It's Christmas time and what better way to celebrate it than to have great whisky. We were having dinner with family and friends at an Italian restaurant and we had brought a Hibiki 30 years to savour at the end of the meal.
Comments: Wow! What an amazing whisky. If you think the 21 year is good, this one adds another layer of complexity with a fantastic nose filled with vanilla and luscious berries. This is such an easy and delicious drink to quaff that the bottle will be gone in no time. Only for special occasions.
We offered the restaurant owner a dram of the Hibiki and being a self professed whisky lover, he was subtly impressed. Not to be outdone, he was kind enough to let us try his personal bottle of Glengassaugh 1972 which had his name inscribed on it as a gift from a friend!
Comments: A really different whisky compared to the Hibiki, this dram is oozing with blackcurrants, apricots with peppery spice and strong sherry elements. It has an unbelievably long finish that never seems to end, surpassing even the Hibiki. In the owner's words, 'this tastes more like a fine cognac than a whisky'.
Here's a whisky I broke out for the New Year to celebrate with friends and family - the Laphroaig 30 year Cairdeas. This dram is essentially the award winning Laphroaig 30 year (reviewed here) double matured in Maker's Mark bourbon casks. Sound interesting enough already? Let's get on with the tasting.
Comments: You can definitely taste the Laphroaig 30yr here subdued a little by the oak finish. Depending on whether you are an oak or sherry cask person will determine how much you like this one. Overall an excellent whisky nonetheless worth every penny for special occasions.
Here's another whisky adventure from our travels to Tokyo. Went to a whisky bar aptly named Wodka Tonic tucked in a little corner near Roppongi hills with D and some friends.
Classic Japanese whisky bar - long wooden table, meticulously ordered shelves of whisky and the prerequisite bartenders in vests and bowties.
Some of the gems we saw at the bar were the Black Bowmore 1964 and Yamazaki 50 year (only 50 bottles available worldwide with a retail price of 1M Yen!). Unfortunately, they were way out of our price range and all we could do was take a whiff of heaven at the table. Fortunately, there were many other excellent whiskies available that were affordable. I now present you the Nikka Yoichi Single Cask 1991 and the Rosebank G&M Connoisseur's Choice 1983.
Comments: Another one of our favourites, the now defunct Rosebank distillery. Triple distilled goodness reveals the characteristic cut grass and floral notes. Light and fluffy, almost velvety texture. Excellent stuff.
Comments: Absolutely sublime! The sultanas, the berries mixed with a burst of sherry followed by an extremely long and smooth finish. Then you realise that there is actually some peat in this one to remind you of its Islay roots. Definitely one of the best I've tried so far!
Being our favourite distillery, it is really surprising and shameful that we have not had a single review of Laphroaig on this blog. Well, that comes to an end now as we post our first official Laphroaig review with not one but FIVE bottlings!
Laphroaig 15 year: A smoother, more elegant version of the 10 year old. You can almost call it the 10 year old's older brother. Has won multiple awards at whisky competitions so taste to find out why.
Laphroaig 25 year: Cask strength and the marriage of aged Laphroaig whiskies matured in both Oloroso sherry casks and bourbon oak casks, this dram is surprisingly refreshing and tangy. You can taste both the sherry and the peat playing in your mouth followed by a long semi-fruity finish. What a great dram!
Laphroaig Quarter Cask: Matured in smaller quarter casks to speed up the maturation process, this experiment has turned out to be a great success for Laphroaig. Jim Murray calls it the closest to the classic Laphroaigs he has tasted 30 years ago. The taste is a little sweeter than a normal Laphroaig and the finish to be long and velvety.
Laphroaig Vintage Dec 1989 17 yr 2007 Feis Ile: Wow! A surprisingly complex Laphroaig for its age. Winey, lemoney, liquorice flavours take the foreground while the typical peat and medicinal flavours of Laphroaig sit nicely in the background. Very highly recommended.
It's been awhile since we've tried a Nikka, the last being the very good Yoichi 12 year. Here is another interesting expression from Nikka called the Pure Malt White, which is a vatting of both Yoichi and Islay whisky. Love the clean bottles that they are presented in. Reminds me of science experiments in a laboratory while in school.
Here's another whisky available only in duty free shops. Travel retail is a huge market for whisky and many brands are beginning to target shoppers with special these releases at airports. The Balvenie GoldenCask 14 Year Old was matured first in traditional oak whisky casks before spending a final period of maturation in casks previously containing golden Caribbean rum.
Here's a whisky we bought from the Yamazaki distillery that we've been meaning to try. Strangely enough, the usual 12, 18 and 25yr whiskies at the distillery shop were a lot more expensive than at duty free or in any decent whisky shop. The Yamazaki 15 years, something which is not commonly found on the mass market, was the only one that seemed more reasonably priced at ~US$100.
Comments: Has an intense nutty, chocolatey flavour blended with hints of mild fruity apricot and figs. Interesting individually but somehow the flavours did not gel as well as it should overall. The finish was also quite average for a whisky in its class.
Australia? Not exactly the first country that comes to mind when it comes to whisky. Our next whisky is from Bakery Hill which is one of premier distilleries in Australia located in Victoria. Bakery Hill uses only the finest Australian barley and produces its all its whiskies in single cask, cask strength and double distilled in traditional whisky production methods. One other interesting fact is that Bakery Hill is aged for only 3 years in 50L or 100L bourbon casks, which accelerates the maturation process. Jim Murray himself was pleasantly surprised with the age statement of the whiskies and has rated them relatively high (Bakery Hill Classic Malt scored 85 out of 100) and described it as "easily the most stylish Australian malt I have found".
The whisky we are reviewing is the Bakery Hill Double Wood that is aged in both American Bourbon Oak Casks and French Oak Casks.
Highland Park is one of the distilleries owned by Higland Distillers, which also owns the Macallan distillery. It is also one of the main constituents in the Famous Grouse blend, which we have yet to officially review. Highland Distillers has done a great job with its Macallan marketing machine and are now attempting to do the same with its Highland Park brand. It's called 'The Best Spirit in the World' on the website and the 18 year (older bottlings) is considered 'The greatest all-rounder in the world of malt whiskey' by Michael Jackson. Let's see how this dram scores objectively.
Our whisky adventure in Japan didn't just end at the Yamazaki distillery. We decided one night in Osaka to try the B (Baccarat) Bar near our hotel which looked very stylish and cool. The ambience was dark and sensual and for some reason it reminded me of the movie Bladerunner.
D ordered a cocktail of champagne mixed with dessert wine and juices. I, of course, scanned the menu for interesting whiskies to try. The one that caught my eye was a Hakushu 1995 Owner's Cask that was recommended by the bartender. Since the taste of Hakushu 12 year was fresh in my mind from the tasting at the distillery, I thought I'd give it a shot to see the understand the differences.
I was in Kyoto for the Sakura festival to see the Cherry Blossoms or Hanami as the Japanese call it. The sights and atmosphere was amazing and the food, as always in Japan, was absolutely fantastic. One of the main highlights of the vacation though was trip to the Yamazaki distillery, which is at the midway point between Osaka and Kyoto by JR Rail.
The distillery was beautiful and I was convinced after the tour that it was possibly the most modern and high tech distillery in the world (but my view is probably biased as this is my first ever distillery visit!) I'll not flood the post with more pictures of the distillery but all I can say is that you should definitely visit if you're ever in the area. Did I mention that you get a free whisky tasting at the end of the tour as well!
Whisky tasting of Yamazaki and Hakushu 12 yr with green tea or OJ?!
At the whisky store (In The Barrel), I was looking forward to finding a wide range of Yamazakis at decent prices. To my dismay, the selection was limited to the usual 12-25 year range and other Suntory products such as Hibiki and Hakushu. The crown jewel of the store was the Yamazaki 1984 but at 105,000Yen (~US$1,000) it was a tad bit overpriced in my opinion.
The Yamazaki Bar
Thankfully, there was a bar at the ground level where I could drown my sorrows. Browsing through the menu which had an extensive list of Scotch (Lagavulin, Macallan, Bowmore etc.), I spotted the Yamazaki 1984 which they sold by the glass at US$30. Doing some basic math (which was difficult given that I had 4 shots of whisky during the tasting about 10m before), I figured quickly that it was cheaper to drink the 1984 at the bar then to buy the bottle at the store.
Comments: A superb dram! The nose and the taste don't blow you away but the long, lingering fruit and crisp malt just took my breath away. I love how the whisky tastes really refined and elegant compared to Scotches of the same vintage. You can really appreciate the amount of thought they put into crafting the whisky. I'm sure it didn't hurt that they used Mizamaru Oak which imparted a sweet but not overpowering flavour. I am now officially a fan of Yamazaki. Kampei!
We're trying to beef up our Japanese whisky collection (and posts) to reflect the growing popularity of drams from the Rising Sun. Unfortunately, Japanese whiskies are pretty hard to find outside of the country which is why they are not very well reviewed generally. Anyhow, let's continue with the basic Suntory Yamazaki 12 year which is fairly easy to find in most bars and shops worldwide.
Comments: Maybe we're biased towards Japanese whiskies but this was a very good and easy to drink. It mimics a typical Scotch but with the touch of Japanese refinement. Keep one for your everyday collection!