Saturday, 6 February 2016

Whisky Discovery #1564

Japanese Whisky has been very much in the news over the last twelve to eighteen months and we were very excited about our invitation to the UK launch of the Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2016 Edition
Whisky Discovery
We'd missed out on the previous release which made all the headlines after being crowned the world’s best whisky by Jim Murray in his 2015 Whisky Bible. A friend and fellow Bedford Whisky Club member who had bought one before the announcement now had a predicament to consider as to if or when he should open it. He actually bought two, one for his Father-in-Law who did open it, and it all went down very well! The second bottle is now in a safe place while he decides if he's going to 'cash in' or wait for a significant 'life event' to open it, but anyway, I digress....

The launch event, organised by Thrsxy was held in London's Savoy Hotel and Suntory's global brand ambassador, Mike Miyamoto, was on hand to take us through the company's philosophy and history, as well as a tasting of three core expressions before introducing us to the 2016 release. Mike Miyamoto joined Suntory in 1978 and is well qualified for the position of Global Brand Ambassador having spent time in all areas of whisky making; from running a cooperage in the USA, running distilleries with Morrison Bowmore, to the blending rooms working alongside the Master Blenders creating their 'alchemy' with both masterpieces and experiments that didn't make it to market. 

The 2013 release was a very limited edition and by the time it was announced as the world’s best whisky, it had all but sold out. The 2016 release is again a very limited edition, the UK allocation of 2,000 bottles will be available from Monday, February 1st from Selfridges, The Whisky Exchange and Harvey Nichols. Priced at a little more than twice the price of the award winning 2013 release, at £200 for a 70cl bottle, it would appear that Suntory has either decided to trade on their previous success or have made the move to reduce the incidences of 'flipping' by speculators.

The birth of Japanese Whisky
Whisky Discovery
Global Brand Ambassador Mike Miyamoto
Before the tasting began, Mike took us through a brief history of Japanese whisky that will be celebrating it's centenary in just seven years.

Shinjiro Torii 'The founding father of Japanese whisky' established the first Suntory whisky distillery, now known as the Yamazaki, the birthplace of Japanese whisky, on the outskirts of Kyoto 1923. The stills first ran in December 1924, and initially, Japanese whiskies copied the then current Scottish styles. The Suntory branded 'Shirofuda' released in 1929 did not go down to well being too smoky for the Japanese palate, but just eight years later they got it right when they released 'Kakubin'. It's smoothness and balance was a big hit in Japan. Shinjiro who had a knack for blending whisky, remained master blender up until 1960. The following year, he passed the role of president and master blender on to his adopted son Keizo Saji. The Third and current master blender, Shingo Torii took the helm in 2002, maintaining the family bond, the basic philosophy of the Suntory business.

Unlike Scotland, Japan only has a handful of distilleries, and trading between distilleries just doesn't happen. Suntory has just three distilleries, two making single malts and one making grain whisky and in order to create the range of whiskies, they have had to become a little more resourceful. Yamazaki, for example; has two types of fermenting vats; wood and stainless, 16 pot stills, with seven different types and using both direct firing and steam heated. Then for maturation, they have oak casks of various types, ex-bourbon, ex-wine, ex-sherry and of course, Japanese oak. The variety within this distillery alone allows them to be able to make a number of different whisky styles.

In 1972, Suntory opened their Grain distillery, Chita and it wasn't until 1973 that their second single malt distillery, Hakushu was established. Hakushu, located in the foothills of Mt. Kaikomagatake, is known as Japan’s Southern Alps, where cool, clear waters flow through a bountiful forest environment. Suntory launched Yamazaki as a single malt whisky in 1984, followed by Hakushu in 1994, while their blended whisky came to the market with the creation of Hibiki in 1989. With the introductions over we moved onto a short Masterclass with three current expressions, one from each of the two single malt distilleries and their blended whisky Hibiki before moving on to the reason we were all there.
Whisky Discovery

Whisky Discovery #89

Yamazaki 12 Year Old (43% abv)
Japanese Single Malt Whisky
circa £120.00 70cl
Whisky Discovery
This, a favourite of Mike Miyamoto, is now getting difficult to find, even in Japan, and it was good to revisit this delightful single malt. First discovered fairly early on in my personal journey, at The Whisky Loung London Fest in 2012, I wish I'd brought a bottle or two! The nose came across fruity with plenty of zesty grapefruit at first. Soft peach and ripe pineapple follow along with fudge and vanilla while hints of Amontillado Sherry balance the flavours with a distinct nuttiness. The palate is soft with a gentle sweetness and subtle spices.

Verdict: Fabulous! Unfortunately due to the current trend with Japanese whiskies this is very difficult to find and it's not currently available from either The Whisky Exchange or Master of Malt

Whisky Discovery #1563

Hakushu 12 Year Old (43% abv)
Japanese Single Malt Whisky
circa £75.00 70cl
Whisky Discovery
Whilst I've tried a few from the Hakushu Distillery, the 12 Year Old was a new Whisky Discovery for me. The nose comes across clean and fresh, with menthol, pine forest notes and an almost 'sanitised note' initially but with time the forest smoke starts to develop in the glass. Herbal with thyme and dried pine needles interplaying with each other. The palate is softer than the nose suggested but still reminded me of a pine forest, although a little more smokey, Lapsang Souchang sprung to mind but the spices that follow remind you that it's whisky, not tea your drinking! The smoke lasts long into the peppery drying finish

Verdict: Lovely fresh smoky Hakushu. This one is currently available at The Whisky Exchange but for how long who knows? It is out of stock at Master of Malt

Whisky Discovery #168

Hibiki 17 Year Old (43% abv)
Japanese Blended Whisky
circa £100.00 70cl
Whisky Discovery
In Japanese Hibiki means Harmony, and the Hibiki range is a blended whisky, but unlike Scotch, all of the whisky in this blend brings together the many styles of matured malt and grain whisky from the companies three distilleries. I'd forgotten just how lovely this whisky was after first coming across it at Nickolls and Perks Midlands Whisky Show. This is so easy to drink and I was able to go back for seconds of this! The nose comes across clean with a sanitised note initially, perhaps the Hakushu showing it's colours first? Creamy caramel notes follow after some turn in the glass, buttery but again with a herbal oregano note. The palate is smooth and creamy with caramelised banana. Spicy oak flavours develop towards the end

Verdict: I could drink this all night, but, unfortunately, it's not currently available from either The Whisky Exchange or Master of Malt

Whisky Discovery #1564

Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2016 (48% abv)
Japanese Single Malt Whisky
circa £200.00 70cl
Whisky Discovery
One of the oldest casks at Suntory was the Sherry Cask. As with all good whisky makers nowadays Suntory select their own oak from the forests of Northern Spain. With the wood seasoned, they work with the coopers to create their own sherry casks, shorter with more girth (puncheons) so they still hold the same capacity as a butt. Oloroso sherry is matured in these casks for three years before they are shipped to Japan for whisky maturation. The new 2016 Yamazaki Sherry Cask release has spent three years longer in oak than the 2013 release, and Mike told us that it contains some 25 Year Old Yamazaki too

So What Did I Think?
Of course, this falls into the sherry monster category, the nose is thick with liquorice, aniseed, and clove initially. Once settled the chocolate notes start to develop, and whilst there is a rich fruity raisin note, there's also a meatiness to it too, a very savoury dram.

Moving onto the palate, the quality of the balance is immediately evident with a velvet-like smoothness. My initial note written was Black Forest gateau, rich with chocolate, and dark cherry while the woody notes start to build, clove and woody cassia dominating the spices for me. As expected, it's drying, and you can almost feel it starting to suck the moisture from your mouth as the body builds! On second sip a sour cherry note was more evident, reminding me of the Chinese dried plums/cherries I used to love in the Far East, but the savouriness continues reinforcing the meatiness I noted on nosing.

Verdict: It would have been amazing to be able to try the new 2016 release against the previous release, I don't suppose there are many that will get the opportunity to do this though.

I used to be a big fan of Sherry monsters, however, some bad experiences over the years with some real woody drams, I'm a little more apprehensive with them nowadays. I must admit, this recent release from Yamazaki is something special and there's not a hint of 'struck match' sulphur. I'm fairly certain this will be another Jim Murray hit, but by the time the next release of his Bible comes out it'll be all gone! In fact, if you're umming and arh-ing like I am on whether you should get a bottle, you're probably too late as well!

Splendid stuff! Now can I really afford £200 for a bottle of this?

Slàinte! Dave

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