One of the youngest Karuizawa we’ve tried so far, a 1991 released in 2007. Back then, Number One Drinks had just started the import and the distillery was still building up recognition. This bottling won a silver medal in the 2008 Malt Maniacs awards.
Karuizawa 1991 (62,5%, OB 2007,
sherry cask #3318)
Nose: very strong and slightly rubbery. Volcanic ashes? At the same time, the hotness prevents other aromas to come out, it definitely needs some time to open up. Some sherry notes (of the earthy, mossy kind) and spices (pepper, ginger). Roasted nuts and baked pie. Blackberries and dried figs. Getting more floral over time. Mouth: hot, dry and sherried, with the original malt shining through after a few moments. Sweet coffee. Plums and dates. Very spicy, quite overwhelming. Slightly smoky and salty. Not much difference with water. Finish: long, hot and spicy.
An earthy / ashy expression of Karuizawa.
Not a quick charmer, but it gains balance if you let it breathe. Around € 90 at the time, now sold out. Thanks for the sample swap, Johan.
This single cask of Yamazaki was selected by whisky writer Dave Broom to celebrate the 10th Anniversaries of Whisky Live held in Tokyo and London during February 2010. We’ve previously reviewed the Karuizawa 1990 that was launched for the same occasion.
Yamazaki 12 yo 1996
(60%, OB for Whisky-Live Japan 2009,
sherry butt AX70012)
Nose: deep sherry with fruity notes (sourish raspberry, red apples), nutty notes (walnuts) and oak resin. A little mint. Heavy sherry but faultless. Mouth: thick and compact. Starts dry and hugely oaky with dried fruits, walnuts and ginger. Evolves nicely on sweeter, creamy flavours like vanilla and chocolate ganache. Exotic woods. Pepper. Finish: smoky with great roasted coffee beans and milk chocolate.
Very big and packed with wonderful sherry notes. Not very complex though, and there are heavy wood flavours. Now sold for € 200 and more here in Europe, too much from a quality perspective.
Mizunara (Quercus mongolica) is commonly referred to as Japanese oak. There are other types of native oak in Japan though (e.g. Konara oak or Ubame oak) so it would be more precise to say Mongolian oak.
Anyway Mizunara oak is commonly used for the maturation of whisky (especially by Chichibu and Yamazaki) and was used to finish this Ichiro’s Malt whisky. Read this Nonjatta article if you’re interested in the characteristics of Japanese oak.
This Mizunara Wood Reserve is a vatted malt (undisclosed, but probably from the Hanyu and Chichibu distilleries).
Ichiro’s Malt Mizunara Wood Reserve
(46%, OB 2010)
Nose: many woody notes, like a carpenter’s workshop. Sandalwood, mint and ginger. Soft grassy notes. Hints of incense. Some fruity notes and indeed also a faint coconut aroma in the background. Gets more aromatic over time. Not unlike some modern “oak-boosted” Scotch whisky, especially with Virgin oak finishes. Mouth: underpowered I’m afraid and lacking intensity. A little pepper and allspice. Then grows slightly sour (wood extracts) with a salty edge. Herbal and oaky but still washed out. Soft grapefruit. Finish: very short, slightly gingery.
The nose is nice enough (within its genre), but the palate fails to deliver. Hard to recommend unless you have a scientific interest in Japanese oak.
Around € 110. Thanks for the sample, Jack.
Although Yoichi is the best known part of the Nikka company, their second distillery, named Miyagikyo, is actually bigger. Malt whisky is produced there using eight stills. A Coffey Still was installed in 1999 but is only used intermittently.
This 20 years old 1988 vintage is a mixture of four Miyagikyo whisky styles, with different peating levels and different cask types (recharred casks, remade casks and a sherry butt).
Nikka Miyagikyo 1988 (50%, OB 2008, 1500 btl.)
Nose: nice and sensual, with lots of apricots and vanilla. Yellow plums. Slightly exotic. Furniture polish and beeswax. Gooseberries. A little frangipane. It shows elements of 1970’s Glen Grant, or 1972 Glengoyne, or 1970 Glen Keith. Good enough, right? Plus, there’s the softest hint of peat in the background. Mouth: starts on peppery wood, with slightly more pronounced peat. Leather. Overall rather sweet, with dried fruits (plums again) and a kind of bubblegummy / synthetic fruitiness. Evolves on a cheapish lychee liqueur (not as bad as it sounds, really). Finish: quite long, on dried apricots and old furniture.
A great nose with a slightly less appealing palate. Overall very nice, with a unique all-round profile among Japanese whiskies (subtle sherry, subtle peat, exotic fruits). Around
€ 215, still a few bottles available.
Rare Ayrshire refers to the Ladyburn distillery, which was an expansion of the Girvan grain distillery built in 1963 by William Grant & Sons. The Ladyburn malt whisky distillery was created in 1966 by installing two pot stills, but nine years later (in 1975), they were already dismantled.
As Signatory is not allowed to use the name Ladyburn, they’ve bottled it under the name Ayrshire, after the council area of Scotland in which it was located. While no other independent bottler seems to have remaining stocks, Signatory released a handful of Labyburn casks since 2007.
Nose: apple and citrus aromas. Mixed with some slightly sour / musty oak, you get a very light and vibrant profile. Soft nutty notes. Mint. A hint of pepper. Mouth: starts spicy and slightly malty (fresh bread) before getting fresher and more vibrant with lemon and lemon balm. Quite sweet (pink grapefruit, a little pineapple). Nice development with clear oak which works nicely here. Again a soft nuttiness. Finish: half fruity, half grassy. Not too oaky.
A nice and fresh Lowlands dram from a legendary distillery. Nothing exceptional I would say, certainly not from a price / quality perspective, but indeed truly rare.
Around € 165.
Nose: Speyside style with extra mineral / flinty notes. Unripe pears, gooseberries, some mint and citrus. There’s also a vegetal side (fern, cooked vegetables). Hints of wet chalk and faint smoky notes hidden underneath. Mouth: quite oily and grainy, with mineral and herbal elements. Medium oak and spices. Lots of ginger. The fruits are in the background (crystallized oranges, melon). Citrus peel and ginger towards the end. Finish: pretty spicy with ginger, pepper and cloves.
A complex and slightly unsexy Speysider with a few unusual notes. Still available in some places. Around € 120.
Online retailer Master of Malt had a nice idea for creating a new whisky. They sent over a blending kit with samples of 10 different kinds of whiskies to ten whisky bloggers around the world. With these base whiskies they were asked to create a recipe for their ideal blend.
A couple of weeks ago, the blogger’s blends were available from Master of Malt for around € 35 (a set of 10x 3cl samples, but already sold out). We were supposed to judge them and vote for the best result. The winning blend will be released in full bottles.
A great idea, although I suggest to rethink their selection of bloggers next time… (just kidding)
By now I’ve tried all ten. It doesn’t make much sense to review them in depth, we wouldn’t know who to congratulate anyway. Therefore, I’ve used a three star ranking for nose and palate and not my usual scoring. The price mentioned will be the price of a full bottle, in case it wins the competition.
A – £ 48 (*****) N: fruit, spices, pleasant oak and subtle smoke T: spicy, round sweetness, vanilla
B – £ 36 (**) N: toast, raisins and slightly dirty sherry T: artificially sweet, toffee, dried fruits
I was surprised by the relatively small deviation. They’re pretty similar to other blends on the market and pretty similar to each other (only one of them has peat in the foreground for instance). The details that set them apart are fairly small, so I can imagine the sample comparison is pretty boring for inexperienced tasters. My girlfriend would probably say most of them are the same whisky. Because of this, I felt I had to exaggerate my scores a litte.
Also, it’s clear that the price isn’t always an indication of quality. The most expensive blend (C) comes out in the middle of the pack and some of the cheapest blends (especially D and F) are very well made. My favourites (A + I) are among the more expensive blends though.
For me, (A) stands out because of its punchy spices and fresh oak while maintaining a nice all-round character. And (I) stands out for nicely integrating peaty / smoky elements. (D) is the well-priced all-rounder (some sherry, some smoke) in my top-3.
Update: it turns out blend I won the contest. It comes as no surprise that the most typically Islay style won, but it has to be said it was a well-composed and enticing blend!