Japan

Hakushu Distillers Reserve

Reviewed by: Ted

Hakushu Distillers Edition

It can be a tricky and expensive task getting hold of age-statement Japanese whisky these days. If you’ve been paying attention to global whisky trends over the last five years-or-so, then you’ll know that Japanese whisky has been bang on-point and very much in demand by the smart set. The boom in sales, both locally and overseas, and a slight lack of foresight around barrel management has seen distillery stocks dwindle, so much so that that the two major players, Suntory and Nikka, have had to temporarily discontinue certain aged releases from their distilleries.

Naturally, the shortage in stocks has caused prices to skyrocket. I mean, just the other week I had the opportunity to buy a Yamazaki 50yo 3rd Edition 2011 Release for the low, low price of $157,763.99USD (I lashed out and got three)! Now, admittedly that is a bit of an outlier on the super-premium end of the scale, but even 12yo releases (if you can find them) are generally no less than $150AUD and more often than not well over $200.

So what does a common-or-garden whisky drinker do if you want to own a Japanese whisky without having to count your kidneys? Well, as it happens, there is an answer. These days most Japanese distilleries offer a Non Age Statement release of their product. While superficially a marketing device, the NAS releases are actually crucial for the ongoing survival of the distilleries, allowing continued market access by marrying dwindling older barrels with younger stock coming online.

An example of this is the Hakushu Distiller’s Reserve. While you can still find the 12yo for around $180, the distillers edition is available for a far more wallet pleasing $110. Located NW of Tokyo near Hokuto, an unusual feature of the Suntory owned Hakushu is that it boasts a bird sanctuary within its leafy grounds at the base of Mt Kaikomagatake in the Southern Japanese Alps.

Apparently the Hakushu Distiller’s Reserve marries younger lightly peated malt and heavily peated malt around the 8yo mark with American oak-aged spirit of around 18yo. Or so the internet, repository of all things, tells me; you certainly wouldn’t pick it as being peated if you tried it blind.

On the nose the Distiller’s Reserve is bright, fresh and zingy, delivering a satisfying bouquet of crunchy green apples, sour plum, lemon grass, mint and citrus (Yuzu if you want to get technical according to Hakushu). The scent is clean and light, like a crisply pressed kimono, although after a bit of breathing time it develops a softer, creamy edge.

On the palate the spirit is sharp, clean and metallic, like a samurai sword across the tongue, and delivers a hit of hard, sour stone fruits and a twist of lemon rind. The finish is lingering and herbal, with perhaps a touch of green tea. Couldn’t find that smoke though I’m afraid, although to be honest, with the flavour profile presented by the Distiller’s Reserve I didn’t miss it either.

People quite often get a bit salty about the concept of NAS releases, considering them to be inferior to age statement releases (often without real justification… although sometimes merited for sure, but we won’t go into that particular Reserve here). I am pleased to say however, that in this case the NAS epithet is not a negative one.

But that’s what the Japanese do isn’t it? They take a thing, study it with care and then make not just a copy, but something that is even better than the original. Which is lucky really seeing as the Distiller’s Reserve will be about all we can reasonably get our hands on from Hakushu for the foreseeable future. In conclusion, if you want to see a NAS done right, then look no further than the Hakushu Distiller’s Reserve.

★★★

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Whisky Waffle to Waffle around the world

Posted by: Nick and Ted

Whisky Waffle Around the World

Well we like it we like it we like it we like it we la la la like it. La la la like it. Here we go-oooh! We’re Waffling around the world!

After the roaring success that was our tour of Scotland, we’ve decided to jump on a big old jet airliner and go global.

Our next Waffle Night will occur on the 22nd of July and once again be held at Burnie’s best cafe and whisky tasting venue: The Chapel. We will be sampling whisky (and whiskey) from various exotic countries around the world… and America.

The night will cost $35 and this covers light nibbles, as well as six drams of whisky from different countries. Judging by past events, tickets will sell out fast, so book your place by visiting: www.trybooking.com/QYYZ

What: Whisky Waffle’s World Tour: Wafflin’ Around the World

When: Saturday the 22nd of July at 7.30pm

Where: The Chapel, Burnie

Why: because whisky is good

Who: you guys!

How much: $35 for 6 drams and light food

So giddy up and giddy up and get away. We’re getting Waffly in the best kind of way. Here we go-oooh! We’re Waffling around the world!

Book now!

 

Happenings at Hellyers Road

Posted by: Nick and Ted

“Twelve months ago, we couldn’t have foreseen the growth that has occurred”.

Hellyers Road Distillery has always been a welcoming and friendly place to we Whisky Waffle boys, a fact that was abundantly apparent when we sat down to lunch with Master Distiller Mark Littler and media manager Don Jennings.

Whisky Waffle and Mark Littler

In 8 to 10 years these babies are gonna taste great!

2015 has been a busy year for the distillery with sales increasing by 50% in Australia, as well as expanding distribution throughout 30 European countries and tapping a new market in Japan. Due to demand, Mark has fired up the stills once more, originally planning a 30 week brewing program which has now been extended indefinitely. 

One of the new priorities of the distillery is exploring the connection to its namesake Henry Hellyer. With the limited release Henry’s Legacy range continuing to fly out the door, and future releases in the pipeline, Don envisages an interpretation centre telling Henry’s story and pointing out his discoveries.

New Henry’s Legacy bottlings are not the only future releases to look forward to, as Mark tells us his new sherry barrel stock, while young, tastes amazing. Within the core range consistency and value are the priority, although this has led to depletion of 12 Year Old stocks. The 12 will soon only be available at the cellar door and in travel retail, so if you see one in your local bottle shop snap it up fast!

Dave Warner and Mark Littler

Obligatory cricket reference: this whisky hit Dave Warner for 6! Photo courtesy of Hellyers Road

Whisky isn’t the only spirit being made by the Hellyers Road stills. In partnership with Dean Lucas, the distillery is producing 666 Pure Tasmanian Vodka, a premium spirit which is part owned by Australian cricket vice-captain David Warner. Dave apparently caused a stir recently when he dropped by in a helicopter to see how his investment is made.

What resonated the most with us was the humble and generous nature of our hosts. It is fascinating that despite their growing success and international awards, the biggest whisky distillery in the southern hemisphere still consider themselves to be small-town Burnie boys, just enjoying making a bit of good quality whisky.

WW shirts

Mark doesn’t have any writing on the back of his shirt

Iwai

Reviewed by: Ted

Iwai

Japanese culture is intriguingly dichotomous in nature. On one hand you have a proud culture with ancient, beautiful and highly ritualised traditions such as the tea ceremony. On the other hand, as anyone who has had the confusing pleasure of watching a Japanese gameshow can attest, there is a definite kooky streak to the inhabitants of the Land of the Rising Sun.

This duality of nature can also extend to the whisky that the Japanese produce. Shinshu Mars Distillery, located in Nagano Prefecture, was built by the Hombo family in 1985 but was closed in 1992 due to a decline in the local whisky market. It reopened in 2011 and is apparently considered to be well respected in the Japanese market. So far so traditional; it’s the whisky that they produce that’s a bit weird.

Iwai, named after Kiichiro Iwai who designed the stills, is one of the base releases for Shinshu Mars. According to one of the few bits of information written in English on the packaging it is aged in small bourbon casks, which rather confused me when I first opened the box. Instead of the normal pale straw colour that you would expect from a bourbon barrel aged whisky, the Iwai is instead the deep, rich amber colour of a whisky aged in port or sherry casks… Or one that’s had E150 caramel colouring added to spruce it up a bit, which was a thought that crossed my mind until I stumbled across a rather curious nugget of information.

Turns out that mash bill for the Iwai is mostly corn, with malted barley making up the remainder. So for all intents and purposes, the Iwai is essentially a Japanese bourbon! How mad is that!? No wonder the colour is so dark. The flavours also make much more sense when considered in the context of an American whisky rather than the Scottish style that is predominantly produced in Japan.

The nose of the Iwai is dominated by sweet, buttery caramel which hangs fat and low. Underneath sits hints of rose petals, vanilla and almonds, with a touch of salt thrown in at the end. You occasionally hit a bit of a rough edge, but it doesn’t throw things out too much. On the palate the Iwai is thick and oily, with a dull spiciness that crawls over the front of the tongue. Sticky dried fruits, aromatic spices and a grating of fresh ginger stroll casually through the middle, while the finish is gentle and tingly, with a slight apple sign-off.

While the Iwai isn’t the best Japanese whisky you will ever taste, it’s certainly one of the most interesting. There definitely isn’t anything else like it kicking about in Japan (at least that I’ve encountered). To be honest, it’s probably better than quite a few cheap real Bourbons. But then, the Japanese have always been good at taking the ideas of the west, tinkering about with them a bit, and then adding their own quirky spin to make something that is all their own.

★★

5 Whisky Waffle Winter Warmers

Posted by: Ted

I said, brr, its cold in here, there must be some… low pressure systems, high precipitation rates and perhaps even the formation of snow caused by the seasonal polar tilt of the earth away from the sun, creating wintertime meteorological phenomena in the atmosphere. What, you weren’t expecting ‘Bring It On’ were you?

Yes folks, it’s winter in the Southern Hemisphere, and while for the most part that may not entail quite the same level of bone aching crazy cold that our Northern kin have to endure, it’s still enough to send us shivering. Well, what better way to beat the winter chills than a nice warming dram of whisky? And there’s one class of the amber stuff that does it better than any other: cask strength. So without any further ado, here are five cask strength whiskies that will help spread a warm glow inside your belly this winter:

 

5. Glenfarclas 105

glenfarclas-logo

If you need to get warm in a hurry, then why not have a giant gorilla sit on you? Well, not really, but that’s what the experience of drinking a drop of the Glenfarclas 105 is like. Bottled at 60%, this family-owned drop from Speyside is big, bold and will cause you to beat your chest like a silverback as its powerful sherry-driven flavours rampage through your veins. Drink while entertaining thoughts of scaling tall buildings.

4. Glenlivet Nàdurra

Glenlivet-Logo

Meaning ‘Natural’ in Gaelic, this 16yo dram from Glenlivet is the logical solution for warming up on a frosty night. Indeed, I can vouch for its efficacy, as I sipped a dram of it while watching a meteor shower on a cold, clear night (the shower was a bit of a damp squib, but the whisky was certainly good). The Nàdurra is taken from the barrel at a 54-55% strength guaranteed to put a rosy glow in the cheeks. Drink while pondering the natural order of the cosmos.

3. Nikka from the Barrel

Nikka logo

Japan certainly sees its share of cold weather, but not to worry, the gods saw fit to create a dragon spirit to fight the frost. It may come in a small package, but the Nikka from the Barrel packs a big dragony punch. Bottled at 51.4%, this fiery little blend is packed with hefty dollops of sweetness and spice backed up with a wicked sherry kick. Drink while watching ninjas fight in a snowy forest (well, at least it will keep you occupied as you fail to spot any of the combatants).

2. Talisker 57° North

Talisker logoWant hot coals to smoulder and smoke away inside you? Then what you need is some peated whisky, and what could be better than a ‘special strength’ release out of the wind-and-rain lashed Isle of Skye? As its name hints, the Talisker 57° North is bottled at… well… 57% and is full of Talisker’s trademark mixture of sweet and maritime flavours. Drink while wearing a blue knitted fisherman’s turtleneck in front of an open log fire.

1. Lark Port Wood Cask Strength

Lark logo

Need to feel your toes again on a chilly Tasmanian night (which to be honest, can happen in high summer. Thanks maritime climate!)? Well, how does drinking hot, spiced orange sound? That’s certainly what it feels like sipping some of Lark’s 58% Port Wood release. If Lark can revive the Tasmanian distillery industry, then it certainly shouldn’t have any trouble getting you back on your feet. Drink while huddled in a wooden hut in the Tasmanian highlands.

Slàinte mhath!

Whisky Waffle Present: Whisky World!

Posted by: Ted

WWWWD edit

Jim Beam Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Reviewed by: Nick and Ted

Jim Beam

When Jacob Beam first distilled some corn along the banks of Dicks River in Kentucky circa 1795, he probably cranked out some pretty rough and ready stuff. Well, it seems that over the years not much has changed. Jim Beam has its origins as a small family business plying their trade in the newly formed state of Kentucky, but since then the family has grown just a tad. In 2014 Jim Beam was involved in a shotgun wedding which resulted in it picking up the double-barrel name (geddit?) Beam-Suntory. And all this multi-national success only came at the low, low price of its soul. Well, it seemed like a good deal at the time.

Not that the brand was particularly struggling it must be said, as Jim Beam Kentucky Straight Bourbon is one of the most recognisable and consumed spirits on the face of the planet. Most often you can observe it in its natural environment being mixed with coke, or being shotted by teens trying to be tough (and then regretting it later).

The boys from Whisky Waffle are even tougher than that. They sipped it. Neat.

Ted and Beam

On the nose the Beam is surprisingly smooth. And sweet… you could be forgiven for the thinking that it’s a liqueur. Honey, pear and confectionery notes of red frog and fairy floss (“cotton candy” in Beam’s motherland) slide across the ol’ olfactory bulbs. Overall it’s not too bad actually.

But then like a Disneyland water-slide, things go down the tubes. On the palate the analogy is rather appropriate as the Beam is about as watery as the pool at the bottom of the aforementioned slide. It also tastes like quite a few people have been swimming in it before you. The quality is thin, with a hint of sour white grapes coated in a film of dish liquid. Once you’ve emerged from the murky waters, your mouth is left with the not altogether pleasant taste of ethanol, cheap Sav Blanc and tourists in Mickey Mouse swimmers.

In fact, drinking bog standard Beam is a lot like a trip to Disneyland in general. It’s exciting at the start, but at the end of the day you are left feeling hot, weary, annoyed, and like your personal space has been violated by hordes of Japanese tourists (Suntory joke). Jim Beam Kentucky Straight Bourbon is not a whiskey we would turn to regularly, but then again we’re not really doing it right. Coke anyone?

Miyagikyo 12 Year Old

Posted by: Ted

Nikka Miyagikyo whisky waffle

More Japanese whisky? Bring it on! For your delectation (or mine rather, seeing as I’m the one drinking it. Go find your own) we have another drop from Nikka, one of the two big players in the Japanese whisky market.

Because Japan is a collection of islands, Nikka and its rival Suntory each own a bunch of distilleries scattered around the archipelago, with each providing its own special character and techniques.

Miyagikyo distillery is based in Sendai on Honshu, the largest of the islands. The distillery was founded by the legendary Japanese whisky maker Masataka Taketsuru. Quite unusually, Miyagikyo apparently makes both single malts and grain whiskies at their site.

The peculiarities don’t stop there. According to Nikka, Miyagikyo uses steam heat distillation to create their product, a process where steam is introduced into the distillation apparatus to carry the volatised compounds into the condensation flask. Whether this changes the flavour in any significant way I will leave up to you.

On the nose the Miyagikyo has that hot and sour Japanese vibe, like honey and lemon tea with a hint of ginger. As it first enters your mouth the spirit is silky smooth, quickly turning dry and dustily spicy. Pepper, caramel, metal, sour plum (which seems to be a common factor in Japanese drams) and lemon drops crawl fuzzily across the tongue. Tartness and sweetness make well balanced bed-fellows.

The Miyagikyo is a very laid back Japanese drop. Probably something best drunk while contemplating the universe in a garden of falling cherry blossom.

Rising Sun spirit/

Tranquil Miyagikyo flows/

The zen of amber/

★★★

Nikka from the Barrel

Reviewed by: Ted

Nikka from the Barrel

I’ve been at it again! For those who remember my Akashi review, I seem to have picked up a habit of reviewing Japanese whiskies at a particular bar that I occasionally habituate. Not a bad vice I must admit.

This visit’s subject is Nikka from the Barrel, which comes in an intriguingly plain, stubby little 500ml bottle. The labelling is sparse to say the least, and not particularly useful if, like me, you cannot read Japanese.

It’s not only the bottle that has limited information. The little that I could find out about this drop is that it is a blend (or as Nikka claims, a marriage) of matured malt and grain whiskies from re-casked barrels.

Bottled at 51.4%, the Nikka has a robust, gutsy nose. Dark honey, peach, apricot and orange jump on to the old scent receptors, although m’colleague swears blind that he could smell corned beef (odd man).

On the palate the Nikka is rich and syrupy, with notes of burnt sugar, oak, sultanas and honey, followed up by a pleasant herbal bitterness that reminds me of Speyside. I would take an educated guess that sherry barrels have played a part in the blend, as something of that quality seems to shine through.

The Nikka from the Barrel is a fantastic Japanese blend. It’s bold, gutsy, fun and will put a grin on your dial. Definitely give it some attention if you come across a bottle.

★★★

Jim Murray rates Tasmanian whiskies as liquid gold

Posted by: Nick

Not the whisky bible whisky waffle

An early dust-cover for the 2015 Whisky Bible which did not make the final printing

Here at Whisky Waffle we don’t take our rating system too seriously. We’re certainly a far cry from individual nose-ratings, and can barely count to 100, let alone score out of it! We are far more, in a word: wishy-washy (yes, ok, that was two words, but like I said, we have problems counting).

For some people however, wishy-washy doesn’t cut it, and a nice tangible score out of 100 is the way to go. One such man is Jim Murray, who did not quite squeeze into the quartet of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and decided to write his own bible. About whisky. Appropriately titled: The Whisky Bible.

This man has tasted and rated over four thousand whiskies for his latest edition, and apart from having the best day job in the world, he also has a half decent palate. This, apparently, is enough justification for distilleries to go gaga when he attributes high scores to their products.

Whiskies to which he deigns an award of 94 points or higher are granted the impressive-sounding moniker: ‘liquid gold’, not to be confused with Macallan Gold, which is another matter entirely (and one not nearly as impressive-sounding, despite what the PR guys at Macallan try and tell you).

There are two points, however, that Jim Murray and I see eye to eye on. The first one is our love for trade-mark headwear which, while a fascinating discussion, is not relevant to the current article. Our second is our love for whisky made in Tasmania. While I may have proved time and time again that I am slightly biased on the subject, Jim’s love is purely objective (with the possible exception of Nant).

Trademark headwear whisky waffle

I am rarely seen without my trademark top-hat. DISCLAIMER: this statement may or may not be true

The Tasmanian distilleries who have produced liquid gold bottles for the 12th edition of the Whisky Bible are Lark and Sullivans Cove, and I offer them both my sincerest congratulations. Sullivans Cove received a score of 95.5 points for its American Oak bourbon cask release, until now the neglected younger brother of the coveted French Oak port cask. Lark received 94 points for its cask strength release, which makes me exceptionally happy, partly because it is a wonderfully deserving distillery and partly because I happen to own a bottle.

My precious whisky waffle

My precious…

Elsewhere in Australia the wonderfully obscure Limeburners distillery from Albany, Western Australia has also been awarded liquid gold status, due to both being a fantastic drop and to being from a region of the world where it can get hot enough to melt actual gold.

These bottles join a number of Australian products to receive this honour. In Tasmanian alone Overeem, Heartwood and Nant, as well as other Sullivans Cove and Lark releases have been given the tip of the panama hat. And if this isn’t enough justification to my Scottish friend that this country makes a damn good dram then I don’t know what is.

In the end, however, it’s just one man’s opinion. And this whisky blog is simply another. The most important critic of a whisky’s quality is you. If you try a drop at the right time in the right place with the right people, then that is all the justification you need. Like I said, wishy-washy. But they do call it liquid gold after all…