Tag Archive: Japan


Yoichi No Age Statement
Yoichi: No Age Statement (Japanese Single Malt Whisky: 43% ABV)

Visual: Pale gold.

Viscosity: Quite slow thin streaks.

Nose: Grain stores. “Quicksilver” mental imagery. Light smoke and soot. Mashed sour dark berries. Water makes coal dust and bread pudding.

Body: Honey and apricot. Smoke and dried berries. Treacle. Golden syrup. Peat. Water makes big apricots and peach over malt loaf and raisins. Brandy cream.

Finish: Smoke. Steam beer. Dried beer slices and light pepper. Honey. Malt drinks. Water brings out raisins and sultanas. Brandy cream.

Conclusion: I don’t think I will ever stopped being surprised by the quality of Japanese whisky. Not that I expect it to be bad, but after all the good ones I keep expecting the other shoe to drop and at least one turn out to be duff. This is not going to be that one. This is good. It is a comparatively cheap no age statement whisky, but tastes like it could be a respected whisky on any line up.

It is a mix of two distinct trends – a big brash sweetness emphasised by stewed apricot and syrup, against a present but restrained coal dust and smoke peat character. It is all tied together by an unusual mouthfeel – best description I can give is akin to that mouthfeel of a steam beer. Which unfortunately I also had problems describing so that doesn’t help me much here.

The result is a delightful ephemeral feel, yet with long lasting flavour – as if all the flavour evaporates to fill your mouth, transcending the base spirit. The heavier smoke notes are just accents on the main language of the sweetness, benefiting but not dominating the flavour.

Another wonderfully drinkable Japanese whisky with a lot of well defined and well integrated notes. Each element distinct, but befitting the overall package.

I am very happy with this.

Background: Ok, copy paste time … ahem … ” Ok, bias warning first: This is a part of the Whisky Calendar given to The Bath Whisky and Rum Club, part of Independent Spirit, who invited me to assist with the notes in return for uploading them to alcohol and aphorisms. Sounded a very fair deal to me. Also, due to this we each only had half of the 3cl bottle so thoughts are based on a smaller exploration than usual. On the other hand I could not say no to the chance to try so many new whiskies. Many thanks!”. Not tried Yoichi yet, but I am a big fan of Japanese whisky. Drunk while listening to more New Model Army, I have five new CDs, it will take a while to properly listen to them all.

Nikka Coffey Malt Whisky

Nikka: Coffey Malt Whisky (Japanese Malt Whisky: No Age Statement: 45% ABV)

Visual: Heavy gold.

Viscosity: General slow thin streaks with a few quick ones breaking out.

Nose: Banoffee. Coffee granules. Heather. Light but sharp lemon notes. Water really opens up with coffee cake and walnuts plus some Belgian chocolate.

Body: Smooth and lightly oily. Coffee cake. Dried apricot. Lemon notes. Water makes more coffee cake, vanilla. Cream and some lemon cream comes out along with banoffee.

Finish: Coffee cake. Soft lime juice. Belgian chocolate. Waters gives more fresh lemon sponge like notes and marmalade.

Conclusion: ok, before we go into this in any depth, I have one thing to say … I am pretty much sure that I am not being psychosomatic here. Yes this thing is called Coffe(e)y malt whisky, so yes I am thinking about coffee, but I am sure that is not the reason I caught coffee notes in this. I had tried the Coffey Grain Whisky just before and that was fresh faced, fruity, light and utterly lacking in coffee. So, when I try this, and I swear to Hagen that it tastes seriously like coffee cake, I am fairly sure I am not fibbing.

There are still hints of the fruitiness that I saw in the grain whisky – I presume attributable to the fact they were both made in the same style coffey still. Despite that the core is very close to what I think of as a highland malt texture, but smoothed to within an inch of its life. Still slightly oily, but definitely no burn, just slick as can be – definitely leans heavily in the dessert flavours as an inspiration – Coffee cake, Belgian chocolate and vanilla notes, The is especially true with even just a little water, it isn’t that this needs smoothing – I don’t think it could be smoother -but it opens up lighter, creamier and rich flavours.

Water also helps some of the heavier and thicker fruit notes to come out – you now get bright and zinging marmalade amongst the main body. I’m actually writing than I less than I should be at this point as I am too distracted just enjoying it – Banoffee notes come out late on in the body to match their earlier show in the aroma. This is wonderfully smooth, rich and complex with lovely contrast of fruit notes to coffee sponge cake.

A wonderful experience from a wonderful whisky experiment. Now the big question. This isn’t really grain, it aint single malt due to the still type. It is excellent, but what the hell is it?

Background: Ok, this is a pure malt whisky made in Coffey column stills. AKA grain whisky stills. So, technically not a single malt whisky, but neither exactly grain. Anyway, I tried this at Bristol Whisky Show 2015 and liked it so much I grabbed a bottle to take back. So, completely unbiased notes today. Drunk whilst continuing the 8 bit music kick with some Andrey Avkhimovich.

Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt

Nikka: Taketsuru: Pure Malt (Japan Blended Malt: No Age Statement: 43% ABV)

Visual: Bronzed gold.

Viscosity: Thin fast streaks.

Nose: Gingerbread. Alcohol burn. Sultanas and perfume. Rose wine. Dried blueberries. Shortbread. Water brings out almond notes.

Body: Smooth. Honey. Warming. Caramel. Lime cordial. Drier base. Water adds a treacle touch and sweet orange.

Finish: Subtle liquorice. Honey. Slight alcohol. Malt drinks. Lime cordial. Rice crackers. Waters adds treacle notes.

Conclusion: Ok, first note: I am not going to go into the whole “no age statement controversy” thing here. I can’t be arsed really.

Note 2: How can something with an initially quite alcohol touched aroma be so smooth on the main body? For that matter how does something with such a smooth texture manage to feel so heavy after it has gone?

Note 3: I am mildly addicted to making numbered lists of notes.

Anyway, this is surprisingly heavy for a vatted malt – and with more rough edges than I would expect for the style (Maybe it is due to the lack of age st…ok,ok, just kidding). Now, this is an interesting thing for me, as I appreciate the smooth character of vatted malt, but one reason I oft go with single malt is the intriguing rough edges you can get. At the front it hits all smooth caramel and delivered as I would expect from a vatted malt – the back is where it hits heavier with treacle than that general, well, whisky feel. That kind of middle of the road Highland malt sweetness, with a touch more alcohol feel than is good for it.

So how well does it work? Ok, but not much more – I like rough edges, but despite being interesting, these rough edges don’t bring the charm – they are more the rough edges of a standard whisky. The front of this is nice, but nowhere near, say artists blend.

I blame the lack of age st…ok that joke got old quick.

It is ok, but you can get far better for your money.

Background: So, this is a no age statement whisky. Apparently there is a bit of controversy about non age statement whisky. I say apparently as I managed to mostly miss the blazing firestorm of discussion that has been the internet for years now. Meh. I have opinions on the whole thing, but frankly it has been beaten to death by now. This was drunk while listening to some 8 Bit Zoo by Snooglebum! Which may ruin any metal or punk cred I may have had. This had been found at Independent Spirit.

Ichiros Malt MWR

Ichiro’s: Malt MWR (Japanese Blended Malt Whisky: No Age Statement: 46% ABV)

Visual: Burnished gold.

Viscosity: Quick fast streaks.

Nose: Thick. Toffee. Husked barley. Golden syrup cakes. Vanilla. Pears and apples. Light oak. Water lightens and adds a shredded wheat grounding.

Body: Very smooth. Stewed apples and pears. Honey. Slightly fiery. Apricot. Water makes richer and smoother. Fudge. Custard, and brings out more of the existing fruits. Raspberry Pavlova.

Finish: Barley husks. Viscous sheen. Toffee. Drying. Pears. Water makes golden syrup, more pears and adds apricot.

Conclusion: Sometimes I wonder if it is psychosomatic or serendipity. This has in its main body exactly what the Bunnahabhain 25 promised in its aroma. So I go from disappointed in one, to very happy realisation of what I wanted in the other. There is stewed fruit, honey and apricot all delivered with a very smooth feel, albeit with a bit of an alcohol touch. So, what exactly is the odds of that?

Now, neat there is a bit of a sharpness to the high end of the aroma, kind of like freshly cut green fruit. It is a pity that water removes this, as it is a nice refreshing note to an otherwise quite thick whisky. However for removing that alcohol touch the water is overall a welcome addition.

The body is interesting, with all the delicate pears and apples that I would expect of, say, Hakushu but with none of the other delicate sensibilities. Instead here you get thick honey and golden syrup that basks around the whisky like a lazy lizard in the sun. It makes for a very rich, very sweet whisky that still manages to make room for the lighter elements. Even with the bit of extra fire neat you can still see those elements, and it doesn’t take much water to tamp it down.

Overall it is a massive stewed fruit mash up of a whisky. It is like an experimental punch bowl drizzled in syrup and spirit. Like a lot of Japanese whisky it feels very polished and smooth, more so because of its blended malt nature – it really has that rounded off edge style. Now for some people that level of polish can feel like a flaw, oddly enough. It can be seen as removing the interesting quirks. For me, if it is encountered too often, it can get dull, but as long as it is encountered rarely it can lead to interesting experiences like the one here. It creates a dessert wine of a whisky, one for a bit of a special occasion, it is too rich to have often, but is great to try as a well crafted one off.

Background; MWR is Mizunara Wood Reserve, or so google tells me. Google also tells me this is probably a blend of Hanyu and Chichibu whisky. Anyway, after my two hundredth whisky was a bit of a let down, but also free, I decided to go for a measure of something else – so I grabbed this. Again drunk at The Rummer hotel.

Miyagikyo

Nikka: Miyagikyo: 10 Year (Japanese Single Malt Whisky: 10 Year: 45% ABV)

Viusal: Gold.

Viscosity: Quite fat thick streaks.

Nose; Clean. Grain fields and vanilla. Husked barley. Oak. doesn’t change much with water.

Body: Vanilla custard. Sherbet lime. Some dried meat underneath. Very smooth. Smoke. Honeycomb. Stewed apricot. Oak. Even smoother with water, adds more of the custard honey, lime and oak.

Finish: Oak. Dried meat. Vanilla. Honey. Not much change with water, brings out some apricot.

Conclusion: Not a comparison I was expecting to make, but remember that grain whisky I had short while back? This reminds me somewhat of that. For once a comparison to a grain whisky is not intended as an insult. This is a very sweet and smooth whisky, and it shows the very clean nature that may be attributable to the top of the line up to date distilling processes used to produce it (As opposed to yoichi which uses much more traditional methods). As a result it does feel slightly smooth and edgeless.

Well, ok maybe not completely edgeless, just not harsh. There is a touch of smoke, and dried meat below a very smooth custard and vanilla whisky. It is very technically competent, and very balanced. You have just enough sweet stewed fruit notes before the light meat and smoke come in to balance it.

Is it odd that it seems too well balanced? I have never hidden my love of rough edges and eclectic whisky, and though impressive this polished to within an inch of its life whisky doesn’t really match my needs. It is like an overproduced album, but whisky.

Now this is very obviously a personal criticism, but for me I preferred the single grain. This has the smooth flavour down pat, but the grain had an edge in feel, and that made it better to me.

Technically I cannot fault it, but on the personal stakes something doesn’t grab me.

Background: Recently GLO did great article on the “Art Of Hibiki” event. Check it out. Anyway, with this still floating in my mind I headed over to Brewdog Bristol only to find they had on a nice wee selection of Japanese whiskys to celebrate world whisky day. Nice. So, after talking with the staff I decide on this whisky, from the newer distillery which uses the new, more technological led methods of distilling.

Real Ginger Ale

Kiuchi: Hitachino Nest: Real Ginger Ale (Japan: Spice Herb Vegetable: 8% ABV)

Visual: Dark hazy cherry red. Medium cinnamon to brown tight bubbled head.

Nose: Ginger. Cinnamon. Barley.

Body: Ginger. Toffee. Barley. Brown sugar. Cinnamon. Cherries. Brandy cream. Raisins.

Finish: Digestives. Ginger. Toffee. Raisins. Fruitcake.

Conclusion: This is indeed a ginger beer. A real one even. Despite the time it must have taken to hit these shores it still feels raw and fresh in its expression of the ginger. When you drink the beer warm that is pretty much all you get. Ginger. That’s it. It pretty much dominates.

Chilled down you get something similar to a British ESB or maybe a lighter interpretation of a Belgian dark ale backing it up; There is those cherries and raisins and other such dark fruit below the surface. So definitely another beer better chilled.

Man, I can remember back when I hated chilling beer, how times have changed.

Anyway, chilled I kind of dig this, a dark fruitcake and sweet brandy cream body under sharp ginger spice is a surprisingly good combination. Even with that it still isn’t the most complex of things, it still basically is an alcohol ginger beer, but they have used the extra abv to give it extra weight and depth. You can spend longer examining and enjoying it than with most of its ilk.

As it warms the ginger comes back to the fore, subsuming the more malty elements. Overall it wont convert a non ginger beer fan, but it is far more beer like than most and gives you a lot in trade for the increased abv.

Worth a try.

Background: I have joked for a while that the more simple the name of a Hitachino Nest beer, the more likely it is to be good. Pale ale and Amber ale were more fun for me than Ancient Nipponia. This then misses the chance to drop the word real and just call itself “Ginger Ale” for a better chance of success. The ideal Hitachino Nest would probably just be called “beer” or maybe would have a blank label. Anyway, this was a gift from my mate Matt – many thanks guv. This was drunk while listening to some “Hate In The Box”, you know, for cheery times.

Kinanshuu

Homemade Kinkanshuu: Made March 2002 (Japan: Kinkanshuu: ABV No Idea)

Visual: Apricot. Very viscous.

Nose: Lime. Thick, pungent and slightly musky. Key lime. Almond. Lemon sorbet. Bitter almond.

Body: Menthol. Apricot and almond. Very thick syrup. Candy floss. Golden syrup. Lemon.

Finish: Candy floss. Blood orange and apricot. Light lime.

Conclusion: What a difference the choice of fruit makes. From what I know this is made on the same recipe as the umeshuu, and this is still syrupy and thick; this, however has a much bigger contrast between the elements within.

There is lots of citrus lime to give a tart touch, and odder still there is a fresh menthol feel that pretty much completely changes the experience. While the sweetness here is actually probably bigger and more candy floss like than in the umeshuu, the extreme contrast between the two elements actually means that it is actually easier to drink. That fresh menthol somehow cuts it away and leaves you enticed to have more.

There is great sharp, mouth wakening elements, and when it is sweet it dances on the tongue, somehow thick and viscous yet can cut through that in a moment to deliver the fruitiness. As you can probably imagine this is a wonderful combination that makes the most of what the base can deliver.

Sweet , fruity and fresh, a drink of contrast and complexity. Very enjoyable, surpassing even the Umeshuu. When given the chance, this was the drink I returned to.

Background: I said in the Umeshuu review that I had not have much experience of that, so it would be a simpler review than normal. I have never tried kinkanshuu before, so this is your insight into my first awakening into this drink world. This again, was homemade in Japan, and brought back by my friends, who kindly let me try some of it. Many thanks to both Darren and Maki for their kindness. While made in 2002, this was drunk in 2013 – a rare treat. A quick google as we drank revealed that kinkan is apparently a type of kumquat. Who says drinking doesn’t help your education? Again, I had to use my phone camera – so apologies for the low quality photo.

Home Made Umeshuu

Home Made Umeshuuu (Plum Wine) May 2002 Edition (Japan: Umeshuu: Unknown abv)

Visual: Honeyed to apricot, and very viscous.

Nose: Marzipan. Plums. Sugar dusting and stewed apricots.

Body: Honey. Plums. Almonds. Marzipan. Very thick texture. Syrup soaked sponge.

Finish: Stewed banana and honey. Plums.

Conclusion: My first umeshuu review! Ok, there is a good chance some of you have never tried plum wine, so I may have to set the scene. Depending on the quality, these things can go from cloying level syrupy sweet and simple, to quite delicate and complex. They are often drunk with ice, and I tend to find that the cheaper they are, the more sickly they are without soda or ice. The higher quality I tend to prefer neat, and drunk by the measure.

This one is sweet and thick, but comes with sweet almond and marzipan in a delicate touch over heavy syrup sweetness. The plums are well defined, rich and full with a good character of the actual fruit, but despite that are actually a secondary note behind the marzipan. You find the fruit greeting you after the initial sweetness has worn down.

That sweetness in the front, rather than being fruity, is closer to honeyed, though not quite to the level to give the impression of mead. It wavers close to being sickly, but relies on the delicate marzipan to make it less syrupy sweet. It doesn’t make it less sweet, but gives a less cloying nature to it that makes it very easy to drink.

A surprisingly delicately touched, fruity and lovely umeshuu.

Background: So, something a bit different here. My friend came back from visiting his wifes family in Japan, and brought back some home made uneshuu with them. They offered me the chance to do a review, and in the style of Beowulf Mead, I decided to give it a shot. Made in 2002 and drunk tail end 2013, this was a treat to be offered. This is a bit of a simpler review than normal as I am nowhere near an expert on umeshuu, so can’t do my usual comparisons (not that I’m an expert on beer and whisky either, but I do my best!). I only had my phone camera with my so the photo is a tad more rubbish than usual. Many thanks for the kind chance to try this umeshuu. どうもありがとうございます

Hakushu 12 Year

Hakushu: 12 Year (Japanese Single Malt Whisky: 12 Year: 43% ABV)

Visual: Banana yellowed grain.

Viscosity: Moderate thickness and quite fast moving streaks.

Nose: Spiced pears. Apple. Light oak. Light banana. Crumble and sugar. Custard. Water adds fudge and gin.

Body: Slight alcohol. Toffee. Custard. Pears. Crumble topping and sugar. Apples. Smooth. Treacle at the back. Water removes the alcohol touch and adds a huge more amount of green fruit.

Finish: Dry. Digestives. Treacle and apple. Water turns to fudge sweetness but actually increased the alcohol feel.

Conclusion: For me this is what Hakushu should be, and what it is all about. While I enjoyed the bourbon barrel version, that expression seemed to hide a lot of the elements that make the Hakushu spirit work under the bourbon influence. Here the spirit is wide open and in full flair for your enjoyment.

It is lovely, with soft green fruit, all pears and apples and very delicately done. There is a small amount of alcohol burn neat, but that vanishes with even the barest drops of water. Furthermore there is a sweet touch, the custard and toffee mixing with crumble topping. The imagery is plain to see, combining perfectly to give a gentle fruity dessert dram.

Too much water actually hurts the whisky, delicate as it is, and too much water is a surprisingly low amount. Add the water drop by drop to take off the burn and once that is gone add no more. Any more water actually adds an alcohol air and hurts the finish.

If you don’t make that mistake then you have a lovely gentle, but full of intricate flavour, whisky. It is possibly the best expressions of green fruit in a whisky I have encountered. Admittedly, currently that is a small range, but still. I would call it one of the best of the Japanese whiskies I have tried, dessert like and distinct, it is a delight.

Background: I drank the Hakushu 12 year a while back, and it was enjoying that which led me to buy Hakushu bourbon barrel. Seeing that The Tasting Rooms had it available again I decided to get myself a measure and do a full tasting note on it this time. For some reason I can never seem to get an in focus shot of a whisky bottle while I am out an about, and never notice until I get back. Ah well.

Hakushu Bourbon

Hakushu: Bourbon Barrel (Japanese Single Malt Whisky: No age Statement: 48.2% ABV)

Visual: Yellowed gold.

Viscosity: Quite fast thick steaks.

Nose: Apples. Toffee. Strong alcohol. Dessert pastry. Pears. Grain fields. Water mutes to cooked apples.

Body: Pear drops. Lime. Strong alcohol feel rises. Apple crumble. Toffee and caramel. Oak. Water soothes the fire. Also bigger pear and sweet caramel with water, still some noticeable alcohol. More water makes smoother toffee and no fire.

Finish: Oak. Vanilla. Cream. Toffee apple. Becomes fruity with water, the pear holding out from the body now. More toffee and less oak. Salted toffee and lots of it come out with more water.

Conclusion:  Considering my prior experience with Hakushu, that of a very smooth, light and very green fruit dominated whisky, this bourbon barrel expression proved to be an interesting twist. The twelve year was very nice, and led me to try this first a few weeks back.  The first experience was of it being a bit rough and fiery. However the intervening weeks since I opened the bottle seemed to have helped, and as I sit to review the whisky it seems to be a subtly different beast.

Now, neat it still has too much damn burn, but the pear drop flavour that I associated with the twelve year comes out nicely, braced by an unsubtle toffee bourbon sweetness. The aroma is very crisp sweet dessert, very well done, but for the body you can’t take too long appreciating it neat before it becomes overpowered by the fire.

So, we quickly mover onto the water play, and unfortunately even a little bit kills the aroma, however it also helps sooth the fire and makes the toffee influence much more graceful and less brash.

Even more water added makes the fire vanish and leaves a smooth toffee front with the pear and apple now backing rather than leading the flavours. Here the whisky is more classy, though not as much as the 12 year. Though interesting it seems the pure bourbon influence is too brash for such a subtle graceful whisky.

This still has many of the lovely elements, especially the great fruitiness, but it seems the bourbon influence is not the best match. In fact, this is probably the purest I have ever seen a bourbon flavour come through in a whisky a fact that is interesting to but to the whisky’s best advantage.

So, it has a good base, especially with water. It is a bit oil and water in how the flavours mix, in that both the fruit and the bourbon are nice, but they do not mix as much as stand out as two distinct elements in the whisky.

Rough in places but the quality still shines through despite that.

Background: While I hadn’t picked up any whisky while I was in Japan, due to high prices, I am a big fan of their single malts. I recently tried their 12 year Hakushu which was very pleasant, and since I had been give a gift voucher a while back by Paul, I decided to use it at the tasting rooms to pick up a bottle of this expression, aged solely in bourbon casks. It’s a limited run expression best I know, and since Hakushu tends to have lighter fruitier flavours I was interested to see what a pure bourbon take on it would be like.

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