Tag Archives: japanese whisky

White Oak Akashi Coming to the US?

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It is definitely an exciting time to be a Japanese Whisky enthusiast here in the US. Up until the past 1-2 years it has been a painfully slow trickle of Japanese whiskies arriving on our shores. Suntory established the beachhead for this recent single malt explosion with their Yamazaki 12 and 18. They slowly released additional expressions and now we have a decent amount of their standard lineup available here. We are now also able to purchase a solid number of Nikka’s whiskies: expressions from both of their distilleries Yoichi and Miyagikyou as well as some of their Pure Malts. Chichibu is also knocking. One label has already been approved by the TTB and Akuto San has started holding tasting seminars to introduce his whiskies to US customers.

Although not at the pace that we have seen, I did expect that these brands would eventually make it to the US. However, this latest Japanese whisky distillery looking at entering the US market took me by surprise. White Oak, sometimes referred to as Eigashima, located in Akashi City, Hyogo Prefecture, is primarily a sake and shochu producer. While they have been releasing more single malt and blended whisky expressions lately, I did not expect this distillery to try to tackle the US market. It appears that White Oak is poised to launch two expression here in the near future. A single malt that has been aged 3 years and that comes in at 46%ABV and a blended whisky (no age statement) that comes in at 40% ABV. There is currently no indication as to what the price point might be for these whiskies, but they should be fairly affordable – lower than the other Japanese whiskies already available here – if their pricing remains similar to what it is in the Japan domestic market. Perhaps what I am most curious about, other than flavor profile, is the shape of the bottle they decide to use. In Japan, White Oak is easily recognizable by the 500ml bottle that they use. As we all know, White Oak will not be able to continue to use this size bottle in the US.

It is always great to have more Japanese whisky options here but to be honest I have always been pretty lukewarm to White Oak expressions. See our reviews of two White Oak expressions here. Here’s to hoping these two new releases will be solid expressions that we can enjoy. Maybe even at an affordable price, but given the whisky market these days that might be asking for too much.

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More Releases of Suntory and Nikka for the US Market!

The Japanese whisky companies that already have a presence here in the US (Suntory and Nikka) have been very busy over the summer.  In fact, it looks like a mini-arms race broke out.  Both Suntory and Nikka appear poised to increase and diversify their existing line up.  Currently Suntory offers the Yamazaki 12 and 18, Hakushu 12 and Hibiki 12.  Nikka recently entered the US market with Yoichi 15 and Taketsuru 12.

Yamazaki 25

Suntory is going big with a new release for the Yamazaki line and for the Hakushu line.  Contrary to the current trend of younger whiskies and non-age statement expression, Suntory is releasing the venerable Yamazaki 25.  This release has earned some very distinguished awards over the years including the 2012 Best Single Malt Whisky at the World Whiskies Awards.  The Yamazaki 25 will come in at 43% ABV.  As for pricing we don’t have those details yet but if it is anywhere near the pricing in Japan (~$900) it is going to be a luxury bottle.

Hakushu

Suntory also decided to go big with their new Hakushu release – big peat that is.  The new release will be the Hakushu Heavily Peated.  This has been an annual release in Japan of 3000 bottles that has tended to sell out very quickly.  Suntory is bringing the Heavily Peated in at a lower ABV though.  In Japan the release has always been at 48% ABV but the label for the US version indicates that it will be released here at 43% ABV.  The pricing should be closer to the $100 mark as that is roughly what it sells for retail across the pond.

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Nikka is introducing the US to its other single malt distillery, Miyagikyo.  This distillery is located in the northern part of Japan’s main island Honshu, in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture.  This is still south of Nikka’s Yoichi distillery which is on the northern island of Hokkaido.  The Miyagikyo expression will be 12 years old and bottled at 45% ABV.

Taketsuru 17

Nikka is also supplementing its pure malt line with the Taketsuru 17 and the 21.  Taketsuru is a pure malt in that it is a vatting of two single malt whisky distilleries:  Yoichi and Miyagikyo (Sorry Scotch Whisky Association – can’t prohibit a Japanese whisky company from using the term pure malt).  Both Taketsuru expressions will be bottled at 43% ABV.

Taketsuru 21

Unfortunately the details of when all of these expressions will be released are unknown to us at this time.  But we imagine that they will try to have them ready to roll out or start to announce them in the fall – whisky season here.  As we get more information on release dates and pricing we will update.  Keep it up Suntory and Nikka! Get these new expression into the market and keep more of them coming in!

*Photos from TTB Applications*

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Nikka Whisky Adding To Their US Line Up: Coffey Grain

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It appears that Nikka Whisky is confident enough to introduce another expression to its US line up. Interestingly though it is a grain whisky release instead of a malt or even a blended release (wouldn’t we all love to see Nikka From the Barrel here in the US?). It has not been officially announced by Nikka Whisky or their importer Anchor Distilling Co. but Nikka looks poised to release their Coffey Grain expression here shortly as it has recently cleared the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) labeling certification process. This coincides with Nikka’s recent launch of a regular (not special single cask) release of the Coffey Grain in Japan.

The Coffey Grain derives its name from the Coffey still that is used to distill the grain spirit – not from anything remotely related to coffee. Nikka imported its Coffey still from Scotland in 1963 and it now resides in its Miyakikyou Distillery. This will be a non-age statement release and is anticipated to come in at 45% ABV. I don’t have any word on what the price point will be at this time.

We have tried Nikka’s Single Coffey Grain and quite enjoyed it but it was a different animal from what this regular release will be. It will be interesting to see how drinkers react to a Japanese grain whisky – maybe Nikka has its sights set on taking some of the popular cocktail market with this release. Either way I am glad that Nikka is moving towards introducing more of its expressions to the US market.

*label photos from TTB application approval*

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Exclusive US Market Karuizawas

As initially reported at Nonjatta earlier and later here on WhiskyWall, a retailer here in the US is releasing two single cask expressions of the much coveted Karuizawa. The retailer turns out to be K&L Wine Merchants here in California. This is very surprising on a couple of levels. First, as we all know the stocks of Karuizawa are rapidly dwindling and there just isn’t much left. Second, the amount of Japanese whisky available in the US is extremely limited – Nikka has only been available here since the beginning of 2013 and even then it is only two expressions.

The procurement of these two casks has been a long time coming. The spirits buyers at K&L, David Driscoll and David Othenin-Girard, had the foresight to start trying to track down some Karuizawa to bring to the US back in 2011. Coming to terms with the Number One Drinks Company to procure these two casks was only the beginning though. The much maligned booze laws and bureaucracy made importing the whisky to the US a challenging process. But finally after two years of work these bottles are on their way and now available for pre-arrival ordering. I had the opportunity to try a small sample of each but didn’t have a lot of time to really break each of them down. So my impressions will have to be supplemented after I get the chance to spend some more time with each of them.

Noh, Karuizawa, Japanese Whisky

The first cask is 12 years old and was distilled in 1999. It is a first fill sherry butt (cask #869) and comes in at 58.9% ABV. This feisty 12 year old is actually a very balanced easy sipper that hides the high ABV well. Do not confuse this with being a boring or one dimensional dram at all. There is a depth of overripe red fruits, fragrant wood, incense and orange. I am particularly sensitive to sulpher with sherry casks and I am happy to report that I didn’t detect any with this one. I am hesitant to say that this one can be a session whisky, albeit a very high end one.

Noh, Karuizawa, Japanese Whisky

The second elder brother cask is 30 years old and was distilled in 1981. This is also a sherry butt (cask #8775) and was bottled at 64.4% ABV. This is a true whisky geek whisky in my opinion. The layers of flavor seem to go on forever. The first thing that hit me was how rutty it was – I was not expecting that at all. I picked up a hint of flint smoke along with the dense sherry signature, variety of baking spices and fragrant wood (like the 12 y/o). This is one that you really have to sit with for awhile to get through and find all of the flavors that are hiding in it.

Both bottles are available to be pre-ordered now here and here.  K&L is estimating that they will arrive and be available for pick up sometime in late summer/early fall. These bottles will not last long and I don’t foresee another release of Karuizawa for the US market ever again.

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A Special Nonjatta Bottling of Karuizawa

In a huge surprise our favorite Japanese Whisky blog Nonjatta announced that it is releasing its own bottling of the much famed Karuizawa. Read the details here and get it while you can!

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The US Market to Get Some Karuizawa

Karuizawa

Sticking with the same theme as our last post about more Japanese whisky entering the US market – it looks like we are getting even more.  I was truly surprised to find out that there will be two single cask bottlings of Karuizawa available here this year through K&L Wines based in California.  The now silent Karuizawa has become the Port Ellen of Japanese whiskies when it comes to the fervent demand for the precious few bottles that are released.  The two spirits buyers at K&L, David Driscoll and David Othinen-Girard, worked hard and managed to secure a cask from 1981 bottled at 62.9% ABV and another from 1999 bottled at 58.3% ABV.  As expected for Karuizawa both casks are Sherry Butts.  It is also anticipated that these bottles will come wrapped in the ever-popular Noh series labels.  Given that bottles of Karuizawa are selling out in literally seconds in Japan, I am thankful that these bottles will be available here in the US – maybe I’ll have a better chance at being able to buy a bottle.

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Chichibu to the US

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As they say: When it rains it pours – and this is a storm that I am truly grateful for. Just this past December we saw the introduction of Nikka Whisky into the US market with their Taketsuru 12 and Yoichi 15. Now there is word that Ichiro Akuto and his Chichibu malts will be taking the plunge into the US as well. In some ways this seems to make sense because Chichibu is already available in Europe, however I am surprised by how quickly Akuto San decided to enter the market here. Suntory has only slowly over several years released the 4 currently available expressions here and as mentioned Nikka only launched a couple of months ago. It is not clear when exactly Chichibu will officially launch here or with what expressions. We will update as we obtain more information. If you are in the US and would like to meet Akuto San and chat a bit about his whiskies he will be attending the Nth Universal Whisky Experience in Las Vegas March 1 – 2.

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Joining the Club – New Japanese Whisky Distiller

Although Japan is one of the largest whisky producers in the world, the majority of the distillate comes from two companies: Suntory and Nikka. There are a handful of other small/medium sized distilleries but not many. There is now word that another company is joining the whisky distilling club: Miyashita Sake Brewery (Okayama Prefecture). As the same suggests, Miyashita comes from a sake production background. They also produce shochu and beer but I cannot say that I have had any of their products myself.

Miyashita decided to give distilling whisky a try in preparation to celebrate their 100th anniversary which will be in 2015. The plans to produce whisky started in December 2011 and actual whisky production started in June 2012. Using a blend of malt from Germany and from Okayama Prefecture as well as local water from the Asahi river approximately 1000 liters of Genshu (new make) was distilled. There were 10 distillation runs and various factors such as the ratio of different malt types, yeast strains and temperature were changed incrementally. The new make is currently aging in oak barrels (I don’t have any more precise details on the wood) and is planned to only be laid down for 3 years. When I assume it will be bottled and released to coincide with Miyashita’s 100th anniversary.

Miyashita believes that its wealth of experience in producing beer and shochu translate well to the production of whisky. Their goal is to make a uniquely Okayama style whisky. I guess that we’ll have to wait a couple of more years to taste what that is. Hopefully this celebratory whisky will be a success and Miyashita will continue to distill whisky adding to the variety and uniqueness of Japanese Whisky.

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2013 Hakushu Sherry Cask

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Suntory’s annual Yamazaki Sherry Cask has been a whisky fan favorite and 2012 saw the inaugural release of the Hakushu Sherry Cask (Hakushu new-make aged entirely in carefully selected sherry casks). It sold out rather quickly even for a limited release of 3,000 bottles and there was no clear indication that there would be subsequent releases like the Yamazaki. Fortunately, Suntory just announced that it is indeed releasing a 2013 Hakushu Sherry Cask. The release date across Japan is set for February 5th. Like before, the 2013 release will be limited to 3,000 bottles and will come in at 48%ABV with a sticker price of 9,000 yen.

The demand for Hakushu has increased significantly. According to Suntory, sales were up 307% during the months of January through November 2012 from the prior year. With that, I imagine this release will not be on the shelves very long – if at all.

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Suntory Yamazaki 1984

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So we weren’t being exactly accurate when we stated that the US is limited to the 12 and 18 year old expressions of Yamazaki. There was actually one more available here and that was the 1984. But for most the purchase price ($600) was so high that it might as well not have been available here. The allocation to the US was also limited to only 300 bottles.

The Yamazaki 1984 was bottled to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Yamazaki brand. 1984 was the year that new stills were installed at Yamazaki with the intent of producing single malt whisky – as opposed to just blends. As with most Yamazaki’s the 1984 is a combination of American, European and Japanese (Mizunara) oak but there is a higher dosage of Japanese oak aged whisky.

Yamazaki 1984
Bottle #2645
48% ABV

Color: Burnt orange/copper

Nose: Loads of fragrant wood, sandal wood, old furniture, oily, musty, licorice, cloves, cinnamon, fresh baked spice cake, hints of cherry, red fruits.

Mouth: Oily mouth feel, cinnamon, Mizunara influence is clearly present, dark baking spices, sandalwood, hazelnuts, red berries, hints of mint, caramel, very luscious.

Finish: Clean, fades on the fragrant wood notes.

This is a very luxurious, well composed and exactingly calculated whisky as I would expect from a Yamazaki (that is not a single cask). I think a big tip of the hat has to go to the blender(s) that created this amazingly well balanced and full flavored whisky.

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