Saturday, June 29, 2013

Karuizawa Geisha 1976 for Taiwan

Post by Stefan Van Eycken, Tokyo

Busy times at Nonjatta HQ, with loads of exciting things in the pipeline, but until we can tell you more about some of those, we thought we’d review an old, forgotten geisha. We’re talking about the series of Karuizawa bottlings for Taiwan, of course. This one is a 1976 butt bottled a few years ago (2010).

There aren’t too many Karuizawas from this vintage. In fact, we only know of one other bottling, the famous Hagoromo Noh bottling (#6719). Karuizawa completists may be tempted to point out there is a third 1976-bottling – true, but it’s from the same cask as the Geisha, bottled the same year (for Whisky Live Paris 2010) and at exactly the same strength but with a different label (the classic “Vintage” label, 60 bottles). Anyway, let’s not split hairs here…
Karuizawa 1976 / 2010, for Taiwan #7818, 63.6%abv, 554 bottles

OK, we won’t beat around the bush. The nose is phenomenal – so complex, lush and decadent (in the good sense of the word!), you could happily spend an entire evening with this, just nosing it. There’s walnut bread, prune juice, cigar boxes, balsamic-glazed lamb chops, peach compote, stewed berries and dried dates but also pear pie, honey roasted pecans and almonds, bales of dried hay, old leather bound books, far Breton, burdock soup and crushed pink peppercorns. There’s loads more but we’ll keep that for another evening.

On the palate, you get hints of bramble jam and dried dates enveloped by under-ripe grapefruit, yuzu peel, a bit of sudachi and a hint of royal jelly. It’s a tad oaky, to be honest, and not as enticing as the nose but if you add a few drops of water, things really change and remarkably so. Water – just a little bit, really – pushes sweeter elements to the fore (pureed berries, soft fruit candy, mango chutney, tinned pears), balancing the tart and bitter notes that dominate the liquid when tasted neat. Now it’s almost on a par with the nose.

The finish is very long and intense – on dates, dark chocolate and Guillermo (espresso with lime, a Nonjatta staple in the summer) – and the really nice thing about it is that, towards the end of its decrescendo, a lovely, subtle wisp of wood smoke emerges. What a beautiful send off…

Read more about Karuizawa Distillery here.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

2 New “World Wonders”: Bowmore 1996 & Bruichladdich 1992

Post by Stefan Van Eycken, Tokyo

The two latest releases in Whisk-e’s “World Wonders” series are out today. This time, they selected a 16yo Bowmore and a 20yo Bruichladdich, both drawn from a single hogshead and sourced from Morrison & Mackay. The artwork features two Ancient World Wonders that were located in what is now Turkey: the Temple of Diana (Artemis) at Ephesus and the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus respectively.
We’ll start with the Bruichladdich (1992/2013, #2182, 49.6%abv, 173btls). It’s very light on the nose – pineapple cream cheese, syrup, lemon tart, apple sorbet and a slight ‘metallic’ note in the background. On the palate, it’s equally light – this time, you get caramel-pear bavarois, milk chocolate and apple cider. It responds well to water: on the nose, water emphasizes fresh orchard fruit notes and on the palate, it throws some persimmons into the mix. Overall, it’s got a nice, creamy mouthfeel. The finish is medium-short on underripe mango, tiramisu and chocolate-coated Acai berries.

Moving on to the Bowmore (1996/2013, #1835, 52.6%abv, 287btls). Right off the bat, it’s clear this is something very special. The balance between smoke, brine, cereal elements and fruit is just … well, perfect. There’s beach sand, shortbread, chinsuko cookies, gentle wood smoke, a hint of grilled sardines and a suggestion of passion fruit and underripe mango. The palate is really concentrated and beautifully harmonized – pretty much as per the nose but with some allspice and a touch of candied ginger added. The finish is medium-long on smoked daikon, the aftertaste of a tropical fruit cocktail and some flor de sal crystals on your lips. Water breaks the spell a bit so I wouldn’t bother – it’s perfect the way it is, really. What can I say? It’s a phenomenal Bowmore, with all the lovely aromas and flavours that you associate with top-notch Bowmore in its mid-teens, but beautifully synthesized. Nothing sticks out, yet it’s packed with flavour, and everything’s in the right place and in the right measure. There have been a few really superb independent Bowmores from the same year recently. Coincidence? I don’t know… We’ll see. In the meantime, this is one to treasure.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Nagano Outdoor Whisky Festival 2013

Post by Stefan Van Eycken, Tokyo
Tickets are on sale for a very special whisky event – now in its third edition – held in the green pastures of Nagawacho in Nagano-prefecture. Whereas the previous editions were one-day events, this year’s “Outdoor Whisky Festival” has been turned into a two-day extravaganza (21-22 September).

Mamoru Tsuchiya, head honcho of the Scotch Whisky Research Centre, set up the festival in 2011. At the time, Nagano was the only prefecture to boast two distilleries (Karuizawa and Mars Shinshu) so the idea was to celebrate the start of autumn in an outdoor setting located between those two distilleries: the Blanche Takayama Ski Resort. Unfortunately, Karuizawa distillery is no longer, but the festival is very much alive. About 150 whiskies are available for sampling – including some very rare bottlings for a few hundred yen extra -; there are food booths (most of them featuring local Shinshu specialties); there’s live music (two singer-songwriters and a recorder quartet this year), a barbecue, soba making, workshops and much else.

The event is ridiculously cheap (2,500 yen for the weekend; 1,000 yen for the Saturday only and 1,500 yen for the Sunday only). Check this for more information. Also, don’t forget the “Whisky Festival in Osaka”, organized by the same people, is almost upon us (July 7th, to be precise) – if you missed the Tokyo edition, this is a good chance to catch up on what’s been happening in Japan on the whisky front.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Karuizawa 31yo 1981 (66,3%, OB for The Nectar 2013, sherry butt #4333, 94 btl.)

Review by Ruben of WhiskyNotes

Karuizawa 1981 single cask #4333 has just been bottled for their Belgian distributor The Nectar. It was presented last weekend during the open doors of TastToe (one of the leading whisky shops in Belgium, owned by The Nectar). The news spread rapidly and given the low yield of just 94 bottles, I suppose the vast majority is gone by now.
Nose: very direct with loads of varnished church furniture and turpentine. Hints of wood glue. Such is the intensity that it even reminds me of chlorine at times. But don’t get me wrong, it’s big and beautiful. Mint and eucalyptus, prunes, some toasted notes. Espresso. Sandalwood.
Mouth: rather extreme again. Heavy attack on liquorice, menthol and earthy sherry. Goes on with roasted chestnuts and hints of unlit matches. High on tannins and herbal notes, the oak has given everything it possibly could. A tad brutal, water is needed here.
Finish: very long, dry and even medicinal, with bitter herbs and liters of espresso.

Now let’s water (quite a lot to be honest) and do this tasting again…
Nose: nice stewed fruits come out, raisins, blackberries and prunes. More sweetness, and a better balance with the fragrant varnished notes. Hints of kirsch and roasted nuts. Also church incense and tobacco.
Mouth: on the palate too there are more fruits, but the whole stays rather dry and rough. Quite challenging – not for beginners. I’ve had rounder and more balanced 1981’s.
Finish: more or less the same. Dry and rather tannic, still plenty of coffee.

Remember the 1981 Cocktail Series which is one of my favourite Karuizawas so far – well, this one is a very different 1981. It’s an explosive sherry bomb with most of the fruitiness buried under oak extracts. Be sure to add water though, it’s a pretty good swimmer and you will unveil a lot of the classic Karuizawa character. Bottom line is an oaky palate though. Around € 320.

Read more about Karuizawa Distillery here.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

SMWS-Japan 20th Anniversary Bottling (2): 29.133 (1993 Laphroaig) Review

Post by Stefan Van Eycken, Tokyo
Today saw the official unveiling of the 2nd release in the series of single casks exclusively bottled for the Japan branch of the SMWS to celebrate its 20th anniversary. The series features lovely “season”-themed artwork.  Earlier in the year, they released a 1986 Glenfarclas (1.167, Spring 2013). Now, just in time for the humid summer, we’re getting a 1993 Laphroaig matured for 19 years in a refill hogshead and bottled at a cask-strength of 54%abv. What a treat!

On the nose, well, there’s peat, of course, but it’s quite subdued, tamed – or rather: harmonized with the other aromas – by almost two decades in wood. It’s marked by a gentle sweetness: ginger cookies, amazake, chinsuko cookies, … and there’s also a sort of lemon tea aspect to it. Water transforms the whole experience and brings out a nice vegetal dimension (barbecued vegetables) and something akin to a drowned campfire, and in the background, hints of stewed orchard fruits (apples and peaches). The palate, neat, offers smoked mackerel (saba), shortbread, candied ginger, a hint of plum jam and a touch of white pepper. Water adds more fruit, as hinted at by the nose, and also a bit of spice cake. The finish is medium-long on smoked duck, barbecued pumpkin with flor de sal and sun-scorched bales of hay.

It’s a bit risky to put a seasonal slant on whiskies but with this one, the good folk at the Society’s Japan chapter got it absolutely right – in a sort of “summer camp by the sea” way. One thing’s for sure: it’ll definitely be a part of my summer here, sea or no sea... that is, if I can get my hands on one! The first anniversary release – all 170 bottles – sold out in less than a day, so SMWS-J members seem to be very keen on these celebratory bottlings. The Laphroaig – or more accurately, bottling 29.133 “Studying rock pools on a hot day” – will be available from July 1st, only in Japan, of course.

SMWS members in the UK can read all about the Japan chapter’s anniversary in the next edition of the “Unfiltered” magazine, so keep an eye on your mailbox the first week of July. It’s a great read. And keep an eye on Nonjatta, as always, for more coverage of the 20th anniversary of the Society in Japan and much else.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Karuizawa 28yo 1984 (59,3%, N°1 Drinks for LMdW 2012, sherry butt #7975, 445 btl.)

Review by Ruben of WhiskyNotes
Nose: sweet, malty and elegant, but not the amount of fruitiness I was hoping for. Brown cane sugar, almond biscuits, dates and fig bread. Red berries. Some gingerbread. Big hints of tobacco and leather. After a while there are whiffs of kirsch and fragrant rosewater Turkish delight. A lighter style of Karuizawa, no smoke or anything, a tad sharp but very enjoyable.
Mouth: juicy and intense, but the sherry influence seems relatively subtle. Emphatically minty and peppery with a lot of polished sandalwood. Vague fruits (apple, gooseberries, pink grapefruit). Some nuts and vanilla.
Finish: slightly shorter than expected, showing oak and fruity sweetness. Faint hints of almonds and incense.

Another nice member of the Cocktail series by LMdW. Less intense than the 1981 Cocktail series, but fresh and juicy nonetheless. Around € 275.

Read more about Karuizawa Distillery here.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Akashi 15yo konara-finish released

Post by Stefan Van Eycken, Tokyo
The konara cask that yielded the 15yo Akashi.
Eigashima has just released its oldest whisky to date, a 15 year-old. Not only that, it’s the oldest whisky they have – well, had – and it will take a long time before the stock currently maturing in their warehouse by the Akashi strait will be in its mid-teens. (We spent a couple of hours rummaging through their warehouse a few months ago, so this is not hear-say or some sort of PR stunt!)

But there’s something else that sets this release apart: it is – to our knowledge – the first whisky matured in Japanese “konara” oak. Konara (Quercus serrata) is the little brother of the famous mizunara (which is also called “oonara” – “nara” meaning “oak”, and the prefix “ko-“ and “oo-” meaning “small” and “big”, respectively). Eigashima uses konara oak to mature some of their nihonshu (at a different location, further north, on the main island of Japan) and when they decided to transfer some of their oldest stock to ex-white wine casks from their winery in Yamanashi two years and a half ago, they had enough left to fill one more cask. And so the remainder of that whisky – that had been maturing in Spanish oak ex-sherry wood for 12 years and a half – was transferred to a virgin konara cask. Last year, they released the wine-finished casks (as a 14yo, in 2 different batches). Now, finally, after 2 years and a half of further maturation in konara, their 15yo is available. It’s bottled at 58%abv, non-chill filtered and non-coloured, and will retail for around 10,000 yen (500ml). There are 795 bottles, which may like seem like a lot, but it always seems like that until you see the "sold out" sign.

The small warehouse at Eigashima.
We happened to be at the distillery last March and caught a glimpse of that lone konara cask in their small warehouse (where casks that are almost ready for bottling are transferred to from the big warehouse). It’ll be interesting to see what it contributed to the flavour profile. Stay tuned for tasting notes!

Read more about Eigashima Distillery here.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Glenglassaugh 1973 ‘Seek the Ultimate’ for Campbelltoun Loch & Shinanoya

Post by Stefan Van Eycken, Tokyo
It’s been a year since they selected it, and a few months shy of 40 years in wood before that, but when the guys at Shinanoya label a new release “Seek the Ultimate”, we can be pretty sure it’s been worth the wait. In a few days’ time, Shinanoya, together with bar Campbelltoun Loch, will release a 1973 single cask Glenglassaugh, matured for 39 years in hogshead #874 and bottled at a cask-strength of 46.3%abv. Let’s see if we can catch a glimpse of the ultimate…

On the nose, the initial impressions are brambles, cherry sauce and golden kiwifruit. Then, after a while, a strong mango note comes through – think thick mango juice – accompanied by pear drops, Weinbergpfirsich liqueur, pineapple lumps and a hint of Nutella. There’s also a bit of sour ume candy and toasted coconut in there but the mango keeps coming back in various guises, like a varied refrain: mango juice, frozen mangoes with lemon, mango sauce, dried apple-mango, mango sorbet and so on. In the background, there are light grassy notes and a hint of woodchips. It’s hard to capture in words just how phenomenal the nose is because the great thing about all those notes is that they work together in perfect harmony. The palate, neat, elaborates on the theme of the tropical fruit mélange – pineapple, coconut milk, mango again, guava – with sour (gooseberries, lime) and bitter (grapefruit peel, aromatic bitters) accents. Again, everything’s perfectly integrated, round, smooth, no rough edges… and with an incredibly creamy mouthfeel. The finish is long on chocolate-and-passionfruit bavarois and hitotsubu-no-muscat (ひとつぶのマスカット, a sort of candied grape). Water transforms the nose – brings out gummy bears, apricots, Lady Grey tea and a bit of hay – but flattens the palate and sabotages the finish. Don’t mess with this extraordinary whisky. It’s perfect just the way it is.

We’re not fans of empty hyperbole but in this case “Seek the Ultimate” pretty much nails it. Sublime whisky? No doubt about it. Expensive? Sure (47,900yen for 500ml). Worth it? Every yen. This is one of those whiskies that etches itself in your memory once you’ve tried it and reconfigures your internal whisky map. Things will never be the same again...

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Mars Iwai Tradition Wine Cask Finish

Post by Stefan Van Eycken, Tokyo
Regular readers of Nonjatta will know we’re big fans of Shinshu Mars Distillery. We regularly make the trek to Nagano prefecture – which is a joy in itself – to check out what they’re up to there, whether it’s making whisky during the winter or craft beers (at Minami Shinshu Brewery, which is located on the same premises and operated by the same staff) the rest of the year. They’re experimenting in many different ways, from trying out yeast strains used to brew their beers in whisky production to maturing their spirit in extreme climate conditions elsewhere in the country. We’ll fill you in on all the details in due time, but today, we’re happy to spotlight another area they’ve been experimenting in: finishing.

Hombo Shuzo – the company behind Mars Distillery – produces many kinds of alcoholic beverages at various places in Japan, so it’s a bit surprising it took them so long to hit on the idea of using ex-red wine casks from their Chateau Mars winery in neighbouring Yamanashi prefecture to finish their whiskies. For their first project in this field, they decided to use their blended whisky “Iwai Tradition” and finish it for over a year in ex-red wine casks. It officially went on sale today but I doubt it will be around for very long. Why? Well, (a) because it’s really good; (b) it’s priced at around 2,000 yen for a 750ml bottle (yes, that’s 15 EUR/20 USD); and (c) there are only 2,495 bottles… At the same time, they’ve also repackaged their regular “Iwai Tradition” and that’s even cheaper.

With these uncharacteristically low prices (for Japanese whisky, that is), people tend to become a bit suspicious. Rest assured: the quality is there. “Iwai Tradition” is a bit of an oddity among Japanese blends, and not everyone will take to it, but we are very fond of its quirky taste profile, which features notes of rye bread, fresh pasta and baked goods. The interesting thing with the “Wine Cask Finish” is that – while there are obvious influences from the wine casks – the secondary maturation actually seems to have enhanced those grain (not as in ‘grain whisky’, but actual grains – wheat, rye, etc) notes.

Both the regular and the wine finished “Iwai Tradition” were bottled at 40%abv but because it’s a whisky with body and weight to it, it doesn’t actually feel like it needs a higher abv. It works perfectly well at 40% abv. We’ll do a head-to-head tasting of both new “Iwai Tradition” releases, and throw in one bottled a few years ago for comparison, too. But don't wait for our notes to grab a bottle or six, because by the time we get round to putting our post up, most of it may already have been snapped up by discerning whisky drinkers here.

Read more about Hombo Mars Distillery here.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Ardbeg Day Japan

Post by Stefan Van Eycken, Tokyo
Unless you happened to be on another planet last weekend, it was hard – as a whisky enthusiast – to miss Ardbeg Day (June 1st). This year, for the first time, Ardbeg fans in Japan had a chance to celebrate their day in style as the Japanese team had organized a special party in the heart of Tokyo, at a fantastic place called IDOL in Omotesando.

Visitors were handed a personalized Ardbeg Day Passport and the idea was to participate in various peat-related shenanigans. There was a “peat DIG”, where you had to try and fill a bucket with just enough peat so that the weight of the bucket and the peat equaled the weight of an Ardbeg magnum bottle. There was also a “peat GRAB”, where you could have a go at beating the standing record of how many peat cones you could grab with one hand and transfer from a pot to a bowl, but the most interesting corner was the “peat SMOKE” greenhouse where you could experiment with adding extra peat smoke to your Ardbeg 10. Using a special peat pistol – I’m sure this would be the hit of the year (no pun intended) among peat heads if someone were to make this generally available – and a peat cone, extra smoke was “shot” into a big glass and then covered to keep the smoke in contact with the liquid. If this sounds like a gimmick, I can assure it was much more than that: it’s an extraordinary experience. In the first phase, you just get extra smoke with your whisky, which is nice enough, but after a while some strange sort of alchemy takes places as completely new aromas and flavours start to emerge from your staple Ardbeg. It’s as if the peat smoke that’s shot into the glass acts as a sort of catalyst. Truly extraordinary. If only every bottle of Ardbeg 10 came with a little peat gun and some peat cones…

After completing these 3 “tests” – and getting your passport stamped to prove it – you had a chance to go for the “Lucky Dig”, which involved rummaging around in a big bag of barley in search of the prize you were hoping to win. It sounds like a sort of “whisky theme park”, and in a way, it was, but there was loads more going on: lots of Ardbeg to try, any way you liked; phenomenal food served on peat spades (the lotus root with horseradish worked really well with Ardbeg, as did the French blue cheese they brought out towards the end); good music; a fun crowd… and, of course, Ardbog – the new limited release – which was dug up towards the end of the party and very well received. There are whisky events literally every week here in Japan, but I’ve never seen anything quite like this: the whisky equivalent of a fun fair. Another day on the calendar to block from now on.

Karuizawa 12yo 2000 (64,3%, OB for LMdW 2013, sherry butt #166)

Review by Ruben of WhiskyNotes
This is the youngest single cask Karuizawa I’ve tried (and when you think about it, it will probably remain the youngest I’ll ever try). It was distilled in 2000, the last year of production at the distillery, and bottled in 2013 for La Maison du Whisky. It was made available on the 16th of May and sold out in a few hours.
Nose: quite fruity, mainly red apples and plums. Traces of apricot. Cinnamon and vanilla. Tarte tatin indeed. Some honey. Faint herbal overtones. Nicely rounded, but also a little simple and inoffensive compared to older Karuizawa.
Mouth: sweet at first, starting on rum & raisins, quickly picking up herbal notes, mint, ginger and general heat, until it becomes dry with notes of tea and walnuts. Some winey (Port) notes as well, including tannins. Takes water well, but doesn’t really bring back the roundness of the nose.
Finish: fairly long, herbal and savoury. Still some raisins but most of the fruits are gone by now.
Mixed feelings. When you forget about the typical Karuizawa profile, then the nose is really nice. Fresh (no mushrooms or rubber), just a little simple. On the palate, it’s a tad too dry and mono-dimensional with quite some wine coming out. In the same league as the Asama expressions in my opinion. Around € 120. Sold out at LMdW but usually some of their stock goes to foreign distributors afterwards.

Read more about Karuizawa Distillery here.