Google Japanese blends of uncertain origins

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

October 9, 2019


Japanese blends of uncertain origins

Unless there’s ‘distilled in japan’ clearly mentioned on the labels or back labels, and unless the composition is stated on some official sources (brand’s website, leaflet, brochure…) we have no other choices than assume that these blends are actually vattings of various origins. The words blended in, or bottled in, or selected in, or produce of Japan are just there for decoration (and, well, doubling the prices). Blackbird pâté for the price of thrush, as we say in France. Now, let's also remember that transparency and quality are two completely different issues.

Godo Shusei Kuzue (40%, OB, blend, +/-2018)

Godo Shusei Kuzue (40%, OB, blend, +/-2018) Three stars
A very intriguing bottle, said to be buckwheat whisky from Godo Shusei, but why would they write ‘blend’ then?  What’s more, buckwheat is not a cereal, so it’s also debatable whether this could be whisky indeed or not, but this is a domestic bottling, while the Japanese are being very liberal with these issues. Anyway, let’s try this in good faith and with an open mind! Colour: straw. Nose: I have to say I rather enjoy this, and indeed it reminds me of Eddu, a Breton whisky that’s also made with buckwheat (they have been quibbling with the EU for years, but they are great people). Notes of oriental sweetbread, orange blossom, caramel, violet syrup, vanilla fudge, and most importantly, chestnut purée. Love chestnut purée when there isn’t too much added vanilla. Mouth: goody good! It’s dryer, it’s got the traditional Japanese oakiness, a lot of brown bread, a touch of honey (chestnut honey, naturally), and various cereals, really. In the background, notes of buckwheat indeed, reminding me of those Breton galettes (buckwheat crêpes) that are so good. Finish: am I dreaming, does it not go towards sake ? Same fermentary notes. Comments: they should bottle this at 45 or 46% vol. It’s really well made and I enjoy this freshness.
SGP:451 - 82 points.

Wakatsuru ‘Junenmyo’ (40%, OB, blend, +/-2018)

Wakatsuru ‘Junenmyo’ (40%, OB, blend, +/-2018) Three stars
This intriguing baby comes from the Wakatsuru Saburomaru Distillery in Hokuriku, but it’s a blend, so we assume it’s partly, if not entirely sourced whisky. We’d love to be proven wrong! Colour: pal white wine. Nose: sooty and mildly smoky, as if there was some Caol Ila inside. Clearly coastal, fresh, clean, with just drops of sake but I may be dreaming. Also lemon juice. Mouth: indeed, a milder Islay whisky, seemingly. High malt content here. If the malt comes from Wakatsuru indeed, and only in that case, I say congrats! Finish: relatively long, with metallic touches and clearer notes of sake. Smoked sake? Comments: very good, I have to say. We really need to be able and allowed to trust Japanese whisky!
SGP:355 - 82 points.

Wakatsuru 10 yo ‘Moon Glow’ (43%, OB, blend, 2018)

Wakatsuru 10 yo ‘Moon Glow’ (43%, OB, blend, 2018) Three stars and a half
Blimey, the website says that they have been ‘solely using the malts that have been carefully selected’. What the hell does that rather circular assertion mean? How could anyone trust this? Now, they have won best blended Japanese under 12 at the World Whiskies Awards, so I suppose we’re safe. Are we not? Colour: straw. Nose: soot and metal polish at first, which I enjoy, then shoe polish and fresh earth, which I enjoy even more. This illustrates the fact that any necessary transparency has nothing to do with quality (same with the NAS issues), it’s just a matter of trust, traceability, and yeah, transparency. Mouth: indeed it’s pretty good, waxy and earthy, with good oranges, fermenting dough, and once again these touches of shoe polish. Hints of rose jelly. Finish: medium, with a little caramel and fudge, possibly from the grains. The salty peatiness is back in the aftertaste. Comments: an excellent blend, no doubt about that, but no ideas if it’s really Japanese or not. It’s a bit appalling to see some retailers trying to sell these for more than €300, though. Probably around ten times what it’s actually worth. Oh the prices of kanjis! (Although I agree there aren't many on this label).

SGP:444 - 83 points.

Kura ‘Rum Barrel Finish’ (40%, OB, Japan, pure malt, +/-2018)

Kura ‘Rum Barrel Finish’ (40%, OB, Japan, pure malt, +/-2018) Two stars and a half
In Japan, as we could find out many times, pure malt just means that malt whisky from anywhere in the world could have been used. Nothing ‘pure’. I’ll add that we had tried the regular Kura from Helios Distillery in Okinawa a while back, and had thought it was very poor. Oh but the rum here was Japanese! ;-) Colour: white wine. Nose: it’s okay this time, on yoghurt, earthy brews, vanilla, fudge, and a little coal smoke. No scandal so far and this time. Mouth: but this is rather fine! The blender here would deserve some kind of Olympic medal. Touches of agave, earth, vanilla, indeed a little white rum, geranium and violets, a hint of caraway… Finish: short but rather fresh, with touches of pink grapefruits. Comments: not quite in the same league as the previous blends, but this is absolutely not ridiculous (whatever this spirit actually is).
SGP:542 - 78 points.

Nikka Malt 100 ‘Hakata’ (43%, OB, blended malt, +/-2015?)

Nikka Malt 100 ‘Hakata’ (43%, OB, blended malt, +/-2015?) Five stars
This one’s ‘said’ to contain only Yoichi and Miyagikyo. We shall believe them. Not sure when it was produced. Colour: deep gold. Nose: hold on, this is something else! It is a pretty fantastic nose, full of golden raisins, herbs jellies and jams, eucalyptus syrup, honeydew, pollens, with a wee whiff of bicycle inner tube (by the way, congrats on the rugby, Japan), as well as properly botrytised sweet white wine (which, in turn, displays pineapple, roses, apricots, a few toasted notes etc.). Mouth: really fantastic, old style, sappy and dry at first (pine needles), then sweeter and rounder, with many raisins and honeys, as well as chamomile and honeysuckle teas. And those notes of cedarwood that we used to find in older Japanese whiskies. Finish: rather long, on Jaffa cakes, with spicier touches. Cloves, caraway, cinnamon, but quite scandalously, no umami! I’m joking… Oh and forgot to mention peat. Comments: tastes like an older expression, this is totally unmodern! Any clues, my friend? Love this one but apparently, and unless you’re ready to shell out massive amounts of Internet money, this is only available in the city of Hakata/Fukukoa. Boo!
SGP:6612 - 90 points.

We’re talking now, let’s try to find proper partners in crime…

Kirin 21 yo ‘Evermore’ (40%, OB, blend, 2005)

Kirin 21 yo ‘Evermore’ (40%, OB, blend, 2005) Four stars and a half
Said to stem from Fuji-Gotemba and to be a blended malt, but how could some blended malt come from only one distillery? It could well shelter grain as well, and possibly a ‘self’ blend. Colour: deep gold. Nose: once again, a lovely albeit softer profile, fragrant, floral, with sultanas, honey and many flowers (lime blossom springs to mind). It’s rather wonderfully ‘beehive-y’, never found a better term that would include pollen, honey, wax, pine wood, and propolis. Mouth: once again, it is a little softer than the Nikka, although both styles would be pretty similar, with all these lovely honeyed notes, mead, honeydew, pollen… It’s also close to many an old deluxe Scottish blend, like 30 or 40 years old. The ones in decanters, you know. Finish: medium but perfect, soft, honeyed, with more dried fruits and, above all, juicy raisins. Comments: my this goes down well! It’s just a little less singular, and less smoky than the fantastic Nikka.
SGP:651 - 88 points.

And now another 21. The famous…

Hibiki 21 yo ‘Limited Edition’ (43%, OB, blend, 2000 bottles, 2015)

Hibiki 21 yo ‘Limited Edition’ (43%, OB, blend, 2000 bottles, 2015) Two stars and a half
I’ve never been a huge fan of Suntory’s Hibiki 21, having always preferred the very lovely 17. But you never know, limited editions can be better (provided that’s not just a matter of shinier packaging). Colour: gold. Nose: it’s quite amazing that we would be this close to Nikka’s Hakata at first sniffs, with the same hints of latex over honeys and, perhaps in higher quantities this time, tropical fruits. Some very fragrant bananas, for example, with quite a lot of fresh rubbed mint leaves. We’re almost nosing a high-class mojito here, mind you! Mouth: the Hakata kills it, and even the Evermore does. I don’t know if that comes from the grains that have been in use, but all these bananas and roses are too much for me, and even a little cloying. Did they distil gewurztraminer? There’s also this very odd profile that’s reminiscent of 1980s Bowmore, I’m sure you see what I mean. Geranium leaves and lavender sweets. Really not sure. Finish: rather long, but a tad soapy. Comments: an odd style on the palate. I would not have another glass, as street drinkers would say. Now the nose was beautiful!
SGP:642 - 78 points.

That’s enough. See you, stay tuned…

(Thank you again, Chris!)

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