Monday, April 30, 2012

Tokyo International BarShow and Whisky Live Tokyo 2012

The biggest event in Japanese whisky will be held at Tokyo Midtown on Saturday May 5 and Sunday May 6 (11.30-6.00 pm).

Tokyo Whisky Live has hooked up this year with the Tokyo International Bar Show and is being jointly promoted as Tokyo International BarShow/Whisky Live, but Japanese whisky fans can still look forward to plenty of unique tasting opportunities in the main hall and the must-drink special bottlings for the event. They actually have more exhibitors than last year, so the new partnership does not mean a dilution of Whisky Live.

I usually try to avoid excuses, but I must apologise again for being late with news because of my current family crisis (1). The masterclass tickets for the event close midnight Monday (today!!! sorry).

Exhibitors at the two-day event will include Suntory (makers of, among others, the Yamazaki, Hakushu, Hibiki brands), Nikka: (Yoichi, Miyagikyo, Taketsuru, Venture Whisky (Chichibu, Hanyu, and Ichiro's Malt) and, rather excitingly Honbo Shuzo (Mars). The masterclasses related directly to Japanese whisky include*

● Suntory: (MC4 Hakushu & Bowmore Distilleries, MC8 Hibiki Blended, MC16 Malt & Chocolates, MC20 Yamazaki & Hakushu)
● Nikka: (MC1 Taketsuru Pure Malt, MC13 Nikka- My Blend)
● Venture: (MC21 Chichibu Distillery)

Of course, all of those Japanese whisky masterclasses are going to be in Japanese (unlike many of the Scotch ones). If your Japanese is not up to it, my experience is that the main hall can be more than enough fun and give loads of opportunities for trying out exceptional Japanese and other whiskies. Just make sure you don`t overdo it.

Entry tickets are available through E+ until midnight Friday. Tickets bought on the day will cost 1,000 yen more than advance bookings, so JY6,000 for 1 day or 10,000 yen for both days. An English language booking service is available if people e-mail

David Croll, the event`s organizer said all five of the official BarShow Bottlings are Japanese whiskies this year: Two Karuizawas, one Chichibu, one Hanyu and one Yamazaki. Fuller details are available here but the labels below should tell most of the story. My mouth is watering:

They will be on sale at the event at the BarShow Shop and also available online through the Whisky Magazine shop immediately after the BarShow ends at 11:30 Japan time on Saturday May 5 when the Bar Show kicks off. They will be available on a first-come-first-served basis. The current entries for these whiskies say they are "sold out" but that actually just means they are not available until release, according to Yuji.

It will be possible to sample the 5 bottlings at the show using Premium Vouchers and 30 five bottle sets will be offered each day at a special price (that offer is not available online).

Somewhat mysteriously, David Croll added:”There will be a very special BarShow-only offering to promote the relaunch of the Whisky Magazine Japan website, and its “Bond#1” premium subscription service. More details will be available at the BarShow Shop.”

As part of the run up to the big event, Whisky Magazine Japan Editor-in-Chief Dave Broom will be conducting a closed seminar for 9 members of Bond#1 in Shinjuku`s Golden Gai district on Friday, May 4, 2-4pm. Bond#1 is the subscription-only area of the Whisky Magazine Japan site. The tasting is free-of-charge but is strictly reservation only. The whiskies will include a single cask of Karuizawa 1984!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Nikka Rye Base

Review by Nonjatta contributor - Dramtastic:

Nikka Rye Base (malt and rye blend). 43 percent alcohol (abv)
Nose: Delightful. Vanilla, rye, rye bread spices (fennel, aniseed, cardamom), ginger bread, malt, caramel, lacquered teak.
Palate: As tasty as the nose is delightful. Again, vanilla, caramels, toasty rye, lacquered teak. Peanut butter, balanced sweet-and-savory spices and plenty of ginger bread.
Finish: Short/medium. Toasty rye, malt, sweet/savory spice combo, a little oak then mint ice cream.
General Comment: Enjoyed by all who tasted this one with me for the first time at Shot Bar Zoetrope Tokyo last year. Glad I now have a bottle.

Nikka Black 8-year-old

Review by Nonjatta contributor - Dramtastic:

Nikka Black 8-year-old. 40 per cent alcohol (abv), Blended Whisky
Nose: Malt, roasted corn, light oak, caramels, varnish, a little perfumy.
Palate: Smoky malt, caramels, bubblegum, honeyed oats and some lime.
Finish: Short on malt and caramels then grassy with some smoke.
Fairly simple blend more suitable for cocktails than drinking neat.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Ichiro's Malt Seven of Diamonds 1991 19-year-old

Review by Nonjatta contributor - Dramtastic:
Ichiro's Malt Seven of Diamonds 1991 19YO Pedro Ximenez Sherry Cask Finished. 54.8 per cent alcohol (abv).
Nose: Dry Sherry, earthy, mushrooms, pine, leather, timber, blueberry. Water reveals a floral note.
Palate: Needs a little water to open up. Dry sherry, oranges, cloves, papaya and dry oak. Extra water reveals some cocoa, sugared fruit jubes and cola.
Finish: Medium on rhubarb, sugared fruit jubes, cocoa, a little dry oak then minty.
Lacks the depth of the best sherried whiskies.

Ichiro's Malt Four of Diamonds 2000 11-year-old

Review by Nonjatta contributor - Dramtastic:
Ichiro's Malt Four of Diamonds 2000 11-year-old Pedro Ximenez Sherry Cask Finished 56.9%
Nose: Blood oranges, raisins, burnt toast, forest floor, menthol with some trailing struck match.
Palate: Mixed peel. menthol, blood oranges, a slight soapyness, cloves. A little dry oak and struck match.
Finish: Short-medium on mixed peel, dry oak, forest floor and again the trailing struck match.
Seems a little immature/unresolved. In my experience, sherry cask finished Ichiro's Malts are the least successful.

Two single malts added to standard Suntory range

Suntory is adding two no-age-statement single malts to its standard range in Japan. Although the company has put out no-age-statement single malts in the past, this is the first time in recent years  that it has added a no-age-statement whisky to the standard range, which is available year-round.

At 3,500 yen for a 700 ml bottle (1750 yen for 350ml) the Yamazaki and Hakushu no statements are more expensive than Nikka Whisky`s Yoichi and Miyagikyo no-age-statement offerings, which can be as cheap as 1,600 yen for 500ml.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Last official bottlings of Karuizawa from La Maison

France-based importer La Maison du Whisky's final four bottlings of Karuizawa whisky in official Karuizawa livery are now on sale in Europe. I am afraid I might be a bit late with this news because of my personal crisis (and I am banging this out on my mobile so please excuse mistakes). My understanding is that La Maison du Whisky has had them on its shelves for a number of days now.

Number One Drinks will not be allowed to use the official labels after this shipment, so the four single casks will be the last of their kind from La Maison.  (Read this post to understand Number One's role here.) A new label has been developed for future single casks. The Noh label bottlings will continue because they are not official bottlings and The Whisky Exchange may also be putting out their own Karuizawa.

Anyway, feast your eyes:

Alongside the last of the officials, La Maison is also selling a very interesting new Noh offering. It is the first of a series of multi-vintage (1981, 1982, 1983 & 1984) releases planned by Noh. The idea came from Frapin, a small family-owned Cognac producer and one of the very few to release vintage bottlings. As well as a few standard vintage bottlings (which are subject to especially strict laws in France) for LMDW, they have also released three multi-vintages to date as a way of bottling something very close to a standard vintage, but without the paperwork. Now, the Noh series is trying the same idea with whisky.

One final tangential comment, while we are talking Karuizawa: there has been some really interesting discussion on Nonjatta recently about availability in Japan and other issues (see Stefan's fascinating Karuizawa vignette and the comments attached). My understanding is that Number One Drinks, who have bought the remaining Karuizawa stock, are genuinely bound contractually from discussing many of the issues raised, but I have few pennies worth to add to the debate of my own. (Just to be clear, I have no ties to them at all but I have been a long-term admirer of what they have done to promote Japanese whisky abroad.)

I would say this on the general issue of pricing, about which people, quite naturally, feel quite strongly: The work that goes into making these whiskies available outside Europe is very considerable indeed. Quite naturally, people in Japan and other areas have a contrary interest, but I think it is a good thing that Japanese whisky has reached a more global audience and that that is very largely down to the importers rather than the Japanese distillers.

As I say, this is very hard work. You don't just get a shipping container and pack a load of whisky to send back home. We have seen some attempts at that approach in the past and the pitfalls have sometimes been evident. I think it took Number One five years of to get to where it is now with the Karuizawa stock, which, as one insider put it to me, "is just the starting post."

On the availability in Japan issue, my understanding is that the Whisky Live bottlings will include two from Karuizawa this year, and those are very unlikely to be the last in Japan.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The shikuwasa highball

Not all of the developments in the seemingly endless variations in Japan cheap-cocktails-in-a-can market are worthy of notice, but Suntory`s new shikuwasa Torys highball caught my eye. Mixes of awamori and shikuwasa are yummy, and thought of pairing Okinawa's signature citrus fruit with whisky is just a little heretical.

Nevertheless, this one might be a refreshing alternative for an old soak caught short without a cold drink on a hot day. Taking a step back, I suppose it is an example of the continuing blurring of the line between Japan's whisky market and its rampant demand for cheap, low-tax chu-hi and other canned cocktails.

San Francisco World Spirits Competition

Suntory`s 18-year-old single malt Yamazaki won the "best other whisky" category in this year's San Francisco World Spirits Competition. The Yamazaki 18-yo also earned a double gold medal. Suntory`s Hibiki 12-yo blend and Hakushu 12-yo single malt won double gold and gold, respectively.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Nikka 70th Anniversary Selection Yoichi 12YO

Review by Nonjatta contributor - Dramtastic:

Nikka 70th Anniversary Selection Yoichi 12YO 58%
Nose: Pipe tobacco, camphor, aged leather, eucalyptus, sizzling butter, pink grapefruit, ripe apricots and peaches, roasted chestnuts, popcorn, a little minerally.
Palate: Chewy malt, hint of peat and smoke, blue curacao, pine, rhubarb, nutmeg, Hubba bubba, dried apricots, oak, molasses, bran, butter, strawberry yoghurt, marzipan, cocoa. Complex!
Finish: Long, balanced and outstanding, in my opinion.

Nikka 70th Anniversary Selection Miyagikyo 12YO

Review by Nonjatta contributor - Dramtastic:

Nikka 70th Anniversary Selection Miyagikyo 12YO 58% ABV
Nose: Mint chocolate, pine, woodstain, Chicos chocolates, sawdust, rhubarb, leather.
Palate: Masses of stewed rhubarb. Candied nuts, sugared grapefruit, big malt, toffee and nicely judged oak. Leather, nouget, cola, anise and creaming soda.
Finish: Long on a sweet/dry combo.
An excellent Miyagikyo which only works for me at cask strength.

Nikka 70th Anniversary Selection Blended Whisky 12YO

Review by Nonjatta contributor - Dramtastic:

Nikka 70th Anniversary Selection Blended Whisky 12YO 58% ABV
Nose: Malt, lemon, salt, anise, earthy. Floor polish, grapefruit, hazelnut, coffee grinds.
Palate: Needs water. Ton's of lemon sherbert zing. Also, quite hot, with pepper and chilli powder. Malt, peanut shells, hazelnut, bittersweet. Ferrero Rocher, Hubba Bubba, creaming soda.
Finish: Long, with a little smoke, anise, oak, hazelnut, peanut shells, grapefruit and mint. A little unbalanced on the bitter side today.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Kawachi "Kizuna" charity project

 Post by Nonjatta contributor Stefan of Tokyo Whisky Hub.

The day after the first anniversary of the Tohoku triple disaster, liquor retailer Kawachiya released three interesting single cask bottlings of which a portion of the profit (1,000 yen per bottle sold, to be specific) goes to charity. It's a timely reminder that many people in the Tohoku region are still suffering, so I can only applaud Kawachiya's decision to keep the need for continued support in the public eye.

Some of you may remember Kawachiya's earlier Suntory single cask releases (particularly their so-called "Elegant 1st Edition"). At some point in 2010, the people at Kawachiya realised that their stock was depleted and so they contacted Suntory to secure a few more casks. After 3.11, everything was put on hold, but soon afterwards the idea grew to release the casks they had selected as charity bottlings.

The three "Kizuna" bottles are Yamazaki single casks: two white oak barrels, one from 1999 (55% abv, 160 bottles) - the other from 1996 (54% abv, 126 bottles ... already sold out), and a so-called "Black Legend" Yamazaki, drawn from a Spanish oak ex-sherry butt, distilled in 1996 and bottled at 59% abv. There are 427 bottles of this Black Yamazaki, so that one may be available for a few more weeks. For more information, surf to

Ichiro's cigar spirit

Post by Nonjatta contributor Stefan of Tokyo Whisky Hub.

This special bottling is a two-year old (distilled in 2009, bottled in the fall of 2011), so that doesn't make it a whisky quite yet (in Scotland, that is, but serious craft distillers in other countries seem to self-impose those regulations, too).

To get the facts and figures out of the way: it's a single-cask release (cask #461), bottled at 61.9% abv, limited to 332 individually numbered bottles and relatively reasonably priced at 6,825 yen (about 80 USD). Sceptics may be tempted to dismiss this as just another example of a malt bottled way too early by a new distillery strapped for cash. They would be wrong... very wrong. What makes this bottling interesting is the fact that it is a heavily peated malt matured in virgin oak (a new American oak hogshead).

The colour the spirit picked up from the wood in just two years is incredible... a beautiful dark mahogany. The nose is extraordinary with notes of banana fritters, macademia nuts, annin dofu (almond tofu), pencil shavings, old chapels and a hint of maraschino liqueur. The smoke/peat is relatively subdued even though this is supposed to be a "heavily peated" newborn. On the palate, the smoke comes out more and combines beautifully with the sweet (vanilla, marzipan, lychee, creamy nut toffee, ...) and woody flavours (pencil shavings, new plank, oak polish, ...) suggested by the nose.

With water, the peat is more pronounced without ever overshadowing the other notes, however. This is a stunning malt, and I'm convinced that it was bottled at absolutely the right time. A few years more and the wood could have disturbed the gentle balance of flavors--which goes to show one cannot get too hung up on received notions of age / maturity. It may not be a "whisky" and on paper it may seem very unlikely that a two-year old could pull this off, but in reality it is an amazing complex of aromas and flavours - and it feels just right.

Akuto-san suggests that "the fascinating taste goes well with a cigar". That may well be true (I'm not a smoker, so I wouldn't know), but this beauty doesn't need anything at all, save a few drops of water. You can spend hours with a dram of this, without every getting bored.

Stefan's Distillery Vignettes: Karuizawa casks

Post by Nonjatta contributor Stefan of Tokyo Whisky Hub.

This is the first in an ongoing series entitled "Distillery Vignettes", featuring snapshots of Japanese distilleries, usually focusing on some particular detail(s) of interest. What better way to kick off the series than to start with Karuizawa distillery, which unfortunately is now officially a "lost distillery." It was closed in the fall of 2011 after more than a decade of inactivity. When all of the remaining maturing stock was bought by the people behind Number One Drinks and moved to the Chichibu distillery, it was clear to everyone that there was no hope of resurrection anymore.

Having fallen in love with Karuizawa distillery (not only the whisky, but the actual place itself) long before the Number One Drinks-led rise-to-legendary-status abroad, I felt particularly sad about the end of the Karuizawa era. I never understood why the people at Kirin gave up on the distillery: it just doesn't make any sense at all, not when you consider the quality (and prestige abroad!) of the whisky as well as the history and heritage. It's very sad that nobody wanted to keep it alive - maybe it all comes down to the business of vested interest. I guess it wasn't in anybody's best interests to keepit alive. The sale of the remaining casks also means the end of Karuizawa's (i.e. the whisky) presence in Japan - I was told by someone in the know that one of the conditions of the sale of the complete stock was that it would not be sold in Japan. Well, at least people in Europe will get to enjoy the fruits of its glorious past (including a 52-year old single cask, to be released later this year).

Anyway, I visited Karuizawa distillery on many occasions... Today, I thought I'd just share a couple of snapshots of a visit I made in the spring of 2008, focusing on casks. Everyone knows about Karuizawa's adherence to traditional Scottish whisky-making practice, its use of Golden Promise barley, etc. but I've always wondered about the casks. This is not a minor detail, given the importance of the contribution of the cask to the final flavour profile. It would be really interesting to find out what casks were sourced where and how, what the wood policy was, and so on. In one of the photos, you can clearly see that some of the casks were from the Macallan distillery (when it was still hyphenated as "Macallan-Glenlivet") - the year on the casks is 1977. I'd love to be able to speak to someone who was actually in charge of warehouse management at Karuizawa when it was an active distillery. Until then, we'll just have to be satisfied with these glorious photos showing a distillery basking in the sun... as it will do no more.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A personal announcement

It has become customary for me to make rather dramatic posts completely unrelated to alcohol around this time of year. Last year, it was about the earthquake and Fukushima disaster and the birth of my younger son, Dan, amid that chaos. Unfortunately, Dan has just suffered a heart attack and is in a very serious condition in intensive care. I share that information because I don't think it is going to be feasible for me to be very active on Nonjatta for the next month or so.

About 5 years of work, not just by me but my many others, have gone into this site and it has become the most detailed source on the English Internet for information about Japanese Whisky. As I have said so many times that it has become boring, Nonjatta has always been a team effort and the door has always been open to anybody who is interested in spreading the word about Japanese whisky to join the team. Although I must admit right now to having half a mind to chucking it all in, I do feel I should try to maintain it, but I am going to need a lot of help in the short term.

I am going to be asking regular contributors to temporarily take posting privileges that would allow them to post independently of my (up to now very loose) editorship and keep the site going. I appeal to anyone else who has quality content to offer to work with them.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Yamazaki 50 canned highball

Update 2.4.2012: Just so the joke doesn't go too far, let me point out the obvious: This was an APRIL FOOLS' JAPE.

I just got an email from a friend with fairly decent connections saying Suntory are preparing a campaign for a canned Yamazaki 50 highball. Apparently, the press release is going out early next week. It won't be cheap, at 70,000 yen (about 850 dollars) a can, but, by God, I have got to get me one of those!