Post by Stefan Van Eycken, Tokyo
There are two things foreign whisky fans visiting Japan never fail to remark on: the difficulty in buying interesting Japanese whiskies (i.e. anything other than the standards) in Japan, and the incredible whisky bar scene – the latter offering more than enough consolation for the pain suffered when discovering the former. Those who sample a few of the specialist whisky bars in Japan quickly notice a third thing: that, while there are old and rare bottlings of Scotch (and bourbon, grappa, calvados, cognac, vintage liqueurs, etc.) to be found aplenty, one hardly ever comes across old bottlings of Japanese whisky in Japan! Obscure Scotch whisky bottled for the Italian market? Loads. Pre-WWII Calvados? Any day of the week. Rye whiskies older than your grandmother? Not a problem. Japanese whisky bottled in, say, the 1990s? Mmm, that’s tricky…
The enthusiasm quickly spreads and, before long, half a dozen mutual friends have caught wind of the find, and ask if there is a way to get a share of the liquid. The enthusiasm is short-lived, however. Both bottles are utterly disappointing: the #606 irremediably flawed, wrecked by sulphur and other off-notes; the #615 suffering badly from being diluted to 43%, any charm that may have been there totally drowned. As I am writing this, a friend has poured his share of the #606 in his breadmaker. Here’s hoping it works better in dough than in a glass.
Obviously, it would be a logical fallacy to use these two particular bottlings as explanations for the lack of ‘old’ Japanese bottlings at bars in Japan. Truth be told, I could have used a dozen other examples (from other distilleries/producers) by scanning the camera roll from the past few months on my iPhone. As a Japanese whisky fan, one can’t help clinging to the promise of a truly stellar old bottle gathering dust somewhere in a bar or small liquor shop, waiting to be discovered and catapulted to whisky stardom by aficionados. Until such time, specimens occasionally found left and right go some way to explaining the absence of old Japanese bottles at specialist whisky bars in Japan.