Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Questions and answers about imported Akashi blend


Akashi blended whisky

Update 28.7.2011: Eigashima and LWdM released statements saying the Akashi blend was in line with EU regulations.
Update 22.7.2011: Rival importer La Maison du Whisky commented on the issue.

It has been over a month since I posted the exciting news of a new range of whiskies being imported into Europe by Les Whiskies du Monde. Eagle-eyed readers noticed a loose end in that initial report in which I said cryptically that "other importers into Europe" were raising questions about the contents of one of the whiskies. I got some messages asking what on earth I was talking about.

I can now be a little more specific. The "other importers into Europe" were La Maison du Whisky and the specific whisky they were talking about was the Akashi White Oak blended whisky from the Eigashima distillery. La Maison said the whisky was not a blended whisky as Europeans might understand it and had some quite specific figures on its composition. I decided it was necessary to directly contact Eigashima, a company I have always found to be completely straightforward and honest, before publishing anything about this.

Mikio Hiraishi, who runs Eigashima, has just replied with a very full statement of what is in that whisky. It is not conventional blended whisky.

The first thing to point out is that there has never been any attempt by Eigashima to obfuscate about the contents. They have always been perfectly straightforward. The back of the bottle says in Japanese that the whisky is made of "malt whisky and spirits," (see below) something that makes it clear to Japanese consumers that it does not contain grain whisky, as would normally be expected from a blended whisky where I come (UK). The issue here is in the translation of the Japanese whisky market's rules and norms into the international market. This does not normally come up because most of the big players, like Suntory and Nikka, play by the international rules on their premium products. Eigashima plays by the international rules on their single malts. But this was a blended whisky that was, I suspect, made with a very local market in mind, and which Les Whiskies du Monde's enterprise has plucked out of obscurity.

What Hiraishi-san says it contains is the following: White Oak (Eigashima) malt whisky and imported (ie. non-Japanese) malt whisky which together comes to 34 per cent of the whisky in the present blend. The rest, 66 per cent, is made up of molasses spirit (some of which has been stored in barrels). The malt has been stored for an average of 5.6 years. In 2013, the proportion of malt used will rise to 40 per cent, with the average storage time falling slightly to 5 years.

I will follow this up with comments from La Maison and Les Whiskies du Monde if they want to give them, but I just want to give out the basic facts laid out in the message from Hiraishi-san. From my perspective, this is a classic case of different historic norms for mass market spirits (as opposed to premium whisky, which now has very little divergence in norms) causing possible misunderstandings. I really hope nobody is going to blame Eigashima, who have been totally straight forward about what they are producing throughout this.


'Whisky and spirits' are listed as ingredients.
The photos are taken from this page.

Questions and answers about imported Akashi blend


Akashi blended whisky

Update 28.7.2011: Eigashima and LWdM released statements saying the Akashi blend was in line with EU regulations.
Update 22.7.2011: Rival importer La Maison du Whisky commented on the issue.

It has been over a month since I posted the exciting news of a new range of whiskies being imported into Europe by Les Whiskies du Monde. Eagle-eyed readers noticed a loose end in that initial report in which I said cryptically that "other importers into Europe" were raising questions about the contents of one of the whiskies. I got some messages asking what on earth I was talking about.

I can now be a little more specific. The "other importers into Europe" were La Maison du Whisky and the specific whisky they were talking about was the Akashi White Oak blended whisky from the Eigashima distillery. La Maison said the whisky was not a blended whisky as Europeans might understand it and had some quite specific figures on its composition. I decided it was necessary to directly contact Eigashima, a company I have always found to be completely straightforward and honest, before publishing anything about this.

Mikio Hiraishi, who runs Eigashima, has just replied with a very full statement of what is in that whisky. It is not conventional blended whisky.

The first thing to point out is that there has never been any attempt by Eigashima to obfuscate about the contents. They have always been perfectly straightforward. The back of the bottle says in Japanese that the whisky is made of "malt whisky and spirits," (see below) something that makes it clear to Japanese consumers that it does not contain grain whisky, as would normally be expected from a blended whisky where I come (UK). The issue here is in the translation of the Japanese whisky market's rules and norms into the international market. This does not normally come up because most of the big players, like Suntory and Nikka, play by the international rules on their premium products. Eigashima plays by the international rules on their single malts. But this was a blended whisky that was, I suspect, made with a very local market in mind, and which Les Whiskies du Monde's enterprise has plucked out of obscurity.

What Hiraishi-san says it contains is the following: White Oak (Eigashima) malt whisky and imported (ie. non-Japanese) malt whisky which together comes to 34 per cent of the whisky in the present blend. The rest, 66 per cent, is made up of molasses spirit (some of which has been stored in barrels). The malt has been stored for an average of 5.6 years. In 2013, the proportion of malt used will rise to 40 per cent, with the average storage time falling slightly to 5 years.

I will follow this up with comments from La Maison and Les Whiskies du Monde if they want to give them, but I just want to give out the basic facts laid out in the message from Hiraishi-san. From my perspective, this is a classic case of different historic norms for mass market spirits (as opposed to premium whisky, which now has very little divergence in norms) causing possible misunderstandings. I really hope nobody is going to blame Eigashima, who have been totally straight forward about what they are producing throughout this.


'Whisky and spirits' are listed as ingredients.
The photos are taken from this page.

Just one more thing...



The news of Peter Falk's death has provoked a wave of Columbo nostalgia in my neck of the woods. One little nugget I didn't know was that the rumpled genius had appeared, like much of the rest of Hollywood, in Suntory whisky ads.









And a compilation of Peter Falk's various Japanese commercials, which extended beyond Japanese whisky:



Tip of the hat to this tweet for putting me onto this.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Nikka offers 2-day whisky making workshops



Nikka whisky is offering two-day whisky making workshops at its Yoichi and Miyagikyo distilleries. The "My whisky tsukuri" (My whisky making) workshops will be held September-November at Yoichi and in September-October at Miyagikyo.

In the Yoichi version, the whisky made during the event will be aged for 10 years, and then the people who attended can get bottles. At Miyagikyo, my understanding is that there will not be any actual whisky distilling but there will be blending, coopering etc.. They have been running these events for some time now and they seem to be great fun.

There are still places for the autumn sessions (Yoichi schedule, Miyagikyo schedule) but they only let 20 people onto each course, and draw lots if they receive too many applications. (The popularity of these things seems to be increasing very sharply, so that is quite likely. You need your applications in soon). Cost is 18,000 yen per person and the events are limited to people aged over 20. Hotel accommodation is not included.

More details of the Yoichi events are available here and of the Miyagkyo events here. All of the information there is in Japanese, but I get the feeling people going on this might need some ability anyway to get the most out of it.
Image taken from Asahibeer.co.jp

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Yamazaki stocks running low


Stocks of Yamazaki 10-year-old are running very low

Supplies of Suntory whisky may not be able to meet significantly increased global demand, according to the company's
Global Brand Ambassador Hiroyoshi "Mike" Miyamoto.
According to the drink news website The Drinks Business, Miyamoto told a tasting in London last week: “Demand has increased as Suntory has won more and more awards. Whisky takes time and producing it involves a long-term planning strategy. Just because there has been an increase in demand, it doesn’t mean we are able to catch up with that straight away."
A combination of significantly increased domestic demand due to the highball boom, an export drive in the US which appears to be gaining some traction, and the enthusiasm generated by the awards Miyamoto mentions is straining supplies.

“We are executing an allocation plan to ensure we can catch up. We are working on allocation by region to ensure that every market is catered for as best as possible in the coming months,” he said.

Miyamoto said stocks of Yamazaki 10-year-old were particularly low. That makes sense because 10 years ago, when that whisky was being laid down, was an extremely bleak time for Japanese whisky. About three years of unexpectedly high demand for Kakubin blended whisky for highballs (which would be drawing on sub-10 year old Yamazaki stocks) appears to have eaten into the relatively scanty stocks of Yamazaki.
Miyamoto said he was confident that the distillery will be able to meet global demand by 2012.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Suntory Pure Malt 7-year-old



Review by Nonjatta contributor - Dramtastic:
"Suntory Pure Malt 7-year-old White Label. 43 percent alcohol.
Nose: An off note of slightly rotting stone fruits (nectarines, plums). Wattle flower, currants.
Palate: Raisins, dark plums, plum jam, figs, black pepper and hoisin sauce.
Finish: Medium length with raisins, figs, black pepper and the off note from the nose returning.

Note: The illustration on the bottle is of Hakushu distillery, but this is a vatted malt mainly based on Hakushu malts but with Yamazaki in there too. It is a partner to the black label pure malt.

Suntory Southern Alps Pure Malt



Review by Nonjatta contributor - Dramtastic:

Suntory Southern Alps Pure Malt. 40 per cent alcohol.
Nose: Clean and fresh. Banana, vanilla, malt, light oak, blueberry and custard apple.
Palate: Ultra clean mouth feel. The flavours from the nose with some nutmeg and white pepper spice. A hint of bubbegum.
Finish: Is short and clean with some creaminess. The nutmeg and white pepper clings to the top palate. Finally, there is burst of Granny Smith apples.
General comment: Lovely stuff, well balanced and very moreish.

Suntory Owner's Cask Hakushu 1997



Review by Nonjatta contributor - Dramtastic:Suntory Owner's Cask Hakushu 1997 11-year-old No. BD40263. 58 percent alcohol
Nose: Oak, varnish, soy sauce, stewed pears, vanilla, red apple peel, peanut butter, peach skins. Lots going on. Continually evolving.
Palate: Quite hot. chilies? Yeast, soy sauce, peanut butter, thickened cream. A little water actually makes this hotter. More water again brings out vanilla and cherry blossom.
Finish: Long, warming and dominated by the flavours on the palate.
General comment: A bit of an oddity, the flavours don't quite gel together, but still fun and interesting.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Linus Torvalds and Japanese whisky

It seems Japanese whisky has another celebrity admirer. Well, perhaps not a celebrity anywhere but in the most geeky of households, but certainly a great man: Linus Torvalds, the creator of the Linux operating system (which is almost certainly part of your everyday life, whether you know it or not).

He was presented with a bottle of Hibiki 17 by Linux kernel developer and maintainer Greg Kroah-Hartman during a question and answer session at the LinuxCon Japan 2011 conference in Yokohama at the start of June (photo).

By the end of the day, Greg tweeted this: ": official Linux 3.0 whisky given to Linus 2day and finished... . Someone enjoyed it:


The photo is stolen from Greg Kroah-Hartman's feed.