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Japanese whiskies - tasting update

by Gavin D Smith, 03/09

Regular visitors to whisky-pages will know the admiration we have for the finest Japanese whiskies, and here we review a batch of samples received recently from leading independent Japanese spirits importer The Number One Drinks Company.

All whiskies available from specialist retailers. See also

Chichibu, Newborn Cask #127, 2008
Chichibu distillery is the newest in Japan, with production commencing in the spring of last year. The distillery is small in scale and traditional in design, with five wooden washbacks and a pair of pot stills fabricated by the renowned Speyside firm of Forsyth’s. Chichibu has been created by Ichiro Akuto, whose grandfather established the now closed Hanyu distillery. He is also responsible for releasing single cask bottlings of Japanese malt whisky under the Malt Card Series. (See below for latest expressions). Chichibu is following in the footsteps of the Islay distillery of Kilchoman, and most recently Tullibardine, by releasing very young spirit, which is not legally whisky. In the case of the Japanese distillery, however, it has been matured for a very brief period, while Kilchoman and Tullibardine both offer ‘new make,’ straight off the still. Our sample of Chichibu Newborn had spent a short time in an ex-Bourbon cask, and was already showing some pale straw colouring as a result. Crisp and clean on the nose, with fresh fruits and mild spice. More floral with water, plus a hint of milk chocolate. Full-bodied and very spicy on the palate, with distinct notes of melon. Lengthy in the finish, with a tang of ginger. 62.5% ABV, 70cl, £55.00, specialist whisky merchants.
Ichiro’s Malt, Ace Of Diamonds 1986, cask #9023
Very fruity, soft nose, ripe peaches with a whiff of caramel. Smoky, fresh fruit with the addition of water. Big-bodied, mouth-coating, fruity, then drying quite rapidly through spices. 56.4% ABV, 70cl, £195.00, specialist whisky merchants.

Ichiro's Malt, Ten Of Clubs 1990, cask # 9032 (Japan)
Slightly tobacco-y nose, with developing white chocolate and maraschino cherry notes. The palate is reminiscent of eating tinned peaches by a bon fire, while the finish is long, succulent, spicy and deliciously fruity. 52.4% ABV, 70cl, £135.00, specialist whisky merchants.
Ichiro’s Malt, Eight Of Hearts 1991, cask # 9303 (Japan)
Rich, antique leather on the nose, with background notes of gunpowder tea and plasticine. The palate is spicy and quite lively, with raisins, ginger and more gunpowder tea in the medium-length finish. 56.8% ABV, 70cl, £115.00, specialist whisky merchants.

Ichiro's Malt, Five Of Spades 2000, cask # 9601 (Japan)
The nose is floral, with sherry trifle. Medium-bodied and confident on the spicy, leathery palate, with fresh Sherry fading to almonds in the lengthy finish. 60.5% ABV, 70cl, £100.00, specialist whisky merchants.
Karuizawa, Vintage Single Cask 1972, cask # 7290 (Japan)
Karuizawa distillery dates from 1955, and is now owned by the brewing company Kirin Holdings, who also own the Fuji-Gotemba distillery. Like Chichibu, this is a consciously old-fashioned distillery in the best Scottish traditions, importing Golden Promise barley for distillation and maturing most of its spirit in ex-Sherry casks. The latest single cask release from Karuizawa dates from 1972 and offers a nose of dark treacle, malt and gentle, smoky spice. It performs on the palate as you would expect from the nose – rich and powerful, fruity and spicy, with a whiff of smoke. Developing sultanas and worn leather. The finish is long, full and warming. 65.0% ABV, 70cl, £155.00, specialist whisky merchants.

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