Saturday, July 14, 2012
My wife likes to taunt me with the English phrase: "Love is not a bygone day`s firework." Fully aware of its slighly klunky sound (I think it has the same feel in Japanese), she tends to deploy it after I have done something small to redeem myself after doing something big to drop myself in it.
What I didn`t know is that it is a direct translation of the catchline of a Suntory "Old" commercial ("Koi wa toi hi no hanabi dewa nai"). I love the sentimental lyricism of these ads.
Friday, July 13, 2012
Suntory is rolling out another one of its monster-priced limited-edition bottlings to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the forming of the Rolling Stones.
The whisky costs 500,000 yen ($6,300) a bottle and will go on sale on Oct. 30. Only 150 bottles will be available.
Six whiskies from a year of special significance to the Stones are in the blend: a 1962 Yamazaki , the year the band was formed; a 1971 Yamazaki, when the tongue and lips design was first used by the band; a 1972 Yamazaki malt, when the band released the album "Exile on Main St." That album contains "Rocks Off," which has been used for Suntory commercials.
The blend also contains a Hakushu malt and a Chita grain from 1990, when the Stones made their first trip to Japan.
In case you were wondering why Suntory has such an interest in the Stones, they have recently agreed a major merchandising deal with the band. There are Stones-themed cans all over Japan right now.
For more information (in Japanese) see the press release on the Suntory site. Here`s an alternative view of the bottle:
Sunday, July 8, 2012
Post by Stefan of Tokyo Whisky Hub.
Japanese whisky enthusiasts worldwide keep asking me about Karuizawa: whether it's still possible to visit the distillery, whether it's possible to buy the whisky in Japan, what sort of releases are planned for the future, ... To answer these and many other questions, here's a bit of recent history and a few glimpses of what's to come.
First, the past. Sadly, it is no longer possible to visit the distillery. In fact, the physical location was recently sold to an unknown party. It is very unlikely that this unknown party is in any way connected to the drinks industry and/or has any plans to revive the distillery. Why, you may ask? Two reasons. First of all, the entire stock has been sold and who in their right mind would buy a distillery without stock? The second reason may come as a surprise to many people: Kirin declined to sell the distillery (when it was still a distillery - including the stock - rather than just some buildings on a piece of land) on at least two occasions in the past. In 2008, two different parties (one from the UK, the other from mainland Europe) expressed a strong interest in purchasing the distillery. Kirin said no. The rest, as they say, is history. I don't really have a business mind, so maybe readers can help me out here, but I fail to understand why a company would refuse to sell a distillery to people interested in reviving it, but has no problem selling the stock to one company and the real estate to someone else. There's not much point in speculating, but I can't help thinking: "what if...?" What if they had sold the distillery in 2008? Would a "Karuizawa Revival", or a "Karuizawa Renaissance", or something like that, be in the stores right now? Isn't it sad beyond words that Kirin wanted Karuizawa dead, rather than alive but in someone else's hands?
Now, on to the future. As most of you will know, Karuizawa's legacy is in the hands of Number One Drinks. As long as the stock was the property of Kirin, Number One Drinks was unable to sell Karuizawa in Japan. (Some exceptions were negotiated - e.g. the Oxfam charity bottlings - but they were exceptions.) Now, that Kirin is no longer the owner of the actual malt, Karuizawa whisky can be sold again in Japan. I know for a fact that a release for a famous Japanese liquor retailer is in the works, so keep your eyes peeled! Truth is, however, demand in foreign markets is so high that Japan is now just a market like any other, regardless of it being the home market, and it's difficult enough for Number One Drinks (not to mention the person actually bottling these Karuizawas) to keep up with demand from abroad.
Speaking of demand abroad, fans in the United States will be able to officially welcome Karuizawa to their shores. Two new Noh-bottlings (completists take note!) are in the pipeline, arranged by a well-known US liquor retailer. Feel free to guess. On the European front, the first Asama release (for Sweden and Taiwan) will be followed shortly by another one for the UK market. And then, there is the 52-year old Karuizawa, which will be the oldest Japanese whisky when it is released. To be honest, most of the mail I get, is from enthusiasts (read: collectors) asking when, what, how, how many, how much, ... The 1960 cask in question was a last-minute find, but the contents have already been transferred into a stainless-steel container, so it's no longer aging. The angels have taken more than their fair share from that particular cask, so the owners were keen to stop any further evaporation. There wasn't much to begin with. In fact, it will be an extremely limited release (a two-digit outturn!). Number One Drinks is currently working on the presentation, that is to say, the packaging and a book(let) written by a prominent drinks writer. No word on pricing, but you can imagine, if you know that the most expensive Japanese whisky until now - the Suntory 50-year old Yamazaki - retailed for a million yen (about 12,500 dollars). The Karuizawa will no doubt be north of that. How much? We'll just have to wait and see, and start saving up... if it's not too late already.
Friday, July 6, 2012
Post by Stefan of Tokyo Whisky Hub.
Purely by accident, I ended up in one my favourite neighbourhoods in Tokyo today - Nihonbashi / Tokyo Station / Yurakucho - so I went to all my regular liquor haunts. That was before lunch and on a half-empty stomach battling the humid summer weather: dedication or plain madness? Well, it's a thin line, sometimes. Here's a short report.
Next stop: Liquors Hasegawa. I was keen to try the new Black ("Premium") Label "Malt & Grain" produced by Ichiro Akuto. I knew chances were high they'd have a bottle open, and sure enough, they did. Just nosing it, I knew the Black Label was a vast improvement on the White Label (which I was not a fan of, to put it mildly - see my earlier post on "Ichiro's Blends"). This was very different - a really lovely blend. To this nose, the dominant notes were orange peel and pine tree / forest notes; on the palate, it was clear some virgin oak must have gone into it (pencil shavings, anin dofu, coming through). I didn't take any detailed tasting notes, but I remember thinking it couldn't have been released at a better time. Just perfect for the hot, humid summers here; also excellent value for money, I think.
After the Black Label Malt & Grain, I explored some recent Scotch single cask bottlings, and just as I was about to wrap up my little morning impromptu tasting - feeling the need for some solid food - one of the members of staff - they are fantastic, without exception, and extremely knowledgeable, by the way - asked me if I had tried the NAS Hakushu and Yamazaki. I hadn't. Five minutes later, I had. And what a revelation that was: they are superb beyond description. The person who put these beauties together deserves a big, fat summer bonus. Both are constructed around a core of 8- / 9-year old malt but enveloped by much older malt (up to 25yo). The Hakushu is very-lightly peated, with some of it finished in sherry casks (they must have been second- or third-fill, because the effect was very subtle, never overpowering those typical, lovely forest notes). The Yamazaki is an absolutely stunner: the core (young) malts were finished in wine casks, but older stock was also used (including some mizunara). I loved the Hakushu, but the Yamazaki really blew me away. It is such a beautifully harmonized whisky - words just don't do it justice. Don't take my word for it. Try it for yourself. You'll see. Kudos to the people at Suntory for creating this piece of art.
Post by Stefan of Tokyo Whisky Hub.
As many have lamented, there's very little (good quality writing) in print on Japanese whisky, so it was a pleasure to spend a bit of time with two recent books featuring some very interesting sections on Japanese whisky. The first is the humongous "1001 Whiskies you must taste before you die", edited by Dominic Roskrow. It's not exactly a book you read in one sitting and it's certainly not for people with back problems. Thirty-two of the whiskies are Japanese, not a bad percentage considering the competition that's around. To give you an idea of the breakdown, these are the whiskies covered:
- Suntory: Hakushu 10, 12, 18 and 25; Yamazaki 10, 12, 18, 25, 1984 and Bourbon Barrel; Hibiki 12, 17 and 21; and Hokuto 12;
- Nikka: Yoichi 10, 20 and 1990; Miyagikyo 15; Single Coffey Malt; From the barrel; Taketsuru 12 and 21;
- Venture Whisky: 3 Hanyu single casks and Chichibu the First; - Number One Drinks: 5 Karuizawa single casks
- Eigashima 5
I think it would have been nice to include a Mars (Shinshu distillery) bottling, but there you go. I really enjoyed the Suntory and Karuizawa entries, most of them written by Marcin Miller. What makes the Suntory ones really fascinating are the many quotes from Mike Miyamoto, general manager of quality communications in the spirits division at Suntory. The Karuizawa entries offer a little glimpse behind the scenes of Number One Drinks, which - as most of you will know - Marcin Miller is one of the founding directors of. There may be a slight conflict of interests there but it's intriguing reading all the same, so why not.
The second book is "Gaz Regan's Annual Manual for Bartenders 2012". I'd been waiting impatiently for the follow-up to the first manual (published in the spring of 2011) - it was just love at first sight - and I'm thrilled to say this year's manual is even more engaging than the first one.
Imagine my delight when I discovered a short chapter towards the end of the book on Japanese whisky. It's part of the third section ("Bar Geekery", Ingredient Focus) and it's very short (a mere 9 pages). The first couple of pages are gaz's impressions of a trip to Japan in January of 2011, followed by the briefest - but possibly the clearest - explanation I've ever read of how whisky is made. After this virtuoso preamble, gaz turns over the chapter to Neyah White and Gardner Dunn, ex-bartenders who now work as ambassadors for Suntory. The chapter's title is more than a bit misleading - they don't talk about Japanese whisky, i.e. all of it, they talk about Suntory whisky - but I can't imagine anyone being unwilling to forgive them (or the editor(s)) for this little trick after reading their contribution. It really is required reading for anyone new to Japanese whisky. And for those who've been around the block a few times, it is refreshing to see it captured so well in a nutshell. It certainly is the best-written, concise explanation of what makes Japanese - sorry, make that: Suntory whisky unique. Check it out and be ready to swept off your feet not only by that little chapter but by everything gaz managed to put together in his new manual for bartenders.