Thursday, September 27, 2012

Ichiro's Malt Queen of Spades 1990 19YO Hogshead/Port Pipe # 46653.1%abv

Review by Nonjatta contributor - Dramtastic:

Ichiro's Malt Queen of Spades 1990 19YO Hogshead/Port Pipe # 466 53.1%abv
Nose: Plums, overripe peaches, marmalade, cola, burnt toffee, orange juice, pine, pink grapefruit, pipe tobacco.
Palate: White plums, red grapes, pipe tobacco, marmalade, cola, nutmeg, pine.
Finish: Medium length on  the palate with plenty of orange juice and a little toffee.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Post-Modern Malt Whisky Market 2012 Musings

Post by Stefan of Tokyo Whisky Hub.

Akihabara is not really part of my habitat here in Tokyo, so I don't expect to be back there until next year's Modern Malt Whisky Market, which is a shame because I found it to be very different from the image in my mind and from the memories I had of it - different in a pleasant way. I spent the better part of the afternoon at the whisky event, but treated my taste buds (and eyes) to a little break at the nearby AKB48 Cafe, which was a real treat, too.
As I anticipated, one of the stars of the MMWM was the newly released "Chichibu The Peated". I was just blown away by its sheer elegance - and I was not the only one. Some people voiced concern that when a peated whisky reaches this level of perfection at 3 years of age, one cannot help but wonder how it can possibly be better at a more mature age. Personally, I don't share their concern. One must not forget that Akuto-san carefully "composes" these releases so that they are sublime in their own right regardless of age. In the case of this "Chichibu The Peated", he used a relatively large proportion of malt aged in virgin oak hogsheads (more than the other types that went into it, that is to say, refill hogsheads and ex-bourbon casks). The use of virgin oak provides the sweeter, maltier (younger) notes with a counterpoint of spicier (clove, cinnamon, ...) and fruitier (peach, blood oranges, ...) elements that gives the whisky a complexity that belies its young age. But this is not a lucky accident, it's the result of strategic choices - choices that will (have to) change as the available stock ages. So there's nothing to worry about, I think. The strategies will change, but the quality will always be there.

There was another surprise from Chichibu at the event: a special Port Pipe single cask bottling (2009/2012, 61%abv, 180 bottles). It sold like hot cakes, but I couldn't taste it at the event, so until my bottles arrive on my doorstep... watch this space. A little bird (actually she wasn't that little) also told me Isetan may be getting an interesting delivery from Akuto-san next month. Again... watch this space.
Other personal highlights of the show were the Hakushu 25yo (pure heaven), Yamazaki 18yo (always a pleasure) and on the Scotch front: the Old Pulteney 21yo, the Peter Arkle AnCnoc, Balblair 1989 2nd release (I didn't care so much for the other Balblairs, but loved the honeycomb and milk chocolate notes in the 1989) and the Glen Ord 28yo (which is like orange juice for adults). I also thoroughly enjoyed MHD Brand Ambassador Robert Stockwell's seminar on peaty malts - really insightful. I was also happy to get my mitts on a copy of a beautifully produced promotional book on Kirin's Gotemba distillery, filled with pictures of things you can't even see if you visit the distillery in person. A great show, great whiskies, great people... and an excuse to visit the AKB48 Cafe. What's not to love? If you didn't manage to pull that sickie this time, you'd better gear up and get ready for next year's event!

Distillery Vignettes (2): Mars Mizunara Casks

Post by Stefan of Tokyo Whisky Hub.

"Mizunara"... the word itself is to many Japanese whisky aficionados what Pavlov's bell was to his illustrious dogs. When a Mizunara bottling is released, people reach for their wallets faster than they're used to - these bottlings are usually sold out within a matter of days, if not hours. And woe betide you if you've got the "mizunara bug" but happen to be otherwise occupied during those days or hours - in other words, if you happen to work for a living -, because then you'll have to pay for it and pay for it dearly ... on the auction circuit.
What is the appeal, I hear you say? Sure, a big part of it is the uniqueness factor - it's Japanese oak - but there's more to it than that. The wood brings flavours to the game that you just don't find elsewhere, and sexy flavours they are too, at least to my mind: sandalwood, incense, the smell of temples here in Japan, strong coconut aromas, etc. Like most discoveries in whisky making, and indeed the discovery of whisky making itself, the use of mizunara is rooted in serendipity. As importing casks for the maturation of whisky became more difficult as the Second Sino-Japanese war escalated, Japanese distillers - Suntory at the forefront - started looking for domestic alternatives. Coopers started using Japanese oak, but they quickly discovered their homegrown oak was more difficult to handle than European or American oak. With Japanese oak, the quantity of tyloses (blocking the radial pores of the wood) is much less and so the wood is more porous making casks more prone to leaking. This is one of the reasons why mizunara staves are cut quite thick. Japanese oak also has more knots than European or American oak, so it's harder to cooper from that point of view as well. It wasn't just challenging to the cooper's skills, it was rather challenging to the palate as well. Blenders felt whisky matured in mizunara casks was too in-your-face in terms of aroma and taste. It just overpowered everything else in the blend. What they didn't know at the time, but discovered later, was that mizunara wood needs time to work its magic... a little bit like Henry Rollins - five minutes may just bewilder you, but go to a four- or five-hour show and you'll know what I mean!

Anyway, back to whisky. Suntory and Nikka all make extensive use of mizunara wood, although it is more expensive than the standard alternatives. It's an important part of their signature blends and the awards they've picked up over the years clearly show the trouble is worth the effort. For smaller distillers, it's much more difficult to use mizunara - obviously because they lack the economies of scale - so most of them don't (didn't) bother. Unsurprisingly, Akuto-san (Hanyu/Chichibu) is the exception. Never one to avoid obstacles, he has recently started experimenting with using mizunarawood for the cask heads only. There is another exception, however.

A few weeks ago, I happened to be at Mars (Shinshu) Distillery in Nagano prefecture - and I spent a bit of quality time in their warehouse. Imagine my surprise when I saw this:

two mizunara casks that have patiently been maturing for decades. The master distiller told me they stayed away from those casks - the flavours too overbearing, the ugly ducklings of the warehouse - but that in recent years, they had noticed a change... a mellowing in profile, the rough edges gone and that finally, they may be coming into their own and may be reaching their prime soon. There are no plans to bottle these, as yet, but when they do, make sure you're one of the lucky few to hear the bell ringing.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Hibiki 21YO Special Bottle Collection 2012

Post by Stefan of Tokyo Whisky Hub.

Suntory has just announced they will be releasing a special Hibiki 21yo on December 4th. It will come in two versions, but the whisky inside will be the same. One will be an "Arita-yaki" (有田焼, lit. "Arita ware"), which refers to a type of Japanese porcelain made in the town of Arita in Kyushu, also known as "Imari" (after the port in Saga from which the porcelain was exported in the 17th and 18th century) - that's the one on the left in the picture below. The other will be a "Kutani-yaki" (九谷焼, "Kutani ware"), a style of porcelain first produced in the village of Kutani in the Kaga domain (now roughly corresponding to Ishikawa prefecture).
The whisky will be "bottled" - so to speak - at 43%abv (600ml). This "Special Bottle Collection 2012" will be available in Japan only, priced at 30,000 yen (approx. 385USD / 300 EUR) per item, which I think is reasonable.

Whisky Events in Tokyo

Post by Stefan of Tokyo Whisky Hub.

This week is a pretty exciting week for whisky enthusiasts based in Tokyo or those living a little farther out but willing to make the trek.

On Wednesday, September 26th, the annual Modern Malt Market will be held. As always, this will be an afternoon-only event, so not everyone will be able to make it. This year, I'm lucky enough that it coincides with a day off from work so I'll let you know what you missed (sorry, that was cruel). The usual suspects will be there, and Springbank, BenRiach/GlenDronach, Duncan Taylor, Glenfiddich and Diageo are all sending brand ambassadors over, who will be giving seminars as well. On the Japanese whisky front, the major players will be represented (Suntory, Asahi/Nikka, Kirin) and Akuto-san of Ventury Whisky (Hanyu/Chichibu) will be there too - so this will be the first chance to taste the new Chichibu "The Peated" and - hopefully - some other treats as well. It's a great event, so if you've got an understanding boss - but, let's face it, who does? - or have what it takes to pull a sickie, you know you'll be smiling that day.

On Saturday evening (September 29th, from 7pm), Shinjuku's Golden Gai is the place to be. That's pronounced "guy", by the way, for those of you who just frowned their eyebrows reading this. Nicholas Coldicott and yours truly will be hosting a Japanese whisky night at Chotto Bar. The line-up is pretty stellar, if I do say so myself: there will be some whiskies from the Ocean era (i.e. the pre-Kirin Karuizawa era), a rare Rouge Cask Karuizawa, half a dozen "cards" (all different cask type finishes) and a few other older releases from the Ichiro's Malts series, some very old Suntory stuff, a Sendai 12 year old, a couple of Toyo whiskies, a rare private Eigashima bottling and - brace yourself - the Hakushu 25 year old (which Jim Murray rated 93/100 and called "a malt which is impossible not to be blown away by", and who are we to argue with Mr. Murray) - all of these at prices that you just won't find anywhere else on this planet, and if you think that's a bold statement to make, I challenge you to come and see for yourself. Did I mention there is no cover charge? Anyway, most whisky events in Tokyo (and elsewhere in the world, I imagine) are PR-driven - that is to say, they focus on promoting current and/or imminent releases. It's not very often that you get the chance to take your nose and palate on a little trip down memory lane, and while my involvement in this event calls for a certain measure of modesty, honesty compels me to say that the chances of seeing all the beauties listed above ever again in one place, available for everyone's taste buds and wallets, are ... well, quite frankly, nil.

So, there you have it... never a boring week in Tokyo as far as whisky's concerned.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Ichiro's Malt Chichibu The Peated

By Nonjatta contributor - Dramtastic:

Ichiro's Malt Chichibu The Peated, the latest bottling from Ichiro Akuto at Chichibu distillery, will be released in Japan on 26th September. It is made up of heavily peated spirit distilled in 2009 that has just reached its third year (three years maturation is necessary to make spirit whisky). It is limited to 5,000 bottles.

This is a cask strength bottling at 50.5 per cent alcohol (slightly stronger than Chichibu's usual releases because Akuto believed that is necessary to show this whisky to the full). It has a phenol content of 51 ppm (parts per million). Basically, that "ppm" measures the chemical presence of peat in the whisk. The level is high but nothing compared to some Scottish monsters. The whisky was matured in bourbon barrel, a refill hogshead and a new hogshead.