Sunday, May 6, 2012

Recent Ichiro's Malt releases

Post by Nonjatta contributor Stefan of Tokyo Whisky Hub.

Keeping up with Ichiro's Malt releases is a bit like a full-time job lately, which is why it's hard not to miss out on certain releases - seeing as most people already have one or more (yes, this is Japan) full-time jobs. New bottlings keep appearing left, right and centre, and in some cases, they're gone before you even knew they were out. (This happened to me twice in the last couple of months: the first time it happened it put me in a bit of a foul mood for a few days; the second time, I thought I'd better get used to it. I'm not sure I have - we'll see.) I've also noticed a bit of a change in market focus (domestically, that is) on the part of Akuto-san. In the earlier days of Venture Whisky (which isn't that long ago... roughly 2005-2010), Akuto-san used a kind of grassroots approach to get the word out and establish a name for his company and his products. During those years, the focus was very much on the Japanese bar scene. He visited bars in every nook and cranny of the country and the focus was clearly on getting his whiskies on the bar shelves. There are many bar-exclusive releases of Hanyu whisky from those years, sometimes in quantities as limited as 60 (the wonderful Hanafuda-releases for Bar Salvador with 6 different labels - I have 5 of them: you'll get to see them in the forthcoming, first installment of a new series on my blog focusing on Japanese whisky labels) or 24 bottles (for Bar Lagg Time). I think this was a very smart move on the part of Akuto-san, because ... well, it worked!

As I said, the last year or two, I have noticed a change of focus: from the bar scene to the upscale department stores, so it won't come as a surprise that the two relatively recent offerings from Ichiro's Malt I want to introduce to you to today are to be found in the basement sections of two major department stores.

The first one is (to my knowledge) the first quarter-cask release from Venture Whisky. Most of you will know that this year's official bottlings for the Tokyo International Bar Show / Whisky Live (this weekend!) include two quarter casks, one Hanyu and one Chichibu. Last year, however, Akuto-san released this "Special Selected" Quarter-Cask Cask-Strength (57%) Hanyu, distilled in 1991. I've only seen it at Mitsukoshi, so it may well be a Mitsukoshi-exclusive release. It's priced - in keeping with what I suspect is a one-price-fits-all policy when it comes to department store releases (see some of my earlier posts and below for more evidence) - at 10,500 yen. It would be interesting to know what the outturn is. Akuto-san's "quarter casks" are not exactly the same size as those used in Scotland. He calls them "chibidaru", "chibi" meaning "wee" and "taru" meaning "cask". It'll be interesting to see how quickly the TIBS bottlings sell out... you have been warned.

The second new release is a "Double Single Malt"... right, a blended malt. It's available at Takashimaya Nihonbashi, where they've got a Britain fair on at the moment. I'm not sure if it was bottled specifically for the fair but the label seems to hint at that. It's a vatting of a single malt Japanese whisky distilled in 2008 (read: Chichibu) and a Scottish single malt distilled in 2007, put in cask in 2008 - both matured in Japan. It's limited to 500 numbered bottles and, yes, it's 10,500 yen a bottle, which is a bit steep for a 3-year old vatted malt if you ask me, but then again, it comes in a posh box which seems to have been specifically designed for the department store market.

I tried it earlier today and was pleasantly surprised - it really is a very nice blend, lots of orchard fruits on the palate, some white pepper... - but my wallet decided to go for a 28-year old single-cask Caol Ila from BB&R that was cheaper (even with shipping from the UK to Japan included!) than the "Double Single Malt". Whisky enthusiasts may be interested to know that Takashimaya has started a new range of exclusive single-cask releases ("Takashimaya Buyer's Selection"), sourced from BB&R. At the moment, they have a 1990 Bunnahabhain (one of those glorious sherried Bunnas!) and a 1992 Longmorn. Unfortunately, they're priced a fair bit higher than BB&R's own bottlings, but it's in the nature of customer-exclusive bottlings that the middle man wants his cut, too.

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