Tokyo

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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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.

★★★

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.

★★★