Fukuoka Whisky Heaven

Was in Fukuoka for a few days to attend a friend's wedding and managed to find some time to visit a few whisky bars recommended by friends.

The first stop was Bar Kitchen, owned by Oka-san who manages a staggering 3,000 bottles in the bar.
One of the most amazing displays of whisky I have seen and he even has the entire Ichiro's Malt Card Series on display.
We asked if he had the elusive 'Monochrome' Joker bottle but sadly that was finished so we tasted the 'Colour' Joker as a consolation prize.
One of the favourites from the night was also from Ichiro's Malt which was a beautiful 'The Game' Madeira Cask aged for only 6 years.
In the end it was a great night out thanks to Oka-san for all his lovely recommendations!
Next, we tried Whisky Bar Leichhardt which has a fantastic selection of 1300 bottles at the bar. Bartender/owner Sumiyoshi-san told me he also has another 200 bottles in the storeroom and 1500 bottles at home so he too has 3000 bottles which he can draw from!
 Again, Ichiro's Malts were recommended and he shared these bottles below.
The one I tried was 'The Dream Cask' from Bar Kitchen (that I didn't get to try the night before) from a bourbon cask that was stunning.
For the last night, we went to Bar Higuchi, which is a whisky/cocktail bar in the Nakasu area. Higuchi-san also has a great selection of whiskies. Didn't manage to ask how many he had but it is probably close to a 1000 bottles based on a rough estimate. He is organizing Whisky Talk Fukuoka 2018 which I'm so tempted to go now after learning more about it.
He has an impressive selection of vintage Macallans proudly on display.
Focused more on Scotch at this bar and had a very good Glen Keith 1988 vintage here.
Overall, Fukuoka is really a great place to go for whisky and the food (the ramen is amazing). Would highly recommend it to everyone! More specific reviews of the bottles coming up next!

Ichiro's Malt Mizunara Wood Reserve

This is an interesting whisky from Ichiro's Malt that is aged in Mizunara Oak which is only found in Japan.
Comment: Honey, citrus and apples with sandalwood on the finish. Great for a no age statement Mizunara if you want to sample something different.

Karuizawa 35yo 1978/2014

Karuizawa, probably the DRC of the whisky world now with prices going through the roof at recent auctions. A very generous friend decided to open one of these at a dinner party. This was a Number One Drinks bottling for LMdW aged 35 years in a bourbon cask. Should be interesting.
Comments: Nail varnish followed by intense apricot and pear accompanied by a hint of minty smokiness. The palate is strong on the citrus and honey with a spicy, medicinal finish. What a great dram with such varied complexity.

Whiskylive Singapore Part 3: Balvenie Tun 1858 and George T. Stagg

Taiwanese Tuns
This is the final part of the Whiskylive 2014 whisky tasting session. After so many amazing whiskies, what else could be on offer that could tempt us to have more as most of us were getting a little tipsy. Then we saw the Balvenies and it was a no brainer. The delectable pair that they had was the Tun 1858s, Batches 2 and 3. After the success of the Tun 1401 (Batch 4 reviewed here), Balvenie master distiller David Stewart decided to experiment again with another marrying Tun to create these batches exclusively for the Taiwan market.
Batch 2: Great nose with the usual honey, vanilla with a little leather overtones. Spicy on the palate with prunes, apricots and liquorice. A lingering sweetness on the finish but somehow feels that it lands slightly short overall.

Batch 3: Almost identical nose to Batch 2. Or maybe my olfactory receptors have been shot after so many whiskies. Taste and finish is a lot more balanced on this one though with chocolate and biscuit notes rounding up the profile.
One for the road
We wanted our last dram for the night to be something different from what we had tried. What better way to end with probably one of the most famous bourbons in the market, the George T. Stagg. This beast was a staggering 70.3% alcohol, which is classified as 'hazmat'. i.e. you cannot carry this stuff on airlines! We were almost afraid to touch it without adding water...almost...
Comments: Wow, what a punch! Toffee, vanilla, chocolate with spicy fruits with lots of oakiness in the finish. With a dash of water, it opens up with citrus and floral notes. What a way to end the evening.

Whiskylive Singapore Part 2: Hanyu The Game & Ichiro's 8 of Clubs

Who's got game?
Next, we had some fascinating whiskies from the Land of the Rising Sun. First up was a pair of Hanyus from Ichiro called The Game, one from a Mizunara cask (release #2) and the other from a Red Oak cask (release #3). These are special bottlings for Japanese spirits retailer Shinanoya and I believe almost impossible to find now. Those labels are absolutely gorgeous if anything else!

The Game 2nd Edition: Smells and tastes like a forest with fresh oak and grass dominating the palate initially followed by a vanilla sweetness and spicy, zesty lemon aftertaste. The Mizunara cask definitely adds an interesting dimension to this one.

The Game 3rd Edition: Herbacious with a little bite and peppery kick followed by a sweet minty finish. A very fine and elegant dram but if I had to pick, the Mizunara cask would be my choice.
A rare treat - 23 year Hanyu
To round off the Japanese whisky tasting, we tried a 3rd Hanyu which was the Ichiro's Malt 8 of clubs. This one is another exciting experiment by Ichiro to take an old Hanyu Hogshead cask and finishing it in an American Oak Puncheon.
Comments: An intriguing nose with vegemite, pepper and whiff of smoke. The taste is heavy on spice with hints of pine nuts and cocoa with a moderate slightly salty finish.

Whiskylive Singapore Part 1: Brora 1972, Glendronach 1970 and Port Ellen 18yr

Photo courtesy of whiskylive.sg
My favourite, and only large scale, whisky event in Singapore is the annual Whiskylive Singapore organized by La Maison Du Whisky. This year we were fortunate to get access to the Collector Room where there were many (too many in fact!) outstanding rare whiskies to be sampled. Let's get started on some of the highlights! The first three are interesting drams from independent bottlers.
The legendary 1972 vintage Brora
One of the first whiskies that caught my eye was the G&M 1972 Brora. I've always wanted to try a Brora, which is a silent distillery and quite rare to come by. In the world of whisky, the 1972 vintage for Brora was dubbed the finest ever produced (similar to a Bordeaux 1982 vintage) and is what generated tremendous interest in this distillery. While not an original bottling, I suppose I can't complain!
Comments: Salty smoke, grassy, followed by vanilla and lemon notes. Finish is peppery and waxy. What an unusual and complex whisky. Takes awhile to savour and appreciate and really grew on me with every sip.
They call this a dumpy bottle
Glendronach. Increasingly one of my favourite distilleries and go to whiskies if I'm in the mood for a sherry cask whisky. First time trying an independent bottling but this came highly recommended by the experts at LMDW.
Comments: The aroma of citrus and apricots followed by toasted sesame hits your nose immediately. The taste is honeyed with hints of bitter plum and a long smooth finish. Quality.
Can you ever go wrong with a Port Ellen?
Port Ellen, how I miss thee. My first Port Ellen was a 1978 4th release from Diageo (reviewed here). I was only just starting out my adventures in whisky and how I regret not buying more at the time particularly looking at the prices today. So naturally, when I saw this bottle my eyes lit up, ordered a glass and took a sip...
Comments: Hmmm....not quite what I expected. Light and grassy with floral and astringent notes followed by a dollop of smoke. Think of a Lowland whisky mixed with peat, a bizarre combination. Just didn't do it for me. Guess the answer to the aforementioned question is Yes. Sigh.

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.