Tokyo Tastings: Joker, Mars and Ichiro

Back to Zoetrope, my favourite Japanese whisky bar in Tokyo. This time I wasn't rushing so had time to enjoy my whiskies and chat with Horigami-san, the owner, about his collection and his love for film. Will save the details of the conversation and get straight to the whisky!
This is no joke!
The first dram that I was keen on trying was the Ichiro's Malt Hanyu Joker, which is the final release from Ichiro's famous Card Series that sold out pretty quickly even though there were 3,690 bottles released. A shame he did not have the 1st release, which was a black and white Joker, to do a comparison but heaven knows how expensive it would have been.
Comments: Hint of nail varnish and mint on the nose followed by floral and cherry scents. The mouth is chewy with a mish mash of chocolate, vanilla, cinnamon, peaches with a nice dallop of spice. The taste just keeps evolving in the mouth and it's hard to pin down an exact flavour profile. A very complex and unique dram in that regard. Truly an important piece of Japanese whisky history!
 Mars Attack!
Next up was an interesting pair of whiskies from Mars, which is from the Shinshu distillery located in the Nagano prefecture. Mars is probably the only Japanese distillery that does not export it's whisky so it's pretty rare to find it outside of Japan. I was quite excited to try 2 single casks, one sherry butt and the other American white oak, both aged 12 years and distilled in 1992, the year Shinshu stopped production before restarting again in 2011 focused on blended whiskies.
Mars Single Cask Sherry Butt #1124: Heavy sherry notes with pomegranate and a spicy, slightly oily finish. Not too bad!

Mars Single Cask American White Oak #1143: Vanilla, apricots and peaches are the variety of the day. Finish is again slightly spicy with a feinty finish. Quite yummy actually and I preferred this just slightly more than the sherry cask.
My eyes were probably bloodshot as well by then
For the last dram of the night I spotted a curious looking bottle with the Zoetrope label on it. A special edition Ichiro's Malt bottled for Zoetrope! This one is unique as it was finished in a rum cask. Why not give it a shot?
Comments: A little sharp on its own and really opened up with a few drops of water. Lemon zest and apples followed by a small wave of pepper and bittergourd. The finish is pretty long and you can taste hints of the rum cask which gives it a spicy and nutty kick at the end.

SMWS 26.63 and 125.30

My very first 2 bottles from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society purchased in Paris when I was in France for G's wedding more than a year ago. They believe in the beauty of single cask whisky and the variations in taste profile that occur cask to cask even within the same distillery. In my opinion, this is the 'true' single malt and is what makes whisky so fascinating and how it should be enjoyed.

SMWS 26.63: My very first Clynelish! Has a punchy nose with cinnamon and grassy notes. Upon tasting, lemon and apricots come through. Slightly too sweet for my liking but still a nice whisky.

SMWS 125.30: Oh my goodness! I would never have thought this was a Glenmorangie. Sublime honey (exactly as per the description of Winnie the Pooh!) with peaches and vanilla notes finishing the smooth and long finish. Very, very good and is hands down favourite of anyone who's tried it.

Balvenie Tun 1401 Batch 4

From one of my favourite distilleries this is my first review of the very popular Tun 1401 series. We have Batch 4 here which is the marriage of 3 Sherry Butts & 7 American Oak Barrels. An interesting blended Single Malt!
Comments: Herbacious notes followed by zesty lemon and vanilla and honeyed finish. A good dram but not sure if worth the current prices they are selling for now.

Glen Grant 16 Year

Was in Kuala Lumpur and visited C's restaurant for the first time. He recommended the Glen Grant 16 Year, a distillery that I have never actually tried despite it being one of the largest whisky brands in the world.
Comment: A very easy whisky to quaff. I think the 4 of us finished a bottle within an hour. Light, fruity and fresh is the best way to describe it with an amazingly smooth finish.

Tokyo Tastings: Ichiro's Malt Ace of Spades and Kawasaki 1981

Another day in Tokyo, another random bar stumbled upon. This time it's Zoetrope, a bar specialising in Japanese whisky and silent films! Another only in Tokyo experience. I was rushing to the airport to catch my flight so quickly scoured the menu and found 2 gems, an Ichiro's Malt Ace of Spades and Ichiro's Malt Kawasaki 1981. There were many other interesting whiskies to try on the menu so definitely will be back!
So this is the famous Ace of Spades worth a ridiculous US$10K according to this article. These Ichiro card series bottlings are getting increasingly rare and collectors are all over them like bees to honey. Think I'm pretty fortunate to have tried it because I probably had the last drop from the bottle.
There were 2 releases for this series and this was the 1st one I believe with an outturn of 122 bottles.
Comments: A very classy whisky. A wonderful citrus and earthy nose. The palate is sherried candy and becomes chocolatey with a long lingering spicy finish. Great balance with the oak and sherry! Not sure though if I could ever justify paying the price tag on this whisky right now.
Kawasaki just like Karuizawa is another closed distillery in Japan. The only difference is that Kawasaki is a single grain whisky (90% corn / 10% barley). Let's see what Ichiro-san's magic can do for the whisky.
Comments: Wow! Strong vanilla with layers of orange and dark chocolate permeate the tastebuds. Remarkably smooth for the alcohol strength and does not bite at all. Feels like a cross over of some of the great bourbons and rums that I've tried. Solid stuff! (P.S: Realised after that this whisky was a Malt Maniacs 2010 Gold Medal winner).

Whisky and Steak - Part 2 (Old Pulteney 21 Year & New Zealand's 1987 24 Year)

The third dram we tried that night was the Old Pulteney 21 year which I have been longing to try since it won the Whisky of the Year in Jim Murray's 2012 edition.

Comments: Refreshing lemon zest and pears on the nose. The palate is oily with hints of chocolate, vanilla and a dash of smoke in the end. What a beautifully balanced whisky and worthy addition to any whisky cabinet.
Another interesting dram for the night...a 24 year whisky from New Zealand's only and closed Willowbank distillery. This one commemorates the year of the 1st Rugby World Cup, which was of course won by the All Blacks. Only 1000 bottles of this whisky are in existence. A rare treat indeed.
Comments: Refreshing spring grassy mouth followed by a spicy toffee and citrus finish with woody vanilla undertones. Nice tipple and great effort from the Kiwis.

Whisky and Steak - Part 1 (Balvenie 16 Yr Triple Cask & 15 Yr Single Barrel Sherry Cask)

Last minute steak dinner pulled together at Y's house with some good friends. Had some really good wine to pair with the food but of course had to end the night with some whisky. We had a very random selection of 2 Balvenies, a 24 year New Zealand (yes New Zealand) whisky and the award winning 21 year Old Pulteney.

Let's start with the Balvenies which are recent additions to the range. The first is a 16 year Triple cask available exclusively for travel retail and the second is the newly released 15 year Single Barrel Sherry Cask that is replacing the Oak cask series (reviewed here)

Balvenie 16 yr Triple Cask: A bit light on the palate and somewhat disappointing. The usual vanilla and honey notes are there but lacks the usual full bodied flavour of a Balvenie. Maybe the 40% abv has something to do with it? For the price point there are other better Balvenies to be had.

Balvenie 15 yr Single Barrel Sherry Cask: A worthy successor to the Oak cask Single Barrel and great if you like sherried whisky. Apricots, raisins dominate with a hint of nuttiness and the finish is long and smooth.

Ichiro's Malt Chichibu The First

Good whisky is meant to be shared. This one is no exception. At a BBQ no less. Presenting the legendary Ichiro Akuto's first whisky from the Chichibu distillery. For those of you who are not acquainted with Japanese whisky, Ichiro is the grandson of the founder of the now defunct Hanyu distillery and is carrying on the family tradition with some of the biggest cult whiskies in Japan (see details on the Card series here). This one is destined to be a collector's item one day...
Comments: You would've never guessed this was a 3 year old whisky with its level of complexity. The notes evoke caramel and honey and this follows through with thick layers of spice and citrus on the tongue. This goes on for a wee bit then ends abruptly. Good things, as they say must come to an end.

Lagavulin Distiller's Edition (1994 & 1995) and Glendronach 15 Years Revival

Had dinner at one of our favourite sushi restaurants in Singapore after returning from Tokyo. Yes, I love Japanese food. Knowing that the head chef loves his whisky, we brought a bottle of Glendronach 15 Revival to savour as an after dinner drink. Before you knew it, he took out his personal stash of Hibiki 30 (reviewed here, what an amazing dram which was sold out everywhere in Tokyo!) and Lagavulin Distiller's Edition 1994 and 1995 (previous review of 1989 version here).


Lagavulin DE 1994: A sherried Lagavulin! Have forgotten what it tastes like already as it has been awhile since I've had the Distiller's Edition version. This one treads the balance nicely between sherry and smoke. The debate will forever rage whether this is better than the 16 YO.

Lagavulin DE 1995: The sweetness in this one overpowers the peat slightly in this one. A little more tannic on the taste buds as well. I prefer the 1994 although I know of people that prefer this one, probably because they prefer less smoky whiskies in general.

Glendronach 15Yr: Not in the same class as the single cask series but nonetheless very impressive for the price point. Fresh floral notes and a strong sherry punch hits you when you taste it with a candied finish. I'm stocking up on this one as an everyday dram!

Tokyo tastings - Ichiro's Malt Single Cask, Balvenie from the 80s and The Spoon

Bar Keith named after the Glen Keith, the owner's favourite distillery
Tokyo always never ceases to amaze me with the infinite number of whisky bars that have fascinating collections. Went to Bar Keith in Shinjuku after doing whisky shopping in Shinanoya and had the fortune to try 3 sublime whiskies thanks to the owner Koji-san, who was extremely knowledgeable AND spoke decent English.

Interesting label for an Ichiro's Malt

First up was a hidden gem, an Ichiro's Malt Single Cask! Bottlings from the now defunct Hanyu distillery are really hard to come by these days. This is my first Ichiro's Malt review and hopefully many more to come from this cult whisky maker...

Comments: Bursting with fruits, citrus and plums come to mind, followed by hints of cinnamon and vanilla notes finished. Drops of water bring out the maltiness just a tad. Great whisky! If only I could get my hands on some.

Is this Balvenie masquerading as Cognac? 
I mentioned that Balvenie was one of my favourite distilleries and this was what showed up on the table, a 1980s bottling of a Balvenie 18! It must've been my lucky day as there was only 1 serving remaining in the bottle. I could see Koji-san holding back the tears as he poured the last drop from the bottle.

Comments: The distinct Balvenie cereal malt taste is more mellow and a fresh vanilla and oak finish hits you with hints of leather at the end. The water, barley and casks used must have been different back then. How the taste of Balvenie has evolved over the years.

Balvenie and Glenfiddich elope
Time for a nightcap and I was shown this interesting bottle called 'The Spoon' which is essentially a 23 year Balvenie single cask diluted with a teaspoon of Glenfiddich (in whisky circles Balvenie+teaspoon of Glenfiddich=Burnside). Apparently, this is done as stipulated by the distillery so the independent bottler cannot label the whisky they bought a single cask and dilute the parent distillery brand. Nonetheless, a 23 year Balvenie single cask is a 23 year Balvenie single cask, even if diluted with a drop of Glenfiddich. I was more intrigued by the cool label then anything else. On to the review...

Comments: Spice, honey and citrus tones with a medium long finish that is tannic and oaky at the same time. Quite enjoyable and a great way to end the night.

Glendronach 23 Years 1989 Cask 5470

How do you end a fantastic wine dinner night with good friends? With a great whisky of course! Found this hidden in my stash that I've been meaning to try for awhile.
Comments: Yummy raisins and citrus notes dominate with a long clean honeyed finish. Lovely, lovely stuff. If you love sherried whiskies, these Glendronachs are the way to go. I am becoming a fan...

Laphroaig 14 Years Signatory 1998

Had a happy hour session with my reservist army mates and decided to bring an interesting bottle for them to try. This was a bottle picked up from our good friends from LMDW and came highly recommended.
Comments: The cask strength style definitely gives a punch! Grassy, floral waves followed by the inevitable smoked brilliance of Laphroaig. Crisp, medium finish makes it a good nightcap.

Ardbeg Tasting: Airigh Nam Beist 1990 & Uigeadail

It's been awhile since we tried the Ardbegs and we were in the mood for something punchy that evening. We had 2 interesting ones in the collection that were waiting to be opened, an Ardbeg Airigh Nam Beist 1990, which the distillery calls 'Ardbeg Ice Cream' and the Ardbeg Uigeadail, which won Jim Murray's Whisky of the Year Awards in 2009.
Ardbeg Airigh Nam Beist 1990: The usual powerful Ardbeg smokiness blends nicely with creamy vanilla notes with a hint of cashews and an oily finish. Solid!

Ardbeg Uigeadail: A full flavoured Ardbeg infused with sweet honey and caramel overtones. Nicely balancing the Ardbeg with sherry casks!

Santis Malt - Edition Dreifaltigkeit

Was playing poker at a R's place and he recommended we try some interesting whisky from Switzerland that his wife recently bought called Santis Malt. What makes this whisky unique is that it is stored in oak wood beer barrels instead of the usual oak or sherry casks. On top of that, they have a few different products in the market and this one we sampled was the Edition Dreifaltigkeit, which won Jim Murray's European Whisky of the Year in 2010.
Photo courtesy of:
Probably the only culture in the world rivaling the Japanese in terms of meticulousness and attention to detail would be the Swiss. Santis Malt keeps the reputation intact by sourcing water from the Swiss Alps and grain from Switzerland grown under extreme weather conditions to impart an idiomatic Swiss flavour to the whisky. On top of that, the bottle labels are personally designed and hand-cut by the managing director himself.
Comments: This whisky definitely has a very distinct flavour, very unlike traditional whiskies. Strong malt profile with a hint of beer and a smokiness that is closer to smoked duck than the usual Islay peatiness. Very well done for a relatively new distillery. Definitely worth a try!

Halloween Whisky - Glenfiddich 30 Year & Yamazaki 25 Year

Had the pleasure of going to a friend's place for a pre-Halloween dinner and unexpectedly, some seriously fine whisky. 
The first whisky we savoured was the Glenfiddich 30. I've always liked Glenfiddichs and the opportunity to taste on of their top end drams was definitely a treat. This one recently won the Gold Medal at the International Spirits Challenge in 2013.

Comments: Overall a superb whisky that goes down very well and suits all palates. Great balance overall with blends of citrus fruit, honey and vanilla overtones for a mellow, distinct flavour.

A Glenfiddich 30yr would typically be the highlight of any good night out...until an even rarer Yamazaki 25yr gets pulled out of the cabinet. This is the World Whisky Awards 2012 winner of Best Single Malt and is practically sold out everywhere.

Comments: Talk about intense. Chocolate? Coffee? Sherry? Surprisingly flavourful and deep for a 43% whisky. And the finish just goes on and on...lovely stuff.