Monday, December 3, 2012

Whisky Festival in Tokyo 2012

Post by Stefan of Tokyo Whisky Hub.

It's clear the people behind the Whisky Festival in Tokyo - that would be Mamoru Tsuchiya and his Scotch Whisky Research Centre - are doing something right. More and more people seem to find their way to the festival every year, and while many of the same whisky makers and retailers show up year after year (but - I hasten to add - always with new and interesting products), there are always a few whisky producers making their debut. The surprise of the day for me was Box Whisky, a Swedish distillery I'd heard a lot about but not seen or tasted any whiskies from. Of the three different cask styles available at the festival (ex-bourbon, ex-sherry and Hungarian oak - and each of these had a peated and a non-peated expression), I thought the Hungarian non-peated oak expression showed incredible promise. It was only a few months old, but I can easily imagine what a beauty this will be a few years down the line.
For most people, the first port of call was the Shinanoya stand. Not just one, but two store-exclusive bottlings were available for pre-order. Judging from the queues at their stand, I can't imagine there's much left of either. After their 1995 Karuizawa - released earlier this year - people had been waiting impatiently for the follow-up and there it was: a 1981 single cask Karuizawa drawn from an ex-bourbon cask (a first for the Japanese market, if I'm not mistaken), bottled at 60.0% abv with an outturn of 228. The second Shinanoya bottling unveiled at the festival was a little more surprising - although word had already leaked on the internet a few days earlier: a new Hanyu in their acclaimed "The Game" series. This is the third one in the series, and this time it was finished in a hogshead with red oak heads (outturn: 309 bottles). I had the chance to try them at the festival - with people breathing down my neck from all sides - but releases of this caliber deserve peace and quiet and undivided attention which is why we'll be bringing you detailed tasting notes later this week.

Another place where things were pretty hectic was Whisky Venture's booth. No new Chichibu releases this time but four new "cards" (if you don't know what that means, just skip this paragraph), all with different finishes: "Seven of Spades" (1990/2012, finished in a cognac cask), "Six of Hearts" (1991/2012, finished in an American oak puncheon); "Five of Diamonds" (2000/2012, finished in a sherry butt) and "Ace of Clubs" (2000/2012, finished in a mizunara puncheon). Everybody seemed to have their own favourite(s) - I was instantly seduced by the "cognac" card - but they were all stunning, as always.

I was happy to see the wonderful people from Mars distillery again. They had brought their 3rd "New Pot" release (which will be available from tomorrow). Last year, they'd put out 2 "New Pot" bottles, to show people what they'd been doing since they re-fired the stills after a 19-year hiatus: those two were lightly-peated (7.9 ppm) and heavily-peated (19 ppm) respectively. This year's offering is a really-heavily-peated one (50 ppm) and just like the other ones, it was distilled in the winter (i.e. the first months of the year) and then kept in a stainless steel tank for 9 months, so it really is "new pot" and not matured new-make spirit. If you're not into that kind of stuff (whisky-in-progress, or whatever you want to call it), reconsider now! This heavily-peated new pot spirit is of such an incredible elegance that I'd buy up the entire stock in the blink of an eye - if they'd let me... which they won't, because there's not much to go around. They produced only about 1,800 liters of this 50 ppm spirit this year (just 3 batches) - and put most of it in American white oak ex-bourbon barrels, some of it in virgin oak (which I predict will work very well!), a bit in a port pipe (an experiment of sorts) and the rest in 1099 little 200ml bottles, and that's what you can try now! The idea with these little 200 ml bottles of new pot spirit is to give the consumer the chance to keep "monitoring" the progress. Each type will get a follow-up when the whisky reaches 3 years, and then more later, so don't finish everything... or buy a few of these little bottles, because this is really a unique chance to see how distillery character and wood influence change over time. If you're a fan of Mars distillery's older output (i.e. the pre-hiatus casks), start saving up for February. The master distiller and his team are currently choosing some new single casks to be bottled soon: one has already been selected and there may be one that will surprise more than a few people, so watch this space. They also had a new bottling for the local market - for people to take home as souvenirs - which isn't really a new bottling, as it is basically the same as their "7&3" blend. It's reassuring to see they're pretty busy up there in Nagano.
There were a lot of other brilliant things to experience: Suntory W. Shop's single grain whisky (which we wrote about earlier this week), an unexpectedly nice Highland Park festival bottling (a vatting of casks from 1973, 1976, 1991 and 1998, done by the head honcho of the Scotch Whisky Research Centre), smoked foods from those wizards at Yokohama Kunsei, some lovely pipe tunes played by the incomparable Takeshi Mogi, but for me the absolute star of the event was a bottle quietly sitting among its label-mates, a hidden beauty if ever there was one: this Berry Bros' and Rudd 1974 single cask (sherry hogshead) Glen Grant. Pure magic.

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