Monday, December 28, 2015

Talisker Distillers Edition: 2003 - 2014

Talisker is, for the moment, one of the best whisky values around. Seriously, how many other distilleries produce a 25-year-old expression that can be purchased for around $200 US? (134 British Pounds) Their 18-year-old expression is top-notch and can be had for under $100 US.

Recently, I picked up a bottle of The Distillers Edition, distilled in 2003 and bottled in 2014. This whisky immediately earned a place on my top shelf. This is a beautiful dram, having all the usual Talisker characteristics with the addition of some subtle fruit and chocolate notes from having been aged in Amoroso Sherry casks. Another double-matured special edition in the Diageo portfolio is Lagavulin's Distillers Edition, also reworked with the addition of sherry-cask influence. That whisky enjoys a solid reputation as well. Not every peated-whisky distiller has been successful in tweaking its flavor profile by using sherry casks in their special editions, but both Talisker and Lagavulin have done bang-up jobs and are worthy of much praise, not only for the drinking pleasure they have given us in their sherry-cask limited editions, but for their craftsmanship in doing so; too many whiskies with excellent basic flavor profiles get ruined by cask domination.

At around $65 US, Talisker's 2014 Distillers Edition is not only one of the best distiller bottlings I've ever purchased, but it is the best bang-for-the-buck whisky I've ever picked up.


Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Amrut Peated Single Malt

I'd been wanting to try an Amrut whisky for some time when it finally appeared on the shelves of my favorite local bottle shop.  There were three options, but I settled on one, Amrut Peated Single Malt. At $43 US, I didn't mind purchasing it blindly, especially given its rating of 94 points from Jim Murray.

Facts

Origin: Bangalore, India
Age: NAS
ABV: 46%
Chill Filtering: No
Coloring added: No

Appearance
Islay Gold

Nose
Soft and rounded, caramel-soaked barbecued bacon, oak, ash, floral and grassy.

Palate
Slightly sweet, malty, a little sour, a little bitter, sweet tea

Finish
Medium, peat and smoke, mild spices

Conclusion: A worthy dram to be sure, but there are too many Islay characteristics to really ascertain any uniqueness in this whisky. It's somewhere between an Ardbeg and a Bruichladdich. For the same price, Ardbeg 10 is a superior dram, and there's not enough originality in Amrut Peated for me to choose it as a peaty alternative to Ardbeg, Lagavulin, Port Charlotte or Laphroaig.


Friday, November 13, 2015

Vive la France!


Going to enjoy some Cognac this evening in honor of our French brothers and sisters...

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Springbank 19 Year Single Cask: Whisky Live Tokyo 2015 Exclusive Bottling

This one was a bit pricey at around $250 US, but being a lover of Cask Strength Springbanks, and having heard very good things about this one, I decided to pick up what was likely the last available bottle. Remember, though, I buy these bottles for my pub, so I can usually at least make my money back on them; I would be a bit more discerning if they were for my private collection.

Facts

Name: Springbank 19 Single Cask (Whisky Live Tokyo 2015 Exclusive)
Outturn: 390 bottles
ABV: 55.9%
Distilled: May 1995
Bottled: April 2015
Cask: Refill Sherry

Appearance:
Honey amber

Nose:
Unusually soft for a Springbank, oaky, sandalwood, tobacco and leather, slightly sweet, musty air of a room closed off for months, missing the buttery peat.

Palate:
Instant impact, sweet and numbing, cinnamon, bitter chocolate, lemons and grapes.

Finish:
Longish, pleasing warmth and slightly smoky, mouth-coating chocolate sweetness, dried fruits.

Conclusion: Love everything but the nose. It's a bit too weak for me, and I'm afraid my knowledge is too minimal to explain why this whisky turned out this way. My only guess is that it has something to do with this one being a single-cask whisky; not having been blended with other Springbanks, it's likely that this one is an outlier in the collection of all Springbank whiskies, falling far away from the average.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Always Searching for CS Springbanks

If there's any one whisky maker I love over all others, at least at this point in my whisky experience, it's definitely Springbank. I particularly have a thing for their 12-Year Cask Strength expression.

In Tokyo, you can always get your hands on a bottle of 10, 15, and 18-Year aged Springbanks, but the 12-Year, being produced in quite limited quantities every year, tends to be elusive. There are even a few bottles of the 2015 version of the 21-year-old expression and a 25-year old from 2014 floating around, but I spent half of this year dreading the day when a customer at the bar ordered the last shot in the only bottle of 12-Year C.S. I had. And, two weeks ago, the bottle finally got down to its last dram. Knowing I was unlikely to get a replacement bottle to avoid completely running out, my heart grew heavy. However, I resolved to visit the only bottle shop in town I knew of that had gotten in any Springbank 12 this year.

Imagine my relief (and surprise) when I got there and saw not only two bottles of 12-Year C.S., but also two bottles of a Springbank I'd never seen before, Vintage 1997. A quick online check (we live in an amazing age, I tells ya - smartphones aren't just for zombies) and I knew I had to have those bottles. And, to make the whole discovery even sweeter, they were selling for the same price they had sold at when they hit the market seven years ago, which is about half of what they go for online, being out-of-production bottles. The shopkeeper said they had been languishing on the shelves of one of their stores in a rural area, and since they hadn't sold, they were shipped back to Tokyo. And, I was Johnny on the Spot that day...

Facts

Name: Springbank Vintage 1997, Batch No. 2
Bottled in: 2008
Age: 10 years
ABV: 54. 9%

Tasting Notes

Appearance:
Deep, dark-honey gold.

Nose:
A whiff of smoke, charred oak, leather, honey, tobacco, classic Springbank, tires on hot asphalt, a little coastal tang, peat comes out after a few minutes.

Palate:
Big delivery, sweet and stinging, bitter and slightly astringent (in a pleasing way), enveloping, chocolate marshmallow smoke, orange peel, buttery, but not as much as Springbank 12 CS. Lovely!!

Finish:
Long, big warmth, spices and creamy bitter chocolate.

Conclusion: Though the nose is a bit different than other Springbank expressions, less buttery baby vomit and a bit smokier, the full-bodied flavor made such a huge impact on me that I went back to the store the next day and bought the only remaining bottle.

Oh, and in case you're wondering, I picked up the 12-Year C.S. expression too, and got a surprise with that one as well; it was shipped back to Tokyo along with the Vintage 1997 and wasn't the 2015 version as I had been thinking, but actually the 2011 version, which was bottled at 55.3% (The 2015 version was bottled at 53.2%).

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

No Phoenix From the Ashes


The Nikka Shock earlier this year left those of us who had received early word of the impending death of Miyagikyo and Yoichi aged single malts scrambling for any of the remaining available bottles we could get our greedy hands on. By August 1st, a full month before the announced final shipment from the distilleries to stores, there wasn't even a hope of finding any of these gems left.

On September 1st, the prices of Taketsuru 17 and 21 were nearly doubled and Nikka had released their new NAS versions of Miyagikyo and Yoichi. During summer vacation, I found an original NAS Yoichi at a 7-11 in a rural area. These NAS Nikka whiskies were the only Nikka single malts you were ever going to find at a convenience store, and as long as the aged versions were available for stupid-cheap prices, what whisky lover was going to fork over 2000 yen for a 500-ml bottle of NAS Yoichi when a 700-ml bottle of 10-Year Yoichi could still be gotten for around 4000 yen? But now, even those original NAS bottles are collectors items.

Made more so by the fact that the new NAS Miyagikyo and Yoichi expressions, selling for around 4000 yen as of this writing, are absolute shit. I always say that there are no bad whiskies, just ones I won't dance with again, but in this case I'm willing to say that someone needs to be killed for this insult to humanity.

Summary: New NAS Miyagikyo and Yoichi single malts from Nikka are as awful as a malt going for their price can get. The old NAS Yoichi single malt usually found at convenience stores that we used to ignore is a huge step up from these new NAS malt offerings.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Nikka Whisky From The Barrel


This quote from Master of Malt says it all...
Whisky from the Barrel is one of the greatest value for money whiskies in the world. An incredible dram from Nikka, so much power!
Other than a hyphenation issue, I'm going along with this. Seriously, Nikka does this thing where they sell excellent whiskies at ridiculous prices, which is probably why they oversold their available-for-bottling Yoichi and Miyagikyo single-malt stock and ended up having to remove these whiskies from their catalog. It's great to pay such little money for such good whisky, but unfortunately it won't last long when people get to know how good it is. Which, of course, means that I probably shouldn't be writing posts like this one. However, I believe in whisky for all, so this is what I do.

Nikka Whisky From The Barrel is bottled at just over 50% abv and is a malt & grain blend. It has the usual Japanese qualities, plum and brown sugar on the nose, vanilla and oak on the palate, and a medium, spicy finish. For me, this whisky is as enjoyable as Hibiki 12 Year from Suntory, but at one-third the cost, it's the best option for an everyday Japanese drinking whisky. 

One final note about Nikka FTB: it isn't regularly available as far as I can tell, and when I did find it at one of my go-to bottle shops, it was locked in their premium-spirits glass case, which means it probably is pretty rare. And at under $20 US per 500 ml bottle, it's maybe the best whisky for the money anywhere in the world.

Facts
  • 51.4% abv
  • Malt & Grain blend
  • Under $20 US in Tokyo

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Need For Ginuflection

"Genuflection, bending at least one knee to the ground, was from early times a gesture of deep respect for a superior."
If you're a gin drinker, and you know your gin cocktails, you know the ones that allow you to enjoy tantalizing flavor blends without masking too much the true flavor of the gin used. And, if you're in the mood for something other than a martini, I've got one for you, an original cocktail of my own design, that will have you falling to one knee in deference to the Gin Gods.

This cocktail, my friends, is called Ginuflection.

Now, you can use any gin for this one, but if you like a richly flavored dry gin, you should be using Monkey 47 Schwarzwald Dry Gin


Also, you'll need...
  • Bob's Bitters Liquorice
  • Angostura Bitters
  • Absinthe
  • A sugar cube
  • Lemon zest
The Method:
  1. Stick an old fashioned glass in the freezer. 
  2. Take another old fashioned glass and put in the sugar cube with 2 teaspoons of water. Muddle the sugar and water vigorously until the solution becomes clear. 
  3. Next, squeeze the dropper in the bottle of Bob's Bitters and release; half of the amount pulled up into the tube should be enough (about a half-inch of liquid). Add it to the solution. 
  4. After that, a couple of quick dashes of Angostura Bitters.
  5. Pour in the gin (2 oz) and add a large chunk of ice.
  6. Take the chilled glass from the freezer and add just enough absinthe to give it a good rinse (I use Pernod Absinthe - 68% abv - but use your preferred brand if you like). After coating the inside of the glass, pour the excess into a shot glass and enjoy later.
  7. Stir the gin, bitters, sugar solution and ice in the other glass for about 30 seconds and then pour it into a cocktail shaker.
  8. Strain the shaker contents into the absinthe-rinsed glass.
  9. Squeeze a few drops from the lemon zest and then float it on top of the cocktail.
  10. Serve, but remember that it takes a couple of minutes for the lemon to stop overpowering the drink.
Of course, your drinking tastes will vary, so if in the course of experimenting you come up with an interesting variation of the Ginuflection, please let me know.

Cheers!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Yoichi Single Malt To Be Discontinued in August 2015

The news we heard was coming finally hit the wire today; Nikka's Yoichi series will be discontinued after the final shipment goes out at the end of August of this year. According to the article below, high demand and limited stock is the main reason for the decision to stop selling the well-loved single malt.


I was able to get my hands on a couple of bottles this month thanks to a good friend, and I'll continue to buy future stock for the pub, but it's sad to see this whisky take its final bows just when Japanese-whisky fever was hitting its peak.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Ardbeg Perpetuum

I never miss an opportunity to check in at one of my regular bottle shops when it's nearby. Yesterday morning found me passing through the Shinjuku Takashimaya, a higher-end department store here in Japan. Usually, their prices border on insanity, but at times they do end up with some limited-edition offerings at the same prices as major liquor stores, likely because the makers have imposed restrictions to make it that way.

I scanned and double-scanned the few shelves there dedicated to whisky and was about to leave when some Ardbeg boxes on one of the bottom shelves caught my eye. At first, I just stared in disbelief; it was May 30, Ardbeg Day at the Islay Festival, so the arrival of Perpetuum on that day made perfect sense, but I had heard from multiple sources that they wouldn't be available in stores until well after that date. They were there, though, and instinctively I grabbed the two bottles I had been waiting to buy for months.

When you grab two $100 bottles of whisky at Takashimaya's wine & spirits shop, one of the many shop clerks will quickly swoop in for the kill.
"Would you like me to take those to the counter and wrap them up for you?"
I asked to her to give me a minute and remained there, stooped down, looking at the boxes to make sure they were the genuine articles.

Seriously, I don't know why I was so surprised, but it must have been the anticipation; I'm a total Ardbeg donk and would probably buy a bottled turd if they produced it.

Anyway, I did a quick online check (whisky hunting in the smartphone age - gotta love it) of the standard selling price for Perpetuum. The clerk didn't back off, though, and I uncomfortably spent several minutes making sure I wasn't paying too much.

Fortunately, It seemed I was about to pay a reasonable price for the bottles and I asked her to do her thing so as to complete the purchase.

Facts:

  • 47.4% abv
  • Matured in bourbon and sherry casks
  • NAS
  • Ardbeg Day 2015 limited edition (200th anniversary) - not the distillery release
  • Paid ¥11000 ($89 US) in Tokyo


Tasting Notes

Appearance:
Clear, light gold a la Ardbeg Ten Year

Nose:
Honey-glazed ham, coastal fog, wet grass, slightly medicinal, day-old barbecue pit

Palate:
Acrid smoke becoming spicy, oak and ash, burnt bacon, slight taste of liquorice, some chocolate as well. A bit thin, though

Finish:
Bitter, long and warming, smoky to the end

Conclusion: A tasty, enjoyable Ardbeg to be sure, but I'm not convinced at this point that it's better than last year's Auriverdes. However, I'd like to give Perpetuum another go in the next few days and see if anything changes.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Templeton Rye

I mix most of my whiskey cocktails with rye, not bourbon. Of course, there are some that demand a good bourbon, but for the most part, it's the spiciness of the rye whiskey that helps balance things out when other ingredients tend to be on the sweet side.

And, I don't mind admitting that I enjoy sipping neat a cocktail-grade rye like Wild Turkey 81, or even Jim Beam or Old Overholt.

However, after having it recommended to me by a friend, I decided to pick up a bottle of Templeton Rye (not widely available here in Tokyo) and take my rye drinking a little more seriously.

Long story on Templeton Rye here.

Short story:
Good-quality American whiskey with a sweet, floral, well-balanced nose available immediately after pouring neat. Tastewise, it's short and sweet with a lingering spicy aftertaste on the finish. Vanilla, cinnamon, toffee, orange...

More on the story:
A lot of controversy surrounds Templeton Rye (as well as several other Bourbons and Ryes). According to many sources, it seems that consumers have been suckered by excellent marketing and have been persuaded to pay a higher price for a rye that can be purchased more cheaply as another brand. Check out the following links for more on the story:

Next time I buy a bottle of rye whiskey for sipping, I'll be looking at Russell's Reserve.

Note: I make a definite distinction when talking about 'whiskey' cocktails and 'whisky' cocktails, Maker's Mark being a notable exception.

Monday, May 25, 2015

And the Best Whisky in the World Is...


...not the best whisky in the world.

Or, at least I think so.

And, so does Bob down the street.

No, I'm not attacking the choice made at the World Whiskies Awards 2015 which named Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique Best Single Malt of 2015; we all know that taste is subjective anyway.

Or do we?

With Jim Murray calling Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013 the world's best single malt late last year and Taketsuru 17 Year Old being named World's Best Blended Malt, also at the World Whiskies Awards 2015, coupled with the overwhelming popularity of the morning TV drama 'Massan' here in Japan, the demand for Japanese malts has never been greater. You see article after article saying that the Japanese have dethroned the Scots as the whisky-making kings and plenty of non-Japanese Japanese-whisky enthusiasts writing Japanese-whisky-themed blogs.

So, are Asian whisky makers poised to become the most respected in the world?

Who knows? And who cares? As long I can always have bottles of Ardbeg, Lagavulin, Laphroaig, Bruichladdich, Springbank and Talisker around, I'll always be a happy whisky drinker. I do enjoy several Japanese whiskies and enjoyed the Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique from Taiwan, but I'm not keeping any of them in my cabinet if I'm ever told that I must limit my whisky collection to 10 bottles...

Monday, May 18, 2015

Japanese Whisky Update: Mid-May 2015

Some very disturbing news regarding Nikka whisky has come out this week. I won't go into details here; I'll just provide the following link:

Informative article at Whiskies R Us

In summary: Asahi, which owns Nikka, is planning to raise prices across the board and much like Suntory's price increases, they are ridiculous. On top of this, there are credible reports, yet not official, that all age-statement single malts from Miyagikyo and Yoichi will be gone in the near future and may not return for several years. This is most likely due to depleted stocks.

Just as people have gotten completely caught up in the Japanese whisky craze, things are falling apart for true lovers of Japanese malts...

Monday, April 27, 2015

Talisker 18 Year Old

A couple of different online reviews from respected whisky connoisseurs gave the Talisker 18 y.o. currently available on shelves excellent marks, with one of the reviewers saying it's on his top-five-must-have-whiskies list.

I picked up a bottle a couple of months ago and thought, Nah. Good, but not great. However, a few nights ago I gave it another go after letting the opened bottle sit for awhile, and I have to say I now understand where those reviewers were coming from. Below are my tasting notes from my first glass two months ago...

Facts:

  • Bottled at 45.8% a.b.v.
  • Purchased for ~$100 US in Tokyo


Appearance:
Golden caramel

Nose:
Wet dog, coastal tang, sea spray, briny, grassy, honey, fruit, tropical, cranberry, raisins, toffee

Palate:
Sweet, vanilla, maple syrup, malty, fruity, apples, raisins, black pepper and ginger

Finish:
Medium-long

Smoky, peat, dry, oak, melon

Initial Conclusion: Definitely Talisker, but a bit too mellow, bordering on dull compared to Talisker 10 y.o. 

Updated Conclusion: Wow! More Talisker intensity showing up. Much more balanced; the true quality of this whisky finally shines through. As of this week, this is my favorite Island single malt yet.

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Japanese Whisky Situation: April 2015


To say that things have gotten crazy with Japanese whisky lately would be to understate things; For true fans of the stuff, things are getting a bit scary. Of course, those who've been watching the seemingly endless stream of alarming developments in the Single Malt Scotch whisky world will not be surprised.

In the last few weeks, here's what I've observed regarding the availability of Japanese whisky in stores here in Tokyo:

Suntory

  • Yamazaki 12 and 18 Year Old Single Malt whiskies - unavailable on the shelves of most stores on any random visit.
  • Hakushu 12 Year Old - available at at least half of the stores I visit on a regular basis.
  • Hakushu 18 Year Old - same as the situation for Yamazaki whiskies mentioned above.
  • Hibiki 12 Year Old - same as the situation for Yamazaki whiskies mentioned above.
  • Hibiki 17 Year Old - available in a couple of the higher-end department stores I frequent, but not at most standard bottle shops.
  • Hibiki Japanese Harmony (N.A.S.) - available everywhere for about the same price as Hibiki 12 Year Old (seems as if this one's going to replace Hibiki 12 yo)
Notes: The Yamazaki 12 and 18 yo whiskies became a lot rarer immediately following the announcement of Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013 as World's Best by Jim Murray. Hibiki 12 yo disappeared almost overnight upon release of the Japanese Harmony expression.

Nikka

  • Yoichi and Miyagikyo 10, 12 and 15 Year Old Single Malt whiskies - 10 yo is fairly available for both distilleries, the 12 yo for both distilleries can be found at about half of the stores I visit, the 15 yo is a bit difficult to find, but is around if you look.
  • Taketsuru 17 Year Old - This was available everywhere until about three weeks ago, coinciding with it being named Malt Blend of the Year at the World Whiskies Awards; for now, the situation is about the same as the one for Yamazaki 12 and 18 yo as mentioned above.
  • Taketsuru 21 Year Old - This expression was available at around a third of the stores I frequent until three weeks ago, and then going the way of Taketsuru 17 yo.

Chichibu


  • Ichiro's Malt Chichibu new single malt releases (3 Year Old) - typically limited to 5000 or fewer bottles and are usually all bought up quickly. Couple this with them usually ending up on shelves without much warning, and you can see how elusive these bottles are. I made almost daily visits to several bottle shops for months hoping to be there on release day, and was last week. I was allowed to buy only one of the remaining two bottles of The Peated 2015 CS. I picked up a second bottle a few days later at the same shop after a restocking.
  • Ichiro's Malt Malt Blend whiskies (Mizunara Wood Reserve, Double Distilleries, Wine Wood Reserve) - available at most shops most of the time.

Shinshu


  • Single Malt releases (3 Year Old) - limited to usually around 6000 bottles. Komagatake 2011 The Revival and Komagatake Sherry and American White Oak are gone for the most part.
  • Blended Mars Whisky (3&7, Twin Alps) - abundantly available at low prices. I haven't tried them myself.
*Inspired by a post at Diving For Pearls 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Ichiro's Malt Chichibu The Peated 2015 Cask Strength

I'd been on the lookout for months for a new Ichiro's Malt Single Malt Release from Chichibu Distillery 秩父蒸留所 when, without any advance notice, I came across two bottles of Ichiro's Malt Chichibu The Peated 2015 Cask Strength, which I'll shorten as IMC The Peated 2015 CS (or something like this), for the rest of this post.

Heavily peated whiskies are my favorite whiskies, so I was pretty excited when I learned in February of this year that the next IMC single malt release would be another 'The Peated' peated to Ardbeg levels. But as I made the bottle-shop rounds and asked owners if they'd heard anything, the collective response was NO. So, I was taken aback when it suddenly appeared on the shelf at my favorite whisky store here in Tokyo. There were only two bottles remaining, and when I attempted to buy both, the shop master asked me to leave one of them for another customer, and in a sense 'share the Ichiro's Malt love.'

So I did.

I took the bottle I bought to the bar and opened it soon after, and was very pleased with my timely purchase.

Facts:
Limited Release - 5980 bottles (bottle 1265 of 5980)
Distilled - 2011
Cask Strength - 62.5% abv
Purchase Price - ¥8000 (~$67 US as of this writing)

For a 3-year-old whisky, this is exceptionally mature. The nose gives dry, earthy peat with a cinnamon sweetness that turns buttery over time (slightly Octomorish), with some seaweed as well. On the palate, immediate delivery, intense, sweet and spicy (consistent with the nose), vanilla and black pepper. The finish is long and smoky, oak and ash.

The quality of Chichibu Distillery really shows in this one, and I have to say it's my favorite Japanese whisky yet.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique Single Cask - 2015 WWA Best Single Malt

The top single malt winner at the 2015 World Whiskies Awards, revealed last week, is Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique from the King Car Distillery in Taiwan. I picked up one of the only two I could find here in Tokyo and tasted it last night at the bar.

Facts:
  • Cask: Single cask - W090220052, bottle number 167 of 198. Cask had held both red and white wine before being re-toasted.
  • Alcohol: 58% abv, cask strength
  • Non chill-filtered, natural color
  • Price paid: ~$200 US

Tasting Notes

Appearance:
Caramel, golden brown

Nose:
Chocolate, toffee, raisins, vanilla, bourbon, fruitcake, as advertised - stewed fruits is right, malty, maple doughnut, honey
  
Palate:
Instant impact numbing the tongue
Sweet, spicy, cinnamon, bitter chocolate, raisins, pepper, fire
  
Finish:
Long
Fire gives way to comfortable warming, dried fruits and chocolate ever-present, black coffee, vanilla, hazelnut

Conclusion:

Consistent from nose to finish, very tasty, big, bold, Worth a try if you can get it for under $200 US.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Springbank 21 Year Old

Finally got around to opening my bottle of Springbank 21 y.o. I had no idea that I'd been putting off what turned out to be, quite possibly, the most well-crafted Springbank whisky I've tried to date. I thoroughly enjoyed this one, and even at around $300 for a bottle, I feel it's worth keeping in the collection.

Facts:
Bottle code - 13/491
Limited Edition - 2700 bottles worldwide

Tasting Notes

Nose:
Sherry notes, raisins, apples, baked apple crisp, bitter chocolate, cherry pie, buttery peat, leather, cigars, evolves into buttery fruitiness, classic Springbank notes ever-present, cinnamon, vanilla, treacle

Palate:
Initially soft, develops beautifully, sweet and tart fruit, vanilla, hint of peat, cinnamon and subtle spices, wonderful bittersweet tang on the back of the tongue, oak

Finish,
Long
Nice smoke, sweetness of fruits and vanilla continues all the way through, dry, peaches, cinnamon, blackberry jam


Conclusion: Beautiful consistency like nothing I've ever tried before. That Springbank complexity is there, superbly-well balanced, not as intense as Springbank 12 yo, but being bottled at 46% abv after an extended maturation period, you'd expect that from Springbank 21 yo.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Ichiro's Malt: 9 of Spades

As mentioned in a previous post, I had the opportunity to try another of the Hanyu Ichiro's Malt Card series single malts. This time it was the Nine of Spades.

Facts:
Limited edition - 584 bottles (bottle 567)
52.4% abv
First Cask: Hogshead, Second Cask: Cream Sherry Butt
Distilled: 1990, Bottled: 2010
Tasted at Zoetrope Shot Bar in Nishishinjuku, Tokyo.

Tasting Notes

Appearance:
Burgundy

Nose:
Quite aromatic
Sherry, oak, vanilla, floral

Palate:
Immediate impact
Sweet, spicy, cinnamon and dried fruits

Finish:
Medium
Peppery, light smoke, oak and ash

Conclusion: Very tasty. Considering remaining bottles are being sold for over $3000 US, I feel lucky to have been able to try a glass of this at $20 US.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Ardbeg Auriverdes: Islay Festival 2014 Limited Edition

When I came across this one in a local bottle shop here in Tokyo, I knew nothing about it; though Ardbeg Ten was the whisky that hooked me and opened my mind to exploring the world of Islay whiskies, I hadn't paid much attention to their special bottlings up to that point. For awhile, I'd searched online for Supernova, but hadn't been able to track down any bottles in Japan. I'd not seen anything about Auriverdes, though.

The scoop on Ardbeg Auriverdes

A quick check on the old iPhone gave me all I needed to know to make the decision to purchase the shop's last bottle of Auriverdes for ¥9500 (~$85 US). I opened it at the bar a couple of nights later and tasted it. Now, I know this one has gotten a fair bit of negative feedback, but after trying it twice more on different nights, I have to say that Auriverdes is the tastiest Ardbeg I've had. My experience is relatively limited, so take that with a grain of salt; As my experience with different Ardbeg expressions grows, my opinion is likely to change.

Anyway...

Tasting Notes

Appearance:
Honey Gold

Nose:
Peat (good development from soft to big), coastal notes (sea spray), wintergreen, medicinal notes (phenolic), briny, eucalyptus, enamel paint, antiseptic, eye-stinging citrus, cinnamon, smoked bacon, becomes a little buttery , toasted chocolate marshmallows

Palate:
Forceful kiss 
Lip & tongue tingling, sweet mint, medium smoke, sweet phenolic (reminiscent of Laphroaig QC), vanilla, toasted marshmallows, mocha 

Finish:
Long Instant warmth continuing, ashy (charred oak), 70% cacao chocolate, burnt-crispy bacon, coriander

Conclusion: Once you get near a price of $100 per bottle, you have to start being much more selective. As Ardbeg Auriverdes is a limited-edition whisky, it's definitely collectible. So, picking up a bottle and leaving it closed isn't a bad idea, if you're inclined to collect whiskies. For personal drinking, it's hard to make an absolute statement like, You should definitely give this one a go, but I can say, without reservation, that I'm at least as happy with this purchase as I am with any I've ever made. As a bonus, I keep this bottle at the bar and have sold a few glasses already with each customer having thoroughly enjoyed their drams. So, I've already come close to making my money back on the bottle purchase. In fact, seeing the whisky level in the bottle drop made me a little sad knowing that after it disappeared, I probably wouldn't be able to enjoy a glass of Auriverdes again.

So, imagine my pleasant surprise when I found another lone bottle at another local shop (in Ginza) for only ¥9000 (~$7600 US)...

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Octomore 6.3 Islay Barley

Octomore 6.3 Islay Barley is Bruichladdich's ultimate punch in the whisky world's face. It's a peat bomb of soon-to-be-legendary proportions. When I read the teaser at Bruichladdich's website, I knew that it would be on my list of whiskies to buy in 2015. I mean, check this out...
This is a single malt whisky distilled from the most heavily peated barley in the world. Always experimental and pushing the boundaries of the possible, a stratospheric 258ppm was coaxed into the grain by our skilful maltsters at Bairds in Inverness, a remarkable 89ppm more than the previous high of 169ppm they achieved prior to the distillation of the legendary Octomore 5.1. 
The trickle distillation was slow, almost painfully so. The spirit then matured for five years in Bourbon, slumbering peacefully in our warehouses on the shore of Loch Indaal before being bottled at the Harvey Hall in Bruichladdich distillery. This is natural whisky, un-chill filtered and colouring free, a tiny amount of water from the spring at Octomore Farm being used to give an abv of 64%.
So, I started hitting up my local bottle shops here in Tokyo worried that we might be slow in getting it, but being slow in getting it turned out to be in my favor; if it had arrived any earlier when I wasn't on the lookout for it, I would've missed it. I hadn't realized it was set for release in December. By the time I picked up my bottle, it was early February. Last week, in fact.

I bought it the day after it arrived at the shop, and by the next day, they were all gone. Being the peatiest whisky ever, and figuring that it might remain that way for a long time, I had wanted to have a bottle for the collection as well, but I only bought the one that day due to my having a limited amount of cash in my pocket at the time and that particular shop only accepting that form of payment, so you can imagine my disappointment when I returned the next day for my second bottle and was met with an empty shelf.

I put the bottle I did buy up on the counter at the bar and figured it would go unopened for awhile; the asking price for a single glass was high and customers that are willing to pay such a price for a single glass of whisky don't come by my place so often. I was exercising restraint as well, not wanting to open it for a taste until I'd secured a second bottle for the collection. But, as luck would have it, one of my more-generous customers decided he wanted to try the beast from Bruichladdich and wanted me to taste it with him. So, I set up two glasses, and we gave Octomore 6.3 a go...

The Facts

  • 64% abv
  • Peated to 258 ppm
  • Age: 5 years
  • Cost of bottle: ¥25000 ($210 US)

Tasting Notes

Appearance:
Honey gold

Nose:
Almost violent
Mega melted butter baby vomit. peat, Peat, peaT, peAT, pEAT, and PEAT...
Bacon, salt, pepper, cinnamon, honey-glazed ham, some, hot-buttered popcorn, slightly grassy, pound cake

Palate:
Big heat
Buttery sweetness turning to cinnamon fire, minty, dry, peppery, oak

Finish:
Explosive, then long, steady burn, dry ashy mouthfeel
Like swallowing a tear-gas canister, the smoke permeates your entire upper body, and leaks out your eyes and ears. The mind disconnects from the body and you transcend the cosmos like Dave Bowman...

Conclusion: You won't be the same whisky drinker again after this one. The aftertaste stayed with me until the next morning and even my morning pee reeked of it.
This is one exhilarating dram that has the power to burn the spirit of Islay into the souls of everyone who's never been there leaving them in a zombie-like trance thinking only of a pilgrimage to that sacred place.

If you're interested in Bruichladdich Master Distiller Jim McEwan's tasting notes, here they are:

Nose 
It opens with the call of the sea, the thundering west coast waves driving a gentle mist onto the moorland and tempting the wild plants to release their unique aromas. Notes of myrtle, meadowsweet, mint and heather flowers drift across the nose. Wild thyme and red clover dance in perfect harmony with the strong uplifting peatiness of the Islay grown barley. It’s exhilarating, and seriously dramatic.
Palate 
When the heat of the peat fires cool there is a spontaneous detonation of soft red grapes, cherries, Russian toffee, bitter chocolate, maple syrup and mellow oak. It is a taste like no other, a whisky cut loose, unhindered, unchanged. This is sorcery.
Finish 
Long and strong, it warms the soul and lifts the heart. It evokes memories of those early years when the sweat of men instilled the spirit with a unique character. Join us as we look to the past, celebrating our Islay DNA while journeying into the future in a never-ending quest for the rainbow’s end.

Credits: Bruichladdich Octomore 6.3 Islay Barley home page

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Zoetrope Shot Bar

Lots of good whisky bars in Tokyo. I spend most of my time at my own little whisky pub for obvious reasons, but I do like to get out once in a while and visit the big places. Places not necessarily big in size, but big in terms of the number of quality bottles they keep on the shelves.

I finally got around to visiting Zoetrope Shot Bar in Shinjuku a couple of weeks ago. Knowing that Mr. Horigami keeps a very respectable selection of Japanese whiskies, I decided I was going to head over there one night after work at my other job and see if I couldn't try something from the Ichiro's Malt Card Series that I hadn't tried before.

I settled on the 9 of Spades.


Follow the link and look at the price it commanded when sold and you get an idea of how rare and valuable whiskies from this series are. The Nine of Spades was finished in a Cream Sherry butt and it really came through on the nose and on the palate. A very enjoyable, good-quality dram that only set me back ¥2400 (~$21 US). Of course, had Mr. Horigami opened the bottle that day at the current market value, a glass would have been priced well out of my comfort zone.

Being able to try a rare Japanese whisky at a reasonable cost should be enough to convince any lover of the single malt to give Zoetrope a try, but if that doesn't do it, maybe the combination of interesting whiskies and the quirkiness of being able to watch silent films projected onto the wall while sipping away will be enough...







Sunday, February 1, 2015

Springbank 12 Year Cask Strength

I last gave tasting notes on Springbank 10 Year single malt whisky, and just wanted to follow up with notes for the bottle of Springbank 12 Year Cask Strength (54.3%) I currently have on the shelf at the bar.

Tasting Notes

Appearance:
Red-gold

Nose:
Rich, pungent
Heated melted butter, toffee, butterscotch, cinnamon, peat, hints of sherry, dried fruits, salty coastal notes

Palate:
Steady intensification
Sweet, sour, creamy turning to ashy mouthfeel, vanilla pudding, soft smoke, buttery

Finish:
Long, intense
Chocolate, honey, ash, woody

One of my favorite cask-strength whiskies. I'm quite looking forward to trying a bottle from the next batch.


Thursday, January 29, 2015

Mars Whisky Komagatake The Revival and Sherry & American White Oak 2011

Shinshu Mars Distillery in Nagano stopped distilling whisky in 1992, but started up again in 2011. The first whisky distilled that year was bottled in 2014 and released as a limited-edition single malt called "The Revival 2011 Komagatake." (Cask Strength - 58%)

This first-edition of the reborn whisky was limited to 6000 bottles, and given quite positive reviews overall for such a young expression (3 years). If you know how quickly selling prices have gone up for limited-edition bottles of Ichiro's Malt (Chichibu Distillery - Saitama) held by collectors savvy enough to get their hands on them while they were still on the shelves of liquor stores at original retail prices, you know that buying a few limited-edition bottles from the newest craft distillery on the Japanese block is a worthy investment.

This week, I was able to get my hands on some bottles of "The Revival 2011 Komagatake" and a single bottle of the next single malt release "Sherry & American White Oak Komagatake" (Cask Strength - 57%) also distilled in 2011 and bottled in 2014 (Aged 3 years).

If only I'd gotten my hands on some of the Ichiro's Malt "Card" whiskies when they first went on sale...

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Springbank 10 Year Old: Campbeltown Complexity

I love a challenging whisky, and Springbank 10 Year Old delivers. For the price (around $43 US), you won't find a better entry into the world of complex whiskies. And, before you ask, it is a tasty dram; Often, terms like challenging and complex, when used to describe a whisky, mean not necessarily delectable.

You can't help but love Springbank Distillery for so many reasons; other than producing quality whiskies at fairly reasonable prices, they use barley produced locally, they do their own floor malting, and they do their own bottling. Also, they give back to the local community by providing a good number of jobs for people there, even when they could cut costs by becoming more automated. A traditional distillery for a whisky with traditional quality.

The Facts
  • Bottled at 46% a.b.v.
  • non chill-filtered (Springbank standard)
  • no artificial coloring (Springbank standard)

Tasting Notes

Appearance:
Honey gold

Nose:
Rich, pungent
Pears, raisins, floral, butter, leather, lubricating oil, honey, salty sea spray, herbal, vanilla, slight peat, peppermint (with water), cereal maltiness

Palate:
Rich, quick delivery, smooth intensification
Sweet, sour, butter, toffee, vanilla pudding, caramel, spices, peppery

Finish:
Medium-long
Oaky, soft smokiness, caramel sweetness

There's a whisky for almost every situation, and Springbank whiskies are hard to nail down. But, one thing's for sure, when you want to sit with a whisky that is complex right from the start, and evolves beautifully over time while never losing any of its quality, it's hard to do better than Springbank.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Yamazaki 12 Year: Big in Japan

It seems that a 700 ml bottle of Yamazaki 12 Year Single Malt Whisky will run you about 54 pounds in Great Britain and around 82 dollars in the US.

In Japan, however, this bottle can be had for around $53 US, so being a resident of Tokyo, I'm in a great position to explore the world of Japanese whisky at a relatively fair price. Not for long though; Suntory is set to raise prices across the board on all of its products, including Yamazaki Whisky. Of course, one would expect the difference in prices overseas vs domestic prices to remain the same, but it would be hard for me to say that Yamazaki whisky could be had here in Japan at a relatively fair price. In fact, it's a bit overpriced as it is...

Yamazaki 12 Year is an enjoyable whisky, though, all price considerations aside (Hard to do, I know).

Tasting Notes

Appearance:
Honey gold

Nose:
Strong, highly aromatic
Sweet, floral, tropical fruits, mild honey

Palate:
Smooth and steady
Starts sweet, developing spiciness initially, fruity, creamy, mild citrus

Finish:
Medium
Sweetness lingers, mild spiciness, fruits and vanilla pudding

As with most Japanese whiskies I've tasted, this one drowns easily in water, so proceed with caution when tasting initially. Personally, I keep water far away from this stuff.

Conclusion: Lovers of Speyside and Highland single malts will enjoy this whisky immensely. It is a high-quality dram and has earned a permanent place in my collection. This year's price increase, however, has motivated me to give Nikka's whiskies a closer look...

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Mighty Aberlour A'bunadh

Yes, another cask-strength whisky in the collection. Lovely.

This is one that I'd been wanting for awhile, but had shown quite a bit of restraint when confronted with the temptation to buy a bottle; My pub was in need of some other whiskies on the shelf first, ones the customers were keen to drink. The Aberlour A'bunadh was going to be mostly for my benefit.

But, the time finally came, and I bought a bottle of Batch 47 at 60.7% a.b.v.

Aberlour A'bunadh is one powerful beauty of a Speyside whisky. Aged exclusively in Oloroso sherry casks with no chill filtering and no color added, you can't help but like this whisky on principle alone.

Tasting Notes

Appearance:
Golden red

Nose:
Aggressive and pungent
Sherry and sherry, spices, floral, candle wax

Palate:
Heavy
Bittersweet, black cherry, cough syrup, bitter chocolate, orange, vanilla

Finish:
Cloying, spicy, hot, bitter chocolate, medicinal

This one can stand a fair amount of water, but as always, one should add it with measured caution.

Conclusion: A powerhouse Speyside whisky that should be in everyone's collection.