Google A transitional Japanese session

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Hi, this is one of our (almost) daily tastings. Santé!

June 14, 2017


A transitional Japanese session,
from hell to heaven

The Japanese years are more or less over at WF Towers. No more exquisite and well-aged Yoichis, Hakushus, Miyagikyos or Yamazakis (there are only a few rather demotivating NASs around), while the prices for Karuizawa or Hanyu have got insane, and the very talented new cats are still a bit young (the very promising Chichibu). Oh and yes, there's Mars! Sure there are some nice blends, but those are just that, nice blends, and remember it’s legal for producers to blend in whisky from Scotland or elsewhere, which I find weird and, well, culturally quite un-Japanese. But that rather sad state of Japanese affairs won’t stop us, let’s have a few new(ish) whiskies from the land of the rising sun today, and see if the tiger has still got a few teeth…

Suntory ‘Kakushiro White Label’ (40%, OB, Japanese blended whisky, +/-2016)

Suntory ‘Kakushiro White Label’ (40%, OB, Japanese blended whisky, +/-2016) The prices for this humble thing are insane, I’ve seen most bottles at between 70€ and 100€ in Europe. Is it a Toyota for the price of a Bentley? Let’s see… And frankly, the bottle itself… Colour: pale gold. Nose: nada, niente, nichts. Well, almost. Some grains, some burnt wood, some burnt caramel, a touch of coconut, and some cold tea. Mouth: a wee bit better but frankly, while the arrival was rather okayish (yeasty fruits, bananas), the whole is soon to get drying and flat. Cardboard, old pepper, perhaps touches of cranberries. Finish: short, drying, cardboardy. Comments: a poor thing, and possibly the worst quality/price ratio in Europe. I guess, well I hope this very modest whisky is much cheaper in Japan and in the rest of Asia. Between us, I wouldn’t export this little low-shelf blend. SGP:231 - 62 points.

Togouchi ‘Kiwami’ (40%, OB, Japanese blend, +/-2016)

Togouchi ‘Kiwami’ (40%, OB, Japanese blend, +/-2016) Two stars Some NAS Japanese blend (that, according to many sources, mainly if not totally contains some whiskies from other countries and even Scotland, don’t ask), what’s to be feared? A newish one by Chugoku-jozo, packaged as if it was the Emperor’s very own blend. And priced like if it was the servants’, which is better. Half the price of the rather lowly Suntory. Colour: white wine. Good news, no caramel. Nose: it’s very young, very shy, very undemanding. Crushed barley, ink, hints of green bananas, touches of sand, a bit of tinned pineapple. Not un-nice, just extremely soft. Mouth: not bad, not bad, there is some action. Pepper, a little salt, bitter leaves and teas, vanilla, malt, popcorn, lemon. Very mild, with a thin mouth feel. Finish: short, with some green tea, perhaps, and a little lemon. Comments: this is actually pretty okay. And the very Kanji-y bottle is nice, no one will guess this is actually not Japanese whisky. SGP:331 - 70 points.

Akashi ‘Meïsei’ (40%, OB, Japanese blend, White Oak, +/-2016)

Akashi ‘Meïsei’ (40%, OB, Japanese blend, White Oak, +/-2016) This blend by sake makers Eigashima. Not sure it’s integrally Japanese, could be. By the way, the good people at White Oak are claiming that they were the first Japanese whisky distillery. Price is similar to that of the Togouchi. Colour: pale gold. Nose: in the style of the Suntory, just a little more fragrant. Oak, burnt oak, cardboard, bread. I have to say I liked White Oak’s malts much better. Well, so far. This blend is very shy. Mouth: it’s oaky and okay. Vanilla, sour apples, tinned pineapples, oak, flour, a little caramel, malt… That’s pretty all, but it’s kind of decent. Reminds me a bit of Vat69 or Passport. Finish: short, rather drying, cardboardy. Young blends never fare too well in their finishes, in my experience. Their weaker spot. Comments: probably not one to sip. What’s sure is that the Scots are doing better for half the price. SGP:341 - 65 points.

Mars Maltage ‘Cosmo’ (43%, OB, Japanese blended malt, +/-2016)

Mars Maltage ‘Cosmo’ (43%, OB, Japanese blended malt, +/-2016) Two stars and a half Much better hopes this time, although the price for this NAS blended malt is totally loco (100€ at some places!) What’s more, this is not even pure Mars/Komagate, it’s a blend with Scottish malts. That you would be allowed to call ‘Japanese whisky’ something that’s blended with whiskies from other countries, possibly in high proportions, is just mad and can’t help build customer trust, in my opinion. Now Mars is a very good signature, so… Colour: gold. Nose: ah yes, now we’re starting to talk. Good malt, apple crumble, flowers (lilies, buttercups, linden), some toasted bread and pastries, williams pears, banana juice… In the background, something slightly metallic (old kettle) that adds what we would call some dimension. Mouth: yes, it’s good, even very good. Good oranges, pepper, pink grapefruits, pomegranates, with some linseed oil and a wee chalkiness. I guess we can say ‘wee’ since there’s some Scottish whisky inside. Finish: medium, well balanced, fruity, with touches of spearmint, cedar wood, and cinnamon. Comments: probably not a good deal, but it’s some very good blend. It’s just that you can buy two bottles of age-stated Springbank for the same price. SGP:541 - 79 points.

Yes, ouch. But let’s call on somebody for help…

Hibiki 17 yo (43%, OB, Suntory, Japanese blend, +/-2016)

Hibiki 17 yo (43%, OB, Suntory, Japanese blend, +/-2016) Four stars and a half This one’s a sure bet! Well, it should be a sure bet. And let’s assume it’s fully Japanese – although if there’s some Bowmore inside, we won’t complain too loudly. Colour: gold. Nose: ah yes. Fresh fruits everywhere, both tropical and ‘western’. Mirabelles and mangos, plus some lovely touches of seaweed, orange cake, honeysuckle, elderflowers, and honeycomb. I’m finding this nose even nicer, and certainly fresher than before (circa 2005-2010) Mouth: well it does feel Scottish – not saying there is some Scottish malt inside, I have no clues and no information whatsoever on that very topic. But these pink bananas, this coastal side, these mangos, these passion fruits, these nectarines, these fresh figs… Yum yum. Finish: medium, fresh, fruity, with good structure and something plainly and totally more-ish. So, it’s dangerous. Comments: sadly, I think they discontinued this version, while a few greedy retailers that still have stocks are trying to kill the cows (that’s you an me). 300€? They have no shame. Anyway, whether it was the last lot or not, those recent Hibikis 17 were tremendous blends (up ten points within ten years!) SGP:641 - 89 points.

It seems that we’re starting to perk up, so let’s go on!...

Mars Shinshu ‘Komagate’ 2012/2016 (58.8%, OB, 60th Anniversary of La Maison du Whisky, American white oak puncheon, cask #1555)

Mars Shinshu ‘Komagate’ 2012/2016 (58.8%, OB, 60th Anniversary of La Maison du Whisky, American white oak puncheon, cask #1555) Four stars Their baby ‘revival’ had been excellent three years ago (WF 85). Colour: gold. Nose: so awesomely bubblegumy and marshmallowy! We’ve just opened a 2.5kg pack of assorted Haribos, while licking some candy floss and drinking some very young good-château white Pessac-Léognan. Believe me. With water: yay, aniseed, Thai basil, coriander… Mouth (neat): extremely fruity and bonbony. Extreme in that sense, but spectacular. Cassis, kiwis, tangerines… With water: yay again. Crème de cassis, lemon drops, fennel, aniseed, tangerines… A very lovely combination. Finish: medium, very fruity, always with this very ‘Thai’ (whatever that means) feeling as far as spices are concerned. Comments: what I really like here is that this distillery’s got its own style, and does not only rely on good oak/wine (and related tricks). And there wasn’t much vanilla, I guess they did some special charring inside the puncheons. SGP:731 - 87 points.

Have we reached serenity and harmony yet?...

Chichibu 6 yo 2010/2016 (59.7%, Blackadder, PX finish, cask #2630, 311 bottles)

Chichibu 6 yo 2010/2016 (59.7%, Blackadder, PX finish, cask #2630, 311 bottles) Four stars Blackadder are in all the right moves. Now, a PX finish, that usually scares me, let’s see… (a PX or a Port finish scare me as much as a tuned Opel/Vauxhall Astra diesel with neon lights and 20” rims). Colour: deep orange gold. Nose: bourbon. Sawdust, pencil shavings, vanilla, coconut balls, caraway, rye, and lavender syrup. Frankly, I’d have said bourbon. Excellent bourbon. No obvious Pedro that I can feel, better like that. With water: a carpenter’s workshop, a cooperage, a modern palletised warehouse… See what I mean. Now, I do enjoy the coconut + vanilla + oranges combo. Mouth (neat): totally high-impact, this is a flame-thrower. Cough, cough, I’ve known spirits at 70% vol. that were smoooother. OMG. With water: good, we tamed the beast. Rounded, creamy, sweet, bourbony, very Americanoaky (what?)… And there, perhaps, one raisin from the PX thing. And orange zests. Finish: medium, spicier. Candied ginger and curaçao. Comments: what a rollercoaster! Make sure you’ve got at least 3 bottles of water on the side. Spectacular young boosted malt from the masters at Chichibu. SGP:631 - 85 points.

While we’re at it, and this will be the end of this unlikely Japanese session…

Chichibu 2011/2016 (61.3%, OB for La Maison du Whisky, Hanyu hogshead, cask #1401, 264 bottles)

Chichibu 2011/2016 (61.3%, OB for La Maison du Whisky, Hanyu hogshead, cask #1401, 264 bottles) Five stars I know very well who’s on the label, it’s just that the name escapes me. It’s someone working at La Maison du Whisky… It will come back to me... Colour: straw. Nose: it’s a peater this time. And I’d swear we’re at Ardbeg’s. Tar, eucalyptus, smoked fish, seaweed, bicycle inner tubes, fresh almonds, rubberwood… With water: rubber up. And it’s tremendous rubber. We’re not talking sulphur, of course. Mouth (neat): splendid young peated malt, with admirable notes of smoked almonds and sharp lemons (Corsican lemons), as well as some soft brine and… hold on, Jamaican rum? It’s true that this baby’s got something of Hampden Estate. Could you get more ‘world’? With water: impeccable blade-y spirit. Salty peat smoke and ashy lemons, plus something medicinal. Tincture of iodine, perhaps. Finish: long, comety (here comes the king of stupid barbarisms), and blade-y. Salted smoked almonds and lemons. Gritty/green aftertaste. Comments: pristine young peated whisky. Plus, we found a 90-er, which hasn’t been too easy to do today. Thank you Ichiro-san, as far as contemporary whisky’s concerned, you seem to be Japan. SGP:367 - 90 points.

Phew… Not an easy session, I tell you…

More tasting notes Check the index of all Japanese I've tasted so far







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