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