Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Cask Adventures: A Visit to a Japanese Cooperage

Just a little over a month ago I had the opportunity to accompany another party and go behind the scenes at the Ariake Barrel cooperage in Miyazaki prefecture, Kyushu, to see first hand how artisan casks are traditionally made. Odawara-san, the grandson of the founder was kind enough to provide an up close and personal tour of the establishment that is situated 1 hour and 20 minutes away from Tachibanadori, Miyazaki city. Stay tuned for the full write up of this family-owned business and dying trade in the coming weeks.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Mercian Karuizawa 15 Year Old Original Bottle 40% abv

Nose: A touch of cream sherry, coffee essence, raspberry gummies, red apple skins, and overripe halved strawberries. Staying on the produce mild tropical fruits begin to surface - star fruit and Vietnamese dried fruit chips. However, although the aforementioned aromas are clearly detectable, overall it is quite light and perhaps a tad watery on the nose. Like many bottlings out there this would have benefited being bottled at a slightly higher strength, and it is hard to detect that this is a 15 year old whisky (containing other parcels of Karuizawa up to 31 years of age). With oxidization, in my opinion, it becomes much bolder. This is where things begin to happen…raspberry vinegar dressing, Redskins lollies (raspberry-flavoured chewy confectionary), and honey powder.

Taste: As with the nose it could be said that the mouth feel is equally light. Nevertheless enjoyable with a subtle tease of smoke, liquorice, and granola with dried strawberries. Slight hint of concentrated Ribena fruit syrup.  A touch of honey with a grassy note. Can become prickly on the tongue.

Finish: The tease of smoke and rubber continues to caress your tongue. It is slightly metallic and/or minnerally. Grassy. The finale is short coming however.

Comment: Sufficient time in the glass makes this much more rewarding – if you can be patient. I truly love the essence of this of bottle design, simple yes, but savvy. It retains the original ethical beauty of the brand - if there is such a thing. The design of the bottle above superseded the square-dimple type. Well worth the original RRP if you can still find it at that (regardless of the light aromas and palate), otherwise I struggle to understand the prices paid on the secondary market today.

If you scour the internet there are not too many reviews to be found on Mercian era Karuizawa official bottles. You have an alternate review of this 15 year old from Pierre over at Connosr. You can see notes of the 17 year old dimple-type bottling at TJWR,  Whisky Fun, and WHISKYBASE. I've seen print reviews from Dave Broom and Martine - but not a lot around really. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Whisky Shop W. Hakushu Distillery WSO-003 48% abv

Nose: Not your typical Hakushu, which makes everything that bit more interesting. Sure, it has the typical house-style aromas bamboo, and whiffs of forestry.  However, it is the cask that influences this little number – creating a whole new game. Pink marshmallows, strawberry jam, and grated coconut on a malt biscuit. Dried figs dipped in white chocolate. Cinnamon. Sour grapefruit gummies.

Taste: Winter berry spice, Cherry Ripe (grated fruit cherries and coconut, chocolate). Cranberry sauce, oloroso sherry elements, pepper, bamboo, and greenery.

Finish: Moderate and prickly with pepper, cinnamon, and sour grapefruit gummies.

Comment: Red wine barrel maturation or finish? The WSO-003 had an outurn of 1500 bottles.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Whisky Shop W. Single Grain Chita Distillery WSO-004 48% abv

Nose: Clean and subtle. Elegant sweetness consisting of puff wheat cereal with warm milk and a sprinkle of brown sugar. Honey lemon slices, vanilla, and white chocolate. As expected there’s a lovely floral graininess. From here a mixture of assorted sweet savoury aromas - creamed corn, mashed pumpkin and sweet potato, and a distinctive but low key sourwood waft. Shea butter? Adding a few drops of water creates herbal notes and mandarin. 

Taste: Velvety, refined, and mouth-watering. Melons, mild pepper and light oak. Sweet potato butter spread. Whole grain honey puffs cereal. Popcorn. Some mild creamy nuttiness – almond butter. Then, it tends to become variable with dryness. Sour -  light fruity tartness. Sweet vinegar. With time the nose reminds me of Irish Poitin - sugar beet distilled spirits. Wood sap. It's quite neutral with water in my opinion.

Finish: Moderate to long lingering. Refreshing bitter-sweet element. Grassy and dry. Sugar beet. Light oak and pepper. Baked grapefruit peel. 

Comment: I’m a sucker for single grain whiskies, especially on the home front, and like most domestic grain whiskies this one ticks all the right boxes.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Hakushu Single Cask 2000 for Whisky Shop W. 4th Anniversary

Bottled: 2014 - Cask type: Hogshead - Wood type: White Oak - Cask No: EL41108 - ABV: 60% - Outturn: 600 bottles

Nose: On natural sweetness mild dried pear and apple, green banana, honeydew melon, and hard unripe pineapple. Vanilla cream. On artificial sweetness a mix of soft banana shaped and milk flavoured confectionery. Then, white chocolate. Waves of woody aromas and fresh tatami mats. Wholegrain wheat cereal with a sprinkle of brown sugar. With water mild apple pie, banana custard, followed by some soapiness, green tea, green bamboo and herbal suggestions. 

Taste: Mild notes of soft fresh licorice. Ground ginger and roasted grapefruit peel. Then, a herbal presence consisting of parsley along with Sansho. Rice straw. Both sour and bitter compounds. Biscuits. Diluting this is well worth it,  creamy, the Sansho remains but the sourness and bitterness mellows out while adding a tropical fruit purée element. 

Finish: Mild bitterness and wheat biscuits. Walnuts. 

Comment: As most of you know, when it comes to Suntory's stable I favour Hakushu more so than Yamazaki, and not just single casks but standard bottlings, with the exception of any fully matured sherry Yamazaki expression. This Hakushu single cask confirms my preference however straight up, I preferred the 6th original store bottling single malt Hakushu (006) from Whisky Shop W over this. 

Friday, January 23, 2015

Mars Komagatake Sherry & American White Oak 2011 Aged 3 Years

Outturn: 5200 bottles - Cask strength - 57% - Bottled: 2014

Nose: An abundance of sweet aromas projecting strawberries & cream (soft chewy flavoured jellies), toffee apple, pink marshmallows, coffee and vanilla essence, sultanas, guava, chocolate and toffee coated coffee beans (mainly on opening), and for good measure Cobbers lollies (chewy caramel coated in chocolate). This is lovely stuff, among the sweetness there is a cheeky tease of peat smoke – it is evidently there. A hint of sourness. With a dash of water mango puree, sweet buttered popcorn, and strawberry mouse become present. Brown creaming soda with time in the glass. Very busy for such a young whisky. 

Taste: Thick and mildly creamy. Nutty (beer nuts) with cinnamon banana slice, coffee beans, hints of port cigar leaf, and moderately spiced mocha. Ground allspice berries, and a sprinkle of pink pepper. Malty and woody. Water accentuates that  peat smoke, which in my opinion is much more evident on the palate. 

Finish: Long with spicy caramel popcorn, pepper and peat. This becomes a little dry and the nuttiness becomes evident when cut with water.

Comment: Cask combination works a treat on this 3yo. In my opinion another fine specimen of a very young Japanese whisky. I quite enjoyed this second release from the 'new era'.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Ichiro's Malt Chichibu Chibidaru 2014 Release

Distilled: 2010 - Bottled: 2014 - Outturn: 6200 bottles - ABV: 53.3%

Nose: On the very first dram a small alcohol bite is present but dwindles from there on to reveal, in every other following glass, moderate sweetness - butterscotch (a consistency in the 2013 release and Shinanoya’s private cask), Scolten cookies, and sugar coated Weet-Bix in warm milk, banana custard, and caramel sauce. Over a short time there is that lovely presence of eggnog and tropical fruits. A sweet and sour combo emerges from here (sweet and sour pork sauce). Then, moving on from this side other aromas such as flowery hops, oak, and an intertwining mixture of malt, grist, chaff, and an oat (perhaps getting back to Weet-Bix) element enter the game. Walnuts and grapefruit peel present a hint of bitterness. Then, things completely shift resembling a good Mescal and a touch of lemon lozenges’.

Taste: Initially a big burst of prickly wood spice and a combination of cardamom and endless nutmeg. There's a lovely touch of peppermint that caresses your tongue. Some mellow bitterness - walnuts and grapefruit peel. Lingering oak. Vegetal. Quite woody and thick with roasted flavours - tea leaves? Water lures the sweetness to the game but not as moderate compared to the nose.

Finish: Moderate to long while retaining most of the characteristics from the palate - wood spice, oak, nutmeg and a slight bitter note on the last leg. Again, a touch of roasted tea leaves.

Comment: Interestingly this works well paired with Kamoboko dipped in soy-sauce and freshly grated ginger.