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.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

La Maison says rival importer's drinks could harm Japanese whisky's image

Akashi blended whisky

Update 28.7.2011: Eigashima and LWdM released statements saying the Akashi blend was in line with EU regulations.

The Paris-based whisky importer La Maison du Whisky has piled into the controversy over the Akashi blended whisky imported to Europe by its rival Les Whiskies du Monde.

Nonjatta reported at the end of June that the Akashi blend was, according to its makers, made with 66 per cent non-grain spirit.

Nick Sikorski at La Maison du Whisky commented in an email to Nonjatta this week that the whisky could not legally be called whisky in Europe and that Les Whiskies du Monde might be harming the reputation of Japanese whisky by importing it.

"We are worried that indiscriminate product selection, and failure to respect the relevant legislation, can only harm the image of Japanese whisky, an image that we (and our European and Japanese partners) have worked hard to bolster," he said.

"The real problem with this whisky from the point of view of La Maison du Whisky and our partners at Nikka and Suntory is quite simply that this kind of alcohol cannot legally be called whisky in Europe. It may be whisky in Japan, but EU legislation insists that all whisky be made from cereals (and cereals alone), and aged in oak for a minimum of three years. Quite simply, this was obviously not the case for this particular blend, and that is why we object to it being sold in the EU as whisky," Sikorski said.

He said his own discussions with Eigashima, the maker of the whisky, prior to Nonjatta's article had indicated similar ingredients to those revealed by Eigashima President Mikio Hiraishi in an email to Nonjatta.

The use of non-grain spirit in the whisky was, Sikorski said, no surprise to anyone with knowledge of the Japanese alcohol industry: "Sugar-cane spirit--be it derived directly from sugar-cane juice, or indirectly from molasses--is regularly used in the Japanese alcohol industry, in particular in liqueurs, but also in sake of the honjozo, non-junmai variety. So, I wasn't particularly surprised to learn that it figured in this particular whisky."

Sikorski gave further details of his understanding of the storage and origin of whisky included in the blend. Nonjatta has not been able to get confirmation of these details from the maker or importer.

He said there was no issue with Eigashima itself, which he said had always been open about the content of the blend. "There is nothing wrong with his whisky from the point of view of Japanese legislation and it was undoubtedly created with the domestic market in mind," he said. "The 8-year-old and 12-year-old single malts from Eigashima are, to my knowledge, perfectly sound whiskies and we have no objection to them. We even imported the last of the first batch of 8 year old into France last year (as any visitors to the Number One Drinks stand at Whisky Live Paris will surely testify)."

But he said importing the Akashi blend raised very serious issues not only for Les Whiskies du Monde but for the whole Japanese whisky scene outside of Japan.

"If Japanese whisky currently enjoys such a high reputation in the West, it is in part due to very careful work carried out by the main importers: Suntory, Number One Drinks and ourselves at LMDW working for Nikka. If most people think that all Japanese whisky is inherently of very high quality, we have known for some time that that is not always the case, that there exists in Japan average and sometimes even plain bad whisky as indeed there does everywhere else.

"Concentrating on high-quality--and, of course, legal--products requires hard work, dedication and a very good knowledge of local customs and manufacturing methods. While we have no objection to other companies bringing in other Japanese whiskies, we are worried that indiscriminate product selection, and failure to respect the relevant legislation, can only harm the image of Japanese whisky, an image that we (and our European and Japanese partners) have worked hard to bolster," Sikorski said.

Nonjatta has been corresponding with Arnaud Pontoizeau of Les Whiskies du Monde since June 20 on the issue of the content of the Asahi blend. He was asked to comment on La Maison's statement, but he said he could not do so at this stage. We have made clear to him that we are very eager to tell both sides of this issue, and will give full coverage to any comments Les Whiskies wants to make to put this matter straight.

Current European rules define whisky as "a spirit drink produced exclusively by:
(i) distillation of a mash made from malted cereals with or without whole grains of other cereals, which has been:
— saccharified by the diastase of the malt contained therein, with or without other natural enzymes,
— fermented by the action of yeast;
(ii) one or more distillations at less than 94,8 % vol., so that the distillate has an aroma and taste derived from the raw materials used,
(iii) maturation of the final distillate for at least three years in wooden casks not exceeding 700 litres capacity.
The final distillate, to which only water and plain caramel (for colouring) may be added, retains its colour, aroma and taste derived from the production process referred to in points (i), (ii) and (iii).
(b) The minimum alcoholic strength by volume of whisky or whiskey shall be 40 %.
(c) No addition of alcohol as defined in Annex I(5), diluted or not, shall take place.
(d) Whisky or whiskey shall not be sweetened or flavoured, nor contain any additives other than plain caramel used for colouring."

The rules say that spirits described as "blended" must combine: "two or more spirit drinks of the same category, distinguished only by minor differences in composition due to one or more of the following factors:
(a) the method of preparation;
(b) the stills employed;
(c) the period of maturation or ageing;
(d) the geographical area of production.
The spirit drink so produced shall be of the same category of spirit drink as the original spirit drinks before blending."

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Golden Horse Special Blended Malt Whisky

Review by Nonjatta contributor - Dramtastic:

"Golden Horse (Toa Shuzo) Special Blended Malt Whisky. 42 percent alcohol.
Nose: Briney and minerally. Some lemon, a little soapy and a floral note. Fairly flat, overall.
Palate: Smooth, a bit creamy. Some malt, nuttiness and musk. A very basic construction, without any real development.
Finish: A bit of malt and musk. Dies a short, simple death with some trailing bitterness. Mineral tastes at the end.

Suntory Gold Blended Whisky

Review by Nonjatta contributor - Dramtastic:
Suntory Gold Blended Malt. 42 per cent alcohol.
Nose: Not great. A little sherry and oak. Label says it is fully matured in Sherry casks. Doesn't taste like it. Also, plasticine, glue and cheap brandy.
Palate: A little better than the nose--bread dough, some lime and tangerine. Then ruined again by the plasticine and glue.
Finish: Bitter, with plasticine and, thankfully, short.
General comment: According to The Whisky Exchange, this was bottled in the 70s. Yamazaki has clearly come a long way since then.