I promised something interesting the other week from Shot Bar Zoetrope and here it is: Shot Bar Zoetrope 4th Anniversary Akashi Malt . There are only 100 bottles and I am the very smug owner of one of them.
The significance of this bottling is that it is the first cask strength bottling of a whisky from the White Oak distillery. That distillery has been taking their first tentative steps into quality single malt production over the past couple of years and I know Atsushi Horigami at Zoetrope has been one of the people chivvying at them to do so. They long held off single malts, maintaining a proud allegiance to their blended whisky tradition but now seem convinced that they can make a go of premium whisky. I visited them last year and published a profile of the distillery in the April 2010 edition of Whisky Magazine.
Their first bottling was the Akashi 8 single malt, which I will publish a full tasting of asap. I characterised it in the Whisky Magazine article as having an extremely light and smooth profile, almost more like a soft barley shochu or even a sake than a whisky. It is an interesting approach which works well with some Japanese cuisine. Their latest official bottling, the Akashi 5 yo, about which I will also post notes, has a similar softness. This 5-year-old independent cask strength bottling, however, is something a very different and I think, by bottling it, Horigami san is taking a important next step in Akashi's emergence as a single malt distillery.
Smell: Quite subdued. The tiniest hint of smoke (very distant indeed) with sweet fudge in the foreground. On long car hot-plastic-seated car journeys in my childhood, my dad used to keep my me and my sister quiet with boxes of Smith Kendon travel sweets. I still remember the dusty sugar that covered your fingers when you dipped in. There was a smell here of the orange and wild berry tablets.Finally, Horigami san's labels are just uber cool in my opinion. We now have quite a collection of great labels in Japanese whisky.
Taste (unwatered): Very dry and sour with hints of brine and rubber. Bitter. Not much sweetness, no coherent development in the taste and, to be honest, not very pleasant.
Taste (with a big splash of water): This benefited immeasurably from water. It changed completely, becoming much smoother and more drinkable. A sweetness emerged. "Caramel" is a much overused word when describing whisky, particularly in descriptions by newbies like myself, but this had the most pronounced caramel taste I have ever found in a whisky. The finish had more caramel and a hint of aniseed. Another glass and another splash. Much more wood; lime and chewing green sticks.
And, for me, that is why Horigami san's independent bottling is significant. A cask strength bottling may be riskier - this one would turn a few people off at full strength - but by letting go of the reins and making an undiluted bottling Eigashima have allowed so much more freedom and fun for the drinker.