Monday, June 13, 2016

Blanton's Straight From The Barrel Bourbon

As mentioned in the last post, there are bourbons available in Japan which are not easy to get in the U.S. Of all of them, Blanton's Straight From The Barrel is the one Americans are missing out on the most. For $65 US a bottle, you get Blanton's quality at around 65% a.b.v. If there's a better barrel-proof bourbon, I haven't tried it yet.

Facts

  • 128.8 proof - 64.4% a.b.v.
  • For Japan and European Market
  • Single Barrel


Appearance:
Reddish-brown, similar in color to Aberlour A'bunadh

Nose:
Dark fruits, lavender, hickory, oak, tobacco and a hint of chocolate

Palate:
Immediate delivery, spicy and intense, enveloping sweetness, cinnamon, butter and oak

Finish:
Long and hot, smoky chocolate, dried fruits

Overall: Not very complex, but full-bodied and delicious. An excellent-quality barrel-proof bourbon. A definite cut above Booker's Bourbon. If you can get your hands on this in the United States for under $80, it's definitely worth purchasing.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Evan Williams 12 Year Old Bourbon

Apparently, Evan Williams 12 Year Old Bourbon is a distillery-only bottling in the U.S. and goes for around $130 in the gift shop. Having paid way too much on several occasions for bottles I was keen to try, I have a good idea of how it feels for most of those who pick this one up in Kentucky, get home, open it, drink a glass, and think, Man, this is good, only to then glance at the receipt and think, But, $130?!...

Ignoring the price, EW 12 is a very good bourbon. It takes a little time in the glass to open up, but when it does, it's a beauty. Now, I've never been to Kentucky, though I would love to visit some day, but I have picked up a few bottles of EW 12. And, I'll be buying many more over the years, if they remain available.

And, I'll be paying around $22 US per bottle because that's what it sells for here in Tokyo where it's widely available. It might not have the wax-dipped neck the distillery bottles have, but if I save $108, I can live without it.

Facts
Name: Evan Williams Aged 12 Years
Strength: 101 Proof - 50.5% ABV
SRP (Japan): $22 - $27 US

Notes

Nose:
Subtle yet savory, slightly complex, hickory, vanilla, dark fruits and brown sugar

Palate:
Sweet and spicy, cinnamon and clove, vanilla and salty caramel, lip-tingling

Finish:
Longish with lingering spices and savory notes. Stays with you long after the glass becomes empty

Conclusion: I tried to think of just what this bottle would be worth to me if I weren't able to get it at such an excellent price here in Japan and I guessed around $40 US, tops. Of course, you never know what you'll pay until you're forced to make a decision, so take that with a grain of salt. At $22 a bottle, this is absolutely the best value in bourbon around for me, and considering my daily drinkers are typically $25 US and under, you can see how this one is easily my best daily-drinker bourbon.

If Evan Williams 12 Year ever becomes either overpriced or unavailable here in Tokyo, or I end up back in the US at some point, the loss of EW 12 as a daily drinker will go to the top of my list of whisk(e)y lamentations.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

On The Way 2015: Chichibu Ichiro's Malt

As is well known by now, getting your hands on a bottle of a new Ichiro's Malt release at the original retail price is a formidable task. Unless you have connections, you're likely to not even know about a new release until all bottles have hit the secondary market. As I refuse to buy any of these whiskies from resellers at prices inflated as they are now, I've come to terms with the fact that I won't be able to put a bottle of each release up on my shelves. When I saw the release announcement on Facebook last week for the 2015 version of Chichibu Ichiro's Malt On The Way, I heaved a sigh of exasperation and lamented another chance lost; for the last Ichiro's Malt release I was able to buy (The Peated 2015), the Facebook announcement came after they'd already gone to resellers. Nevertheless, on the off chance that maybe Venture Whisky had changed the timing of their release announcements, I inquired at Tanakaya about availability and actually got a promising response from the guy who runs the place; "Next week it seems," he said, and I knew I was going to likely be coming back every day the following week.

On Monday, I showed up and there was a new shipment of Ichiro's Malt in, Double Distilleries and MWR, their standard Malt Blends. Sure that the manager had misunderstood my inquiry and had given me information about the standard Malt Blend shipment, I decided to give up. On the way out, I asked their whisky specialist if she knew anything about the new Single Malt release, and in her usual fashion said, "We get it in when we get it in..."

Fuck it. I left planning to not worry about Ichiro's Malt anymore.

But, as luck would have it, I needed some beer for the bar and stopped in at Tanakaya yesterday. And, sure enough, there were a few bottles of On The Way on the shelf. I grabbed the one bottle I was allowed and thought positively of the manager, who did me a solid by telling me the truth. Their usual policy is to just say they don't have any information, even though we all know it's bullshit. This time, however, he was straight with me. I feel better about Tanakaya now...

Note: The outturn on this one is over 10000 bottles, which is twice the usual amount, so it might be easier to get a bottle in Japan at the original selling price, around $72 US.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon

In its price range ($40-$50 US), Four Roses Single Barrel is my favorite bourbon. And when you consider how many other great bourbons there are in that price range, that's saying a lot. Well, OK, it's not really saying a lot because 1) my bourbon experience is relatively limited, and 2) you have no reason to believe that my palate is all that refined. And, actually, it isn't. But, whatever... Four Roses Single Barrel is good stuff.

Distiller's Tasting Notes Here
Review by The Whiskey Jug Here

This bourbon is delicious. A mouthwatering sip that leaves me feeling impatient for the next mouthful. And, patient you must be because the finish on this one is a beaut. Four Roses bourbon is known for its delicate nature, and even at 100 proof, FRSB maintains that renowned smoothness. What impresses me so much about this whiskey is that it's all at once smooth, complex, and rich. Its uniqueness sets it apart from its rivals, of which there are many.

Nose:
Soft and complex, leather, cherry, hickory, maple syrup and vanilla, slightly floral

Palate:
Very consistent with the nose - cherry and barbecue sauce (hickory?), vanilla... sweet, then tangy, then spicy, absolutely luscious

Finish:
Medium-long, spices linger, warming with sweetness persisting

Conclusion: Get yourself a bottle. Of each batch. Two of each.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Perfect Old Fashioned Cocktail

Type the words in the title of this post, just as they are, into Google Search and you'll be presented with pages of links to various magazines and blogs containing not only recipes but several paragraphs expounding on the myriad mistakes bartenders make when mixing this venerable cocktail. When I read such articles and posts I can't help but wonder about the intentions of the authors. The way I see it, if you have rigid standards about what makes an Old Fashioned (or any other cocktail for that matter) good, you state your preferences when ordering. If you're sitting at the counter, you probably have a pretty good idea of your whiskey options, so there's a good chance you'll be able to name a specific brand you'd like used when ordering. I'm a bit adventurous, so I'm happy to just order one and see what I get. If it turns out to be something I wouldn't want to order again, I'm sure to fine-tune my order next time I visit that particular establishment.

When reading articles and posts like the ones mentioned above, I keep coming back to the question, why order an Old Fashioned at all? Rather than write an ode, I'll state my reason simply: when I'm in the mood for something that delights the tongue, goes down smoothly and packs a punch while being refreshing, I enjoy no other drink more than this one. There are hundreds of variations, but I prefer mine simple; I want to taste the whiskey, of course, but the way the basic ingredients marry in the glass is truly what makes an Old Fashioned either a thing of beauty or just an average drink to knock back on the way to a good buzz.

I made the title of this post deliberately misleading, so I should make it clear that this post is not about how to make the perfect Old Fashioned Cocktail; the idea that there is objectively one ideal Old Fashioned and any recipes that deviate from the one that gives you this ideal drink give you only pale representations of it, is utter nonsense. That isn't to say that you absolutely shouldn't be scorned and/or mocked for whatever kind of bastard concoction you serve up and call and Old Fashioned; variation within limited parameters is acceptable, but if you mix something for presentation and not even a connoisseur can recognize the Old Fashionedness in it, expect no positive responses when you announce that it is indeed that wonderful whiskey cocktail we all know and love.

As for me, I keep 'em simple...

The Basic Ingredients
  • 2 oz of Whiskey with a meaningful amount of rye
  • 1 sugar cube
  • 2 healthy dashes of Angostura Bitters
  • 1 small piece of lemon peel (always at the bar, sometimes at home)
The Method
  1. Drop the sugar cube into a rocks glass and add just enough water to wet it and get it dissolving (if there's more than a slight puddle around the cube, that's probably too much)
  2. Splash in the bitters and, in the glass, ground the ingredients into solution, with a pestle if available 
  3. Hold the glass at the bottom, tilt it and rotate to coat the sides with the solution
  4. Add one large rock of ice (between a third and half the volume of the glass) or two rocks that would take up the same volume; it should go without saying, but unless you want your cocktail to become watered down quickly, avoid using a bunch of small pieces of ice
  5. Pour in the whiskey and stir just enough to slightly chill everything
  6. Twist the lemon peel to release some oils, add it to the drink, and serve
The Whiskey

At the risk of sounding cheesy, let me say that the journey to Old Fashioned Nirvana is one that should be savored and the thought of trying an Old Fashioned with a whiskey you haven't used before should bring about a real sense of excitement. That said, everyone who undertakes this journey has a set of go-to whiskeys for their cocktails.

Canadian Club
I don't know of a better cheap whiskey option for an Old Fashioned. This is my basic option. Smooth with a little bit of rye spiciness, and bottled at 40% abv, this is a good one to use if you're going to be drinking several in an evening.

Old Overholt
Wherever you go, this is a standard for basic whiskey cocktails using rye. For the price, you could also go with Jim Beam Rye, but Old Overholt is more richly flavored and just makes a better cocktail in my opinion.

Old Grand Dad Bonded
This is a delicious, affordable bourbon with a high rye mash bill (27% rye). It tastes great neat and needs almost no time to open up in the glass. When mixed in an Old Fashioned, it retains its full-bodied character while blending nicely with the bitters and sugar. It's bottled at 100 proof, and I prefer using a whiskey with this strength in my Old Fashioneds. Wild Turkey Rye is a good option in the same price range and has a good amount of rye (65% rye). Bulleit Rye is better at 95% rye.

Other Whiskeys
I haven't found any whiskeys cheaper than Canadian Club that go well in an Old Fashioned, and given its affordability, there's really no reason to try and save a few more dollars as far as I'm concerned. That being said, I'm willing to try anything.  As for higher-end
whiskeys, try out as many as your budget will allow. Personally, if I'm going to spend a good chunk of money on a whiskey, I prefer to enjoy it in its purest form, neat. But, if a friend wants to buy me an Old Fashioned mixed with Michter's 10-Year-Old Straight Rye, I'll be happy to try it.


Of course, these are just my preferences. How an Old Fashioned should taste is entirely up to the drinker. If you prefer fruits muddled into yours, or like it topped with a splash of soda, it's no one else's business. Well, unless you make it so, of course.



Thursday, February 4, 2016

Springbank Green 13 Year Old: 2015 Edition

This is the second release in Springbank's Green series, which are whiskies that contain organic barley. For more details, check out the Springbank official product announcement page. This one is fully Sherry-cask matured; the first release of Green was a 12 year old matured in Bourbon casks.

Facts
• 46% ABV
• Sherry cask matured
• Limited to 9000 bottles worldwide
• MRP: £60, $87 US (Though, I picked up my bottle for $81 US in Tokyo)

Appearance:
Amber-gold

Nose:
Honey, wax candles, plums and raisins, leather, buttery apple pie and cranberries, tires on hot asphalt, peat (takes a little while to come out), slightly nutty after awhile

Palate:
Sweet and tart on the tip and underside of the tongue, bitter on the sides and back, slightly astringent, classic Springbank complexity, leather and honey, full-bodied and enveloping, peppery and oaky, a wisp of smoke

Finish:
Medium-long, warming, mouthwatering, a bit more bittersweet and oaky over time, slightly minty late

Conclusion: This one's quite similar to the Springbank 21 (2013 bottling) I have, but it comes at a third of the price. A very satisfying Springbank and a nice addition to their range. I look forward to seeing what they do with the 2016 edition.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

A Suntory Blast From the Past: Za

Apparently the first Suntory whisky created by now chief blender Seiichi Koshimizu, "Za" (座) is an interesting whisky in terms of its historical significance. Those with extensive experience in tasting various Suntory whiskies will feel that this blend is at once quite familiar but also, in a sense, distant, something possibly known and then forgotten. This whisky's nose has the usual sandalwood aroma you find in many Japanese whiskies, not only from Suntory, but Nikka as well; this is brought on by the use of cedarwood. When someone asks me to name a characteristic that is largely unique to Nikka and Suntory Japanese whiskies, the first thing that usually comes to mind is the persistent sandalwood aroma.

As far as the palate goes, this is where Suntory Za disappoints, and is likely the main reason why this whisky failed. It's really flat and uninteresting. However, for what this whisky is, the finish is decent; it has a pleasant sweet and woody aftertaste that lingers quite nicely. Unfortunately, Japanese whiskies from Suntory and Nikka aren't really complex at all, and this whisky does its best to support the notion that Japanese whisky makers have never been much into complexity. Of course, simplicity in design is well-ingrained in Japanese culture, so this shouldn't be surprising. I don't mean this in a critical way; it's just that as far as food and drink go, it tends to leave me feeling underwhelmed.

As for the bottle and label design, there's a Japanese word that sums it up nicely... ダサい (dasai).

I'd say that if anything sums up this whisky in a positive way, it's that Suntory Za is a nice experiment in cedarwood use, developing that smooth-as-silk, Japanese-style flavor profile fans of Japanese whisky have come to know and love. And, as its name suggests, sit back with this one in a comfortable chair with the lights dimmed dramatically and maybe some mood music in the background.

Original product release announcement from Suntory

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The List: What to Buy in 2016?

The question mark in the post title tells the story; I have little idea of which whiskies I want to buy this year. In comparison, last year by mid-January I had already put together an extensive list of whiskies I wanted to try, though what I was willing to buy made up only a small portion of the list, as I'm sure it does for most people who are unfortunate enough to have developed a love for this liquid which doesn't come cheaply.

So far this year, I've added Springbank Green 13 to my pub's collection. That's it.

Oh, and a friend gave me a bottle of Aberfeldy 12 for New Year's, an old standard I hadn't tried until getting it then as a gift. Though I'm intrigued by almost any bottle of whisky you put in front of me, there are plenty which have reviewed either poorly or average at best that I just tend to look past when I see them on the liquor shop shelf, pretty packaging be damned. I am happy to say, however, that Aberfeldy 12 offered something different that I found quite pleasing. In many ways, it's similar to that gentle Highland malt Dalwhinnie 15, but the taste of chocolate and toasted nuts on the finish makes it, for me, a more enjoyable dram.

But anyway, I was supposed to be talking about my whisky wish list for 2016...

Ok, well, I'm going to buy the Ardbeg Day release at the end of May; that's a given; as I've said before, Ardbeg could bottle a turd and I would want to buy it (I feel the same way about Springbank, by the way). I'd really like to pick up a bottle of Craigellachie 17 based on just reviews and not having actually tried anything from that distillery. The first release of Kilkerran 12 due in August is definitely on the list... Any Springbank 12 release... Hmmm... anything else?... Maybe an independent bottling of Clynelish... Honestly, I just need to do more research.

I may put up a review of the Springbank Green 13 in the near future, but I'll just say for now that it is very nice.


Monday, January 18, 2016

Scrambling For Sherry Cask 2016

Last week at the pub, a customer asked me if I was going to be able to get the 2016 Sherry Cask single malt from Yamazaki.

"Oh, is that coming out soon?"

His eyes got really wide, "Yeah, February 1st! But, it looks like there are too few bottles allocated for Japan to even hope to have a chance at getting one..."

"Shoganai."

"Shoganai."

I've not yet tried any of the Sherry Cask special edition single malts from Yamazaki. I'd certainly like to try one, especially the 2013 version, but unless a friend shows up with a bottle saying, "Hey, look what I've got!" it's not likely I'll be able to anytime soon. It's just too hard anymore to get any of the really good reasonably priced Japanese whiskies.

Two years ago, if you wanted to get a bottle of the latest Chichibu single malt and you knew the release date or visited bottle shops at least once a week, you could. Nowadays, it seems like you hear about how the latest release sold out in 30 minutes before you even hear that there was a new release at all. This latest post from Nonjatta sums it up.

Though I do enjoy many of the malts produced here, I should say that I'm not one of those people who've fallen in love with Japanese whisky. However, being a fan of whisky in general, I would like it to be more accessible; trying whiskies from everywhere is what makes being a whisky enthusiast so enjoyable.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Getting Around To Compass Box

I'm usually a late-in-the-game kind of guy, and my experience with Compass Box reflects that; I finally bought my first bottle just after Christmas.

A while back, I tried Peat Monster at a friend's pub and was impressed, especially at that price point. Knowing that I had no clear idea of why I'd been avoiding Compass Box whiskies, I kicked myself and set my mind to buying a bottle in the near future. After thoroughly researching their range online, I found myself most intrigued by Spice Tree, their Highland Malt blend that gets it name from the fact that French Oak casks are skillfully used to give the whisky an unusual level of spiciness. Unusual for a Highland Malt blend, that is. What I also found appealing about this whisky was its level of complexity; drinking Highland Single Malts and Malt blends tends to be a straightforward, smooth affair unlikely to challenge the taste buds. This one, however, is challenging indeed.

In Spice Tree you have a vatted malt bottled at 46% , not chill filtered and with natural coloring, all unusual characteristics for a Highland Malt. The basic tasting notes given by Compass Box are...
A natural, deep, gold-brown colour and a rich nose with spices such as clove and nutmeg, and sweet stewed fruits. Palate is soft, sweet, deep and rich with a malt whisky fruitiness embellished by rich spice. Very long.
Check out Master of Malt's Spice Tree page for slightly more detailed notes.

The only thing I'll add is that it takes about five minutes for this one to open up in the glass, the biggest change over that initial five-minute period is the evolution of the finish which goes from bitter to spicy.

Overall, Compass Box Spice Tree is an excellent whisky that can be enjoyed by whisky drinkers ranging from beginner to experienced and has become a must-have whisky in my collection.

Further Reading: Compass Box Spice Tree Page