A few years ago
I could walk into
All photos authors own.
A few years ago
I could walk into
All photos authors own.
Japanese Whisky has seen remarkable growth over the last few years – around 9.4% annually according to some sources – making it one of the fastest expanding categories in the world.
This in itself has sparked further interest – as well as criticism.
Such criticism often took the form of ‘not playing by the rules’ – Scotch rules that is.
But then that’s precisely why I – and many others perhaps – are attracted to Japanese Whisky – it’s not Scotch!
To begin with are the variety of attractively labelled & intricately designed bottles. Then there’s the blending, distilling & maturation techniques that wouldn’t be allowed under Scotch rules. Not forgetting the most important factor – fabulous taste!
I’ve always been of the view that Japanese Whisky played by different rules – which have worked very well for them – and accepted as given a bottle labelled as Japanese Whisky may not have contained 100% Japanese distillate.
But the wider world is not me – so Japan has now brought in a set of rules.
They’re a rather simple & easy framework stipulating the raw materials, production methods & maturation times used. Most importantly it states Japanese Whisky must be distilled, matured & bottled in Japan to be labelled as such.
Nikka have already indicated brands in their current range compliant with the rules & can therefore be labelled ‘Japanese Whisky’ – as well as those now heretofore ‘Whisky’.
Nikka Days is one such ‘Whisky’.
I found it a lovely simple yet elegantly balanced soft peater.
It’ll be interesting to see how the sales of such offerings will proceed under the new rules – or rather – as I suspect – Nikka will increase capacity to incorporate such brands into the ‘Japanese Whisky’ category.
A taste comparison between the current bottle and that of any future release will be an exciting prospect – but one I think will not yield much discernible difference.
With 100 years experience I’m sure Japanese distillers are capable of replicating the entertaining tastes & flavours I enjoy.
There is one potential loser in this however.
Scotch Whisky has for years built up a sizeable business supplying bulk whisky to various countries who then use it to augment their own spirits.
It’s a perfectly legitimate business – but one that now appears to be in jeopardy.
Such are the swings & roundabouts of the whisky business.
Header image courtesy cityam.
Japanese Whisky gets a bad rap for it’s perceived lack of rules – yet that doesn’t seem to deter growing sales & increasing appeal.
My personal problem with Japanese Whisky tends to be lack of availability – and when it is – the price tag.
During the course of the event I gathered Kurayoshi is a range of blended malts from a variety of unnamed Japanese distilleries bottled by the Kurayoshi/Matsui Distillery. They are presented non chill filtered & natural colour.
Kurayoshi Sherry Cask 43%
An NAS – non age statement – offered at just over 3 years, matured in ex-bourbon casks & finished in sherry casks. There was no new make feel of this richly flavoured whisky. It was noted maturation times in Japan can be shorter than Scotland or Ireland due to the extremes of temperature experienced. Many tasters enjoyed fruity notes with this easy going malt, a discernible sherry influence, long lasting finish & enjoyable prickly bite.
Kurayoshi 8 Year Old, 43%
A clean & fresh ex-bourbon cask matured malt. The use of toasted barrels brought out warm vanilla & caramel notes, along with a certain depth & pleasant peppery spice on the finish – which some compared to that of Powers. Nice!
Kurayoshi 12 Year Old, 43%
More subtle, balanced & rounded with similar maturation to the 8. The peppery spice on the finish was more pronounced. A favourite of many on the tasting.
Kurayoshi 18 Year Old, 50%
A much more intriguing nose, touches of leathery wood, a slight smokiness from the barrels, greater depth & complexity. The higher ABV left a powerful impression & was a delight to enjoy.
The panel was split between the 12 & the 18 as to most well received so far. I must admit to being an 18 fan – although I did enjoy the 8 too!
The final offering was a little different!
Matsui Single Malt, Mizunara Cask, 48%
One of the first releases from the Matsui Distillery itself & aged in Japanese Mizunara Casks – this malt displays some rather unusual & attractive flavours showcasing it’s Japanese manufacture – which is what I’m after! Earthy woody notes combine with a slight sweetness. A clean & fresh palate offering orchard fruits & a lovely balanced peppery spice on the finish. The complexity of flavour belies it’s youthfulness. The Matsui quickly became the pick of the best!
The Celtic Whiskey Shop are currently running weekly whiskey tastings. The opportunity to explore bottles possibly ‘out of reach’ & to virtually chat with fellow whiskey fans in a relaxed manner makes for an enjoyable evening.
I’d highly recommend joining in.
The 2020 Fife Whisky Festival was my 2nd visit to this wonderful show – and it’s 3rd successful outing held in the Corn Exchange building in Fife’s former County Town of Cupar.
My agenda – as always – is to taste as many new whiskies as I could safely manage – using the water stations to rehydrate along the way.
Spotting a newcomer straight away – I wasted no time in getting stuck in.
Langatun Old Deer, 40%.
My 1st foray into Swiss Whisky – and very good it was too! Nice clean flavours & a lovely long finish. Old Deer is the sherry finished version – I think the peated Old Bear would have been more my style – but it wasn’t available on the day.
Angel’s Nectar Rich Peat, 46%.
Rich Peat had a more smoky rather than medicinal quality & was perfectly balanced with some heavier toffee notes. I found the black bottle & design very alluring too.
Adelphi Dancey Man, Blend, 40%.
The fancy design caught my eye but the liquid inside was a more mediocre affair and failed to excite my palate.
Holyrood Distillery Smoky & Sweet New Make, 63.5%.
Part of the next generation Scotch Whisky makers & not around for long enough for whisky so a trio of new makes were offered to entertain. Smoky certainly spoke to me with it’s strong powerfulness & drying peat hit. Sweet didn’t captivate me as much.
Inchdairnie Ryelaw 2yo 59%.
Inchdairnie continue to excite with their mysterious black tent into which you are invited to nose the marvelous mixed grain mash bills including oats, rye & the more traditional barley. Very impressive & innovative. The Ryelaw was young, fresh & spicy with a good body. I can’t wait for future releases from this ground breaking distillery.
Matugga Golden Rum, 42%.
Rum made a welcome appearance too. Matugga’s Golden Rum had a smoky funk on the nose, a softly smooth palate & a nice warming finish.
Matugga Mavuno Rum, 46%.
The innovative aging in Acacia Casks has added a lip smacking dry spiciness to the soft funk. Lovely stuff!
Cardrona Just Hatched, 64.4%.
All the way from New Zealand came this youthful yet powerfully flavored cask strength single malt. One to look out for.
James Eadie, Cameronbridge 22yo, Marsala cask, 59.6%.
The Cameronbridge was the aptly chosen Fife Whisky Show exclusive – although I found it a bit too sweet for my palate.
The BenRinnes 11yo Sherry Cask, 59.9% was of similar style.
Meanwhile Caol Ila 9yo, 46% won me over with it’s soft peatiniess & dark fruits.
Lady Of The Glen, North British 26yo, 49.2%.
Obviously an exclusively bourbon cask matured grain suited me better as I enjoyed the combination of vanillas & woody tannins in this attractively bottled offering.
Old Perth, Sherry Cask, 43.7%.
This revived blend comes in a variety of styles. Despite not being a favourite finish of mine Old Perth had great flavour that would encourage me to try out the others.
Kirkwall Bay, 46%.
Independent bottlers Morrison & Mackay release this delightfully dry smoky blended malt.
Tullibardine 15, 43%.
I’d only recently visited this often overlooked distillery & was pleasantly surprised by the attractiveness & enjoyability of their blended & single malt portfolio. This 15 year old only further cemented my appreciation of this hard working distillery.
Penderyn Peated 46%.
Penderyn had a large presence at the show. Only when being poured their Peated Gold Range product did I notice the bottle sported angular ‘sides’ with etched lettering. A lovely little attention to detail that matched the attractiveness of the liquid inside.
I didn’t realize Penderyn’s Icon Of Wales series was still going strong after my happy encounter with the 1st Red Flag release here. Rhiannon is the 7th offering and very attractively labelled too – although she didn’t quite win my palate over.
Royal Welsh Whisky, 43%.
Modeled on an unearthed original Welsh Whisky bottle from the Frongoch Distillery this Icon Of Wales No 6 was much more up my street. A delightfully balanced peat smoke with heavier, dark fruity notes.
Daftmill 2007 Winter Batch, 46%.
It wouldn’t be a Fife Whisky Festival without the highly esteemed local distillery. I’d only sampled straight from the cask before when on a visit prior to their whisky being released here. Now was my chance to sample the finished product. A very finely balanced, even well cultured bourbon cask matured malt with depth & complexity.
Kilkerran Heavily Peated Batch 2, 60.9%.
Sometimes I just love a bold, brash & youthful ‘in yer face’ kind of whisky. Heavily Peated provided that in bucketloads. Gorgeous.
Kilkerran Heavily Peated Batch 3, 60.9%.
An as yet unreleased slightly older version of Batch 2. This possessed a more balanced peat hit contrasting with the underlying biscuity malt & sweet vanillas from the bourbon casks. Even more gorgeous.
Nikka Days, 40%.
After discovering the delights of Nikka From The Barrel on my London walkabout here – the garish label of Days pulled me in. I wasn’t disappointed. A fine blend offering rich vanillas & fruitiness with a hint of smoke from some Yoichi malt.
A group of merry imbibers shared the last stall & we partook of a Nikka Coffey Grain, 45%.
I found the whisky an apt dram to raise a final glass.
We toasted another fabulously organized Fife Whisky Show.
I toasted the enduring legacy of Irishman Aeneas Coffey to the modern whisky industry.
And we toasted the return of the show in 2021.
I decided to revisit some of my old drinking dens of times past & enjoy a few whiskeys along the way.
The High Cross, Tottenham N17
How could I resist this?
A recently opened micro bar in an elegantly designed 1920’s public toilet that I can’t recall ever using – despite living round the corner for years – but do remember passing daily.
It looks the same on the outside. You enter via the ‘LADIES’ – which is a little disconcerting being a man – and behold a white tiled space replete with chunky wooden tables & chairs. The bijou bar at the ‘GENTLEMEN’ end of the building offers a good selection of local craft beers, assorted spirits & a tasty range of wholesome bar food.
Spotting a Nikka From The Barrel on the top shelf I went for it.
This blended whisky drew me in with clean & fresh flavours offering decent depth & complexity – with a bit of bite from the 51.4% ABV too.
I’d happily have this one again.
The Beehive, Tottenham, N17
It’s probably around 30 years since I last had a drink in the Beehive.
I remember a traditional bar with carpeted floors, comfy sofas & polished wooden tables leading to a grassy beer garden.
I found a bare wooden floored open space – filling up with Spurs fans – leading to a concreted patio adorned with large sports screens.
Ah well – change is the only constant in London.
From the small whiskey selection Four Roses Single Barrel made my glass – or rather plastic cup – Spurs were playing.
Now Four Roses haven’t exactly bowled me over. Their entry Bourbon is decent enough – and this Single Barrel did boost the flavour experience with it’s higher ABV & higher rye content.
Just not enough character to enthrall me.
I toyed with The Ship – but the pre-match crowds were getting larger – so a short bus ride to Wood Green & a spot of lunch set me up for an invigorating walk up to the magnificent Ally Pally with it’s panoramic view over North London.
The Phoenix Bar, Alexandra Palace, N22
It felt like I’d just been taken back to the time my better half – now wife – and I spent an anxious few hours here over 20 years ago. All our worldly possessions were in a transit van nearby awaiting the exchange of contracts allowing us to move into our first flat down in Turnpike Lane at the foot – almost – of the wooded slopes beyond the fine windows of this very establishment.
A Dewar’s White Label was ordered.
Having just been introduced to the delights of Dewar’s 12 Year Old Ancestor blend – a lovely balanced example of peated Scotch – the White Label was rather more basic.
Aged – in this instance – is better.
The Great Northern Railway Tavern, Hornsey, N8
A fine venue to round off the day.
I found it poignant to be in London celebrating a 60th entering a bar where a memorable 30th was had by one sadly departed.
The Great Northern has had a facelift since then. Gone was the sticky carpet & shoddy armchairs. In was a sleek craft beer selection & fine foods with varnished floors & comfy seating.
The whiskey choice was a bit thin though.
I’d previously enjoyed a wonderful Compass Box here – but made do with Jura 10 this time.
A soft smudge of peat over a sweet caramelly base just didn’t cut it with me.
Never mind – It’s all part of the rich tapestry of life.
Bar of The Day – High Cross.
Whiskey of The Day – Nikka From The Barrel.
What excites me about entering a bar for the first time is discovering the whiskey selection on their shelves.
What excites me even more is discovering a few new whiskeys to try out!
The Blackbird Bar in Ballycotton happened to be that bar – and 100 Pipers was the first new discovery.
This big volume Scottish blend has been around since the late 60’s. Now part of the Pernod Ricard empire – the bottle still displays Seagram’s on it from the original brand owners.
A rather dark blend – added caramel is expected for this category – there is that sweet vanilla & caramel going on. Towards the end a pleasing touch of peat smoke gives 100 Pipers a bit of character. An easy going softly smoked blend.
Next up was a Japanese Single Malt – Hakushu Distillers Reserve.
My drinking buddy ordered the Dingle Single Malt Batch 2 at the same time to compare & contrast.
I found the Hakushu clean & fresh. A lovely deep vanilla from bourbon cask maturation which then slowly morphed into a gorgeously drying soft ashy peaty spice which danced off the palate.
Really enjoyed this one.
The Dingle Single Malt Batch 2 was more rich with dark fruitiness from the added Oloroso & PX cask maturation – and made for an interesting taste comparison.
The bar recommended the final offering – Auchentoshan 12.
Now Auchentoshan are an anomaly in Scottish Whisky – they triple distill!
This bourbon & Oloroso cask matured Single Malt was a fine example of that style.
Smooth delivery, good depth of flavours with a touch of oakiness too – and an enjoyably long finish.
The Blackbird Bar also stock an extensive array of Midleton Distillery output – as befits a bar less than half an hour away from the distillery itself.
Having had them all before – I chose to go for a delightful trio of new acquaintances.
Out of the 3 – Hakushu would come out on top.
The combination of a clean, almost herbal yet fruity start growing into a drying soft spicy peat hit definitely had me hooked.
Just like the warm hospitality & great whiskey selection of the Blackbird Bar reeled me in.
Big shout out to Mossie & all the crew – a fabulous spot.
It wasn’t planned.
I was supposed to be revising for an exam – but the Teeling Small Batch on the Aer Lingus flight only reacquainted myself with this lovely little blend & provided a taster for what was unknowingly to come.
After checking into the city centre hotel – a quick read over the course book – it was out for a wander to visit the Whiskey Jar pub.
The promise of 400+ whiskies to whet my appetite accompanied by a tasty pie for the late Sunday afternoon lunch sounded too good to miss.
On entering I was taken aback!
Gathered in the pub were a clutch of whiskey companies displaying their wares.
A small cover charge – along with a tasting glass – had me at the first stall.
Now any company that puts out a bottle called Fighting Cock emblazoned with a fiery red rooster just calls out for a tasting!
At 51.5% this high rye bourbon packs a lively spicy punch on the nose.
It followed through with rich warming vanilla & caramel in a mouth filling flavour explosion.
My kinda bourbon.
The rep guided me onto the Rittenhouse Rye.
A much more cultured well balanced offering than the beast that is Fighting Cock.
In the interests of exploration Mellow Corn also hit my palate.
Normally corn wouldn’t be a favourite of mine – but the high ABV – 50% – along with a minimum 2 years in virgin oak casks had imbued this whiskey with some very attractive notes & flavours.
I could be a corn convert with this one!
Old Pulteney were up next.
They’ve had a little brand update – new labels & new expressions – I do miss the old fishing boat motif however.
The Huddart NAS – with the peat influence coming from the barrels rather than the barley – was a pleasant little easy peaty sipper.
The 15 year old was well balanced – just lacked a little character – whereas the top of the range 18yo had gained some gorgeous drying woody tannins from the extra years in the cask & pulled me in.
Jameson were on show too.
I had a quick chat with the rep who informed me Whiskey Jar have a monthly whisky showcase which is usually well attended & seems to be growing. Check out the Whiskey Jar link for further events.
Being familiar with the Jameson on show – I was guided to fellow Pernod Ricard brand Glenlivet for a vertical tasting of their core range.
All very grand – but nothing exciting.
Only the Captain’s Reserve had a bit more going on to entice me.
Cotswolds showcased their very enticingly fresh single malt.
Having already polished off a bottle I was just congratulating the rep when this was produced.
A cask strength single malt matured in American Oak which previously contained red wine & has been shaved, toasted and charred too!
At 60.9% there is no burn on the nose.
It does fill the palate – but the rich flavours shine through in a fabulous frenzy of taste more like a 50% offering!
Dangerous stuff – yet oh so gorgeous.
Without doubt my prize pick of the evening!
For a last pour it was back to Heaven Hill and a shot of Elijah Craig Small Batch.
Despite being a low rye bourbon this had an attractive spice from the years in virgin charred oak. The rounded complexity of the drinking experience surprised me.
Show over – most of the whisky fans departed.
I settled down to a hot pie washed down with my original intended choice for the evening – English Whisky.
Chapter 15’s a heavy peat hitter. I like it for that – but it’s rather one dimensional otherwise.
I got chatting to some other late departees so another pie – and another whiskey – were ordered.
Dad’s Hat Pennsylvania Rye.
Like Chapter 15’s peat – the rye dominated here – but with additional fruity notes too.
Very fresh & enjoyable.
Time to head home – or I should say the hotel bar?
I pondered over a glass of Hibiki Harmony – which sang to me a lot sweeter than on my first encounter – while shooting the breeze with a fellow late night imbiber.
A hot mug of tea eventually rounded off my supposedly Sunday afternoon few.
I did make the exam the next morning.
A hearty breakfast works wonders.
WSET Level 2 Spirits – with distinction if you were wondering.
I think the liquid training added to the pleasure!
Oddly – I also found this whisky in France.
There must be a distributor doing a great job in getting it stocked around the country.
Again – this is an entry level caramelised blend.
But it’s more characterful & robust than it’s stablemate.
A sharp spirity nose is smoothed by the caramel influence.
There is a soft underlying malt to begin with – before a lovely warming heat kicks in.
I found it a pleasant little number.
A fair few were enjoyed at a Parisien get together with friends.
Out at a party – en France.
The 1st bottle of whisky had already been enjoyed.
Our host said there was a bottle of Japanese Whisky inside.
The collective clapped their hands and said yeah!
White Oak Akashi was procured & poured.
Entry level caramel infused blend this one – not much in the way of individuality, style or flavour here.
I moved onto some locally made Eaux-de-Vie.
It was far more entertaining!
Whiskey fan walks into a bar.
Spots a bottle of Japanese whisky and decides to see what all the fuss is about.
This tastes good!
A rich warm & inviting nose with surprising depth for a grain whisky.
There’s a smoothness & clarity followed through by some lovely glowing heat.
This is very enjoyable indeed.
The Japanese can certainly put together a decent package – often using unusual methods to gain a unique and interesting product.
But as Babymetal sing in their song – which is also an unusual amalgam – Catch Me If You Can.
Japanese Whisky is hot property.
Get it while you can.
I’m glad I did.
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