Posts Tagged With: Japan

Whisky Business: Japan vs Scotland – A Side-By-Side Comparison

Over the past couple of decades the world market has seen a strong rise to prominence for Japanese whiskies. Japan is currently the third largest national producers of whisky (behind Scotland and the US respectively) and there are countless volumes written about how it compares to the traditional Scotch whiskies. If you actually look into the history of Japanese whisky then that is not at all surprising, because the first Japanese whiskies were made as a result of a young scholar (Masataka Taketsuru) having been sent to Scotland (by Shinjiro Torri) to learn the trade in 1918 – although whisky writers around the world cannot seem to decide for themselves as to which of the two they should hold as the true Japanese master.

Despite the plethora of articles out there about Scottish vs Japanese whiskies, the only way that you can truly decide for yourself is to actually taste test them, so that’s what WU has done, courtesy of SH Jones and our excellent curator for the evening, Freddie.

The theme of the evening was simple: pair up a Scottish whisky and a Japanese whisky based on their age, cask and peatiness and then see which one you thought was best.

Japan vs Scotland - The Line-Up

Japan vs Scotland – The Line-Up

First up was a Nikka Miyagikyo 10 vs a BenRiach 12.

Clearly starting with the lighter of the evening’s drams, this was a contest between classic maturation in oak casks. Here the BenRiach 12 demonstrated a sweet citrus flavour and mellow finish, classic of a Speyside dram of this age. Effectively, the Miyagikyo 10 seems like Japan’s closest match to a Speyside single malt, and was a good match up, with the Miyagikyo 10 offering a light, floral and sweet finish, leaving a taste of sweet peardrops. Both were lovely drams, and a great starting point with both offering a distinctively light, inoffensive and smooth character – something that I would usually refer to as  “midweeker” dram – but based on the smoother finish and its similarity to a Bruichladdich 10 meets Glenlivet 12, I scored the Miyagikyo 8.1/10 and the BenRiach 7.6/10.

Japan 1 – Scotland 0.

 

The second pairing saw a Yamazaki 12 go up against a Dalmore 12.

Both of these whiskies have very strong brands with the name Yamazaki being synonymous with Suntory good times and the Dalmore’s trade mark 12-prong stag capturing big page spreads in the whisky magazines. Again, I thought that this was a good pairing with both drams at the same age and offering a fuller sherry finish throughout. The Yamazaki 12 had a strong wedding cake nose, which continued through the taste, with the dried fruit and spicy notes but a fairly quick finish. The Dalmore 12 starts with a strong vanilla nose that makes its way through to strong spicier notes with raisins and Christmas cake on the taste. Again, this had a fairly quick finish, but a fuller, sweeter flavour. On this one I think the Dalmore had a little bit more consistency and edged it – but only just. Yamazaki 12 scored 7.5/10, whilst the Dalmore 12 got 7.6/10.

Japan 1 – Scotland 1.

 

Dalmore 12

Dalmore 12

The third bout was between a Nikka Miyagikyo 12 and a Springbank 10.

Before even comparing the two whiskies that had been paired here, it was interesting to compare the Miyagikyo 10 (tasted first, with a tactical bit left over) to its 12 year old bigger brother and if the only difference is the aging, then that 2 years made a big difference, but I think the other key family member here is old peat! The Miyagikyo 12 recently scored the 2015 World Whisky Award for “Best Japanese Single Malt 12 Years and Under” and it’s easy to see why. The dram had a good-bodied sherry feel, with a wedding cake and dried fruit nose, an orangy/marmalade fruity tang on the taste with the warming peat smoke supporting it the whole way, ending with a mid-length and delicious mouth-feel finish.

The Springbank 10 had a lot to compete with and, to be fair, it did well. The dram had much less of a sherry feel to it because of its maturation in a mix of sherry and bourbon casks. This meant that the sweet, vanilla notes from the oak took the edge off the sherry on the nose. These flavours then made way for a spicy and lightly peated full body on the taste and had a fairly lingering finish. Whilst it was a nice dram, I think the pairing might have been a little unfair on the Scots here, because the Miyagikyo 12 was an outright winner – and my favourite dram of the night. In the end, I scored the Miyagikyo 12 a whopping 9.0/10, and the Springbank 10 got 7.8/10. This was simply something excellent being paired with something very good.

Japan 2 – Scotland 1.

 

The final tasting of the evening (with slightly more generous measures as we proceeded…) was between the Taketsuru Malt 17 Years Old vs The Balvenie 17 Year Old Doublewood.

Now this was the pairing I was most excited about (until the Miyagikyo 12 stole the show), and again saw a recent winner of a 2015 World Whisky Award winner from Japan (albeit this time taking the world title of Best Blended Malt Whisky) up against a Scottish traditional stalwart. Both containing whisky aged for at least 17 years and both weighing in at a tax-friendly 43%, this seemed to be the fairest fight of the evening on paper, and neither dram disappointed. The Taketsuru is a blend from Miyagikyo and Yoichi. As noted above, the Miyagikyo whiskies seem to be pretty great light-mid drams, whilst the Yoichi counterpart is more renowned for its highly peated flavours. The combination was fantastic. The nose had a distinctive, spicy and summer fruit feel, which really carried through into a red berry taste. It may have been the power of suggestion on the evening from the notes, but there was a distinct Ribena berry taste to it underneath all the spice and smoke. The finish itself was slightly harsh but ended on a tasty fruit note.

The Balvenie 17 is similarly a combination of maturations and sees American oak barrel sweetness fused with sherry cask fruitiness. It certainly smelt like a bigger version of the Balvenie 12 Doublewood and had a deeper, sweeter taste to it, with a caramel-like texture and creaminess. The finish was initially harsh but left a lingering and improving sweetness. I may have been a little starstruck on the night, but I edged the Taketsuru in front of the Balvenie with a score of 8.9 playing 8.2.

Final score: Japan 3 – Scotland 1.

 

Dram-atic

Dram-atic

Overall, I did not expect that end result. I genuinely went into the evening expecting a Scottish landslide, but was willing to give it all a fair try and was pleasantly surprised by the outcome. I think that the availability of some recent award winners may have been a little unfair on the Scottish staples, but from what I’ve come to learn about Japanese whiskies, I can see why there is strong interest in their fine produce and I would happily set up a rematch to see what other results are out there, such as the heavyweight peat title of Yoichi 10 vs Laphroaig 10!

Even more interesting is that since the tasting, Islay’s Bowmore have just released a Mizanura oak expression, and I would like to think that we see some lessons learned and shared across the globe, rather than it be an either-or duel of the drams! As for now though, I’ll consider this a delicious international friendly.

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Categories: BenRiach, Miyagikyo, Springbank, Taketsura, Tasting Notes, The Balvenie, The Dalmore, Yamazaki | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The world has spoken in 2015…

…and it has said “Ho ta lah!” – or at least that’s the closest phonetic spelling I can find for the Taiwanese equivalent to cheers!

 

Yes, the World Whisky Awards for 2015 were held recently to determine the best whiskies in the world across a multitude of categories and they have awarded their top honour of “World’s Best Single Malt Whisky” to the Taiwanese distillers of Kavalan, for their Solist Vinho Barrique expression. And anything described as “bourbon-infused milk chocolate” would probably get my vote too. Its a single cask release, making it rare, and is bottled at cask strength, so its certainly not pulling any punches at 58.6% ABV, so keep an eye out in the auction rooms, because this stuff is nowhere to be seen on the shelves!

 

The full round-up of winners can be found here (http://www.worldwhiskiesawards.com/2015/all.html)  but here’s a list of the overall winners from each category:

 

Overall winners:

  • World’s best single malt: Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique (Taiwan)
  • World’s best grain whisky: Darkness! North British 18 Year Old Oloroso Cask Finish (Scotland)
  • World’s best pot still whiskey: Redbreast Pot Still 15 Year Old (Ireland)
  • World’s best American whiskey: Thomas H Handy Sazerac Straight Rye (USA)
  • World’s best blend: That Boutique-y Whisky Company Blended Whisky #1 (Scotland)
  • World’s best blended malt: Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt 17 Year Old (Japan)
  • World’s best scotch blended malt: Wemyss Malts Velvet Fig (Scotland)
  • World’s best flavoured whisky: Master of Malt 40 Year Old Speyside Whisky Liqueur (Scotland)

 

International categories:

  • Best African blended whisky: Three Ships Bourbon Cask Finish (South Africa)
  • Best African single malt: Three Ships Single Malt 10 Year Old (South Africa)
  • Best American single malt: Balcones Texas Single Malt (Texas)
  • Best Australian single malt: Sullivan’s Cove French Oak Cask Matured (Tasmania)
  • Best European single malt: Mackmyra Iskristall (Sweden)
  • Best Irish blended whiskey: Tullamore Dew Phoenix (Ireland)
  • Best Irish single malt: Teeling Single Malt (Ireland)
  • Best Japanese blended whisky: Suntory Hibiki 12 Year Old (Japan)
  • Best Japanese single malt: Suntory Yamazaki 18 Year Old (Japan)

 

Scottish categories:

  • Best Campbeltown single malt: Longrow 11 Year Old
  • Best Highland single malt: Glenmorangie Extremely Rare 18 Year Old
  • Best Lowland single malt: Highland Harvest Single Malt Sauternes Wood
  • Best Islands single malt: Ledaig 10 Year Old
  • Best Islay single malt: Ardbeg Kildalton
  • Best Speyside single malt: Benriach 16 Year Old

 

This seems like another turning point in the story of world whiskies. Comparing this year’s result to last year’s 2014 winner – Sullivan’s Cove French Oak Cask, from Tasmania, Australia (which still won best Australian dram this year) – it seems that not only is the whisky world wide open, but it is thriving and excelling in its craft. That and French wine casks are going to be even more sought after in the coming years.

 

Some people may challenge the validity of these types of awards, but given that 2015 has seen whisky guru Jim Murray awarding his whisky of the year to Yamazaki’s 2013 Sherry Cask release and has previously awarded his ‘New Whisky of the Year’ to Kavalan, there seems to be a trend forming. For collectors this might be a call to start diversifying your purchases, whereas others may see this as a time to get behind the Scottish and Irish founders of the dram, but whichever your persuasion, you can’t deny that this is a good and vibrant time for whisky makers and appreciators worldwide.

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Whisky: Scotch Independence?

As we approach 18th Sept 2014, the debate rages on throughout Scotland and the UK about whether or not the Scots should vote for Scottish independence. For whisky drinkers, this mirrors one question that has often considered too: do I stick to just scotch whisky or not?

scottish flag

Whisky: Scotch Independence?

The answer is that only you can really decide. But! It would not be right (almost rude, in fact) to rule out other whiskies without trying them first, so here’s a potted geographical tour of the big names that the non-scotch world has to offer:

Jameson's - Triple Distilled Irish Whiskey

Jameson’s – Triple Distilled Irish Whiskey


Bushmills 10 Year Old - Single Malt Irish Whiskey

Bushmills 10 Year Old – Single Malt Irish Whiskey

Irish whiskey is known to have a long and vibrant history, similar to the Scots. In fact it seems that no trip to the Eire capital, Dublin, is complete without a trip to the Jameson’s distillery (or the Guinness factory for that matter). Jameson’s is a regular favourite amongst most pubs and bars and, due to its kudos and mass production, is now readily available in most shops and supermarkets and stands proud as the flagship Irish dram. Similarly, Bushmills from Northern Ireland is increasingly adorning the shelves and optics of local public houses and offer a triple distilled blend and a 10 year old single malt as their entry level drams, which could prove to be your tipple of choice. Bushmills also lays claim to be being the oldest Irish whiskey with its history hailing back to 1608!

Across the pond, the US is renowned for its sipping whiskey and bourbons. The big marketing powerhouses of Jack Daniel’s and Jim Beam are always competing heavily against one another for your money (e.g. Jim Beam’s recent claim of making history with Mila Kunis battles with the annual claim of September as Jack Daniel’s birth-month) and both have their strengths and weaknesses, but always get the job done with their charcoal-rich hearty measures, whether neat or with a mixer. North of the US border, you have the Canadians, who are more known for their rye whiskies (i.e. made with rye rather than malt) and most famous is the self-titled Canadian Club whiskey, which packs a unique punch, and can be delicious on its own or with a mixer (usually with its Canadian comrade Canada Dry ginger ale).

Yamazaki - Distiller's Reserve

Yamazaki – Distiller’s Reserve

Moving across the Pacific to Japan, you come back to predominantly premier single malts, and there is none bigger than the Yamazaki, within the Suntory whisky family. The Yamazaki is certainly harder to find in pubs here in the UK and you generally have to seek it out in some of the more upmarket bars, mainly due to the price and prestige that the brand associates. That said, it is still a fine dram and their staple Yamazaki 10 is a good place as any to start exploring whether or not Japanese whisky is for you. In 2014 they have also released their “Distiller’s Reserve” within their core range which cleverly demonstrates their use of different casks (including their signature Misanura oak), and has been made widely available via supermarket deals within the UK.

Further south, Australia’s mark on the whisky world is gaining considerable pace, including the 2014 World Whisky Award winning dram hailing from Tasmania, courtesy of Sullivan’s Cove.

Travelling from east to west, we come across India’s largest offering to the industry via the Amrut company whose expressions come very highly rated by whisky guru, Jim Murray. (As too are the John Distilleries expressions from Goa, India). Amrut have progressively built up a varied back catalogue of whiskies including peated and unpeated versions of their product and even a fusion of the two, with their core range demonstrating a great spectrum of complex and rich drams.

English Whisky Company - Fine Single Malt

English Whisky Company

Traversing back into Europe, the last two decades or so has seen an explosion in different countries making their names known within the whisky community, with Sweden’s Mackmyra, Holland’s Zuidam, Denmark’s Stauning and France’s Warengham distilleries representing their respective nation’s biggest fare. To the casual drinker however, the largest problem with these (relative) newcomers though is that they are scarcely available in public within the UK and often need to be bought especially from merchants or at whisky-specialist bars.

Coming back full circle into the UK then, the last 10-20 years has also seen a similar emergence of new players in the market with Penderyn offering celtic magic via their single malt from Wales, as well as the eponymous English Whisky Company and Adnams single malts, both based in Norfolk, getting their patriotic labels on the shelves. What this goes to show is that whilst it may have all started in Scotland, the variety and choice of whiskies available is getting larger and larger and whether you become a scotch purist or a multinational dabbler, the whisky world is your oyster. M

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