported by different channels.
As certified in the enclosed mail emanating directly from the Managing Director of Eigashima Shuzo, Mr Mikio Hiraishi himself, the blended whisky contains malt whisky and grain whisky only.
In order to be in conformity with European Regulations, we have demanded that the Akashi Blended whisky imported in Europe by our company be made with malt whisky and grain whisky as mentioned on the product label (please see document enclosed). The Akashi Blended Whisky containing spirit is meant for Japanese Domestic market only.
We have been made aware several days ago that rumours are circulating on the Internet website "Nonjatta", quoting Mr Nick Sikorski of La Maison du Whisky (92 Clichy).
Those rumours question the quality of the Akashi Blended whisky and bring prejudice to the image and the credibility of our company. We hope that the clarification given in this statement will be sufficient to end the rumours. From now on, to avoid any confusion, any query regarding the whiskies from the Akashi range will have to be directly addressed to ourselves, the company Eigashima Shuzo not wishing to communicate on this subject anymore.

Mr Alain Pontoizeau
As I said at the top of this post, the latest statement from Hiraishi-san at least initially appears to be a flat-out contradition of a very specific email I received last month from Hiraishi-san about the whisky he provided to Les Whiskies du Monde. I too had heard "rumours" about the content of the whisky long before posting, but did not post until I got a specific statement from the supplier himself about the content of the whisky. It did not talk generally about Akashi blended whisky. It talked specifically about the whisky provided to Les Whiskies du Monde. I had put the issue of the content of the Akashi blend to Les Whiskies du Monde more than a week before the posting of the initial piece about the content of that whisky, and since then have received several requests to wait for replies. (This has gone on for more than a month). This is their first substantive answer. The statement's implication that the Nonjatta coverage was based on "rumours" is simply wrong (and just a tad irritating). It was also not based on Nick Sikorski's statements. To repeat myself, my post was based on specific information from their supplier himself and my initial post made that crystal clear. It explicitly named Hiraishi-san as the source. It was not an "internet rumour" and it is a bit of a stretch for Les Whiskies to say they heard about it "several days ago." They have known about it for weeks.

I did quote Sikorski in a subsequent piece because I thought La Maison du Whisky, as a major player in the Japanese whisky market in Europe, did have the right to be heard on this issue. But I held back that post and gave a detailed description of Sikorski's comments to Les Whiskies du Monde in the hope of putting the comments from La Maison in the context of Les Whiskies du Monde's view of the matter. I was told initially that I could expect a comment but, after a couple of days, I was informed that I should go ahead and publish and they would reply later. I have also, incidentally, deleted comments by myself and by one other commenter in response to a Les Whiskies comment on my initial post because I was keen to give them a clear run at explaining themselves. I felt, after talking to Les Whiskies, that my view of my interactions with them should probably wait for a later date (because my worries about the way Nonjatta's coverage was being made to seem biased were sort of beside the point for most readers) and I felt the heated comment from the other commenter was only going to raise the temperature. I got permission from the commenter before deleting.)

But, anyway, back to the substantive issue here. Why the apparent contradiction between the two statements from the supplier? I have sent the following questions to Les Whiskies du Monde, just so that everybody gets the full picture:
1. Was the whisky initially supplied by Eigashima in line with this statement (ie. all grain/malt blend) or are you now importing something with different contents from that initially supplied by Eigashima?
2. If this was the case all along, why did you not just talk to me and give me this information a month ago?
3. Where is the grain whisky and malt whisky in this import from? Is it all from Japan?
Update 28.7.2011: Les Whiskies du Monde have responded to my questions. I will give their email in full and let readers judge whether they answer the questions asked or if Nonjatta's coverage is being unfair. (Despite a rising feeling that Les Whiskies du Monde PR operation is really not working for them, I am really trying be even handed but perhaps readers have different opinions. Please give your feedback in the comments.) Arnaud says:
Once more you don't give me a proper chance to reply.

What I can tell you is that we decided several months ago with Eigashima Shuzo to create a Blended Akashi whisky for Europe. For strategic reasons, and to be able to distribute this whisky in the best possible conditions in Europe, we decided with Eigashima Shuzo not to inform anyone beforehand. We did not want for our competitors to get the news straight away.

To answer your question, we have always imported the Akashi Blended with malt and grain.

Considering the situation we don't want to communicate in further details about Akashi Blended. Please consider that the subject is now over and close.

Arnaud Pontoizeau
Les Whiskies du Monde appear to be stating that Eigashima did not provide anything other than grain and malt only blends to Les Whiskies du Monde. Which really leaves open the question of why on earth Hiraishi-san at Eigashima said in his email to me on June 28 that the whisky he provided to Les Whiskies du Monde was not just grain/malt but included molasses spirit etc. He was quite categorical about it. Since Les Whiskies du Monde appears to be saying that it can be the only source of information about the Akashi range (despite the fact that I and others have worked hard to develop relationships and promote Eigashima long before this little farce about some blended whisky cropped up), that question can now only be answered by Les Whiskies and I have put it to them.

Anyway, the really important thing here is that we at last have a categorical assurance from Les Whiskies du Monde that all of this whisky is proper blended whisky from the European standpoint. Akashi's stuff is normally good. I look forward to tasting this new blend and putting this little farce behind us.


Anonymous said...

Wow, someone has lost the plot maybe here ?
It seems that this is fast becoming a question of ego, this is a shame. I normally enjoy the tone of the articles and the expertise of the person writing them but it seems to me that we go beyond journalistic facts here.
Thank you for enlightening us with such thoroughness but can you blame LWDM for being sparse in their answers ? I would be scared to speak out if you were to detail all the dealings for all to see...
Going back to Whiskies now (after all that's why we come here, don't we?), has anyone else actually tasted the Akashi Blended ? Do we know of any other Japanese Whiskies arriving soon ? That would make an interesting post, and it would change from this soap opera about the mystery at Eigashima.
Happy Drinking everyone (all in good moderation of course...)

Nonjatta said...

Dear Anonymous
I agree that this is really not what I want to be writing about on Nonjatta or people want to be reading. I feel this need not have been the subject of three posts on Nonjatta if Les Whiskies du Monde had just explained (even off the record) at the outset what the situation was. Goodness knows I did ask for that information repeatedly.

The reason I felt I had to give so many facts about Nonjatta's dealings on this (that I always try to avoid in posts because it is just not interesting and has nothing to do with why readers come here--the whisky) is because I felt Nonjatta's fairness and accuracy was being put in question and so I explained what happened and what I tried to do in the opposite direction. If that is about "ego" then I am sorry. I don't really think it is.

If the LWdM statement had not implied that I was peddling rumours, then I would not have bored readers with the info (none of which, by the way, was off the record or unusable by normal journalistic standards.)

Let's not lose sight here that this issue was always about that most basic and relevant of questions to the whisky drinker, which most suppliers would be able to answer in a heartbeat: what is in the whisky? Let also remember that there are still questions about the origin of the Akashi whisky in those bottles that have not been answered. These are not hard questions: they could have been answered straight away and you are wrong about the chronology here.Les Whiskies du Monde were "sparse" in their answers, as you put it, from the outset and I bent over backwards behind the scenes to get them to put that straight. Then, at the end of this farce, I explained some of what had happened to readers (not about everything but about Nonjatta's own covereage) because I felt the statement raised questions about my conduct. I must admit to feeling a little depressed by the whole affair.

This has been about whisky. If you are happy to drink whisky without suppliers making clear what it is then so be it, but that is the exact opposite of what everybody has been aiming in the whisky market for decades.

Anyway, I have a bottle of the normal Akashi blended whisky (with molasses spirit in) but I have never tasted the grain/malt blend. I would be very interested in what it tastes like. I, too, look forward to putting this behind us.

Samuel said...

Your handling of the situation, especially in the latest posting is admirable. You apply highest journalistic standards to whisky blogging - as a reader I appreciate that very much.
Les Whis have a self-made communications disaster at their hands. Working at a Japanese company in touch with a European partner company, I can relate to that. Secrecy, language barriers, different rules and legislations, inexperienced PR, that is a recipe for mess up, I am willing to give them the benefit of doubt.
But then trying to blame it on "that guy on the internet" does not attest to personal or professional integrity.

I really hope you will taste a difference, should you ever get your hands on the export version ;-)

PS: did you just mix up the French companies in that last reply?

Nonjatta said...

Oh,God! You are right. I did mix up "LWdM" with "LMdW" and have changed it in my original comment (which means the times on these comments is a little bit off, but nothing else has changed. These LWdMs and LMdWs are getting to my brain. THanks very much for pointing that out.

Anonymous said...

OK, maybe it's not my place to comment here, but I just want to add a few things:

1. I do know Chris personally - we have met a few times in Japan for drinks - and what always impressed me the most was his desire to remain unbiased in situations like this, to give all parties a fair say, and I think he has done exactly that this time also. If anybody doubts that this is true, and thinks that he has some kind of personal preference for LMDW over LWDM, then I'm afraid they're very much mistaken. Not only is it not his style, but he really wouldn't want to put himself in such an awkward position with regards to Eigashima, a company he has worked hard to get to know and whose whiskies he obviously likes and respects (check out his article in Whisky Mag UK if you don't believe me).

2. I know a lot of people probably think that this whole story has been a bit of a fiasco, and an unnecessary waste of time but you should remember that is a large part of whisky is about. It may be nicer to think that "whisky" is just about dramming with friends and writing tasting notes, but the hard reality is that a lot of hard work, research, reasoning and legislating went into putting whisky where it is today, and still goes on to ensure that standards do not slip. You may not be aware of it, but every time major developments are on the whisky horizon, a great deal of this kind of thing goes on. When scotch grain whisky was officially recognised as such at the turn of the twentieth century, when three years was made the minimum aging period, when the SWA attacked indian "whisky" for not being whisky, history was being made, even though a great many people, even some whisky enthusiasts, probably found all the excitement a great waste of time and a considerable detraction from the "whisky" itself. And in this particular case, if we didn't step in and kick up a fuss, I can't see who else would have...

3. We have tasted all the different single malts from White Oak, and we have no problem with any of them (as I said before, we imported the 5 year old into France last year, way ahead of anybody else), just with the legality of the blend on the European market. If you want to try any of them yourself, then we won't stop you. Also, as I said before, Hiraishi-san is a real gentleman who went out of his way to be entirely honest with me when I visited the distillery. He is in no way responsible for any of this fuss and has done nothing wrong by Japanese law.

4. Finally, to answer Anonymous: if you're in Europe, then the following "new" Japanese whiskies, also from Whiskies du Monde may interest you:

Akashi 5 YO 45% 500ml
Akashi 12 YO 50% 500ml
Isawa standard 40% 550ml
Isawa 10 YO 43% 550ml
Isawa 25 YO 40% 660ml
Otori 15 YO 40% 660ml
Togouchi 18 YO 43% 720ml

Happy drinking indeed...

JWhiskyFan said...

To Nick Sikorski - your comment only seems to verify what I said as a comment to the previous article (where I called LMDW Butt-hurt) - sorry I can't think of a better description.

It is clear that you don't like having a new player move into your territory and this is likely around 90% the cause of this "fuss"

Let me pick out exactly where in your comment brings me to this conclusion

a) in part 2 where you refer to it as a "whisky" and say how it is up to LMDW to "kick up a fuss"

thanks for being so concerned about we the consumers, but I say thanks but no thanks. I don't care if it is made of 30% Geisha spit, it is a niche product, available pretty-much nowhere and I'll decide if I want to seek it out and buy it or not.

b)in 3 where you say "way ahead of anybody else"

c) in 3 where you say "has done nothing wrong by Japanese law." - which insinuates that this product is breaking European law.

d) in 4 where you say "new"

You then try to cover up your butthurtness (sorry again for lack of a more descriptive term) by listing all of your competitors products - but I put it to you that this thinly veiled attempt to disguise said butthurtness and it is fooling no one.

Distant Thunder Whisky Club said...

If you go right back to the start and look at the simple question of its contents vs the labelling 'Whisky' then I guess you want to know it is really whisky and not something else. As a consumer then yes I want to know what I am buying. If it tastes good or bad will be up to my own discretion but at least knowing the contents is important. Call it Japanese Whisky if the rules apply, who cares, but at least let people know what is in it.

So here is a small tale of my own which I think relates in a very similar way to why you asked the questions you did and why you followed up on them.

Here in Australia there is a product released by Jim Beam clearly labelled as 'Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey With Port Added'. Port Added? Is that a whisky? Does this fit the whisky rules? Does it even matter? Very little info appears anywhere about it which just adds to the confusion about what it is. And YES it does matter because this product no mater where you go is always located in the whisky section. Jim Beam never make the effort to ensure that this is NOT sold in the whisky section, no store I have encountered EVER locates it any but with the whisky, yet if you look at the rules then how can it be a whisky in the common sense. To this day I still ask the same question "Is this Whisky?".

Now if I apply that story to the Japanese whisky in question, if it is has distilled Molasses in it then that is effectively Rum added to the mix. Molasses is not a grain, it comes from sugar cane, so calling it a blended whisky ignores the common sense of how most whisky drinkers understand what a blended whisky is. Not stating it contains molasses is just being ambiguous about the contents and deceiving the consumer (regardless if it was intentional or not).

So simply, in my view, you were clarifying a confused issue fuelled by contradictory information supplied by the related parties. Further more the follow ups where ensuring the integrity of your own fact finding skills while supply your readers, such as myself, with the most up-to-date information.

I say thank you for perusing the issue and yes the PR skills of the parties in question need to be improved for their own sake.

Arnaud PONTOIZEAU said...

Hello everyone,
To reply to the last comments, you will find below the new bottle sizes recently modified :

Akashi 5 YO 45% 500ml
Akashi 12 YO 50% 500ml
Isawa standard 40% 500ml
Isawa 10 YO 43% 500ml
Isawa 25 YO 40% 700ml
Ootori 15 YO 40% 660ml
Togouchi 18 YO 43% 700ml

I will be on holidays tonight but as soon as I come back, I will take the time to inform you of our new Japanese whiskies coming out soon.

Arnaud Pontoizeau
Les Whiskies du Monde

Nonjatta said...

Good. Hopefully, we can get beyond this whole issue and get back to the whisky. We look forward to the announcement.

Anonymous said...

Good idea,
time to move on from a lot of whoo haa over a whisky that would probably only cost about 15 bucks in Japan. The Akashi Blend(with molasses)sold in Japan, costs about 11 dollars.
Actually when it's put like that the 'drama' over this one sounds almost comical(though I wouldn't be laughing if I had to pay the ridiculous prices a lot of this cheap stuff is sold for in Europe).

Anonymous said...

Japanese whisky quality.

Lets make it safe to assume that in most cases the established producers(those generally acknowleged to have a good reputation with a long history of whisky distilling/reviews/awards) such as Yoichi/Miyagiyo, Yamazaki/Hakushu, Hanyu, Karuizawa,can be counted on more or less to be worth the price of admission(not excluding our personal tastes which may differ).

I have also tasted a number of Akashi that ranged from good to very good.

But selling relatively unknown brands, such as Togouchi and Isawa who's primary business is not whisky, against the reputation of the estabished brands and charging the same sort of prices is just plain wrong.
I recently bought a bottle of Wakasturu 20YO 59%(from Japan) for AUD$68. Cheap for a Japanese 20YO single malt, but reasonable for a sake producer who has sold only 2 whisky's, (the other being a blend) that has not established a reputation for producing quality whisky en masse over a long period of time.
For those who wish to buy the Togouchi blend, this costs around Y6500 in Japan(I have a bottle) and the Ootori(a blend from Mercian Karuizawa that I also have a bottle of) for Y1500. There has been a independent bottling of Isawa 1983 at 64% available for some time in Japan but can be picked up for Y3000 on the reseller market.
There are reviews here on nonjatta for both the Ootori and Togouchi and whiskyfun has a review of the Togouchi. You can also read a review on the Isawa 1983(43%) from Royal Mile Whiskys.

Bottom line,
I do not wish to discourage anyone from trying some of these relatively new(to Europe) whisky producers, but buyer beware.

The Japanese are not mugs, they price domestic whiskys sold in Japan the same as you would find as Scotch whisky is priced in Scotland. On age, rarity, history, contents, reputation etc.
So if you are happy to pay the same price for these newbies for the sake of trying something new as you would for the established brands, then go for it.

Chris said...

Not sure if I missed it in the different posts, but how was the bottle actually labeled when it arrived in Europe to be sold?

I see the draft label and the Japanese domestic label only.

Nonjatta said...

OK, that is enough.

I have always tried to keep a very open commenting policy on Nonjatta but I am going to have to impose some rules on this particular thread. I have just deleted two comments. One did not add any information but seemed rather aggressively critical of LMdW. The other was vitriolic in its attack on LWdM and included some unsubstantiated information. Both were from unidentified commenters.

From now on, all comments must be identified and must link to some sort of profile or website that makes the commenter accountable. They also must be constructive and not be merely about attacking people's reputations with no facts to back the criticism up.

The bottom line here is that both LWdM and LMdW have people in them who are working very hard to get whisky to people outside Japan. It is not easy sourcing this stuff and I have great respect for what both companies are doing. People make mistakes but that is no reason to villify professionals. I don't think anybody on Nonjatta should be anonymously commenting in this way and I will delete any such posts on this thread (while trying to maintain an open policy on other threads not related to this issue.)

I would like to apologise to both commenters. I don't like censoring people and I know they were both just trying to add to the debate, but this particular thread is getting overheated and I need to get it back on track.

If either LMdW or LWdM feel that previous anonymous comments have made groundless attacks then I will also consider deleting them and recording in these comments that those requests and deletions were made.