Japanese Whisky today. For the funnsies, let’s give it its own rating system. A+ is the best, F the worst. But before we start, let’s have an overview of the country’s distilleries.
- Chichibu: Japan’s newest distillery about two hours north west of Tokyo opened in 2008. They face a very diverse climate with hot and humid summer and extremely cold winters.
- Eigashima: Often known as ‘White Oak’ distillery, with separate still rooms for sake, shochu and whisky. Located near the hot Kobe, they are said to have an angel’s share of 7-8% a year.
- Fuji Gotemba: Lying at the foot of Mount Fuji, it is currently the world’s largest whisky distillery
- Hakushu: Known as the ‘forest distillery’. It is the highest and remotest distillery in Japan with a unique climate. Built by Suntory as a second distillery after Yamazaki.
- Karuizawa: The smallest whisky distillery in Japan was located at Miyota on the southern slopes of Mount Asama. Distilling stopped in 2000 and the distillery was closed by 2011.
- Miyagikyo: Originally named Sendei. Owned by and used in Nikka blended whisky, they operate 8 pot and 2 Coffey stills with a capacity of 2 million litres per year.
- Monde Shuzo: Founded in Isawa in 1952, they only started producing Whisky in 1967. They are actually primarily a producer of wine.
- Shinshu: Owned by Hombo, the distillery was founded in 1985 in the Japanese Alps in Nagano. Until 1992, when they stopped production, they only produced in the winter months. The resumed operations in 2012. They use imported Canadian and Scotch Whiskies, which become Japanese after their duty has been paid.
- Yamazaki: Owned by Suntory, Japan’s first whisky distillery opened in 1923. Their first manager, Masataka Takesuru, is said to be the father of Japanese Whisky and later founded Nikka. Yamazaki has the largest share of single malt in the Japanese market.
- Yoichi: Japan’s most notherly distillery and the only one located on the island of Hokkaido. They use rather peated malt.
Mars Kasei Blended Whisky (Shinshu, 40%): Blend here means that this is a mix of malt and grain Whisky, but all the Juice should come from Shinshu Komagatake. The nose is mild and simple with a mix of grain, vanille, some fruits and a herbal touch perhaps. At the palate we can find apples and other continental (winter) fruits, vanilla, some oak and spices from the cask as well as a pleasant, coconut-like sweetness. The finish is short and continues along the apple/ spices line. I guess this is a good entry into the world of Japanese Whiskies and thus a good one to start a session with. Besides that, it’s rather flat and boring. D+
Kamiki Blended Malt Whisky (various, 48%): Rumours have it that there’s some non-Japanese Whisky in this blend and that there’s a possibility that there might not be any in it at all. Nose: Oha. Jasmin petals galore. Then some green tea, cinnamon, juniper and roasted peanuts perhaps. Rather weird, but interesting. Palate: Jasmin again, and not too little. Then some non-smoky barbecue, lots of spices such as caraway, cinnamon, caraway and some juniper again. The jasmin and spice combination is indeed quite weird but that’s definitely interesting. Finish: Versailles!? I get pencial shavings and prunes. Good boy. Now it would be interesting to know what exactly goes into this. B-
Fuji Gotemba Kirin Kunpu 2018 (Fuji Gotemba, 40%): There are quite a few Japanese distilleries which I am just getting to know. The label states “Kirin Distillery” but I believe Kirin are simply the owners of Fuji Gotemba. Nose: The Whisky doesn’t want to reveal a lot. It’s a mix of the mild side of Japanese Whiskies and their spice mixes. But somehow I just cannot get into it. At best I can name caraway, juniper, hay an autumn leafs. Palate: Again some Jasmin, but not quite as nice as with the Kamiki. Extremely soft and mellow with some spices and matcha to keep things interesting. It doesn’t get too interesting though but the little we get is decent enough to enjoy it. Why shouldn’t we, right!? The finish is short, feels a bit “sparkling” (I know that doesn’t make any sense) and reminds me of cold black tea. Very average, at best. C-
White Oak Akashi (Eigashima, 46%): A single malt. Nose: Very light with plenty of continental fruits and fruit schnaps. The alcohol is rather sharp but behind that we can find banana, same sake and milk rice. The palate tells a very similar story. Sake and milk rice are obvious, before we move back to the fruit schnaps. Now also some vanilla and very vaguele also other spices. It kinda reminds me of some very immature Agricole which makes me wonder why I should not just go for the (mostly) better alternatives instead. Finish: Again rather short with vanilla, rice and and the continental fruit basket. Well, it is not a bad Whisky but a bit too neutral for my liking. D
The Yamazaki Single Malt Whisky (Yamazaki, 43%): In the nose a get a mix of sweet and sour green berries and fruits with some rather honey-esque barbecue notes in the back. Then some fresh floral scents and a hint of citrus fruits. All of this is rather promising I must say. Unfortunately the palate cannot quite keep up. It’s slightly sharp and has lost almost all of these pleasant floral and fresh notes. The texture is perfectly fine, it is just that large part of the aroma palate seems to have got lost and the taste is only a fraction of what we’ve had in the nose. The finish is medium long with the green (slightly acid) berries and some vanilla/ oak. A Whisky with ups (nose) and downs (palate). I was expecting more here. C-
Fuji Gotemba Kirin Fuji Sanroku (Fuji Gotemba, 50%): For the first time we have a very full and intense nose which actually reminds me a bit of Bourbon. I get hints of glue, caramel, citrus fruits, some vanilla perhaps and then also more dirty notes deeper in the glass. Nice! Tastewise, it is a bit of a different animal with a pronounced buttery bourbon note, spices, caramel and again the dirty notes. This now reminds me of some softer Caronis, the 01/1998 batch first and foremost. But there’s more: I further get unripe fruits (apples), some appletart with vanilla sauce and now also plenty of Indian spices and wood. It’s probably a rather young one but I don’t mind that. Finish: Quite sharp, medium long but somehow fitting the profile. It would get a better grade if it weren’t quite as sharp. Besides that, it is a good one. C+
Nikka Super ~’90s (various, 43%): The label further reads “rare old” and “guaranteed matured in wood”. Great. Besides that this is a blend of course. Nose: Once again, not as clean as we are used to by now. It does have typical Japanese aroma profile with gunpowder green tea, spices (cloves, cinnamon), jasmin, green banana and with this one also some earthy notes. At the palate we find a milder Whisky than the nose suggested, again with plantain, banana chips, gunpowder tea, five spices mix, garam masala and some wood. It’s a solid Whisky but none that would ever scream “hype” at me. The finish is medium long with some wheat and barley, green banana perhaps. C
Togouchi 9YO Blended (various, 40%): Correct me if I am wrong but this should be a blend of malt and grain Whisky from Canada and Scotland, aged in Japan. Alas no actual Japanese distillate can be found in this one! I am still not sure what to make out of that but let’s take it for what it is. Nose: Rather mild and mellow with vanilla, jasmin, white wheat, some spices (seeds!) and a slightly mineral touch. Solid, yet uninspiring. Palate: A small step down from the nose. It’s very bread-like with some jasmin, tangerine, spices such as vanilla or cinnamon and cheap, stale coffee perhaps. Then some fresh citrussy elements. Again, very average, it’s up to you what you make out if that. Finish: Rather short with oak and the citrus fruits. It’s very drinkable, but once again I don’t see the point in actually doing so. D
Fujikai Single Malt 10YO (various, 43%): I have no clue what this is, Monde Shuzo and Fuji Gotemba perhaps!? No idea! Nose: What the heck? This is weird stuff and reminds me of a dirty, extremely earthy plum wine with peanuts, rich bread, wet cardboard and again, lots of earthy notes. I’ve never had something quite like this and I probably wouldn’t have been missing out on much. Palate: Now this is getting dirty (not in the good sense). Some bad (others might say great…) Baiju, soil, plum wine, soju, ginger, cheap black tea (i.e. the most local of all local market qualities) and what not. It’s actually quite a complex one, just borderline disgusting if you ask me. Finish: Relatively long and not any better. Ginger, cheap black tea, cooold coffee, soil and plum wine. No, just no. F+
A very interesting session that broadened my horizon. I am already looking forward to a more “upscale” Japanese session. What else have we learned? Age statements seem to mean **** here.