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Japanese Whisk(e)y


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#1 Chris Amirault

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Posted 01 July 2010 - 04:41 AM

I've been a fan of Suntory Yamazaki 12 for a while now; bought my dad a bottle a few years ago and squirreled away a tasty bottle for myself in the process. Now in Tokyo, I've been pretty happy with the cheap supermarket-available Kirin 100 proof whisky (~$10 for 600 ml) for splashing over these killer Japanese rocks with some water, mizuwari-style. However, this Nikka Yoichi whisky (~$12 for 500 ml at, yes, the supermarket) is killer: funky, rich, and aromatic, I'd stock it at home instead of Dewar's White Label, Famous Grouse, or even Asyla as a quality base "scotch." Butterscotch toffee, seaweed, blue cheese: what's not to love?

These dips of the toe into Japanese whisk(e)y suggest that something's afoot concerning distilling, quality, and price points around here. I'm thinking of bringing back a few liters of this Yoichi stuff for friends and family. Surely there are other great options out there, yes?
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#2 Blether

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Posted 01 July 2010 - 05:14 AM

I quite often find myself buying 'Nikka Black - Clear Blend', 950yen for 700ml (convenience store prices, no doubt cheaper at Don Quixote). It's a smooth, mellow whisky just as is the Teacher's Highland Cream I've gone on about enough around here. Being Scottish I've favoured the Teachers for sentimental reasons, and it's available here for 980yen. I should try them side-by-side, and maybe save on schlepping about the place - I need to go to Yamaya or Don Quixote for it.

I've never had a taste for the cheaper Suntory whiskies, not that I'm a dedicated taster or anything. As I have also written before, Famous Grouse used to be about 1,300yen (13 bucks) but went up to a minimum of ~2,000yen a year or two back, I'm pretty sure as a marketing decision of the distributor. Glenfiddich single malt is to be had (Yamaya; Seifu) for under 3,000yen (30 bucks).

Of course Nikka and Suntory were pretty much both established by the same fellow, Taketsuru-san, who'd learned the trade in Scotland, and his wife Jenny whatever-her-name-was from Kirkintilloch.

Because of the different tax levels, you do need to reset your gauges on price points for booze in Japan - (cheap) spirits are dirt cheap; high-cachet-spirits are downright expensive; and the beer price is strictly controlled at an artificially high level.

Sorry not to be more use on great options in the Japanese brands.

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#3 drinkslover

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Posted 01 July 2010 - 05:16 AM

You're a lucky man - in Tokyo AND discovering the delights of Japanese whisky!! Japan is the second biggest producer of single malt whisky in the world - and nearly all of it is excellent.

Yoichi is superb - a single cask 20yo from a few years ago won Best Whisky in the World at the World Whiskies Awards and casued a sensation. Other Nikka whiskies to try include the From the Barreel 50cl - a splendid cask strength variant.

Nikka's rivals Suntory own Yamazaki. The 12yo, as you've said, is very good - but if you can stretch to the extra cash the 18yo is really exceptional - rich, deeply sherried and unbelievably smooth and drinkable.

Suntory also own Hakushu distillery, of which the 12yo is the one to start with - in a funny way it reminds me of pure pot still Irish whiskey eg Redbreast.

If you can find a malt from the Hanyu distillery, it might well be worth considering too. THe distillery closed in 2000 and was idsmantled in 2004. it is well on the way to becoming Japn's version of Port ellen and Brora - a number of casks were retained by Ichiro Akuto, the grandson of the distillery's founder, who has released single cask versions as the 'Card Series' J(Jack of Clubs, Nine of Diamonds etc). The ones I've tried have been very good. Ichiro also has his own distillery, now, Chichibu. I haven't tried any myself, but initial reports are very promising.

However, my favourite Japanese distillery is Karuizawa. If you see one of the cask-strength sherried versions from the 1970s, buy it. They are released as single casks here in specialist whisky shops here in Europe at around £150-200 and can sell at auction for up to £850 within months.

I've given a brief overview herre, but by far the best Japanese whisky site on t'interweb is Chris Bunting's nonjatta.blogspot.com - it's very well written (by an English journalist living in Japan).

Enjoy Tokyo and enjoy Japanese whisky - have you had a Mizuwari yet?

Cheers,

Drinkslover

#4 Hiroyuki

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Posted 01 July 2010 - 03:14 PM

Have you tried Suntory Old?

#5 nakji

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Posted 01 July 2010 - 08:02 PM

These dips of the toe into Japanese whisk(e)y suggest that something's afoot concerning distilling, quality, and price points around here. I'm thinking of bringing back a few liters of this Yoichi stuff for friends and family. Surely there are other great options out there, yes?


I brought a bottle of that back for my Dad when I left Japan. He's a dedicated Glenfiddich drinker, and the Yoichi went fast.

#6 helenjp

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Posted 02 July 2010 - 02:20 AM

You're in Tokyo? And you haven't taken the Nikka Whisky distillery tour? I haven't taken the tour, but I find myself driving round it every time I lose my way going east of where I live.

If you have time on a weekend or a Monday, I'll take you...but perhaps I'd better not drive!

#7 Hiroyuki

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Posted 02 July 2010 - 04:13 AM

the cheap supermarket-available Kirin 100 proof whisky (~$10 for 600 ml) ... this Nikka Yoichi whisky (~$12 for 500 ml at, yes, the supermarket)

Is it understood that in Japan, the sale of alcoholic beverages was liberalized several years ago and that almost all supermarkets, as well as many con bini (convenience stores) and home improvement centers, now carry alcoholic beverages?

#8 adey73

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Posted 02 July 2010 - 04:20 AM

To those of us in the UK, who are looking at schnaffling some Japan Whisky, Oddbins has a dicounted bottle of Suntory Yamazak 12 year old.

Is this a good drop to start with?

http://www.oddbins.c...oductcode=77937
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#9 helenjp

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Posted 02 July 2010 - 08:28 PM

Yamazaki whisky line-up

At a guess, I would say yes, but only if you are wanting to get an idea of Japanese whisky. As you can see from the site, Yamazaki whiskys go up to 50 years. Hibiki and Yamazaki are Suntory's better blended and single whisky brands, while Old and Kakubin are supermarket quality (supermarkets can indeed sell any whisky, but that of course doesn't mean they stock everything consumers want to buy!).

US review

UK review

Caveat: Husband hates whisky with a passion, so I'm absolutely not an expert.

#10 adey73

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Posted 12 July 2010 - 02:38 AM

Find myself in Moscow for next couple of weeks and surprised to find Suntory Whisky, Suntory Old Whisky & Nikka all Malt.

As a neophyte to these Japanese brews anyone got any strong opinions?
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#11 peterb

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Posted 21 August 2010 - 09:20 AM

The Nikka Yoichi 15 is, for me, the apex of the value curve. Smoky without being overwhelming, rich, vibrant, and if you don't tell people it's Japanese before serving them they'd swear it's a Scottish single malt. Around $100/bottle, and worth every penny. I reviewed it here. "The nose is all iodine and seaweed, and it scratches peat and sea salt down your throat like a tea clipper sailing from Hong Kong. This is not something you would drink with dinner, but rather something to be sipped while sinking into a deep leather chair."

20080814-13650-1.jpg

#12 adey73

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Posted 23 August 2010 - 12:31 PM

The Yoichi is clear on my radar. Had a few snifters of this, a great introduction until I get the nerve to hand of the cash for a big player like the 15yr old Yoichi,
IMG_0022.JPG
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#13 eatrustic

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Posted 21 February 2013 - 02:36 AM

Thought I'd bring this thread back into the light...... besides the previously mentioned whiskies what else is recommended these days? I have a friend going to Japan soon by way of Okinawa and she has offered to bring back whatever I would like!

 

I'm giving myself a $100/9500 yen budget for a bottle. I'd love to get some Yamazaki 18 yr around that price but not sure if it's going for a lot more. I've heard great things about the Nikka Taketsuru 17 year as well as the Hibiki 17. If these prove to be above budget then perhaps the Yoichi 12 year sounds pretty tasty as well....Any other suggestions?

If anyone is aware of current pricing in Japan I'd be most appreciative so that I can give some decent direction to my non-drinking (Japanese) friend.



#14 Will

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Posted 22 February 2013 - 01:18 PM

One thing to keep in mind is that the duty free shops have a pretty good selection and pricing, so if you're short on luggage space and / or don't make it to shops while you're in Japan, just stock up at the airport.

 

As well as the Yoichi, maybe check out Miyagikyo. We got one or two of the blended ones as well.

 

Good news is that there finally seems to be a little movement on Nikka gearing up to sell in the US at some point. I have purchased via Whisky Exchange before (as well as bringing back some stuff from Japan directly).


Edited by Will, 22 February 2013 - 01:19 PM.


#15 FrogPrincesse

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Posted 31 December 2013 - 04:01 AM

I grabbed a few bottles of Nikka whisky at the local grocery store and decided to have a little tasting. I had tried Japanese whiskies from Suntory in the US (Yamazaki 12, Hibiki 12, Hakushu 12), but not Nikka. At the little corner grocery store down from where I am staying in Tokyo, they have small bottles (180 mL) for about $10 a piece, so it's a good occasion to try them.

11646493556_4b76c31fd4_z.jpg

Single malt "Yoichi", 10 years
The nose is light (caramel, leather, smoke) but the taste is intense: tobacco, leather, spice. Long finish.

Single malt "Miyagikyo"
Nose is caramel, vanilla, green apple; taste has more green apple, almond. Some smoke in the finish.

Pure malt "Taketsuru" 12 years
Nose is very light. Taste is the less intense of the three (although it's the darkest). Honey, vanilla, green apple. Finish is very faint.

It was interesting to see the wide diversity of these whiskies. The third one is probably what I had in mind when thinking of Japanese whisky - pleasant, but not especially memorable. Clearly there is a lot to explore.

Edited by FrogPrincesse, 31 December 2013 - 04:02 AM.

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#16 Paul Bacino

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Posted 31 December 2013 - 05:23 AM

That is so funny to see this...I had a Japanese contingent, that we're friends of mine in dental school, Japanese Whiskey to them ...was Chivas Regal---which in Japan was 120 dollars and here. 40. I remember. Graduation -- Yama had $100 dollars and a fifth of "Japanese Whiskey"-- and said the night won't be done tll it's all gone. Yikes


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#17 tanstaafl2

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Posted 09 January 2014 - 02:55 PM

I grabbed a few bottles of Nikka whisky at the local grocery store and decided to have a little tasting. I had tried Japanese whiskies from Suntory in the US (Yamazaki 12, Hibiki 12, Hakushu 12), but not Nikka. At the little corner grocery store down from where I am staying in Tokyo, they have small bottles (180 mL) for about $10 a piece, so it's a good occasion to try them.

11646493556_4b76c31fd4_z.jpg

Single malt "Yoichi", 10 years
The nose is light (caramel, leather, smoke) but the taste is intense: tobacco, leather, spice. Long finish.

Single malt "Miyagikyo"
Nose is caramel, vanilla, green apple; taste has more green apple, almond. Some smoke in the finish.

Pure malt "Taketsuru" 12 years
Nose is very light. Taste is the less intense of the three (although it's the darkest). Honey, vanilla, green apple. Finish is very faint.

It was interesting to see the wide diversity of these whiskies. The third one is probably what I had in mind when thinking of Japanese whisky - pleasant, but not especially memorable. Clearly there is a lot to explore.

 

I had the good fortune to spend some time in Hawaii over the holidays and it seemed the natural place to see what was available in terms of Japanese whisky. Several expressions of Nikka were available including a couple not available at home at prices that were as good or better. Ended up with the Nikka Pure Malt Taketsuru 21yo since the 12yo was available at home and I might never see the 21 at home. Hopefully it will not be quite as subtle as the 12! It has been reviewed well so far but have not opened it yet. .

 

Kind of wish I had also gotten the Nikka Coffey grain as well. Might make an interesting comparison to the Greenore grain Irish whiskey as both are essentially all corn mashbills as best I can tell. Will have to look for the Nikka Coffey locally and see if I get lucky.


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#18 janeer

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Posted 14 January 2014 - 09:17 PM

I can't find the thread (there are so many about drinking!) but in a discussion about whiskey sand Bourbons I mentioned I had tried a whiskey with a Japanese name that was awful. Couldn't remember the name. Was back there recently and wrote down the name: Nikka Taketsuru, so I could report back. I could barely get it down. Expensive, too.

#19 FrogPrincesse

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Posted 14 January 2014 - 10:04 PM

Taketsuru, terrible? Really? What didn't you like about it?

#20 eatrustic

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Posted 15 January 2014 - 01:20 PM

I can't find the thread (there are so many about drinking!) but in a discussion about whiskey sand Bourbons I mentioned I had tried a whiskey with a Japanese name that was awful. Couldn't remember the name. Was back there recently and wrote down the name: Nikka Taketsuru, so I could report back. I could barely get it down. Expensive, too.

I'll chalk up your reaction to the Taketsuru to personal preference. The Taketsuru line of whiskys are very good. I just brought back a bottle of the 17 year old along with the Hibiki 17 year from a New Year's trip to Japan. I have the Taketsuru 21 as well and it is excellent.

 

For those looking to buy higher end Japanense whisky while travelling there you will find the best prices by a pretty good margin at the duty free's in the airports. I wasn't sure and bought the Hibiki 17 in a store in Kyoto for 8500 yen and it turned up at duty free for 6500! Bought the 17 Nikka Taketsuru at duty free though so made back some of the loss.

Having said that you will only find the mainstream high end at Duty Free and in most liqour stores. Yamazaki and Nikka being the main players with their range of brands. If you want the higher end Mars, Ichiro's etc. you really need to search out specialty stores like the one in Tokyo train station.



#21 ChrisTaylor

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Posted 15 January 2014 - 01:39 PM

 

I can't find the thread (there are so many about drinking!) but in a discussion about whiskey sand Bourbons I mentioned I had tried a whiskey with a Japanese name that was awful. Couldn't remember the name. Was back there recently and wrote down the name: Nikka Taketsuru, so I could report back. I could barely get it down. Expensive, too.

I'll chalk up your reaction to the Taketsuru to personal preference. 

 

 

You can also stumble across individual bottles that are duds. A friend of mine once had a bottle of Oban that was undrinkable. Not at all like the normal Oban. Not even in the way of 'well, I guess if it'd been left to oxidise for a while this is what it would taste like'. There's a whole mess of reasons why this can happen, apparently. To do with both the cork and the process of taking the stuff from the casks and bottling it in the first place.


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#22 eatrustic

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Posted 15 January 2014 - 02:05 PM

Agreed. And then there's mouth chemistry. I don't know how often I've tried a whisky (or wine) for the first time and not liked it only to find on retasting at a later date it was something I'd eaten or drunk just prior that was the real cause. If I was lucky I had more of it to go back to and realize my error.



#23 janeer

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Posted 16 January 2014 - 08:50 PM

Taketsuru, terrible? Really? What didn't you like about it?


It was a few months ago, but I think it had a sort of stale ashtray taste to it. I would try it again but only if someone else was buying.