Japan

Kings County Bourbon 43%

Reviewed by: Ted

Kings County Bourbon 43

This is about as hipster as I get. Leaning up against a rough-sawn wooden bar in a small craft beer joint in Kyoto and sipping some NYC bourbon poured from a 375ml bottle with a label that looks type-written. In fact, as I type these words, a number of Japanese gents wearing round steel-rimmed glasses and with beanies perched on their heads have just walked in. I am probably not cool enough for this place.

The bar is called Bungalow; the fact that it is separated from the busy street outside by only a clear plastic screen somehow makes it seem even more edgy. The vibe inside is very chill though, with friendly bar staff, a selection of Japanese craft beers and luscious funk tunes oozing from the speakers.

It also has precisely one whiskey, the Kings County Bourbon Whiskey. Apparently the owner is friends with the importer of the Kings County and is a fan, hence its presence as the only whiskey in a craft beer bar.

Kings County is apparently the oldest operating whiskey distillery in New York City… Est. 2010. It’s youth is due to the fact that it is the first whiskey maker in the Big Apple since prohibition ended. Based in the old Brooklyn Navy Yards, they craft spirit in their Scottish-made still using corn and barley grown on-site. It’s very much part of the dynamic and sustainable ethos that exists in Brooklyn today.

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All the details…

The spirit itself is a very dark copper colour and is bottled at a pleasing 45%. Being a bourbon it has that heavy, corn-driven punch, but in this case it’s pleasantly not overpowering. There’s a sweet, savoury sharpness that evokes some of the flavours that I have come across in Japan. Soy sauce, mirin, that sticky stuff I had on that grilled meat in that yakitori joint, a hint of salt and tuna sashimi. Of course, these flavours are super-subjective seeing as this is a through-and-through American spirit. I’ve just been exposed to a lot of eastern flavours this past week.

The mouth-feel is solid. The usual big, sweet corn flavours are there, but they are well controlled and even-tempered. It has a crispness and acidity that evokes a glass of Sav Blanc or Pinot Grigio, leaving a nice juicyness to linger on the palate. There’s a buttery, saltiness too, like that scallop I had in Kuramon Ichiba Market that was grilled over coals in its own shell.

The Kings County is a damn fine whiskey, perhaps made even better by dint of my current geographical location. Kyoto is a beautiful city, Bungalow is just my kind of bar and the Kings County is an excellent finish to the day. If you’re going to drink a whiskey you’ve never heard of in a bar in Japan that you stumbled across by chance, consider making it a Kings County.

★★★★

Kings County Ted

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A Tranquil Trip to Yamazaki Distillery

Posted by: Ted

1 Whisky Waffle Yamazaki Visit

If one distillery can be claimed as the home of the Japanese whisky scene, then Yamazaki Distillery is the natural heir to that crown. It was, after all, the first operating whisky distillery in Japan and progenitor of the thriving world-class industry that has blossomed in the 95 years since.

2a Whisky Waffle Yamazaki Visit

Founded in 1923 by Shinjiro Torii, the distillery is located in the town of Yamazaki, a sleepy place nestled halfway between Kyoto and Osaka. Once you alight at the station, the distillery is a short walk away through the quiet streets, passing by traditional houses and shrines.

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From the outside, the distillery is not that much to look at, large drab brown buildings that blend in well with the surrounding forested hills but do not inspire any particular romantic notions. The old stills dotted around the leafy grounds are a nice touch though. The location is important however, as the distillery draws its water from the confluence of three local rivers, the Katsura, Uji and Kojo, the soft waters of which Yamazaki claims helps them make a refined spirit.

2 Whisky Waffle Yamazaki Visit

In comparison to the exterior, the inside of the visitors centre is a beautiful and interesting place to be, with timbered interiors, a cutaway still and washback, and shelving supporting row upon row of bottles with hand-typed labels containing various agings of spirit made by Yamazaki and other distilleries from around the world. There is also an interesting whisky walk with information about the distillery.

6 Whisky Waffle Yamazaki Visit

Guided tours can be booked online, with a standard and a slightly longer special tour available. If you want to do the special tour you need to book early (which we didn’t) as it only runs on weekends and has limited spots. The tours are conducted in Japanese, but an audio guide is available if, like us, your Japanese only extends to a few much-overused phrases.

7 Whisky Waffle Yamazaki Visit

The standard tour, conducted on our visit by the youthful Nishiwaki and assisted by the older Tanaka, guides guests through the history and production processes at Yamazaki, taking in the mash room, the still house and the bond stores. A delicious smell of whisky permeates the facility, changing in nature depending on your location. For example, the still room with its 12 stills (there are another four somewhere else too) smells of fresh apples and lemons, while the bond store is dark and rich with the years of aging spirit.

4 Whisky Waffle Yamazaki Visit

As we walked back from the bond store we passed by a torii gate, which Tanaka amiably commented to me was over 1000 years old, which makes the distillery’s only 95 years look rather pale in comparison, a reminder that the Japanese whisky industry is still only a relatively young thing in an ancient culture.

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The tours conclude in the tasting room, an open, airy space where guests sit at wooden benches to be educated in the art of drinking Yamazaki. Four glasses of whisky were presented, a White Oak Cask, a Wine Cask and two glasses of the 12 Year Old, one for sampling and the other for doing as you pleased with (as part of the tasting you had the opportunity to make a whisky highball. I declined).

5 Whisky Waffle Yamazaki Visit

The White Oak Cask and Wine Cask were presented as examples of Yamazaki’s practice of crafting a base palate of different styles that are then married together to create a final release, such as the 12 Year Old. The distillery claims that this method allows them to create products that have a subtlety and nuance of flavour similar to a blended Scotch, but are comprised of whiskies that are made entirely on site at Yamazaki.

The two spirits were indeed quite different, with the light White Oak Cask evoking honey, lemon, green apple and rose on the nose, while the dark-gold Wine Cask gave notes of caramel, marshmallow, wine gums, oak, salt, red apple and apricot. On the palate the White Oak had leather, dark honey, polished oak, beeswax, malt and a sharp, herbal finish, while the Wine cask had a dark, rich, dry fruitiness, with red apples, brown pear, sour plum and salted caramel.

3 Whisky Waffle Yamazaki Visit

A small selection of nibblies are also provided with the tasting, my favourite being the smoked nuts, which are smoked over chips made from old barrels. There are a number of friendly attendants on hand to guide you through the tasting and make sure you know what’s what.

At the completion of the tasting you are led back to the visitor centre where you have the opportunity to visit the gift shop (which has a distinct lack of Japanese whisky apart from the Chita single grain) or indulge in some further tastings such as older bottlings or distillery exclusives (I may have lashed out on the 25 Year Old).

8 Whisky Waffle Yamazaki Visit

The atmosphere at Yamazaki was relaxed and Nishiwaki delivered a crisp and professional tour that was full of interesting and informative facts… at least I presume so seeing as I couldn’t understand a word of it. The audio guide was solid though and it was easy to keep up with the tour. If you want to get a grasp on the history and character of Japanese whisky, then Yamazaki is well worth your time to visit if you happen to be in the area.

9 Whisky Waffle Yamazaki Visit

White Oak Tokinoka

Reviewed by: Ted

Tokinoka

Japanese whisky is meant to be the best thing since sliced sushi right? A freshly caught blue fin tuna at the fish market would blush at the prices commanded by even a basic Japanese dram (if it still had any blood left that is). So why the bloody hell isn’t this one any good?

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, as I have a history of being disappointed by releases from White Oak Distillery. On my previous tasting attempt I found the Akashi NAS to be a forgettable cup of blah, while the 12yo had this weird sulphuric, mineral hot-pool vibe going on.

Needless to say, I set my bar very low when it came to trying the Tokinoka and it met my expectations with aplomb… by which I mean it would be a definite contender for winning a limbo competition, if you get my drift.

The nose is distant and it takes a really good deep sniff to actually capture anything. The eventual effect is like a walk past an orchard in summer… if the orchard was on the side of a volcano. That weird sulphury thing from the 12yo makes an unwelcome return as well as a whiff of hot metal. The palate is actually quite spicy… for about two seconds, after which you are left with a vague oiliness. It’s not terribly satisfying and the finish hints of glycerol (which I’m sure is not in there, but that’s what it feels like).

Hard-core Japanese whisky otaku may as well give the Tokinoka a try for the lolz. Everyone else, just grab yourself a good cup of green tea, you’ll feel a lot better afterwards.

Tokinoka 2

 

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.

★★★

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.

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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?