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

May 30, 2018


Four funny Japanese whiskies

We’re not talking about all those sourced whiskies that aren’t actually Japanese and that are sold to the amazed masses as Japanese whiskies, we’re rather talking about a few very unusual ones, some pretty old.

Nikka ‘Single Coffee Grain Woody & Mellow’ (55%, OB, Japan, Distillery Exclusive, +/-2017)

Nikka ‘Single Coffee Grain Woody & Mellow’ (55%, OB, Japan, Distillery Exclusive, +/-2017) Two stars
Well, this being woody and mellow, that may be the problem here, precisely, although Coffee stills are supposed to make fatter and deeper whiskies than modern columns. I think these grains are distilled at Miyagikyo. Colour: gold. Nose: it is, indeed, mainly about oak, but there is this very specific Japanness that can be so pleasant, between pine resins, incense and cedar, and menthol cigarettes. Other than that, it’s rather about vanilla fudge and perhaps honeydew melons. With water: at Home Depot. Mouth (neat): really very creamy, extremely oaky, you’d almost believe you’re sipping varnish with some sawdust inside. Not my thing at all, despite these wee touches of coconut that start to come out. With water: rather better, but it needs a lot of water. Green tea, pencil shavings, fudge, red bean paste (how Japanese indeed)… Finish: short, slightly sugary, rather narrow. Comments: I’m afraid I’ll never manage! Although I used to find an earlier expression nicer around eight years ago (WF 80).
SGP:530 - 75 points.

Speaking of earlier expressions…

Nikka ‘Pure Malt’ (55.1%, OB, Japan, +/-2002)

Nikka ‘Pure Malt’ (55.1%, OB, Japan, +/-2002) Four stars
While the White, Red or Black pure malts are/were sheltering Scotch whisky, I think this very one did not, it was only from Yoichi and Miyagikyo. Colour: gold. Nose: this is rather fantastic, very complex, elegant, fragrant, floral… I’m finding honeysuckle and acacia blossom, then mirabelle jam, with touches of honey and this very specific almondiness that’s sometimes to be found in older peaters, such as, say Ardbeg’s Very Old. Really complex. With water: rather perfect. Lady’s perfume, touches of small bananas, a little eucalyptus… Mouth (neat): a tad oaky and tannic for my taste, but other than that it really delivers, on Japanese pastries (beans beans beans), plus orange blossom water and gooseberries. With water: a little more citrus and small berries, blackberries for example. It does not get any oakier, good news (could have happened). Finish: medium, subtler again. Discreet vanilla plus incense and cedar wood. Comments: a very classy vatting, a little less oak-driven than some more modern offerings.
SGP:551 - 87 points.

Suntory ‘The Whisky’ (43%, OB, Japan, blend, black porcelain decanter, 76cl, +/-1980?)

Suntory ‘The Whisky’ (43%, OB, Japan, blend, black porcelain decanter, 76cl, +/-1980?) Four stars
Suntory have been using all sorts of ‘creative’ decanters in the past, perhaps even more so than what bourbon used to do in the 1960s and 1970s (you know, rockets, busts, guitars, chainsaws, trucks, Colts, horses…) Apparently, this very decanter was supposed to be Suntory’s cream of the cream, as its name suggested. I came in different colours. Colour: gold. Nose: you never quite know with old decanters, and even more so with stone/clay ones, but his one hasn’t gotten toothless, it’s got nice bananas, panettone, dried figs, notes of barley… And perhaps a little cardboard in the background. The truth will lie in the palate… Mouth: indeed, it did survive, and I’m even finding a little old-Bowmoreness (there could well be Bowmore inside, indeed). A little brine over smoked bananas and touches of leather and tobacco. It’s getting a little earthy over time, I guess you could even call it ‘clay-y’, but not sure that’s the decanter. Rather full-bodied. Finish: medium, with touches of oranges and mangos, plus drops of smoky brine. Indeed, it is Bowmore-y. Comments: I’m sure we’ll never know if there’s Bowmore inside indeed, but truth can’t be far behind. A rather perfect old blend, if not ‘The Whisky’.
SGP:553 - 87 points.

And now something really special…

Karuizawa 21 yo 1967/1988 (43%, OB, Japan, Ocean Sanroku, decanter, 496 bottles)

Karuizawa 21 yo 1967/1988 (43%, OB, Japan, Ocean Sanroku, decanter, 496 bottles) Three stars
That’s is right, some single cask Karuizawa from even before the distillery was sold to Mercian. These bottles were said to be off-commerce and rather used by Ocean as gifts to important people (business partners etc.) The values of these square decanters are reaching new heights these days, but careful, I’ve already tried a few old Karuizawas that had been very moderately… ach, good. Colour: gold. Nose: the largest box of rubber bands ever and some brand new bicycle inner tube. Once those notes have started to vanish, you’ll find rather more marzipan and perhaps wee touches of papaya and banana skins, then rather raisins and dried figs, which is much nicer, obviously. Actually, you never quite know whether those rubbery notes have disappeared or if your olfactory bulb has got used to them and started to filter them out. Mouth: not quite rubbery, rather tea-ish and gritty. Tea tannins, oranges, a wee bit of hashish, eucalyptus, then tangerines. Which, obviously, is rather nice. Finish: rather short, with a feeling of old stone teapot, but also an aftertaste that’s much more reminiscent of all those newer single casks that are so great. Comments: not sure we should even try to score these mysterious high-collectables. But dura Lex, sed Lex.
SGP:462 - 80 points.

(Thank you, Aaron, Chris and Firat!)

More tasting notesCheck the index of all Japanese whiskies we've tasted so far






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