Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Japanese Drams of Yesteryear (1): Suntory Za 40% abv


Suntory released the blended whisky "Za" to the market on September 5th, 2000. The blend was the concoction of Suntory's now chief blender Seiichi Koshimizu, and was promoted as being a "whisky made to accompany Japanese-style meals". According to Suntory the blend however never really took off and was a slight check in progress for the now renowned chief blender. There is further insight into the naming and bottle design in the original Japanese press release here.

Nose: Odd and peculiar initially with overpowering aromas of baked white fish meat. In fact it carries an association of the sea in general in a moderate way: soft dried kelp and mellow hints of brine. This subdues after a handful of minutes (luckily, as I'm not keen on the fishy note). Things change direction ceremoniously with old tatami mats, pickled onions, celery, and peeled whole potatoes - guess you could say it is quite vegetal. Best left to sit for 10-15 minutes if you can be patient (I'm sure you can) as it will take the edge of things then, lovely cedar begins to break through - Japanese cedar bathtubs.

Taste: Cedar and lots of it (again, cedar enzyme bath). Much more appealing here then the nose, and without any of the baked fish elements. Aromatic mild peppercorns with mild culinary spice, mellow dried peel (orange/grapefruit), and lavender. Interestingly subtle suggestions of lightly salted licorice. Low key bitterness.

Finish: Mild pepper on celery with a slight bitter note of grapefruit.

Comment: You'll either enjoy it or not. I must say however, it is actually half descent as a highball. There are extra flavours coming out with the help of carbonated water. I can't help but wonder if the shape, packaging, and brand name diminished this blend? Nevertheless, a good historical experience.

Monday, April 7, 2014

An Abundance of Independent Bottlers - Bar Zumon


Bar Zumon is advertised as a "Darts Bar". Sure, there is one electronic dart board in the place, but this dated piece of machinery gets overlooked on arrival. If the truth be told most people wouldn't notice it - everything but the dart board is just too overwhelming as soon as you step foot in the door. To be critical, the bar shouldn't associate itself with the game and there is good reason.

One thing you quickly learn about this bar is the emphasis on their malt selection rather then on interior. It is safe to say the bar has a no-frills service in terms of decor, but patrons are offered something much more than an exquisite layout. Bar Zumon boasts an enormous selection of whiskies with a heavy focus on Scotch independent bottlers. Literally it is "spot the official bottling", which is fair to say quite unique in any establishment. There are rare independent whiskies everywhere (hundreds), from floor to ceiling, a haven for any aficionado. Someone there has an affection for vintage bottlings and Glen Grant.

Now, it wouldn't be right if I did not mention what is available on the domestic whisky side of things. Here, it's about quality and not quantity. Again, no official bottlings (well not that I saw), and although Bar Zumon has only around three dozen bottles the selection has been carefully chosen. The line-up includes single casks from Karuizawa, Yoichi, Yamazaki, Kawasaki, Mars, and Akashi, as well as Chichibu and Hibiki special releases. Naturally, if you only want to induldge in Japanese whiskies, you can get quantity elsewhere, but if it is exploration you want then take the adventure. Good news is, if there is further interest on Japanese whisky, the bar master - Izumoto-san, will be happy to increase the current selection.

Address
Osaka-shi, Osaka Higashi-Yodogawa-ku, 4-8-26 Awaji Media Building 2F

Access
5 minute walk from Hankyu Awaji station

Map
Click here

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Laying Down Your Cards - The Jokers


The final cards of the deck are in play. The long awaited Jokers of Akuto Ichiro's "Card Series" are finally out - the last remaining cards of the whisky series that has gained cult status world wide. The patiently awaited Jokers are naturally very limited (well at least one Joker is in terms of outturn) and will be in very high demand. For quite some time there was a lot of speculation as to when the Jokers would be released and whether or not there would in fact actually be two versions of the Joker to complete the famed series (colour /black & white). Yesterday, Venture Whisky sent an email to their distributors revealing what many of you already knew - information has been circulating on the net for some time. The colour version of the Joker is a vatting of 6 vintages from 1985 through to the final Hanyu vintage of 2000 (cask types: sherry butt, puncheon, hogshead, cognac, chibidaru, maderia hogshead, and bourbon). This tasty sounding vatting has produced an outturn of 3,690 bottles and is bottled at 57.7% abv. The second Joker in black, white, and shades of grey however is a single cask with a release of 241 bottles from 1985 (cask# 1024), bottled at 54.9%, and finished in a Mizunara hogshead. Prices will naturally differ depending on the retailer but the suggested retail price for the colour Joker is 14,000 yen (excluding tax), while the single cask Joker has a recommended retail price of 36,000 yen (excluding tax). At this stage it is not clear when the Jokers will officially be sent out from Chichibu therefore, as to when they will hit the shelves all depends. Although this is extremely exciting news for fans alike, some hardcore enthusiasts of the "Card Series" have expressed both happiness and sadness, the former for obvious reasons, but its the later which has become the new topic of discussion. For many the final "Cards" mark the end of an entertaining era, an era in which some have been there from the beginning right to the end (painstakingly accumulating each and every card). While some take the news sadly others seem to embrace the final expressions (Jokers) in the series as it opens doors to new possibilities, themes perhaps (naturally depending on the small amount of casks left, and what Akuto-san plans to do with them). Wouldn't it be good to see one last injection/fix - additional releases to the "Card Series"? A release along the lines of say the "Playing Series" - Royal Flush, Full House, Black Jack etc etc. Perhaps I'm living in a fantasy world!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Hakushu Pure Malt Distillery Release 43% abv


Nose: Clean and fresh with a lovely creamy, vanilla-lime ice block in full swing. Quite big on citrus which is refreshing (lemon sherbet mingles with the lime). This malt has presence of dust (note: this bottle although sealed was not completely airtight and the cork very loose - lots of oxidization?). The lime is domineering with lovely hints of Sudachi. Past this, pine is evident - dusty (again) pine logs before allowing sweet peat smoke to surface. Earthiness (freshly dug rich soil). Then, Orange fruit tingles over time with thin strips of freshly cut Shiso leaf, and green tea and postatio meringue.

Taste: Menthol, very little natural citrus if any. Dried mint leaves and spicy lemon drops. That dust thing is present in mellow qualities, along with a moderate nutty feel.

Finish: Earthiness with a mixture of mellow menthol / mint attributes, and mild ginger.

Comment: Although I adore the citrus zing on the nose this will not go into WRU seal of approval. But I honestly think, again, it is due to the cork not being air-tight, which possibly may have played with the taste.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Karuizawa The Colours of Four Seasons 2nd Release



Distilled: Dec 1, 2000 - Bottled: Feb 1, 2013 - Aged: 12 years - Cask #: 5173 - Cask: Sherry Butt - Outturn: 185 - ABV: 64.8% - Private release (2nd): Liquors Hasegawa


Nose: Strikingly sweet with some tangy elements at intervals. Soft and restrained red licorice, tinned pineapple juice, cupcakes with lime vanilla frosting, and barley sugar. Then, my favourite, assorted Vietnamese dried fruit chips. There is a continuing presence of mild whiffs of dried, slightly dusty tree bark .

Taste: Spicy wood chips and green pineapple. Toffee is unmistakably present along with Duran fruit chips, dried lime (black lime) and a subdued ginger kick.

Finish: Moderate with subtle suggestions of green pineapple and again that dusty tree bark.

Comment: Another young, decent Karuizawa in my opinion that quite rightly tastes better in many ways opposed to some older expressions I have tasted. I quite enjoyed it not having a massive sherry kick.

Note: Although I own the bottle pictured above, this review was taken from a sample I was luckily enough, or should I say cheekily enough to have received. As I don't own too many Karuizawa this bottle is going to be kept for down the track. Thanks Brian.


For an alternate review at TJWR take a look here.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Hakushu Sherry Cask 2014 Release 48% abv


Nose: Sweet and sour. Golden syrup, sweet BBQ sauce and/or marinade, Italian violet candy, sweet pear tart, and a spot of Dr Pepper. Then, red licorice, Black Forrest cake, English breakfast tea, and raspberry chewy confectionery. A drop of water (literally) highlights the sourness (raspberry vinegar). There's also a detection of wine mustard (French Cassis de Dijon).

Palate: Spiced-red licorice, sweet and sour cranberry sauce, fino sherry, black tea. Not as sweet as the 2013 release in my opinion. Again, hints of Dr Pepper. Ginger syrup. Mellow bitter coffee with time? Although not needed, the addition of water really ramps up a mixture of dry sourness and bitterness, but in a pleasant way. 

Finish: The sweet and sour combo is still present with an additional bitterness. Port tipped cigars.

Comment: The sourness that is present from start to finish is not potent nor dominant therefore it's certainly not off putting. Again, as a personal preference I got more out of last year’s release (even though it is often said there is not a lot of change difference between releases), nevertheless this is good - I've got only half a bottle left.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Back to Basics (3): Suntory Kakubin 40% abv


Part 3 of this mini-series looks at Suntory's iconic Kakubin (square bottle) blend, which as the label suggests was launched in 1937. 

Nose: Sweet grain bread with a smidgen of honey. Mellow vanilla candy sticks (fads), and suggestions of rice pudding. Raw button mushrooms, brown paper bags, and rich buttery grain. Then, pumpkin and/or sunflower seeds. Creamed corn and/or cream cheese spread. Floor wax. A tad fruity. Water brings forth French toast and malt content.

Taste: Just as decent straight as it is as a highball, certainly not one to categorize as a "mixer" only. Vanilla, oaky malt, and smooth grain cereals. Vegetal: baked, slightly peppered squash, Relatively smooth for a "low budget" blend with toffee and Weet-Bix. Water enhances a spicy/bitter combination and cardboard qualities, which are not unpleasant.

Finish: A sprinkle of white pepper, moderate, with a slight bitter/sweet grain finish. Pink grapefruit and hints of honey.

Comment: Perhaps a good "go to blend" between malts to refresh your palate. Although it is quite enjoyable in its iconic highball form it is well worth trying it straight, something I must confess not really doing until now. In a critical sense it is not extremely exciting but nor is it unpleasant, it is actually not that bad if the truth be told. It gives the Premium Kakubin a run for its money.

Part 1 and 2 can be seen here and here.