Hanyu Ichiros Malt 15 Years

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Distillery/Brand: Hanyu | Region: Japan | ABV: 46% | Colour: Young Sauternes
Nose: 22 | Taste: 22 | Finish: 21 | Balance: 21 | Rating: 86

Review
Hanyu Distillery was founded in 1941 by Isouji Akuto, a descendant of a long line of sake producers. Located north-west of Tokyo in Saitama prefecture, Hanyu distillery was built in the city of the same name, and is surrounded by vast rice fields supplied with river Tone water.

In 1980 the distillery started the production of single malt whisky, with the purchase of two Scottish pot stills. Success, however, eluded this distillery and it stopped producing whisky in 2000 and completely dismantled in 2004.

Remaining stocks previously stored on the site, were recovered by Ichiro Akuto (grand-son of the founder of Hanyu) assisted by a sake-maker Sasanokawa Shuzo, and were kept there until 2008 when they were transferred to Chichibu, a new distillery founded by Ichiro Akuto.

The spirit inside this bottle was distilled in 1990 and bottled in 2010 after being finished off in French Oak. My sample is from a brand new bottle and served at 46%

Nose: Bourbon. Vanilla. Nuts. Chocolate. Red berries. Grapes. Hint of oak. Spices. Becomes crisp over time. Earthy with a hint of something sour. The French Oak really let’s itself be known thanks to all the spices.

Palate: Spices. Coffee swirl. Chocolate. Oak. Peaches. Earthy. Dry leaves. Dry fruits. Nuts. It threatens to become complex but then chooses not to. The oak is a bit much for me here.

Finish: Medium. Coffee. Spices. And that damn oak again.

Overall Comments: Overall I feel this is a decent little whisky even if the oak has decided to overpower proceedings. And one can overlook minor flaws when tasting a piece of history.

Rating: 86

Hakushu 18 Years

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Distillery/Brand: Suntory Hakushu | Region: Japan | ABV: 43% | Color: Pale Straw
Nose: 23 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 24 | Balance: 23 | Rating: 93

Review
Not unlike most whisky drinking enthusiasts I also have a soft spot for Japanese single malts. For no other reason than that a non-traditional country is showing giants how the good stuff is made.

Their maturation techniques and unique weather conditions have created some of my most memorable moments of whisky sipping.

Hakushu (pronounce hak-shoo) was established in 1973, in the forest on the slopes of Mount Kaikoma which would explain the inherent earthiness that most of their spirits tend to have.

As a fan of the 12 I was quite excited to have a go at the 18. There is, however, shockingly little information on what goes into the making of this fine whisky. I understand the Japanese are insanely secretive about how they do things but some information would really help.

I suspect the spirit has seen multiple casks and a blending at some stage. I can safely assume bourbon and sherry in the mix with quite possibly some Japanese oak too. And there is some peat thrown in for good measure.

My sample is from a brand new bottle (circa 2014) and served at a strength of 43%

Nose: Tobacco. Peat. Smoke. It’s quite savory. grapes. Red apple. Cumin. Coffee. Chocolate. I’m suspecting Oloroso sherry here. Husk. Citrus. Ripe oranges. Soft dates. Clove. Now I’m pretty sure it’s Oloroso. Burnt toast. It’s quite a robust nose. Very controlled and on point. I like it a lot!

Palate: Sweeter than the nose. Honey. Citrus. Cinnamon. Those apples again. Mint. Very juicy and velvety delivery. The clove is back too. I love the texture of this one. Makes you salivate as it does the rounds around the palate.

Finish: So long. Amazingly long. Oily. Clove. Cinnamon. Mint. Oak

This was quite a complex undertaking with loads of flavor. I’ve seen a lot of reviews in favor of the 12 versus this. But those could be earlier bottlings because what I had was quite top class.

Rating: 93

Nikka Coffey Malt Whisky

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Distillery/Brand: Nikka | Region: Japan | ABV: 45% | Color: Copper
Nose: 23 | Taste: 22 | Finish: 22 | Balance: 22 | Rating: 89

Review
Coffey stills also known as Continuous or Column stills were invented by French born Irishman Aeneas Coffey and are mainly used to distill grain whisky. Whisky made from malted barley is distilled in pot stills.

I could go into the rather lengthy explanation on the difference between the two but I won’t. Let’s just say that copper pot stills require two separate distillations to produce new make and must be done in batches.

Coffey stills on the other hand employ a rather unique method where the wash and the resulting alcohol vapors are run continuously through the two columns (hence, Continuous stills) to create an extremely high strength liquid (as high as 95%).

Nikka decided that it would be a good idea to run 100% malted barley through Coffey stills just to see what happens. This process is unheard of in Scotland making Japan the only place in the world where this kind of spirit is produced. There is also a Coffey Grain Whisky from Nikka to go along with this.

This is actually a rather new addition to the Nikka lineup having only been launched in January 2014.

My particular sample is a NAS bottling at 45%. There is precious little information on it’s maturation or it’s age. But if I was to hazard a guess I would peg it any where between 6-8 years in bourbon casks.

Nose: Bourbon like. Chocolate. Leather. Honey. Maple syrup. Marzipan. Ripe bananas. Stewed apples. Raisins. Figs. Fruit cake. Almonds. Cinnamon. A very sweet nose almost dripping with thick brown sugar and molasses.

Palate: Apples. Black pepper. Fruit cake. Tobacco leaf. Creme caramel. Toffee. Madeira cake. Cinnamon. Coffee beans. Very smooth delivery but which feels a touch under-powered. I would have liked a little zing but it stays soft.

Finish: Long. Oily. Tobacco lead. Cinnamon dust. Mild chocolate.

I think by running 100% malted barley in Coffey stills Nikka have come up with quite a unique flavor profile. The strong tobacco leaf and apple combination is quite nice. I’ll be trying the Nikka Coffey Grain (made from corn) next for a little head-to-head comparison.

Till then I’m quite happy to nurse this one for a while.

Rating: 89

Suntory Yamazaki Distillers Reserve

Yamazaki Distillers Reserve
Distillery/Brand: Suntory Yamazaki | Region: Japan | ABV: 43% | Color: Sunlight
Nose: 22 | Taste: 22 | Finish: 21 | Balance: 22 | Rating: 87

Review
Yamazaki is a powerhouse of a distillery. Competing alongside Nikka for my affections it is routinely churning out brilliant expressions. The 12 and the 18 – both having secured cult status. The 25 that I have sitting on my shelf which I am saving for the most momentous of occasions.

Then there are the Hakushus coming out from the same gates. Saltier and more maritime in nature and equally good.

But what I love most is the air of intrigue and minimalistic sophistication Japanese whiskies bring with them. There is nothing which is too much or unnecessary. Nothing is loud or overbearing. Instead there is a controlled elegance to everything they represent.

While the Yamazaki Distillers Reserve may not be the best Yamazaki I have tasted it is quite decent in it’s own right.

Expertly blended by Shinji Fukuyo, the fourth Chief Blender of Yamazaki, the Distillers Reserve is a mix of three unique casks; Wine, Sherry & Mizunara. And there seems to be something from each in the final spirit.

Nose: Malty. Butterscotch. Pepper. Dry fruit. Sugar frosting. A ton of pineapple. Jack fruit and papaya. All the tropical fruits in the world. The wine comes through in a fruity chardonnay with a hint of oak. Decently accomplished if not magnificent.

Palate: Very thin. Apples. Light honey. Mid-palate it becomes fruitier. It’s the same tropical suspects. Bananas with the faintest of mangoes. Hints of oak. I think it’s trying to be a Speysider but not really doing a good enough job of it.

Finish: Medium with a touch of spice. My least favorite part.

Look, I keep saying this one is far from magnificent but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve a pour.

Rating: 87

Chichibu Chibidaru 2009

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Distillery/Brand: Chichibu
Region: Japan
ABV: 53.5%
Colour: Young Sauternes

Nose: 22
Taste: 20
Finish: 21
Balance: 21

Review
I must be honest. I have a soft spot for anything that comes out of the Land of the Rising Sun. I love the assertive flavors but more than that I simply love the way they package their spirits. There is a graphic design case study in each bottle.

This particular Chichibu is a 2009 vintage bottled in 2013 making it barely legal (sorry, couldn’t resist!). It’s been nurtured in the Japanese version of the Quarter Cask to accelerate the maturation process. This quarter cask is known as the Chibidaru. Unlike the Scottish QC which has less staves this one actually has the staves shortened and re-purposed.

Brought out at a tasting for my whisky club it was a hit or miss expression with some of the members loving it and some not overly impressed. I was not overly impressed.

Nose: Lots of tropical fruits. Papaya. Mango. Overripe papaya. Overripe mango. Like taking all the fruits together and mulching them in a wooden bowl. And then sprayed with a buttery biscuit maltiness to create an almost humid environment. It’s not bad, mind you.

(A glass was left for over an hour to breathe and these are the collective nosing notes of the society members for that experiment: jaggery, Christmas cake, nutmeg, almonds, butterscotch, cinnamon, cardamom, peach and star anise. It actually became quite intense.)

Palate: I found it a little weird. Something not quite right about it. Very overripe papaya which I don’t mind terribly but I draw the line at stale coconut oil. It is my least favorite flavor and it came through quite strongly. There are also dark red fruits with a black pepper sprinkle but the oily coconut is too distracting for me.

Finish: Medium with a black pepper spiciness.

With so many members liking this expression I think I will re-visit it and try and eke out the positives. Till then I will choose to remain unimpressed.

Rating: 84