Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Hakushu Heavily Peated 2012 due at end of June



Suntory announced May 29 that it will release the 2012 version of its Hakushu heavily peated single malt across Japan on June 26. There will be 4,200 bottles and will cost about 9,000 yen for 700ml. This is a sequel to the successful 2012 sherry cask bottling earlier this year.

Taketsuru 25 on sale



The Taketsuru 25-year-old is on sale. Each customer is limited to one 52,500 yen bottle at the Asahi shop.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Nikkei: Suntory expanding Hakushu

Suntory is increasing the capacity of its Hakushu distillery, according to the Nikkei business daily. Once the biggest distillery in the world, Hakushu has been operating at only a fraction of its capacity, from its Hakushu East site, for years. Recently, however, Suntory have been experiencing whisky shortages because of the highball boom.
Via Tokyo Reporter's Twitter feed

Sunday, May 20, 2012

TWE Karuizawa Trip Report

Post by Stefan of Tokyo Whisky Hub

Tim Forbes of The Whisky Exchange has just posted the second part of his Karuizawa trip report. It makes for very interesting reading and a much-hoped-for look behind the scenes of the whole Karuizawa stock transfer. Here's the most interesting bit:

"Doing a few quick sums in my head, it seemed that there were only around a couple of hundred casks of Karuizawa here [= Chichibu distillery].  Was this really all that was left? Yes and no.  David [Croll, of No.1 Drinks] explained that a significant proportion of the few hundred casks that had been purchased from Mercian / Kirin were relatively young, having been filled in the 1990s.  A good number of these casks (to be precise: 77, which is a very good number in anyone’s book) from the 1999 and 2000 vintages have been vatted together to create an 11 year old Karuizawa single malt that will be the first large batch young Karuizawa to be released in Europe. This batch has yet to be bottled, but is provisionally entitled Asama, in reference to the beautiful snow-capped volcano that overlooks the distillery, and should be hitting the shelves in the next few months. All the remaining casks were here in the warehouse, and will be split between the company’s distribution partners, namely TWE and our French friends [of La Maison du Whisky] for Europe and America, and Eric for the Far East, over the years to come."

Eigashima Releases (14YO & Private Bottlings)


Post by Stefan of Tokyo Whisky Hub.

A few weeks ago, word got out that a 14-year old Eigashima was about to be released. Well, it's available now! I, for one, can't wait to try it. It's not only their oldest single malt to date (following on from their 5-, 8- and 12-year old expressions), but it is in fact the oldest whisky in stock at the Eigashima distillery. As some of you may know, their output is tiny. They used to distill for just one month a year, but the last couple of years they've been extending their distilling season to two months a year.

The new 14-year old expression is, in fact, their 12-year old Spanish oak ex-sherry cask-matured whisky, finished for a further year and a half in an ex-Japanese white wine cask (from Yamanashi prefecture). It's bottled at 58% abv (500ml) and retails for a little over 7,000 yen (about 95 USD). I happened to be at the distillery when they were preparing to transfer their 12-year old whisky and I only saw one such ex-wine cask the day I was there. I don't know how many casks they actually used - not many, I should think, as it was an experiment of sorts, and seeing as they only have a tiny aged stock, I don't they think they would have used their entire oldest maturing stock.

While we're on the topic of Eigashima, I thought I'd introduce these two rare private bottlings: one is a 5-year old (distilled in July 2005), matured first in an American White Oak hogshead before being transferred to a Spanish oak ex-sherry butt; the other is a peated, 12-year old Eigashima (distilled in September 1997), matured in a Spanish oak ex-sherry butt. The 12-year old private bottling is, actually, an "un-finished" version of the new 14-year old release (sister casks were used). Both were bottled at cask strength in September 2010. It's kind of a "yin yang" pair - reflected in the art work, too - one very light and elegant, the other dark and heavy. A really gorgeous set. Fans of Japanese art may be interested to know the small "window" on the label features details of two different prints from Yoshitoshi's "One Hundred Views of the Moon" series. Ninety-eight more to go, maybe...

Private bottlings, in general, are rare in Japan. As far as Eigashima is concerned and as far as I know, there has only been one other private bottling: the 4th anniversary bottling for Bar Zoetrope, which was also a 5-year old but one year younger than the one above. There were 100 bottles of the Zoetrope release; there are 102 each of the "Luna" pair (yes, Italian for "moon"). I happen to know the person this was bottled for. Apparently, there are a handful of sets left. Those who are interested: drop me a line and I'll put you in touch. 'Nuff said.

Ichiro's Malt Hanyu Chibidaru for TIBS/WhiskyLive Tokyo 2012 #349 2000 12YO 58.4%


Review by Nonjatta contributor - Dramtastic:

Ichiro's Malt Hanyu Chibidaru for TIBS/WhiskyLive Tokyo 2012 #349 2000 12YO 58.4%
Nose: Has some elements that I find in a lot of in Hanyu such as fragrant wood/incense, but also fresh-baked rhubarb and apple pie, brown shoe polish, beef kebabs with capsicum, caramels, toasted oak, anise. hubba bubba. As they say in New Zealand, 'Choice Bro'!
Palate: Yummy! There's a fragrant element and a balance between the sweet, meaty and woody elements on the nose, including some cinnamon-dusted doughnuts. Well crafted.
Finish: Warming and palate coating. I hope Akuto-san has some more of these "Chibidaru" (cute/wee) cask matured whiskies that can be released to the general public. A light that definitely should not be hidden under a bushel.

Karuizawa For TIBS/WhiskyLive Tokyo 2012 Vintages 1999-2000 Marrying Cask #2565 61.6%


Review by Nonjatta contributor - Dramtastic:
Karuizawa For TIBS/WhiskyLive Tokyo 2012 Vintages 1999-2000 Marrying Cask #2565 61.6% abv
Nose: White plums, sweet glazed orange slices, burnt pie crust, a fair amount of oak, apricot conserve, butterscotch, hint of nutmeg. Again, you have to work hard to find all that.
Palate: Strawberry, burnt pie crust, grapefruit, rhubarb stalks. Once more, water makes this very unbalanced and on the bitter side.
Finish: Okay but not something you'd want to hold onto forever. Water slaughters anything remotely pleasurable.

Karuizawa For TIBS/WhiskyLive Tokyo 2012 Vintage 1999-2000 Marrying Cask #7698 61.7%


Review by Nonjatta contributor - Dramtastic:

Karuizawa For TIBS/WhiskyLive Tokyo 2012 Vintage 1999-2000 Marrying Cask #7698 61.7% abv
Nose: Quite simple. Raisins, oranges, lemon, vanilla, hay, rubber, oregano, burnt pie crust. Fairly benign overall for 61.7% abv.
Palate: Taken neat, there is a little raisin, bubblegum, rhubarb, strawberry, but you've gotta work hard to find it. Actually too brutal at full strength to reveal any complexity. With water, there is a lot of bitter tannins. Way to much really. Extreme bitter dark chocolate, some bitter orange peel, grapefruit and a smidgen of vanilla (thank heavens).
Finish: Either too brutal without water to be complex or bitter to the max with the water added.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Highball moneyball



Suntory, Japan`s biggest whisky distiller, offered a fascinating insight into the revival of the country`s whisky market in a recent press release.

Suntory`s innovative marketing was largely responsible for the highball boom that has pulled the Japanese whisky market out of more than a quarter of a century of decline, and the press release offers statistics that help understand what has happened.

I know that only a few Nonjatta readers are going to be as geekily interested as I am in the mass market for whisky in Japan, but I would say this on its critical relevance to the higher end Japanese drams that other readers may be more interested in: quality Japanese whisky exists because of the mass market and will not thrive in the long run without a healthy popular demand in Japan. The current highball revival is probably partly responsible for the reopening of the Shinshu distillery and the generally positive vibe about the whole industry right now.
Anyway, the Suntory document gives some stats to back up some guesses I have previously made about the highball phenomenon.



First, the general market.

 

Whisky consumption started to recover in 2009 and is estimated to increase to about 98,000 kl in 2012, a 2 percent improvement over 2011. That is largely because of the popularity of highballs following an incredibly successful marketing campaign selling them as a fashionable drink for younger people. As you can see below, the highball market has been expanding very quickly indeed. The left axis represents tens of thousands of cases sold per year since 2009.


We already sort of knew about that general picture. I have reported similar stats in my Malt Whisky Yearbook articles over the last couple of years. What is of more interest here is a consumer opinion survey conducted by Suntory and included in the press release which gives some insights into the actual nature of the fad.

First, it seems that while highballs have indeed proved a hit with the young, they are actually fairly well established across the age range. The graph below is based on a sample of 4,600 drinkers who said they had had a highball in the past three months.

The top bar represents the whole drinking population (people drinking at least once a month). The bar below that represents 20-somethings, then 30-somethings etc.




About half of drinkers said they were drinking more highballs this year than last year (see below). About 38 percent said their consumption had not changed.



And the respondents also seemed to be well aware of highball drinking as a fad. Asked what drink people in general are drinking at the moment, just over 43.5 percent named highballs, 36.3 percent named the Korean brew makkori, 27.8 percent named "happoshu" beer imitations, 11.2 percent said the indigenous spirit shochu and 11.2 percent said wine.


But the question that has nagged away at me since highballs started shaking up the market here is: What drink is the whisky highball replacing?

Is it replacing other ways of drinking whisky or spirits or is it challenging other drinks with a different place in the average Japanese person`s night out?

My suspicion has always been that it has not actually been competing with single malt supping or other ways of enjoying whisky, but has instead been challenging beer as a light, refreshing drink served at the start of an evening. The Suntory survey appears to give some support to that interpretation, but it also complicates the picture.


Asked what tipple they drank less since taking up highballs, highball drinkers named beer and "chu-hai" canned cocktails. The first graph represents people drinking outside the home, while the second represents homebodies. The chu-hai category was the biggest victim among outside drinkers, with beer in second place. That ordering was reversed among people drinking in the home.

The next graph looks at what drinkers liked about various drinks. A lot of the characteristics mentioned in connection with highballs seemed to describe a light, refreshing drink akin to the insipid lagers traditionally knocked back at the start of a evening out in Japan to refresh and clean the palate (for more on this whole phenomenon, see my discussion of "toriaezu beer" in this post).

The dark bars in the graph below represent the percent of people associating a given characteristic with highballs. The light bars give the characteristics for chu-hais and other liqueurs and the middle shade gives the associations for beer. The characteristics listed from right to left are: fizzyness. refreshingness, easy to drink-ness, cheapness, and accessibility.


Sorry, these graphs are coming thick and fast, but the next one is also interesting and, to some extent clashes with my simplistic idea of highballs as a substitute for light lager. Drinkers were asked where they drank (from top to bottom in the graph below) highballs, beers and chu-hais. The darker shade represents the first drinking place, while the lighter shade represents the second and third stops on a night out.

As you can see, highballs do appear to be mainly drunk at the start of an evening (67.6 percent) but there is significantly more continued drinking throughout the evening than in the case of beer (98 percent downed at the first drinking place).

Another way of looking at the same figures is to see them as an indication of whether a type of booze is associated with food in Japan. Generally, the first stop on a Japanese night out will involve drinking with food, while later stops become more liquid. On that reading, highballs are a drink associated with food consumption (a very excellentthing as far as the whisky companies are concerned because Japanese alcohol culture is much more food-based than, for example, the U.K.'s, where I come from.)


The last graph I will pull out of the Suntory release (No. 10) reveals the prevalence of homemade highball making. Just over 58 percent of people who drank highballs at home said they make them themselves, while only 41.7 percent said they come from a can.




Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Libidinous Suntory (NSFW)

I am a bit worried that Nonjatta might be turning into Penthouse circa 1972, what with my interest in Ocean Whisky's erotica (NSFW) and Busty--the whisky bottle cover (NSFW) and suchlike. But, while the shirt buttons are unbuttoned and the medallion is in place, it is worth mentioning that Ocean is by no means the only Japanese whisky operation to have dabbled in erotic marketing.

Step forward Suntory, with a deserved reputation as one of the most sophisticated marketing operations in Japanese business. It seems not even they were above a little titillation to help the whisky down.

First, a pack of playing cards by the famous artist "Aslan" (one of a number put out by Suntory, and here:

And a calendar by, also by Aslan:


One of the most respected auction houses in France, Drouot, has some works by Aslan for a Suntory calendar project that are considerably less safe for work than the posts I put up here: for example.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mars Malt Gallery Single Cask 1985 23YO American White Oak #324 58% abv


Review by Nonjatta contributor - Dramtastic:

Mars Malt Gallery Single Cask 1985 23YO American White Oak #324 58% abv
Nose: This one leads with vanilla, toffee and a floral note. Then, strawberries, manuka honey, light oak, maple syrup on flapjacks, stewed plums. Water adds toasted marshmallows
Palate: Chewy toffee, honey on wheat toast, teak, macadamia nut, port, brazil nut, light pipe tobacco, marshmallows, creamed corn, stewed plums. Balanced.
Finish: Medium on burnt toffee, marshmallows, strawberries, macadamias, creamed corn, some drying oak.
Excellent. Another fine Mars from an American White Oak Cask.

Mars Malt Gallery Single Cask 1991 18YO American White Oak #1110 58% abv


Review by Nonjatta contributor - Dramtastic:

Mars Malt Gallery Single Cask 1991 18YO American White Oak #1110 58% abv
Nose: Quite light. Honey, creme brulee, strawberries, sugared apples, fresh oak, ginger, toasted muesli, pine needles. A little water brings out toffee, vanilla and a floral note.
Palate: Toasted oak, honey toasted muesli, strawberries, pancakes, a little resinous. With water some vanilla.
Finish: Medium on honey toasted muesli, pancakes, vanilla, strawberry and a dash of dry oak. Really liked it.

Chichibu The Floor Malted 2009 3YO 50.5% abv


Review by Nonjatta contributor - Dramtastic:

Chichibu The Floor Malted 2009 3YO 50.5% abv
Nose: Shy it's not. Big notes of fermenting pears, cookie dough, pine needles, eucalyptus, soap flakes, malt soaked timber, tinned peaches, kiwi fruit and menthol.
Palate: Intensely malty. Czech pilsner, cornflake cookies, muesli bars, pine, menthol. Also brings back memories of walking past the yakitori stalls in the alleyways along the north west side Shinjuku station. Quite oily. An unusual but appealing profile.
Finish: Actually a bit short considering the bold nose and palate. Mostly follows the palate with some added lime.
Like the Chichibu The First this one is very good at only 3 years old. You can just sense the care that goes into these hand crafted whiskies.

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Fridge Door Bar, Hokkaido


Photograph by Glen Claydon Photography

I have never been to the Fridge Door Bar in Hirafu, Niseko, Hokkaido, but I desperately want to.

Its official name is the "Gyu+ Bar" but people know it as the Fridge Door because of its unique entrance. It is actually the door from a Coke machine, and there is a lot more than Coke on offer if you do get to Hirafu.

Ioanna Watanabe, who runs the bar with her husband Hisashi, says: "We have been into Ichiro's for years now and have collected almost all the card series. The bar has slowly progressed over the years to carry more and more whisky; the bottles are taking over the back counter!"

"Our customer base is almost 95 percent foreign, and we have seen the interest in Japanese whisky rocket in the past 3 years. We now have people from Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia that come to the bar every year, sit down and say 'What new Ichiro's have you got this year?'. Its great."

The bar is open only in the winter (Dec 1-end of March). In the off season it becomes a living room and private collection.

Ioanna says: "The Ichiro's at the bar started off as a personal thing. Hisashi stumbled across it and we had it at the bar on the shelf, but like many things behind the bar, it wasn`t on the menu. I noticed some people starting to really ask for Japanese Whiskey a few years ago, and we sold a couple of nips to people here and there. The reaction was so good that we bought 3 cards that came out that year to try them at the bar the following season, and added the Mizunara WR that we were drinking, the first Ichiro' release New Hogshead and Bourbon Barrel. Oh, and the Uniting Nations. We 'released' the Ichiro's at the start of the season to see how they would be received. By about mid-February they were almost all sold out.

"It is incredible the reaction people have by trying it. Not only is it totally different from, say, Suntory or Nikka, but they love that they are trying something so limited and special," she says.

The clientelle at Niseko has been changing recently, according to Ioanna, with older visitors starting to replace backpackers.

"An older crowd (sometimes very knowledgeable in the ways of whisky) has started to arrive. For us, this meant we could make less Jim Beam and cokes, and start talking to people about Japanese whisky, which we were really interested in! The only problem we have is that we end up emptying the bottles every season now," she says.


 Photograph by Glen Claydon Photography

This is a list of the Ichiro`s available at the bar. I don`t think they are all available there now, but it does give an idea of  how serious they are about their whisky:
Uniting Nations; First release Newborn New Hogshead (Chichibu); First release Burbon Barrel (Chichibu); 5 of Spades; 8 of Hearts; 10 of Clubs; 4 of Spades; J of Hearts; K of Hearts; Q of Spades; 8 of Diamonds; 6 of Clubs; K of Clubs; 9 of Spades; 7 of Diamonds; 3 of Hearts; 2 of Hearts; Mizunara Wood Reserve; Double Distilleries; and Wine Wood Reserve.
Perhaps more importantly, they have the following Ichiro's for future release: 10 of Hearts; 4 of Diamonds; 8 of Clubs; 2 of Spades; 4 of Hearts; 10 of Diamonds; 9 of Clubs; and 6 of Spades.

As I say, I have never visited the Fridge Door. But it looks great. If anyone gets to Niseko, I would love to get a report. They have a webpage here.




Photographs by Glen Claydon Photography

Address: 167-21 Aza Yamada, Kutchan, Hokkaido 〒004-0081
Telephone: 0136-23-1432
Email: niseko@gyubar.com
Website; Facebook
Opening times:  Dec 1-end of March only. Mon - Sun: 6:00 pm - 12:30 am; Cash Only


View Fridge Door in a larger map

Sunday, May 6, 2012

TIBS / Whisky Live 2012

 
Post by Stefan of Tokyo Whisky Hub.

While the second day of the inaugural Tokyo International Bar Show (a revamped 12th edition of Whisky Live Tokyo) is in full swing, here are a few impressions of the first day. This review will focus on the whisky side of the event, which is not to say the cocktail/bartending side was of little interest – far from it! I actually thought the new formula – one hall centered on whisky, the other offering a variety of cocktails and other spirits – made this edition an even better experience than in previous years. I found myself shuttling back and forth between the two halls: there’s only so much whisky one can assess fairly (i.e. with a fresh palate) before the law of diminishing returns starts to assert itself, so the cocktail section offered frequent, well-needed breaks from the sensory assaults of the hard-hitting malts.

Most of the early birds on the first day (many of whom arrived hours before the official opening) were there to make sure they didn’t miss out on the TIBS Kinen bottlings. There were five of them, and fifteen complete sets were offered at a discount – these sold out in a matter of minutes. Of the five, the Venture Whisky bottlings (Chichibu and Hanyu quarter casks, limited to 164 and 167 bottles respectively) were the most interesting ones. I was very keen to try the Karuizawas, because unlike most companies who focus on producing excellent single malts (i.e. vattings of several casks), with the occasional stand-out cask being bottled as a single cask, the No. 1 Drinks (owners of the complete Karuizawa stock since a couple of months) approach has always been to bottle single casks, so I was naturally curious to see where their recent multi-vintages (a single malt by any other name…) would fit into their portfolio. The need to vat casks is clearly enforced by circumstances: when you buy the entire inventory of a distillery there are bound to be casks of lesser quality. I found the two TIBS Karuizawas – a vatting of casks from the last two vintages, married for a number of months in two different casks – to be very similar with only the slightest difference in nuance, and certainly not of the high quality we have come to expect of Karuizawa. Some people feel that expectation is unrealistic, the irony being it was fed by the selection of stellar single casks by No. 1 Drinks. In a way, they raised the bar to such a high level that they are now forced to use all the tricks of the trade to make casks of lower quality into "great" whisky. (Another interesting angle of comparison is the pricing: compare the 1999-2000 vatting for TIBS priced at 8,000 yen with 1999 single-cask #867 which currently retails in the UK for a staggering 300 pounds or about 38,000 yen!) In any case, the TIBS Karuizawas failed to impress me. I found the Yamazaki puncheon to be similarly flat and uninspiring. Bottom line: go for the Chichibu and Hanyu chibidaru bottlings – they are of outstanding quality. There probably aren't many left, so I wouldn't waste time if I were you.





As in previous years, there were also special bottlings for the event by the Craft Distillers (the group of distilleries represented in Japan by Whisk-e, i.e. Arran, BenRiach, Bladnoch, Glendronach, Kilchoman and Springbank). For me, the Glendronach and the Springbank bottlings were the most impressive. Glendronach had selected a 2002 ex-bourbon cask, not the usual ex-sherry heavyweight! A few ex-bourbon casks of the same vintage have been released so far - some for the European market (whisky festivals and/or distributors in Belgium, and LMdW in France) - and one made its way to Japan two years ago, but this one is really quite something: it beautifully displays the power of the Glendronach spirit, subtly complemented by notes picked up from the cask. A real stunner, in my opinion. I was similarly impressed with the Springbank offering, a 1995 (bottled in 2011) 1st fill ex-sherry hogshead: wonderful prune and raisin notes in the foreground with all kinds of things going on in the background (too complex to put one's finger on in the hustle and bustle of the show).

Two of Japan's "craft distillers" used the show as a platform to gauge response to (possible) future bottlings: Hombo Shuzo (of Mars Distillery in Shinshu) and Venture Whisky (of Hanyu and Chichibu fame). Mars distillery is one of two part-time whisky distilleries in Japan - meaning they only produce whisky for part of the year - the other one being Eigashima. After a hiatus of 19 years, Mars started distilling again early last year. They only distill for three months every year (January to March) and have just finished their second season. They fill about 150 casks per season, and seem to have taken a leaf out of Akuto-san's book since they restarted, as they told me they are experimenting with many different types and sizes of casks (including small casks). Very promising, I think! They plan to release two new single-casks from the "ancien regime": a 1985 ex-sherry cask (#162, 60.7% abv) and a 1989 American white oak cask (#1041, 57.9%) later this month. They are priced about the same as comparable Nikka single-casks: 18,900 yen and 15,750 yen respectively. The ex-sherry cask is absolutely gorgeous - a must-have bottling, one of their best so far, in my opinion. The other one was more subdued in character, but intriguing nonetheless - one I definitely want to try again in peace and quiet. I also learned that there is another customer-exclusive bottling available in Japan (other than the Seijo Ishii one I wrote about a few weeks ago), but this one is a bit harder to get hold of. It's a vatted malt, created exclusively for liquor store Ushijima Sakaten in Kagoshima. As good an excuse as any for a trip to Kyushu, I reckon.



Akuto-san had brought no fewer than 6 possible future Chichibu bottlings to the show. A look at the pictures should give you an idea of the variety. The most impressive of the six - and for some people (including myself) the pick of the whole show - was the Mizunara Puncheon. If this isn't bottled soon, I think Akuto-san will find fans knocking down the door of his distillery. It's always a treat to try a mizunara (i.e. Japanese oak) cask bottling, but this one was superb beyond description. As some of you may know, mizunara casks are expensive. Most mizunara used for whisky maturation comes from Hokkaido. You can find the oak in other parts of Japan as well, but it's not of sufficiently high quality to mature whisky in. Staves are prepared in Hokkaido in two cuts, thin and thick. The thick ones are so thick that the only possible way to make them into casks is to go for the large-size puncheon. The cost however is quite high. Until recently, Akuto-san ordered mizunara-casks from a factory in Sendai. Lately, however, he started experimenting more with using mizunara oak for the cask heads only: it's much easier to fit casks with such heads at the distillery itself, and it's more cost-effective. I also had a chance to speak to some of the distillery workers about the chibidaru, the "original quarter cask". These are quite simply hogsheads that have been shortened by removing the top part (above the head hoop) and the bottom part (below the bottom hoop). They contain about 150 litres, and at the time of writing there are about 50 of them in active duty at the Chichibu distillery. It was obvious - both from the quality and originality of the whisky samples and from the queues at the Venture Whisky booth at the show - that Chichibu is one of the brightest stars in the whisky firmament at the moment. Exciting times up there in Saitama!











The Bar Show also offered the chance to try some exciting recent and forthcoming bottlings from Scotland for the Japanese market. Shinanoya, in particular, seems tireless in its efforts to keep bringing the best of the best to these shores. At the show, they had their recent 1985 Benriach and their 1991 Glenfarclas Family Cask bottlings open for tasting - both absolutely superb. They also had a forthcoming 40-year old Benriach (1971), a joint bottling with BBI Japan, available for tasting. It'll retail for just under 50,000 yen, but I'm sure it's worthy every yen.

Other personal highlights of the show included the Laddie Ten (Bruichladdich, that is), Taketsuru 35 and a wonderful pairing of Talisker 10 with Lindt "Sea Salt" chocolate (something I want to try with a top quality chocolate of the same type - for example, the sea salt chocolate I had the pleasure of discovering at Puccini Bonboni in Amsterdam when I was there last fall). I was very happy, though, to find one of my all-time favourites hidden amongst the bottles at Diageo's booth. The Diageo people in Japan routinely take it to all the events they attend. It never screams for attention and it's either free or very modestly priced (200 yen at the show), but it's a true gem. Like a message in a bottle from a not-so-distant past when the release of a truly great whisky didn't automatically lead to it being raved about by reviewers and bloggers (guilty as charged!), instantly selling out, being snapped up by collectors and offered on auction sites: the Dalwhinnie 29yo (57.8% abv), bottled almost 10 years ago and still available.

We'll have to wait another year to see an event with the same flair, appeal and intensity as the Tokyo International Bar Show / Whisky Live. There's just nothing like it, and it keeps getting better and better. I, for one, can't wait to see what marvels the organizers will throw at us next year.

Serge's blend reviews

Serge Valentin of Whiskyfun.com has a couple of interesting reviews up of top-end Hibiki and Taketsurus.

Hanging out with Mr. Broom at Chotto Bar

Post by Nonjatta contributor Stefan of Tokyo Whisky Hub.

Whisky Magazine Japan's Bond #1 was kick-started today with a private tasting at Chotto Bar in Shinjuku's Golden Gai for a handful of members led by none other than maestro Dave Broom. Six whiskies were selected by the hosts to reflect a range of ages and styles and a few more were smuggled in - without any difficulty whatsoever - by the attendees. One of the highlights of the afternoon was a special Karuizawa bottling, which new Bond #1 members will be able to get their hands on at the Tokyo International Bar Show / Whisky Live this weekend ('nuff said): a 1984 ex-sherry, single cask... a wonderfully lush feast of stewed fruit and that subtle, smoky backdrop (bacon fat, smoked scallops, ...) that you often get with the best Karuizawas, which has nothing to do with peat but more with something like cereal ever-so-slightly-burnt. A stellar dram... with the most beautiful legs you're likely to see in Shinjuku's Kabukicho, and that's saying something!

Yours truly smuggled in the Ichiro's Cigar Malt (see my earlier post), which proved to be a big hit: everyone agreed it was an unbelievably enticing concoction of sweet and smoky notes, perfectly balanced, and the general impression among the whisky anoraks when tasted blind was that it had to have been at least 8 to 10 years old. Not so... If you haven't picked up a bottle yet, I suggest you do so real soon. I know some people who will! Another fantastic whisky we were able to taste was the already legendary "Black Legend" Yamazaki (again, see below for more information), courtesy of Nicholas Coldicott who put the whole event together. It was dark as a dungeon but the nose and the palate were wonderfully elegant, without any of the syrupy and tannic notes that you sometimes get with (over-)matured ex-sherry whiskies. To quote one of the other guests: "They did it again!"

To those who weren't there, I say: join Bond #1 and be there next time, because from what I gathered, this won't be the least treat! There's much more to come...

Recent Ichiro's Malt releases

Post by Nonjatta contributor Stefan of Tokyo Whisky Hub.

Keeping up with Ichiro's Malt releases is a bit like a full-time job lately, which is why it's hard not to miss out on certain releases - seeing as most people already have one or more (yes, this is Japan) full-time jobs. New bottlings keep appearing left, right and centre, and in some cases, they're gone before you even knew they were out. (This happened to me twice in the last couple of months: the first time it happened it put me in a bit of a foul mood for a few days; the second time, I thought I'd better get used to it. I'm not sure I have - we'll see.) I've also noticed a bit of a change in market focus (domestically, that is) on the part of Akuto-san. In the earlier days of Venture Whisky (which isn't that long ago... roughly 2005-2010), Akuto-san used a kind of grassroots approach to get the word out and establish a name for his company and his products. During those years, the focus was very much on the Japanese bar scene. He visited bars in every nook and cranny of the country and the focus was clearly on getting his whiskies on the bar shelves. There are many bar-exclusive releases of Hanyu whisky from those years, sometimes in quantities as limited as 60 (the wonderful Hanafuda-releases for Bar Salvador with 6 different labels - I have 5 of them: you'll get to see them in the forthcoming, first installment of a new series on my blog focusing on Japanese whisky labels) or 24 bottles (for Bar Lagg Time). I think this was a very smart move on the part of Akuto-san, because ... well, it worked!

As I said, the last year or two, I have noticed a change of focus: from the bar scene to the upscale department stores, so it won't come as a surprise that the two relatively recent offerings from Ichiro's Malt I want to introduce to you to today are to be found in the basement sections of two major department stores.

The first one is (to my knowledge) the first quarter-cask release from Venture Whisky. Most of you will know that this year's official bottlings for the Tokyo International Bar Show / Whisky Live (this weekend!) include two quarter casks, one Hanyu and one Chichibu. Last year, however, Akuto-san released this "Special Selected" Quarter-Cask Cask-Strength (57%) Hanyu, distilled in 1991. I've only seen it at Mitsukoshi, so it may well be a Mitsukoshi-exclusive release. It's priced - in keeping with what I suspect is a one-price-fits-all policy when it comes to department store releases (see some of my earlier posts and below for more evidence) - at 10,500 yen. It would be interesting to know what the outturn is. Akuto-san's "quarter casks" are not exactly the same size as those used in Scotland. He calls them "chibidaru", "chibi" meaning "wee" and "taru" meaning "cask". It'll be interesting to see how quickly the TIBS bottlings sell out... you have been warned.

The second new release is a "Double Single Malt"... right, a blended malt. It's available at Takashimaya Nihonbashi, where they've got a Britain fair on at the moment. I'm not sure if it was bottled specifically for the fair but the label seems to hint at that. It's a vatting of a single malt Japanese whisky distilled in 2008 (read: Chichibu) and a Scottish single malt distilled in 2007, put in cask in 2008 - both matured in Japan. It's limited to 500 numbered bottles and, yes, it's 10,500 yen a bottle, which is a bit steep for a 3-year old vatted malt if you ask me, but then again, it comes in a posh box which seems to have been specifically designed for the department store market.

I tried it earlier today and was pleasantly surprised - it really is a very nice blend, lots of orchard fruits on the palate, some white pepper... - but my wallet decided to go for a 28-year old single-cask Caol Ila from BB&R that was cheaper (even with shipping from the UK to Japan included!) than the "Double Single Malt". Whisky enthusiasts may be interested to know that Takashimaya has started a new range of exclusive single-cask releases ("Takashimaya Buyer's Selection"), sourced from BB&R. At the moment, they have a 1990 Bunnahabhain (one of those glorious sherried Bunnas!) and a 1992 Longmorn. Unfortunately, they're priced a fair bit higher than BB&R's own bottlings, but it's in the nature of customer-exclusive bottlings that the middle man wants his cut, too.