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

August 29, 2022



New-wave Japan

Indeed we'll try a few young Japanese whiskies and probably do that in three parts. First, a few Chichibu, then some Mars, then probably a wee batch from various Distilleries, if that's all okay with you. (Subject to change)

Chichibu 'London Edition 2021' (51.5%, OB, for The Whisky Exchange, 1859 bottles)

Chichibu 'London Edition 2021' (51.5%, OB, for The Whisky Exchange, 1859 bottles) Five stars
From seven casks, some having previously sheltered some peaters (hope those were Chichibus). This baby's only being launched now but we could try some pre-launch sample last year already, and just loved it (WF 91), but the current official launch is an excuse as good as any to quickly have another go at it. Colour: white wine. Nose: crystal-clean arrival on the nose, on lime juice and a whole plate of forty-eight small flat oysters. Right, that's a plate for two. Second arrival then with some much fatter aromas, greases, rubber, menthol and eucalyptus… With water: chalk and wool, as expected. Mouth (neat): the peat is lighter indeed but it's very present. The lemons and grapefruits are huge. With water: crystal-clean indeed, with just a little rubber, which, I think is an asset in this context. Other than that, lemons and oysters are running the show. Finish: long, on Japanese riesling and chenin, should they grow those grapes. Comments: feels as if one of the seven casks was a heavy peater. Oh and shall we have the 2022 Edition at the Whisky Show in one month?
SGP:465 - 91 points.

Chichibu 2012/2021 (55.6%, OB, for La Maison du Whisky, 65th Anniversary, first fill bourbon barrel, cask #1884, 187 bottles)

Chichibu 2012/2021 (55.6%, OB, for La Maison du Whisky, 65th Anniversary, first fill bourbon barrel, cask #1884, 187 bottles) Five stars
Colour: white wine. Nose: another very pure one, this time on fresh varnish, white peaches, pink bananas, marshmallows and a coffee-spoonful of grated coconut. Superb and luminous, extremely pure. With water: the whiffs of fresh vanilla pods we had been expecting. Mouth (neat): ultra-straight, on peach and mango jams and jellies. That's pretty it, but that's totally perfect. With water: a sin. Toffee apples (we call them love apples in France, which would be appropriate in this context) and drops of limoncello plus rhubarb wine. Rhubarb wine can be superb and the distracted drinker may sometimes believe it's proper 'grape wine'. Finish: medium, ultra-clean, with added touches of citrusy hops and light honey. Comments: an excellent example of a whisky that, in my opinion, is absolutely not complex and yet is very perfect. Chichibu at its best, once more.

SGP:651 - 91 points.

Another bourbon before we try the whackier ones…

Chichibu 2015/2021 (59.5%, OB for The Whisky Exchange, bourbon cask, cask #5262, 233 bottles)

Chichibu 2015/2021 (59.5%, OB for The Whisky Exchange, bourbon cask, cask #5262, 233 bottles) Five stars
This one just arrived. It seems that Chichibus take their time to cross seas and oceans to reach Europe. Colour: white wine. Nose: the barrel was less active this time, there are fewer bananas and no coconut at all, rather some blade-y white grapes, gooseberries, jujubes and indeed, rhubarb. Do not get me wrong, it is pretty fruity, it's just less fruity than the 2012. With water: some perfect sourdough and weissbeer expressing themselves. A wonderful brioche flavoured with orange blossom water. Mouth (neat): tight, nervous, almost acidic and pretty much all on citrus, especially grapefruits when unreduced. With water: indeed, it's really a more citrusy version of an ultra-clean fresh ex-bourbon Chichibu. Rather green bananas this time on top of the lemons and grapefruits. Finish: medium, very zesty, almost refreshing. I believe we're becoming very thirsty… Comments: same ballpark in my book, you cannot make them much better than this. As simple and essential as a flower opening up in the morning sun of a spring day.
SGP:651 - 91 points.

Good, I think we're ready for some heavy doom metal hard rock and roll whisky…

Chichibu 2014/2021 (59.5%, OB for The Whisky Exchange, IPA beer cask, cask #11049, 261 bottles)

Chichibu 2014/2021 (59.5%, OB for The Whisky Exchange, IPA beer cask, cask #11049, 261 bottles) Four stars
You're right, on the other hand, some are keeping their IPAs in whisky casks too, so why not the other way 'round. I suppose if you're a brewer who would happen to distil as well, you could recycle your woods almost eternally and just change the heads from time to time. Colour: white wine. Nose: you could call this 'bourbon +', as there are many similarities with TWE's ex-bourbon, except that the citrus rather went to eleven (Citra hops and suchlike, I suppose) while there's also some added fatness, not too sure where that should come from. It is also a little more tropical, with notes of mangos, for example. With water: gets a little bizarre. Sloe gin aged in pinewood? A pack of cinnamon mints and quite some parsley. Mouth (neat): very funny, rather with notes of genepy, chartreuse and citron liqueur, also gin and surely a lot of elderberry eau-de-vie. You can't miss that – once you've tried some, naturally. With water: swims better on the palate than on the nose, but frankly, it's left whisky territories and would rather wander in gin countries. Juniper, caraway, cloves, hops of course, Szechuan pepper… Finish: same for a rather ling time. Pretty sweet. Comments: what should we say? It was going to be tricky after the three stunning 'natural ones'. In fact, I like is as must as, for example, those crazy Säntis aged in old beer casks. Oh, or as some Japanese rice whiskies.

SGP:651 - 86 points.

Chichibu 2014/2021 (59.5%, OB for The Whisky Exchange, Chibidaru cask, cask #3508, 119 bottles)

Chichibu 2014/2021 (59.5%, OB for The Whisky Exchange, Chibidaru cask, cask #3508, 119 bottles) Four stars and a half
From a quarter cask this time, I think Chichibu have used the charming name 'Chibidaru' for all of their whiskies matured in quarter casks (which are basically half barrels, mind you, or quarters of a butt even if in other countries, a quarter is a quarter of a barrique, t's complicated). Colour: white wine. Nose: akin to the ex-bourbons, really, with perhaps a little more smoke (garden bonfire, strongly verboten since a good twenty years), granny smith, gooseberries and greengages, some green pepper, oyster shells… With water: falls in line and starts to display doughs, croissants and almond cakes. Good boy! Mouth (neat): more green smoke, while someone's thrown fennel seeds and pinecones into the fire. The oak may feel a little more too, with indeed green spices spread all over the usual citrus fruits. A little more extractive than the others. With water: water brings more spices out, curry, caraway, juniper… In all softness. Gets a little drying though. Finish: medium, with touches of tobacco and rubber when watered down. On the other hand, you can't only quaff this little beauty at 59.5%. Comments: excellent but tougher. The 'simple' ex-bourbon ones keep reigning supreme, by far, but we do understand that no distiller could only release ex-bourbon malt whiskies of their own.

SGP:561 - 88 points.

All right, let's change plans en route and do some comparisons with this little baby…

Shizuoka 3 yo 'Contact S' (55.5%, OB, bourbon 5000 bottles, 2021)

Shizuoka 3 yo 'Contact S' (55.5%, OB, bourbon 5000 bottles, 2021) Four stars
It's TWE's newer ex-bourbon Chichibu that we're having on the side here, so there is stiff competition. This wee Shizuoka is a blend of the makes from the old Karuizawa still and of that of the wood-fired one. As I understand it, but I could be wrong, this is/was for Japan only. Naturally, the name 'Contact S.' couldn't displease me. Colour: white wine. Nose: this is much more fermentary (it's also much younger), moe rustic, more estery, with some heavyish varnish and glue, wheelbarrows of chalk and clay, crushed slate and a lot of lemongrass. This is becoming Ferrari vs. Porsche at Le Mans, really (not Toyota vs. Audi, mind you!) This far, the Chichibu's a gentleman while this one's a fairground wrestler. With water: whoo-hoo, we're now almost in the same playground, as water's made this wee Shizuoka rather gentler, fruitier, easier, and yes, civilised. Mouth (neat): varnished pears and glued lawn, shall we say. Perhaps a bit tough and too varnishy when neat. With water: it may be a tad young indeed, still a bit unpolished (pastis, really?) but I think the potential is gigantic. In fact, it would need a lot of H2O before reaching oranges, pears and peaches. Finish: medium to long, a tad more on oranges. Comments: very excellent, even if some of the cask samples I could already try have been even superior. It's also true that the Chichibu was a tough partner.
SGP:562 - 87 points.

Oh let's simply go on until we run out of benzine… I mean of young Japanese whiskies…

Sakurao '1st release' (54%, OB, Japan, 12,000 bottles, 2021)

Sakurao '1st release' (54%, OB, Japan, 12,000 bottles, 2021) Four stars
We've tried a Sakurao single malt at 43% earlier this year and found it very good (WF 84), along with a properly Japanese Togouchi by the same house. The Sakurao had been just a little light at 43% vol. so it's cool to be able to try one with a higher voltage. The Distillery's located near Hiroshima and was founded in 2017, so this is obviously not very old. Colour: straw. Nose: few fruits this time, rather bread dough, porridge, perhaps Teflon, almond milk, stearin… A whole different, slightly shier style. Apples. With water: earths, roots, vegetables, stems, fruit peel, poppy seed bread… That's all very nice. Mouth (neat): many more fruits on the palate, especially maracuja and guava, also pink grapefruits, hops and Timut pepper. Rather strangely, it rather reminds me of that otherworldly Chichibu 'beer cask'. With water: very good! Great fresh fruitiness, some wee pink bananas, otherwise apples and pears, plums, lime… Finish: more of all that, with more tartness, which always works in a finish. Comments: another new young Japanese that's very impressive. Wondering what Mr Taketsuru up-there-in-the-skies is thinking about all this craft movement.
SGP:651 - 86 points.

More firsts, what do you say?

Kanosuke '1st Edition' (58%, OB, 2021)

Kanosuke '1st Edition' (58%, OB, 2021) Four stars
We're in lovely Kagoshima on Kyushu this time. Never been there but everyone says it's a lovely place, the Naples of Japan. I've actually tried a Kanosuke before, the difficult Kanosuke 2018/2020 'New Born Peated' but that doesn't count, that one wasn't even 3. As for the prices I could see, they make no sense at all, probably typos. Colour: gold. Nose: gentle cakey doughs and syrups, acacia honey, finger biscuits, sponge cake, then what always kills me instantly if not intently (in a good way, ha-ha), quince jelly. Awesome, already forgot about that 'New Born Peated'. With water: all awesome, with some fresh barley and, really, something that reminds me of Waterford in Ireland (just tried a few that I hadn't tried before). Mouth (neat): chocolate, thin mints, pear spirit, mocha, kirschwasser, nail polish remover… In truth it is a little brutal, better add water immediately. With water: yes, there, orange liqueur, citrons, quinces, apricots, a tiny touch of mentholated liquorice… Finish: rather long, pure, barley-y and fruity. Lovely fatness all along. Comments: let's say it, I love it that these new Japanese would not be obsessed with PX, STR or ex-Laphroaig wood.
SGP:651 - 87 points.

Mars 2016/2021 'Tsunuki Yakushima Ageing' (61%, OB, LMDW, first fill bourbon barrel, cask #2069)

Mars 2016/2021 'Tsunuki Yakushima Ageing' (61%, OB, LMDW, first fill bourbon barrel, cask #2069) Four stars and a half
I have to confess I never understood much about Mars's various companies, distilleries, cellars, warehouses, pot stills and cats, I prefer to spend my energy elsewhere. What I know is that they're making some stunning stuff, that is the main thing. Colour: white wine. Nose: it's the purity that's always striking in these. Barley, grist, white beer, apples and that's all – and that's pretty much, already. With water: proper beer! I cannot not think of that Pilsen Urquell that we used to quaff when we were twenty (so not too long ago). Other than that, softer 'yellow' jams and pastes, pears, quinces… Mouth (neat): a total bonbony fruit bomb when naked. Nail polish, gummi bears, marshmallows, lemon drops, banana foam, pear liqueur… With water: yes! Bread, flours, even yeasts coming out now. This is well malt whisky, not a fruit liqueur. Now careful, it does need water at 61% vol., but too much water will flatten it. I think they call this a cruel dilemma. Finish: rather long, more on bonbons, sweets, candies and fruit pastes. White chocolate in the aftertaste – no, really. Comments: an admirably engineered and plainly irresistible fruitiness. Great selection by our friends in Paris too.

SGP:641 - 88 points.

That one called for more…

Mars 2018/2022 'Tsunuki' (62%, OB, Asian Exclusive, first fill bourbon barrel, cask #570, 217 bottles)

Mars 2018/2022 'Tsunuki' (62%, OB, Asian Exclusive, first fill bourbon barrel, cask #570, 217 bottles) Four stars and a half
Always happy when 'Asian exclusives' come our way. By the way, Tsunuki is well the name of the Distillery here. Colour: straw. Nose: it seems that this one's fruitier yet, but at 62% vol., we shan't take any risks. With water: all pears on this planet, softer doughs, fresh baguette… But it's certainly not one of the most expressive Mars I've ever nosed. Mouth (neat): sweet Mary and Joseph, does this one burn your throat! With water: this time again, do not drown it, these young whiskies are actually much more fragile than you would think, as their molecules are not quite in their places yet. Well, that's my theory. Get it right (+/-50% vol. plus 15 minutes of rest) and you're in for a treat. Peach, orange and pear juices, plus honey and vanilla. Sounds a little pedestrian but it's not. Finish: bouquets aside, it's superb when properly reduced. Comments: sublime young whisky BUT you have to work on it, it is like a hard nut. A proper pipette is compulsory in this kind of context.
SGP:741 - 88 points.

Mars Komagatake 2016/2021 (60%, OB, for AF Trade and Tiffany's New York Bar, sherry hogshead, cask #3365, 265 bottles)

Mars Komagatake 2016/2021 (60%, OB, for AF Trade and Tiffany's New York Bar, sherry hogshead, cask #3365, 265 bottles) Five stars
I cannot not think of Audrey Hepburn here. This from Shinshu Distillery; I told you, it's all beyond understanding. Colour: light gold. Nose: it's a peater, and one of the most elegant and charming there ever was. Burning grass, tomato leaves (I love the heavy smell of tomato leaves, even if many people don't), black toffee, butterscotch, pipe tobacco, sticky toffee pudding… With water: we're on Islay, south shore, not too far from Kildalton Cross. It's rather amazing, you would believe A's sherried expressions (1976 anyone?) have been benchmarked with utter accuracy here. Mouth (neat): heavy, extremely extractive, with big smoke and some even bigger wooden oils and embrocations. The kind of whisky you could bring to your next sauna session. With water: they must have rebottled some young A. Joking of course, but I believe no one's ever been this close, not even neighbours L. and L. Finish: long, on tarry peat (obviously). Comments: heavy peat and heavy sherry just clash in 95% of the cases, in my lousy experience, but that's not what happened here. Insane drop, for our next Breakfast at Tiffany's.

SGP:567 - 90 points.

Good, I think we could try to find a precious and good old one from the Japanese godfathers' and then call this a tasting session.

Age Unknown (43%, OB, Yamazaki, 1994)

Age Unknown 'Keizo Saji' (43%, OB, Yamazaki, 300 bottles, 1994) Five stars
A very rare bottle signed by Suntory chairman Keizo Saji (1919-1999) who had just written his biography and who had decided to gift his entourage with this whisky, which is supposed to have been aged for an additional five years after the first batch of 'Age Unknown', which had been distilled in the early 1960, with the youngest component distilled in 1964. We've tried the earlier, 1989 expression back in 2016 and had thought it was just out of this world (WF 94). All capeesh? May we proceed? Colour: rich gold. Nose: it's always the same story. You try a flight of very young malts, you are amazed with their sheer quality and 'maturity', and you end up believing that age is just a number (especially when you're not in your thirties anymore yourself). Well well well, this is NAS but we know it was distilled in the early 1960s, and believe me it is stunning, and actually extremely close to a 50 years old (or more) armagnac. Incredible smoky honeys, peach jam, walnuts, raisins, dried rambutans, cigars, earths and hardwoods, old books, furniture polish… Sure it's rather a brandy-like old whisky, but what an utter glory on the nose!

Mouth: no way! No more old armagnac, rather some very old Springbank, really, I cannot not think of the Millennium series, probably the 50. Old tobaccos, old rums, old malts, old liqueurs, soups, bouillons, sorrel, sage, borage, other old-school herbs, heather honey, suet, fats, marrows, all raisins ever harvested by Man, ointments… Well in fact, there are flavours that have left human threshold and that you couldn't even describe using human language. So they are there, unlabelled, unidentified, and just glorious. Finish: I've once tried some extremely old off-commerce arrack in Turkey, that was produced before Atatürk (well that's what my friends told me). It was a bit like this. Comments: utter glory of the gods, up there with the very best Karuizawas or even above them, and possibly the best Japanese whisky ever produced, beyond the heavily marketed (thus a little vulgar) recent ones. Indeed, possibly the best Japanese whisky ever. Or not. Who cares. Anyhow, imagine this at 50% vol. or more, instead of 43%. Cheers Keizo Saji (and cheers Deni)!
SGP:662 - 96 points.

Keizo Saji (1919-1999) President of Suntory and the 10th richest man
in the world in 1987, according to
Forbes (I know).

(Thanks, as ever, Bert, Deni, Lars and Tim)

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








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