Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Mars Shinshu new single casks

By Nonjatta contributor - Dramtastic:
As previously revealed by Stefan from Tokyowhiskyhub in May from his TIBS/Whisky Live Tokyo 2012 report, there are now some new single cask releases from Mars Shinshu that have gone on sale this week. At the time the distillery presented two different single casks. What wasn't revealed was there is also a Cognac Cask. The three single casks are:

Mars Komagatake Single Cask Vintage 1989 23YO 57.9% American White Oak Cask #1041
Mars Komagatake Single Cask Vintage 1985 27YO 60.7% Sherry Cask #162
Mars Komagatake Single Cask Vintage 1989 23YO 63.5% Cognac Limousin Cask #1060

The picture attached is of the Cognac Cask with all bottles looking the same but obviously details on the label reflect the different casks. Prices in Japan are 15,750 yen for the two '89 bottlings and 18,900 yen for the '85 though this may vary slightly for different retailers. For those having these shipped from Japan to overseas, the prices are respectively 15,000 yen and 18,000 yen. As these are far rarer than say, Karuizawa, I personally think this is very fair. I have purchased all three and hope to have tasting notes on Nonjatta soonish.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Auld Alliance Whisky Bar Singapore

By Nonjatta contributor - Dramtastic:

Opened January 2011, The Auld Alliance is a purpose-built Whisky Bar located at CHIJMES, a historical landmark in the heart of Singapore's city area restored and converted to house restaurants and bars and located diagonally across from Raffles Hotel and, as fortune would have it, my digs at the Carlton.
With 1000+ whiskies in stock it's a whisky enthusiasts wet dream. Of special interest to Nonjatta readers is that the range includes around 140-150 Japanese whiskies (some are not on display). How about around 40 Karuizawa from '67 onwards for starters, a range you will not see even in Japan? Also a great selection of Ichiro's Card Series and Single/Vintage Casks from the majors, Yoichi/Miyagikyo/Yamazaki/Hakushu as well as plenty of standards. By my reckoning all this makes this the second best place to try Japanese whisky in the world, with only Shot Bar Zoetrope Tokyo matching the quality and exceeding the number of bottles.
The thing that makes this place even more special though is the owner Emmanuel Dron. Emmanuel had around 15 years experience in other areas of the whisky biz before opening The Auld Alliance. A man of egalitarian beliefs when it comes to whisky, he is just as likely to recommend an old Irish whiskey (one of his specialties) or quality Japanese whisky as something Scottish. He is incredibly open minded and enjoys all styles of whisky, which is great for recommendations. Emmanuel is a true gentlemen and incredibly approachable. He is always looking to update his offerings, so you'll never be bored at The Auld Alliance. He showed me 2 Glenfarclas that he had found that even old hands at Glenfarclas did not recognise.

On my first night of two at The Auld Alliance Emmanuel and I ended up at a Japanese joint (food/bar) in another part of town that he goes to and enjoyed a few Japanese whisky rarities. He's that type of person with a true passion for whisky. For those interested in pricing, Emmanuel's policy is to price the menu commensurate with what he has paid for a particular bottle. If he didn't pay a lot, even if it's rare, he doesn't charge a lot. Sounds fair to me. I can't recommend The Auld Alliance highly enough.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Kirin Evermore 2001 21YO 40%abv

Review by Nonjatta contributor - Dramtastic:
Kirin Evermore 2001 21YO 40%abv
Nose: Very similar to the 2002 but a little less rich. So, pineapple, walnuts, mashed banana, vanilla, teak, pipe tobacco, rye, sugared lemon and a touch of lavender.
Palate: Pineapple, passionfruit, lavender, walnuts, rye, vanilla, pine-lime splice(an Australian ice-cream).
Finish: Again shortish on pine-lime splice(pine-lime ice over a vanilla centre, though the lime is sweet). A very good blend.

Kirin Evermore 2002 21YO 40% abv

Review by Nonjatta contributor - Dramtastic:

Kirin Evermore 2002 21YO 40% abv
Nose: Deep and rich. Heavy Pineapple, passionfruit, papaya, a sherry like quality, brazil nuts, walnuts, rye, pipe tobacco, white pepper.
Palate: Nicely tangy(fruit tingles), pineapple, walnut, passionfruit skins, pipe tobacco, cloves, kiwi fruit, papaya, hint of sweet yoghurt.
Finish: Short medium with nothing added from the palate. This is a premium blend only let down by the shortish finish and low abv. Would be a killer at 48%abv.

Kirin Crescent Blend 43%abv

Review by Nonjatta contributor - Dramtastic:
Kirin Crescent Blend 43%abv
Nose: Crisp and light. Pineapple, light oak, tinned peaches, creamed corn, toffee, mashed banana.
Palate: Pineapple, ginger bread, walnuts, red grapes, rye, strawberry, a little white pepper.
Finish: Short on the flavours of the palate and some white grapes. No heavy hitter but none the less a well crafted blend that can be picked up for peanuts in Japan.

Kirin 50% Blend

Review by Nonjatta contributor - Dramtastic:

Kirin 50% Blend
Nose: Butterscotch, blanched pears, vanilla, creamed corn, oak, mixed herbs, shellfish.
Palate: Creamed corn, green apple skin, butterscotch, rye, red grapes, a tad soapy.
Finish: Short, green apple skins, red grapes, rye, butterscotch. Better than expected, the soapy element and short finish lets it down. About $12 a bottle in Japan.

Friday, June 15, 2012

One of the best places to taste and buy whisky in Japan

Post by Eric at Malty Moments in Japan

Editor's Note: Tasting rules have changed since we published this article. Check our update here.

The best place in Tokyo to try many single malts at the cheapest prices is Liquors Hasegawa located in the Underground shopping area just outside Yaesu exit of Tokyo station. Not only do they have a great selection of single malts but also miniatures and other premium spirits. The prices are good too. For example they were selling a bottle of Glenmorangie "Original" 10 for only 2,990 yen. That is cheaper than what I got for it at Rakuten Kawachiya.

The coolest thing about this place is that you can try nearly all they have on offer for a small tasting fee. For example Johnnie Walker Blue Label can be sampled for a low price of 200 yen for 10mls. I dare you to try and find a price like that in any bar. While browsing around a friendly customer allowed me to try some of the tasting  samples he bought. I tasted an Ardbeg Renaissance and a few other premium single malts. I myself sampled Ardbeg 10 and Port Charlotte. The man kindly took a picture of me. The total price was 200 yen for the two samples.

The procedure for tasting is very simple. On the bottles that can be sampled is a white sticker with red kanji that says tasting fee with the price of the tasting fee. It looks like this 有料試飲 (yu-ryo shi-in). There is also a label that says not to open the bottle (it's very tempting to take a whiff but don't) but to take the bottle to the counter where the shop attendant will, after paying the small fee,  get a tasting glass and make a small space for you to enjoy. Bring a bottle of water to water down the sample is necessary. This place is highly recommended to try premium single malts at a reasonable price for your whisky education.

It's a little hard to describe how to get there but the best way is the exit the underground Yaesu exit of Tokyo JR station and look for Yaesu Underground shopping center. Once you are there look for an information booth and ask how to get to LIQUORS HASEGAWA リカーズハセガワ 本店. Also be care to go to the main shop and not the west branch locate in the same shopping center. If you do manage to get to the west branch then ask them how to get to the main shop. The west branch specializes in wine and doesn't offer whisky tastings.

Opened 10:00am to 8:00pm daily. 

 I forgot the mention that it's not only Scotch whiskies that can be tasted but also Japanese whiskies and other spirits. The prices for the tasting depends on the price of the 700ml bottle. The below information was taken for their website.

Tasting prices
Under 5000円 - 100円
Over 5000円 but under 10000円 - 150円
Over 10000円 but under 15000円 - 200円
Over 15000円 but under 20000円 - 250円
Over 20000円 but under 25000円 - 350円
Over 30000円 but under 35000円 - 500円
Over 35000円 but under 40000円 - 600円
Over 40000円 but under 50000円 - 700円

I also translated the tasting rules that can be found on the website here.
Liquors Hasegawa Tasting rules

1. Liquors Hasegawa is not a drinking establishment.
2. Tap water is available. You can bring your own bottled water.
3. You cannot taste 3 samples at once. 2 samples is okay.
4. Please wait patiently if the cashier is busy.
5. The tasting tables are located within the bottle aisles. Please be mindful of other customers.
6. Intoxicated customers may be refused service.

Map can be found here (flash)

Monday, June 11, 2012

Karuizawa "Rouge Cask" Series

Post by Stefan of Tokyo Whisky Hub

Today, I would like to introduce a series of Karuizawa releases that is not very well-known abroad (thankfully, maybe) but that I am really fond of: the Karuizawa "Rouge Cask" series. The single casks that constitute this series all come from the 1995 vintage and, as you may have guessed, they were ex-red wine casks. It's important to understand that these whiskies spent their entire period of maturation in these ex-wine casks, so they were not "finished", "ACEd" or what-have-you. The quality is incredibly high (some of my all-time favourite Karuizawas are part of this series) and they were equally incredibly cheap, a situation that we're not likely to witness anymore, I'm afraid.

Before I give you some more specific details of the bottles in this series, a word of caution: it would be extremely difficult for a collector not based in Japan to get hold of the complete series–even when you are based in Japan, it’s well-nigh impossible, you can take my word for it. The main reason for this is that these bottlings were not aimed at the whisky afficionado/collector, but at the accidental tourist. They were available at the distillery shop only and aimed at the kind of person who wouldn't dream of shelling out 10,000 yen for a bottle of "domestic whisky" (that's 99.9% of the population) but with an interest in trying something that they had probably never seen before: a whisky matured in wine casks. They actually looked like wine bottles and I almost missed them the first time I was there. I always suspected this was to trick people into buying something they thought was wine (of which there was plenty in the distillery shop), only to find out when they were home that they had actually bought whisky. The distillery people were probably confident enough (and rightfully so, I would say) that people would have been pleasantly surprised. Anyway, these bottles were very modestly priced as I mentioned before (4,000 yen for a bottle!), and so they were the perfect “omiyage” (souvenir) - to take back home for yourself or for friends / family - for those visiting the museum adjacent the distillery and for tourists, newly-weds, shopaholics and other people with a good reason or a good excuse to escape the hustle and bustle of the capital for a few days. Most of these bottles would have been opened and drunk not long after they were purchased. Another reason why it’s hard to get hold of them now is that they were bottled in small batches. I remember asking the distillery staff about this, and they said they would bottle a hundred or so and wait for those to sell out before bottling some more. That’s also the reason why you can find bottles drawn from the same cask but with a different bottling date.

As far as I know, nine casks were bottled between 2007 and 2011, just before the Karuizawa stock was bought up by Number One Drinks. The details (from left to right: age, cask number, bottling date(s) and abv) are as follows:

12yo [#5012] 15.06.2007 (63%)
13yo [#5021] 04.06.2008, 08.08.2008, 20.10.2008 (63%)
14yo [#5031] 17.09.2009 (66.2%)
14yo [#5036] 03.02.2010, 03.03.2010 (67.4%)
15yo [#5034] 14.07.2010 (66.7%)
15yo [#5028] 19.08.2010 (67.0%)
15yo [#5018] 16.12.2010 (68.7%)
15yo [#5027] 26.05.2011 (69.4%)
16yo [#5022] 12.07.2011 (69.7%)

The 12- and 13-year old were bottled at 500ml; afterwards, they switched to 480ml (that way they didn't have to fill the bottles all the way up to the top). They were sealed with the black wax people will be familiar with from the standard, original Karuizawa single cask bottlings. The 12-year old, however, is a bit special as that was sealed with red wax. Don't ask me why. This wax, incidentally, is a collector's nightmare - regardless of the colour. Sooner or later, the wax will break and your bottle will be open whether you like it or not. (This actually happened to my 13yo Rouge Cask bottle a few weeks ago - the only one I had... You can imagine I wasn't very pleasant company that evening.)

Some ex-red wine casks from this vintage (if you see cask number #50** you know what you've got!) have also been bottled by Number One Drinks (some "Noh" casks, some bottlings for private customers...) but they're in a different price range, as you can imagine.

When I see those slim, sexy Rouge Casks Karuizawas now - those rare beauties - I think of a time not so long ago, when people still had the chance to discover something absolutely stunning by accident, available (also in terms of price) to everyone and anyone willing to take a chance on something... willing to be seduced on the spot... and it makes me a little sad that it is just so much harder to have that experience now... The latest Karuizawa single cask release (over 400 bottles for TWE) sold out in less than 24 hours... but it's already back in Japan, on auction sites, for double the price. A sad state of affairs, if you ask me. Call me a romantic, but I do hope that somewhere in Japan, there is still a place - somewhere - where Karuizawa whisky is just waiting for people to fall in love with it... where neither the highest-bidder nor the fastest-clicker can get to it... where only serendipity can lead people to it.

Karuizawa 11YO "Asama"

Post by Stefan of Tokyo Whisky Hub.

The new "Asama" 11-year old Karuizawa expression has just been released in Sweden and is available at Systembolaget. It is a vatting of casks from the last two vintages (i.e. 1999 and 2000), but unlike the TIBS bottlings - vattings of the same vintages - it's bottled at 46% abv, i.e. not at cask-strength. It's priced at SEK649 (which is a little over 7,000 yen), extraordinarily and uncharacteristically reasonable. The TIBS vattings were far from spectacular, and that's putting it mildly. It would be interesting to hear from whisky enthusiast in Sweden what they think of the new "Asama". Number One Drinks got a large number of casks from the last two vintages when they bought the entire remaining inventory. Here's hoping "Asama" is not just an attempt to get rid of some not-so-desirable casks, but that it's actually a well-composed vatting. The jury is out...

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Japanese whisky T-shirts

I suppose this is the point where I realise the whisky geekishness has gone too far. I was amused to find that the big Japanese clothes retailer Uniqlo is selling a T-shirt devoted to Suntory Old whisky while passing through one of their stores on Sunday. I have posted quite a lot on Suntory Old`s label history (1,2) because there seems to be a lot of interest in dating those bottles from readers of Nonjatta. Anyway, there they all are on the front of a T-shirt. I think you can buy them on U.S. ebay as well as in the shops over here, although personally I prefer my whisky in my stomach rather than on it.

It is not the only Suntory-Uniqlo collaboration.

Hanyu “The Game” 2000/2011 for Shinanoya

Whiskywall has put a very interesting review of the 2011 "The Game" Mizunara-finished single cask. It seems this one is a bit special. Serge Valentin at Whiskyfun also liked it.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Karuizawa 1981/2012 (Bond #1 Exclusive)

Post by Stefan of Tokyo Whisky Hub.  

When the people behind Whisky Magazine Japan decided to revamp their website, they also had the brilliant idea to set up a "members only" area (Bond #1) where you can sign up for exclusive events and releases. I don't think it makes much sense for people outside Japan to become a member, but for those living in the land of the rising taxes, it's an exciting development. The first exclusive release is a 30-year-old Karuizawa (drawn from cask #5208, distilled October 1981, bottled May 2012, 53.9 percent abv). It's the first time I've seen a handwritten (not very nice penmanship, btw) Number One Drinks label - I don't know if that means it's bottled bit by bit, as and when demand dictates, but it's not unlikely. There's not really a big interest in Karuizawa here in Japan. If you don't believe me, try this experiment: go to a whisky tasting, and I'm talking about a tasting with serious whisky freaks, and slip in a nice single-cask Karuizawa. By the end of the evening, it'll still be 90% full! (Been there, done that, you see...)

Anyway, back to the Bond #1 Karuizawa. It's priced at 24,000 yen, which is fair, it must be said. The nose has lots of forest notes, also that distinct burnt cereal note I find in a lot of good Karuizawas, glazed cherries, dried pineapple, a bit of lychee; also big notes of oak polish, the smell of grass after rain, some pink pepper and a slight hint of chantilly cream. With water, I get a lot of green apples (which is nice, if you like green apples... which I do). The palate takes you to a completely different place: it's remarkably light and dry, slightly savoury - you get more mineral notes, "dusty chapel" notes (I spent most of my teenage years playing the pipe organ, so I know what I'm talking about!), a hint of rosemary, a tiny hint of walnuts. Very enigmatic, just plays with your head when you go back and forth between nosing it and tasting it.

Don't add water, though: it's too delicate for that and completely falls apart, especially on the palate (it becomes kind of like a young calvados). The finish is medium-long, and again very light and dry and slightly tannic (in a pleasant way!).

If you're a Karuizawa fan with a fruit bomb fetish, this is not for you. If you're a fan of the "in-your-face" Karuizawas this is not for you, either. This is a Karuizawa that makes you work hard - kind of like entering a strange world in which you have to get used to smaller dimensions, but then, once you do, you find all kinds of marvels in the tiniest corners. It also reminds me a little bit of Salman Rushdie's "Midnight Children" in which - among a thousand other plot lines - a young girl falls in love with her husband of an arranged marriage piece by piece, one fragment at a time.

Drinking this Karuizawa is a bit like that: the "whole" doesn't offer itself up as such all at once... and not even after you spend some time with it. Instead, you find yourself piecing fragments together, but the puzzle is always slightly different, and you're never there where you think you've figured it out. Whereas in life no sane person would want the anxiety that comes with this, in art (read: whisky) that's what you really need, isn't it?