Friday, April 26, 2013

TIBS/Whisky Live 2013 Bottlings Now Available to Bond#1 Members

Post by Stefan Van Eycken, Tokyo
We’ve been bringing you news, reports and interviews from TIBS/Whisky Live Tokyo 2013 all week long, and we’ve still got a few more to come, but today we’re thrilled to be able to point you in the direction of the Japanese whiskies that were specially bottled for the show: Hanyu 1990, Karuizawa 2000, Chichibu 2009 (all single casks) and an amazing cask-strength Yamazaki Mizunara. All of these are now exclusively available to Bond#1 members, and if you’re not a member yet, well, it doesn’t take long to become one. So treat yourself to something special – it is Friday after all – and see what all the excitement was about. But don't wait too long - the secret's out...

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Perspectives on the Karuizawa 1960

Post by Stefan Van Eycken, Tokyo
As mentioned in our reports from the Tokyo International BarShow / Whisky Live 2013, the absolute highlight of the weekend was the unveiling of the oldest single cask Japanese whisky ever bottled: Karuizawa cask #5627 (250l ex-sherry hogshead) from 1960. There are just 41 bottles of this and they will be available from the Karuizawa partners in Japan, France, the UK, Taiwan and a few in Scandinavia as well at 2,000,000 yen / 12,500GBP.

© Julen Esteban-Pretel
We spoke with Marcin Miller (on the right in the picture above) of No 1 Drinks, and Matt Chapman (left) of Contagious, the company who designed the packaging.

Marcin: “I first started working with Karuizawa in 2006. We began by bottling single casks and selling them around the world. After a while, it became apparent there was an opportunity to buy the entire inventory and in August 2011, we finally signed the contract enabling us to have all remaining casks. It was a long process and it was quite a painful process.”

“In February of last year, I took a party of people – including Dave Broom and some friends from Taiwan, France and the UK – to the distillery. On the one hand, it was a very happy occasion because we were in Japan, with friends, at a whisky distillery. But it was actually quite sad, because a distillery has to be a working place, a living place. There had been no whisky made at Karuizawa since 2000 and when our group left the distillery, the two last remaining employees locked the gates behind us. The result is that every time one of us opens a bottle of Karuizawa, we are effectively drinking Japanese liquid history.”

“My love of Karuizawa is based on the character of the whisky and the decision to buy the entire inventory wasn’t just a purely commercial decision. It was driven by our passion for the whisky. Within the inventory, the oldest cask we had was from 1960. The angels of Karuizawa were relatively thirsty, so we only have 41 bottles.”

Marcin asked the people at Scottish design agency Contagious to create something to ‘frame’ the whisky in the right way.

Matt: “Marcin didn’t want anything flashy. We did a lot of research into very, very expensive whisky and there are usually a lot of gimmicks involved – lots of materials that are just there for the expense and have nothing to do with the actual whisky. Everything we did, we wanted to make it feel like it was quite authentic. And that was the brief: try and set something up that helped with the story.”

“The exterior of the box is made in a lighter wood, the interior in a darker wood: to mirror the cask. We chose ash for the outer box – because of the detail in the grain – and for the inner box, we used wenge – which is naturally dark and gives the impression of a flamed cask. When we were making the box, we didn’t want to make use of any metal fixings, so we’ve designed it in such a way that it opens like an old closet box. So the first problem is how to get into the box.”

“The front of the box is inlaid with actual pieces of the cask [the cask head, ed.] that we branded with the Karuizawa kanji on one side, and the English on the other. The reason why there are two labels is to reflect the two cultures that have come together to create this whisky. And that’s reflected again on the bottle. We employed a number of craftsmen from both Japan and the UK: the washi paper was made in Japan, and we used an award-winning calligrapher to create every label on the right for every bottle. We used traditional letterpress for the label on the left from a letterpress in Scotland.”

“We also wanted to do something quite different with this for the numbering. As Marcin mentioned, there were only 41 bottles that came out of the cask and instead of numbering them 1 to 41, we wanted something special. We purchased a collection of 41 netsuke and individually named each bottle to link with the netsuke, so they’re all named differently. They’re all unique.”

As you can see in the pictures, the bottle unveiled at the show was “Treasure Ship”, in reference to the netsuke that goes with that particular bottle. There’s also a special book, written by Dave Broom – which is different from what he penned for the 1964 Karuizawa for Poland.

Matt: “To give you a little indication of the history of Karuizawa, we created a book with some of Dave Broom’s lovely words which is a beautiful read about two things, actually: one about the time he visited Karuizawa with Marcin and also the history itself of the distillery. I think that brings the whole story to life. From the front of the book, it’s in English – and from the back, it’s in Japanese.”

As a design agency, Matt and his team work primarily on spirits – having done work for Pernod Ricard and Diageo brands as well as a lot of independents, and not only packaging but also brand communication, brand homes and distillery work (particularly on Islay for Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Bowmore). This was, however, the first time for them to work on a Japanese project.

Matt: “As said, we wanted to have both UK and Japanese craftsmen and, obviously, getting the right people involved from Japan was quite tricky. We’re lucky we’ve got a Japanese designer who works with us, and she’s from Tokyo. She put us in touch with a Japanese lady who now lives in London and who works as a go-between for Japanese craftspeople – that’s what she does. It was quite difficult to find an antique dealer who sold netsuke so we had to get over that as well. Initially, making those connections was tricky, but once we got the right people in place, that element of it was quite easy. I think the most difficult part of it was not overshadowing the whisky. We wanted something that felt special enough that you’d be amazed by it, but that wasn’t too blingy. Getting that balance right took a lot of trial and error.”

What makes the entire presentation so special, in our opinion, is the fact that it brings together the craftsmanship and expertise of so many people in different corners of the world. Just to give you an idea of what was involved: the whisky was, obviously, made in Japan but distilled using malted barley imported from Scotland; it was then matured in an ex-sherry cask; it was bottled on the 1st of January 2013; the actual bottle is a specially commissioned heavy-weight version of the classic ‘vintage Karuizawa’ bottle; the washi paper for the labels on the bottle was handmade in Japan by Norito Hasegawa, a third generation papermaker; the calligraphy on the left-hand side is the work of award-winning calligrapher Soji Nishimoto; the letterpress on the right-hand label was done in Glasgow; the book was printed in Yorkshire, but the binding was done in the South of England; the box was modelled on traditional Japanese puzzle boxes but handmade in England; the netsuke came from a UK antique netsuke collector and the authenticity of the netsuke was checked by an expert who lives in Eastern Europe. That’s the sort of global collaboration it took to put all the elements together.

Marcin had brought a bottle of the second-oldest Karuizawa – a 1963 – to the show to share with those present. This will be released in September/October and about 150 bottles will be available. The people at Contagious are currently working on the packaging of that release.

Matt: “When we presented for the 1960, we had a whole raft of ideas that we didn’t use. And there was one in there which Marcin absolutely loved and which he had in mind for the 1963. It’s still in progress, so we’ll see how it works out.”

Special thanks to David Croll for inviting us to this momentous event.
Thanks also to Marcin Miller and Dave Broom, for the pleasure of their company at and after the show; to Matt Chapman and Jason Dobson, for sharing aspects of the creative process with us; and to our friends from Hong Kong for providing us with some of their photography.

Read more about Karuizawa Distillery here.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Required Reading: Recent Online Resources about Japanese Whisky

Post by Stefan Van Eycken, Tokyo
Today, we’re taking a little break from providing original content to introduce four fairly recent online resources that we’re sure you’ll enjoy as much as we did/do:

Japan Whisky Reviews” is a blog devoted exclusively to tasting notes of Japanese whiskies and it is, really, the only quality blog exploring this field. It’s the work of Michio Hayashi, who was born in Japan, but moved to Germany when he was two. His first contact with the amber liquid was in the form of Irish whiskey and then Islay whiskies. It wasn’t until he saw “Lost in Translation” that Michio decided to give Japanese whisky a try. Upon seeing the movie, he remembered the bottle of Hibiki had bought on a whim – it just happened to be a good deal – a few years before. He recognized his bottle in the movie, opened it and that’s when his interest in Japanese whisky really took off. Michio has grown particularly fond of Yamazaki and reckons the 1986 Yamazaki Mizunara for LMdW is his absolute favourite.

The Japanese whisky industry is notoriously secretive, so for a rare look behind the scenes, the following three resources are particularly useful:

- Chris Hoban of the “Edinburgh Whisky Blog” did an in-depth interview with Marcin Miller of No 1 Drinks. Parts 1, 2 and 3 are up already; the last instalment is under way.

- Tim Forbes of The Whisky Exchange has written a multi-part (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and more to come) account of his trip to Karuizawa and Chichibu early last year, when the Karuizawa partners (TWE, LMdW and Magny (Taiwan)) were over to check the remaining stock. Tim is taking his time, but his posts – part travel log, part reflections on various aspects to do with the reception of Karuizawa abroad – are well worth the wait.

- A few months ago we wrote about a special bottling to celebrate the Welsh writer C.W. Nicol’s 5 decades in Japan. He’s written a fascinating piece about his involvement with Nikka since the early 80s for the Japan Times entitled “All aglow with the ‘water of life’”. Read it online here.

We hope you’ll enjoy these excursions and hope to welcome you back with us tomorrow for our feature about the launch of the Karuizawa 1960 (including exclusive interviews with the people who made it happen).

Monday, April 22, 2013

From TIBS/Whisky Live 2013: Spotlight on the Samaroli “Evolution Cask-Strength” for TIBS.

Post by Stefan Van Eycken, Tokyo

Samaroli is a household name among whisky enthusiasts worldwide. The man behind the company, Silvano Samaroli, started in the 60s when there were only a handful of independent bottlers and none of any significance outside the UK. A true pioneer, Mr Samaroli started in the business as a sales rep in charge of the distribution of the Springbank and Linkwood portfolio, among others, for an Italian spirits company. He visited many distilleries in Scotland at the time, built up close personal relationships with master blenders there, and gained the respect of people in the industry. In 1968, he took the enormous risk to set up his own company. Since then, many of his bottlings have acquired near-mythic status.
For TIBS/Whisky Live Tokyo 2013, Mr Samaroli prepared a very special bottling – one that, no doubt, will get its place in the pantheon of stellar Samaroli whiskies once people start discovering it. We spoke with Francesco Binetti and started off by asking him what the origin of the “Evolution” project was:

“We started this project in 1992 and the reason was that Mr Samaroli loves the old flavours of whiskies from the 50s and 60s so he wanted to create something to maintain those sort of flavours. He started with a vatting of 20 single casks from different distilleries and different ages, combining the old ones – which contribute the most elegant flavours and the widest perception of complexity – with younger ones – to add body and to maintain balance, but also to create a new balance.

These 20 casks were put together in a big wooden drum, married for about 6 months and then refilled into new casks. Half of these were ex-sherry casks; the others were virgin American white oak casks. And then, not every year, but every time when Mr. Samaroli checked the situation and felt that it needed something to rebalance the cuvee, we added something to it. To give you an example, the first re-vatting after 1992 was done in 1996. Everything was put together in the big wooden drum again, new components were added… and every time, the procedure is the same. Most recently, we put in a Linkwood 1997 and – if I remember correctly – a couple of casks of Glen Grant 1985. At the moment, “Evolution” consists of 45 single casks.”

The bottling for TIBS/Whisky Live Tokyo 2013 is the first cask-strength version of “Evolution”.

“Yes, we felt it was the right time to present it undiluted. And this particular bottling for TIBS/Whisky Live Tokyo 2013 is like a single cask – it’s from cask #7 – so it’s like a unique instance of the on-going evolution of our vatting. There are 12 casks at this moment that are part of this “Evolution” project – 4 and a half are ex-sherry, the others virgin oak – and this cask bottled for Tokyo was an ex-sherry, the fifth full one. As said, this is the first time we did a cask-strength version, but we love it so much, that from now on, all the “Evolution” releases will be bottled at cask-strength.”

At this point in time, “Evolution” comprises more than 5 decades. What does the future hold?

“For the next one, our idea is to take each of these 12 casks “as is”, because given the balance achieved, it would be risky – in our opinion – to keep vatting these. It’s not a 100% sure yet – we’re in the process of deciding now – but we’ll probably just use one of these 12 casks, the youngest virgin oak cask, as the “mother cask” for the next vatting. And we’ll be repeating the same process, selecting from our stock some old casks and some new ones and vatting these together with the mother cask from our current “Evolution” project. That’s how we plan to take this new “Evolution” into the future. If we start next year, the first release of that will probably be in 2020 or 2025.”

Francesco also brought some Samaroli rums to the BarShow and for many whisky fans these were the big revelations of the show. In fact, several people – when asked about their favourite whiskies at the show – said without hesitating: “The Samaroli rums!” Mr Samaroli fell in love with rum in the 70s, during his second honeymoon in the Caribbean, and has traveled all over the world in search of rums of exceptional quality, most of which are further matured in Scotland. Rum and whisky are of equal importance – also in volume – to the company, but here in Japan, the rums are still fairly unknown. Now that the secret’s out, we hope these marvels will finally find their way to our shores.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

TIBS/Whisky Live Day 2: Highlights

Post by Stefan of Tokyo Whisky Hub
Whisky/drinks enthusiasts here in Japan will have to wait another year to be spoiled like they were over the past weekend, but that’s life. There’s nothing quite like TIBS/Whisky Live Tokyo and it’s sad that it’s over but we’ve been able to take so much in and so much home – not just literally, but also in terms of newly discovered drams and preferences, cocktail styles and techniques, newly gained insights, and probably some newly made friends, too – that we have enough to keep us going until the next edition. Then again, enough is never really enough when things are this good.

One of the highlights of the second day was the inaugural “Nadeshiko Bartending Challenge”, a competition for up-and-coming lady bartenders in which they were judged on both a free and a compulsory cocktail by the head honchos of the NBA and guest bartenders Peter Dorelli and Jim Meehan. Misu Mariyah of Bar Hakuchoukan took the top prize, so next time you’re in Toyama-prefecture, it may be worth seeking out her bar.

The absolute highlight of the weekend was the unveiling of the oldest single cask Japanese whisky ever bottled: the Karuizawa 1960 (cask#5627), distilled on 1 February 1960 and bottled on 1 January 2013. Marcin Miller of No.1 Drinks, Matt Chapman of Contagious, the company who took care of the design, and Dave Broom, who penned the accompanying booklet, paid tribute to this extraordinary whisky and although it was impossible for them to offer a sample of the 1960 to the people who were invited to the event (there are only 41 bottles of it, and opening one would have set them back 2,000,000 yen), we were incredibly privileged to be offered a dram of the second oldest cask, a 1963. We spoke at length with Marcin Miller and Matt Chapman and will bring you the full story later this week.

Speaking of Karuizawa, a revamped Asama (a vatting of the 1999/2000 vintages) bottled at 50.5%abv will be released soon. In case you’re wondering – as many people have asked me – this is not cask-strength, or more accurately ‘vatting strength’, but the abv that the blender considered perfect for the liquid. Of the other Karuizawas at the show, I thought the 1970/2012 (cask#6177) for LMdW was a real star. If you come across a bottle of this, do what you have to do to make it yours!

Nikka had brought two new single casks to the show: a 1988 Yoichi (cask#100212) and a 2001 Miyagikyo (cask#120449).

The Yoichi was drawn from a virgin American white oak cask and is classic old Yoichi: smoky and dirty (in the good sense!), with hints of smoked ham and nuts and with an extraordinarily long finish (overripe melon, ham again – prosciutto this time – and much more). The Miyagikyo – drawn from an ex-sherry cask – was rather unusual. I, personally, prefer my Miyagikyo from less active casks – casks that allow the character of the spirit to shine through – but will be revisiting this and the Yoichi single cask in the days to come! Both will go on sale the day after tomorrow, but if you missed them at the show and you still happen to be in Tokyo (or lucky enough to be living here!), there’s a special event at the Blender’s Bar on Wednesday (April 24th). We’ll be there, as always, and will get back to you with more news then.

The show is over but Nonjatta will be keeping the vibe alive over the next few days with exclusive interviews with some of the distillers who brought special bottlings to the show and, as said, in-depth coverage of the Karuizawa 1960 launch. Watch this space.

Thanks to our friends over at the amazing Edinburgh Whisky Blog for their plug of Nonjatta’s TIBS/Whisky Live coverage.

Thanks also to our Hong Kong friends for help with some of the photography for the forthcoming Karuizawa 1960 post and for the pleasure of their company all weekend long.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

From TIBS/Whisky Live 2013: Stanislav Vadrna on the “Masataka Swizzle”

Post by Stefan of Tokyo Whisky Hub
If you only have one cocktail at the TIBS, let it be this one: the “Masataka Swizzle”. We’re incredibly lucky to have the great Stanislav Vadrna, of the Analog Bartending Institute, at the show this year so don’t leave without visiting his section of the Nikka area. We asked him to tell us a little bit about what went into the creation of this amazing cocktail:

“In 2008 or 2009, for Paris Whisky Live, we did a promotional event for Nikka on the river Seine and I was presenting some drinks there. I came up with this idea: “let’s make a swizzle”, because I was very much into tropical drinks and I wanted to come up with some drinks which, based on whiskies from the Nikka range, would have a kind of tropical feel. There’s a tropical part of Japan – Okinawa – so why not? But there’s also a whole range of climates, up to the cold north of Hokkaido, so … crushed ice and a tropical feel, combined.

But the main idea behind this drink was to create something to honour the father of Nikka whisky. That’s why I named the drink “Masataka Swizzle” because for me, Masataka Taketsuru is the very first Japanese person who really, somehow, built a bridge between the West and the East. And for me, he is a huge inspiration in my professional life as well because when I thought of his way – of going to a very foreign country and learning the culture, the art and bringing it back to your culture and mixing it together – it reminds me a little bit of my own way. I first came to Japan, in 2006, and I was lucky to be trained by Ueda-san of the Tender Bar and then I went back to Slovakia and starting spreading the things I had picked up here all around… and now, it is as it is. So, Taketsuru-san is a real inspiration for me, because he respected the foreign country, its culture and art, and knew he could learn a lot from that.

But for him, it wasn’t just enough to get to know the taste. He wanted to get to the essence. And this is very much my personal philosophy as well. I’m not satisfied with the taste of the food, but I have to get to the essence. And, to get back to the Masataka Swizzle, that year I was very much into the history of ‘swizzling’ so my mindset back then was very focused on the swizzle category, which is a mixture of strong spirit – usually it’s rum, but in the very beginning, in the 18th century, it used to be jenever, but then people switched to rum – so: some spirit, some citrus, some sugar, some bitters and crushed ice. That’s the basic form for swizzles and for me… it’s very Japanese, because what I learned here in Japan is to focus on the process. The process is as important as the final result. So, I thought: maybe by creating a swizzle with Japanese whisky, I could turn these guys’ attention to swizzling. Because this technique has been forgotten. In the West, now, it’s increasing in popularity, but in Japan, it’s still an almost unknown thing. And I believe that, as soon as the “Masataka Swizzle” starts to spread across Tokyo and Japan, the Japanese people are going to start swizzling – and then, what will happen is: they will be the best in the world. So, they’re going to refine the style of swizzling and again, maybe in one or two years, we’re going to come back and see them doing that ritual. Because in bartending here, everything is a kind of ritual: shaking, stirring, jiggering, serving… everything. I’ve been influenced by this way very much, so now, I would like to bring something back. A kind of exchange. I do not need to push this, you know. It’s just here. Now, I have two days – somehow – to swizzle as best as I can and to share my passion with the customers, the bartenders and then we will see. But I truly believe it: this is a real ritual. It is a real connection, through this piece of wood [i.e. the swizzle, the wooden sticks on the left in the picture, ed.], and I really believe you can channel somehow your state of mind, your positive attitude into the drink, through this piece of wood.”

So what goes into a “Masataka Swizzle”?

“It calls for 50mls of Nikka Coffey Grain, 15mls of Amaretto, 15mls of fresh lemon juice, 2 dashes of orange bitters, 2 dashes of Angostura bitters and you can adjust the recipe to suit your taste. I started with 2,5mls of simple syrup. If you like it sweeter, you can go up. If you don’t – if the amaretto is sweet enough for you – you can skip the sugar. But I think it needs a little sugar. Then add crushed ice, swizzle it and swizzle it until the glass gets frosty and the surface gets foamy. Then you know that it’s nicely blended, that you’ve got the proper water dilution and the proper aeration because when you swizzle it, you don’t just want to properly blend it and get the right amount of water in it, but it must be nicely chilled and nicely aerated, because that gives you that smooth texture on your tongue. And then garnish it with a bit of fresh mint and a dash of bitters.”

If you’re at the show tomorrow, let yourself be seduced by the “Masataka Swizzle”. If not, follow the master, and swizzle something yourself. You never know...

TIBS/Whisky Live 2013 Day 1: Highlights

Post by Stefan of Tokyo Whisky Hub

The first day of TIBS/Whisky Live 2013 has just drawn to a close and one thing’s for sure: it’s even better than the previous editions. The new venue is perfect – much more spacious than the Midtown or Big Sight venues – and the list of participants reads like a Who’s Who of whisky anno 2013. Nonjatta will be there tomorrow, too, so keep in mind, what follows are just the highlights of what we experienced today. There’s much more left to explore tomorrow.
Our first port of call was the indefatigable Akuto-san’s booth. He had brought 3 “concept whiskies” to the show – whiskies that will not necessarily be bottled, but that act like antennae to gauge consumer response:

- “Almost Five” (cask#2472), 2008/2013 (first cask: 1st fill barrel; second cask: 2nd fill puncheon);
- “Refill Barrel” (cask#2186), 2009/2013 (first cask: 1st fill barrel; second cask: 3rd fill barrel);
- “Refill Hogshead” (cask#705), 2010/2013

For me personally, as well as for most of the people I spoke to, the “Refill Barrel” was the clear favourite, with its beautiful notes of glazed chestnuts, milk chocolate and raisin butter. Quite extraordinary for a whisky that’s just a few years old, even by Chichibu standards. Here’s hoping enough people will drop a hint to Akuto-san for him to make this available as a single cask.

We were very happy to see our good friends of Mars distillery (Hombo Shuzo) again. The last time we were at the distillery, a few weeks ago, preparations were under way for their next releases – both vattings of 4 casks – and today we had the pleasure of trying them both. The Mars Komagatake 22yo is a vatting of two American White Oak casks (#1042 and #1039), an ex-sherry cask (#384) and a refill (ex-Scotch) cask (#481), bottled at 43% abv (750ml) and with an outturn of 1,359 bottles. It’s a really lush amalgam of crème brulée, lemon tart, calvados, Danish pastries, candied lemon peel, shortbread and butterscotch. There’s also 24yo in the works. This is a vatting of 4 ex-bourbon casks, which combined will yield a mere 120 bottles. The president, Mr Hombo, was kind enough to offer us a sneak pre-taste of this and it really is phenomenal: on the nose, ripe pears and pencil shavings, also fresh ginger, peach jelly and apricot sorbet; on the palate, ginger ale, white pepper, butter, a hint of lemongrass and much, much more… (too much to be able to take in at a busy event!). The finish is extremely long with maraschino cherries and peach liqueur leading the proceedings. Both of these are scheduled for June. The people at Mars are still thinking about how to offer the 24yo, seeing as it’s extremely limited. It’ll be a mad scramble for crumbs when this is released...

The Shinanoya booth was crowded, as always. Make sure you stop by to try the Hanyu 26yo “salon de Shimaji” for pen & Shinanoya. It’s sold out, so unless you managed to get hold of a bottle or two, this is your last chance to try this Hanyu, finished for a year and a half in an ex-Madeira cask: if you love brown sugar on toast, dates, fig logs, raisin bread and the like – and we do! – this is a dram for you. We will spotlight this release in a forthcoming post and give it the attention it deserves.

Other highlights of the show include:

- Tomatin 30 (Japan-only release, to commemorate the 300th anniversary of Kokubu)
- Talisker 35 (1977/2012)
- Glenglassaugh 45 (1967/2012) The Massandra Connection – Red Port Style Finish

Best visitor attraction is, undoubtedly, the Wild Turkey American Honey booth. Check it out at your own risk.

The mini-seminar format seems to be a big hit – we particularly enjoyed the Arran seminar – and the guest bartenders drew huge crowds, too. We’ll bring you more news from the show tomorrow and in the days to follow, so stay tuned.

Friday, April 19, 2013

TIBS / Whisky Live 2013: Day 0 – Bond#1 Private Tasting with Dave Broom

Post by Stefan of Tokyo Whisky Hub
For those lucky enough – let me rephrase that: smart enough! – to be Bond#1 members, the 2013 TIBS/Whisky Live weekend is a three-day extravaganza. The official avant-premiere (for Bond#1 members only) was held tonight at the Park Hotel in Shiodome. Our host, Dave Broom, had just flown in and was in fine form, as always. All of the Whisky Live special bottlings – Japanese as well as Scotch – and some high-end classics were available for tasting. We didn’t try everything – as Dave pointed out, that would have meant a new whisky every 5 minutes and a half – but we got round to trying all of the (Japanese) commemorative bottlings and about half of the Whisky Live original Scotch bottlings.

The Japanese quartet is phenomenal, as was to be expected. Of the four, the Yamazaki Mizunara – with its beautiful summer fruit (cherries, etc.) top notes – and the Chichibu made a strong first impression. There’s a little over 500 bottles of the Yamazaki – which is a vatting of several vintages (centered on the 1984 vintage, with an average age of 18) – and even though it’s a bit pricey, I don’t expect it to be around very long, once word gets around. On the Scottish front, the BenRiach 1985 Hogshead is well worth seeking out – just classic BenRiach – and the Peated Arran 2005 is a real delight – the peat is quite subdued but there’s a vegetal dimension to it that really works well.

The absolute star of the evening, and not just for me personally from the looks of what little was left in the bottle at the end of the party, was the Samaroli Evolution Cask-Strength for Whisky Live. It’s not just a tour-de-force in terms of composition (the label details all of the component whiskies – it’s like a liquid history of the 2nd half of the 20th century) but it’s one of those rare whiskies that is so subtle in its intensity and so intense in its subtlety. An extraordinary piece of work.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

New Tasting Rules at Liquors Hasegawa

Post by Stefan of Tokyo Whisky Hub
Liquors Hasegawa, near Tokyo station, is a liquor enthusiast’s paradise for many reasons – it’s conveniently located, the selection is fantastic, the staff very knowledgeable and you can try-before-you-buy at nominal prices. Unfortunately, Liquors Hasegawa has had to revise its tasting policy. It was not unusual for people – I hesitate to write “customers” – to drop by, sample some new whiskies, bourbons, armagnacs, calvados and what-not for a few hundred yen and then … leave. It wasn’t really ideal from the point of view of the staff – it’s not set up as a bar! – and the point of view of actual costumers – people who were actually there to purchase a bottle or two. The new rules are here (in Japanese) and my good friend Eric over at the Malty Moments blog took the trouble to translate them for us. Basically, tasting is now only possible when it is in the context of helping you decide what to purchase, with a limit of 2 samples at a time (and 5 a day, for which you’d have come back a few times on the same day, I guess). The new rules will come into effect on April 20th, the first day of Whisky Live.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

La Bento Box by Nikka

Post by Stefan of Tokyo Whisky Hub
Whisky fans based in Paris wishing to enjoy the hanami season in style now have the chance to do so with a bento that would put most lunch boxes here in Japan to shame. It’s a collaboration between the amazing chef Sakura Franck – of Japanese gourmet hub (it’s more than a restaurant!) “Sous les cerisiers” – and Nikka Whisky and it includes the following: aubergine fritters, stuffed with chicken and nuts, prepared with Nikka From the Barrel; macha soba with salmon and raisins macerated in Taketsuru 12; foie gras maki with Miyagikyo 10; and for dessert, mochi with milk-chocolate and apple cooked in Nikka Coffey Grain. It’s a seasonal thing, obviously, (available until the end of the month) so for those lucky enough to be in Paris, this is one opportunity not to be missed. Nonjatta will be spending the summer in France – exploring its calvados and whisky (yes, don’t laugh!) culture, among other things – and “Sous les cerisiers” is one of the places we’ll be checking out on our travels. And even though this “La Bento Box by Nikka” won’t be available anymore by then, we’re sure there’ll be new marvels to try.

Address: 12 Rue Stanislas, 75006 Paris
Tel.: 01 42 77 46 24

Monday, April 15, 2013

Kakubin 43% Retro Label x Bar Rockfish

Post by Stefan of Tokyo Whisky Hub
Bar Rockfish in the Ginza district of Tokyo probably doesn’t need an introduction, but just in case you haven’t heard of it… well, it’s the whisky highball mecca. They serve it in the Kansai-style – as perfected at Samboa in Osaka – which is: no ice, glass chilled (in the freezer!), whisky chilled, soda chilled and a squeeze of lemon peel. More than 90% of the orders at Rockfish are highballs of this type and “master” Kazunari Maguchi (see him at work here) is very particular about his highballs. He swears by the old, now rare 43%abv yellow-label Kakubin (the present, regular version is the 40%abv yellow-label one, which is ubiquitous here in Japan). When Suntory discontinued the 43% yellow-label type, Maguchi started scouring mom-and-pop stores all over the country to make sure he had the stocks to continue making his Rockfish highball. Now, Suntory is paying tribute to Rockfish with this special edition, featuring a retro label, bottled at 43%abv and with the old flavour profile. Word is it’s only available at Aeon group malls/supermarkets. It went on sale today, so I quickly drove to the nearest Aeon after work and was lucky enough to be able to intercept a case before the staff in the liquor section were going to put the bottles on the racks. It’s priced at 1,598 yen but it’s not clear what the outturn is, how long it will be available, and whether it is, in fact, available at Aeons nationwide. Also, you won’t find these Aeons in the big cities - they’re usually located on the outskirts and in the countryside - so this may be the perfect excuse to get in touch with your family, in-laws, ex-boy/girlfriends, old classmates, or whoever else is not enjoying the big-city life here in Japan.

TIBS/Whisky Live 2013 Preview

Post by Stefan of Tokyo Whisky Hub

With just a few days to go before the most important event on the whisky calendar in Japan kicks off, we thought it would be useful to give a quick overview of the special drams that will be available at this year’s Tokyo International BarShow / Whisky Live.

There will be four commemorative bottlings from Japanese distilleries:

- Hanyu 1990
- Chichibu 2009
- Karuizawa 2000
- Yamazaki Mizunara

The last one is a special vatting for TIBS, centred around the 1984 vintage (but including younger and older components as well), and will be priced at a little over 50,000 yen. It may be worth taking this into account when putting together your Bar Show budget.
On the Scottish front, several craft distillers are bringing special releases to the show. There will be a:

- BenRiach 1985 Hogshead
- GlenDronach 2002 Sauternes Cask
- Kilchoman 2007 Sherry Cask
- Arran 2005 Peated
- Springbank 1993 Sherry Cask

And two special offerings from independent distillers:

- a Miltonduff 1982 from Duncan Taylor (in their Peerless collection)
- a cask-strength version of Samaroli’s Evolution

This last bottling promises to be quite something: it contains malts from every region in Scotland from every decade of the second half of the 20th century, the oldest one being a 1957 Mortlach, the youngest a 1997 Linkwood. A must-try dram! (It won’t be here until early June, but you can try it at the show. You may have to make up your mind on the spot – again, be prepared.)

As if all that wasn’t enough to keep your tastebuds happy, there are more stellar whiskies available for tasting under the Premium Voucher scheme. The list is too long, so we’ll just highlight a few drams that we’ll be sure to seek out:

- Glenglassaugh 1973 for Campbeltoun Loch & Shinanoya
- Glenglassaugh 1967 Red Port Style
- Hanyu 1986 Madeira Finish “salon de SHIMAJI” for Pen & Shinanoya
- Karuizawas from the 1970, 1972 and 1984 vintages
- Glendronach 1971
- Macallan 1979 World Wonders (see our review here)
- two new single casks from Nikka (a 1988 Yoichi and 2001 Miyagikyo)
- BenRiach 1977 Sauternes Cask
- Glen Grant 1985 from Samaroli
- the Yamazaki and Hakushu 25yo
- White Bowmore 43yo
and many others at prices that you just won’t find anywhere else in the world, and that’s a fact.

One more thing, in case you’re still thirsty after all this: a little bird told us the liquor section (B1) at Isetan Shinjuku – one of our favourite whisky places in Tokyo - has managed to get their hands on a couple of bottles of the 1967 Karuizawa for Taiwan (see our review here). And they may have some of the BarShow bottlings too… Check it out and be sure to tell them how you found out!

Monday, April 8, 2013

World Wonders: Macallan 33yo

Post by Stefan of Tokyo Whisky Hub
“World Wonders” is one of three series the people at Whisk-e launched in the fall of 2012. We’ve already featured the other two – “The Oceans” and “Stellar Selection” – and today we present this exceptional specimen from the third series: a 33yo Macallan (1979) drawn from a single hogshead and bottled by Morrison & MacKay at a cask-strength of 42.3%abv. “World Wonders”, incidentally, is not self-congratulatory labeling on the part of Whisk-e. It refers to the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World and this particular bottling sports a lovely print of what the Hanging Gardens of Babylon may well have looked like.

On the nose, you get fresh melon, pear drops, pineapple fritters, overripe bananas, a bit of peach yoghurt and a slight hint of wood smoke that gains presence with time in the glass. Also, after a while, a subtle herbal dimension (thyme) reveals itself. On the palate, there’s honey-on-toast, pear tart, pommeau and a good deal of wood tannins but not excessive. The finish is medium-long on toasted coconut shavings, mild espresso and a hint of raspberry sorbet. It doesn’t need water at all. Fabulous as is.

This may not conform to your image of an “old Macallan” but that’s one of the things that makes it so interesting: it has retained a certain lightness and youthfulness but, at the same time, there’s a depth to it that only decades of gentle maturation in a cask that’s not too dominant can bring to a whisky. It comes with a steep price tag (a little over 50,000 yen) but they don’t call Macallan the “Rolls Royce” of malts for no reason. Still available at the better liquor stores and in some department stores here.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Suntory to release “Premium Kakubin”

Post by Stefan of Tokyo Whisky Hub
Whereas the 80s in Japanese whisky were all about “light” whisky, this year seems to herald a change in the opposite direction – the keyword now is “rich”. A few weeks ago, we introduced Nikka’s new “Black Nikka Rich Blend”. Now, we’re thrilled to be able to introduce a “premium” version of Suntory’s iconic “Kakubin”.

The first three months of this year, Suntory’s regular “Kakubin” sold 105% compared with last year, so the Suntory execs felt people were ready for something a bit… well, yes … “richer”. This blend is built around ex-sherry and ex-wine cask matured Yamazaki and Hakushu and it’s advertised under the slogan “手に届く贅沢” (“Te ni todoku zeitaku”, which loosely translates as “luxury within reach” or “luxury you can get your hands on”). You’ve been working long hours. Your boss is riding you - as usual. It’s late. You’re tired… and on your way home, you want something a little special to say to yourself: “well done, buddy”. And that’s where the “Premium Kakubin” comes in. (I paraphrase but that is how Suntory is marketing this.)

It’ll go on sale on May 21st and will retail for about 2,000 yen for a full-sized bottle (bottled at 43%abv). Suntory is holding a special advance-tasting at the Suntory Museum in Tokyo Midtown on May 9th from 7pm to 8:30pm. Nonjatta will be there and we’ll bring you the first tasting notes live from the event. Exciting times.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Whisky Bars in Kansai (2): Taka Bar, Osaka

Post by Stefan of Tokyo Whisky Hub
For the second instalment in our Kansai whisky bar series, we’re staying in Umeda, Osaka. Taka Bar is about a 10-minute walk from Umeda-station and the thing to look out for is a sign saying “Talk. Whisky. Brahms.” Another case of random name-dropping? Not really.

Takaba-san, the guy who runs the bar (get it? Takaba / Taka Bar – just say it a few times), was scouted by a former Suntory-executive who persuaded him to take over what used to be Suntory Old Bar, twenty-odd years ago. The opening of the revamped bar coincided with the birthday of German composer Johannes Brahms – something most people wouldn’t have been aware of but Takaba-san is the sort of guy who breathes classical music. Also here, there’s a Suntory connection: on a big screen to the left of the counter, there’s a non-stop stream of classical music – all performances from Suntory Hall in Tokyo. He’s got a whole library so if there’s something particular you want to hear, chances are he’ll have it.

Behind the bar, it’s pretty much an all-Suntory affair, too. The main attraction is the huge selection of Owner’s Casks, some of them exclusive to this bar. In fact, I don’t think there’s any other place where they have this wide a range of Owner’s Casks. Great. There’s only one “but”: they’re rather pricey. The system with the Owner’s Casks is that you pay for an 80ml measure of whisky and prices start at 7,000 yen. I understand the thinking behind it: you come in, order 80ml of cask-strength whisky, select your favourite symphony or concerto and you savour the whisky and the music. That’s one way of doing it, but I imagine most people, rather than having shiploads of the same, would prefer to have less so that they can try a variety of single casks. It is possible to get “half shots”, which are still a sizeable 35ml here, and the price is half but it remains quite expensive, to be honest. So, we do recommend this place, but only if you have a deep love for cask-strength Yamazaki/Hakushu and deep pockets … or an expense account.

Address: Sonezakishinchi 1-7-3, Kita-ku, Osaka
Tel: 06-6344-1311
Hours: 18:00- (Mon-Sat)

Monday, April 1, 2013

2 Karuizawas for Taiwan: 40yo & 45yo

Post by Stefan of Tokyo Whisky Hub
We’re continuing our ‘Karuizawa bottlings for Taiwan’ series with two single casks that were bottled at the grand old age of 40 and 45, respectively: 1972/2012 cask #8833 (55.9%, 267 bottles) and 1967/2012 cask #2725 (59.6%, 310 bottles).

The colour (dark mahogany – the 45yo with a slight ‘candy apple red’ shade) and consistency (incredibly thick, syrupy and oily) would lead you to believe they’re very similar, but with well-aged Karuizawas you’ll find that instead of smoothing out differences, time has a way of bringing out and developing individual quirks in the whiskies.

On the nose, the 40yo offers walnut bread, toasted almond flakes, marzipan, pumpkin seed scones, golden raisins, dry sherry, maraschino cherries, orange peel and subtle hints of grilled zucchini, white asparagus and rosemary focaccia. The 45yo is very different. Here we have aged balsamico, figs, old leather-bound books and old chapels, but also plum jam, prune chutney, stewed berries and a gorgeous mimolette cheese note. If you really give it time, you may even find something akin to bacon-wrapped parmesan-stuffed dates. Incredibly voluptuous.

On the palate, the 40yo is an avalanche of citrus notes: pummelos, Moro blood oranges, Satsuma mandarins… but perfectly balanced by sweeter elements (honey, propolis candy, cough syrup). The finish is long, on white pepper, cloves, then – for the first time – wood notes coming through really gently and, after a while, a hint of brandied cherries. The 45yo is more dense in terms of flavour, more concentrated: prune juice, hazelnuts, mince pies, chocolate orange peel, pine resin, liquorice and a lovely tangy ‘sudachi’ note, which – I have recently discovered – is a sort of signature note of very old Karuizawas. The finish? Well, there is no finish, it just goes on and on and on… It’s mouth-coating to the extent that it will just stay with you for hours after, which - in a case like this – is exactly what you want, believe me.

The 45yo doesn’t need any water at all, but with the 40yo, a few drops enhance the sweetness, both on the nose and the palate. They’re both exceptional malts, but the 45yo is really in a league of its own. You can spend hours with a dram of this and feel like the luckiest person on earth – no question about it. If you see this – and chances are slim because people in Taiwan love their old sherried malts – this is one bottle worth breaking the bank for.

Read more about Karuizawa Distillery here.