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Thursday, 13 September 2012

Japaneasy Rider - Karuizawa and Chichibu whisky hits the UK again

For some reason I still get excited at foreign crisps.

"What on earth are you on about, Harrison?" I hear you cry. 

Well, whenever I'm abroad I like to try out the unusual crisp brands and flavours which are often unique to that part of the world. Returning from a recent road trip to Maltstock in the Netherlands, both our car and its passengers were in need of refuelling so we stopped at a petrol station on the French / Belgium boarder to load up on carbs. Us, not the car. That had petrol put in to it. Obviously.

The forecourt shop was like an adventure playground of snacks; sweets with weird names, packets of crisps with odd cartoon characters on them and, best of all for a motorway petrol station... discount beer! Who sells beer to drivers? Or passengers even. Anyway, needless to say the car was overflowing with wonderful and unusual items for our drive back to Calais.

The crisp, along with the sweet and the chocolate bar, is product which is made all over the world, so it shouldn't be as exciting as it is, when we see versions from other countries when travelling. But somehow, it really is exciting.

The same rings true for me and Japanese whisky. The Japanese have every right to make single malts and blends. They have an excellent back story with the almost soap opera style tales of Shinjiro Torii and Masataka Taketsuru, a wonderfully rich environment in which to mature their spirit and an attention to detail which would leave Professor Brian Cox dumbfounded. But yet, whenever I see a new product from a Japanese producer, I'm as excited as a my childhood-self in a foreign sweetshop (Hollywood chewing gum anyone?).

And so it was that with great joy we learnt that those wonderful people at Number One Drinks were to be releasing some new Japanese whiskies in to the UK (and wider) markets.

First up was a new release from Chichibu, their 'The Floor Malted' edition which will have around 8,800 bottles with somewhere in the region of 3,500 for export. This whisky is wonderfully light and delicate (even at 50.5% abv) and comes with aromas of toasted pine nuts, clear apple juice and lemon meringue pie while the palate gives excellent lemon and lime zest underpinned with an earthy tone. Very well constructed and worth a look if you like a lighter style of whisky.

Not usually known for being subtle, the now dearly departed distillery of Karuizawa was up next with four, yes four, interesting releases on of which is a single cask from 1960, but more on that at a later date.
The three main releases which are going to be hitting your local stores soon (if you're in the UK) are a 1984 single cask, a 1983 single cask and a no age statement malt. As you would expect from Karuizawa, the two single casks are heavily sherried monsters of undoubted quality. Our pick was the 1983, which will see just 120 bottles make their way to The Whisky Exchange in the UK.

Karuizawa - 1983 - Cask #7576 - Noh Edition - 564 bottles worldwide - 57.2% abv

Nose: Coffee and dark chocolate rise with energy from the glass, backed quickly by black cherry, a hint of mint and some meaty tones. Well brewed black tea provides some spices and dryness to the aroma and pecan pie gives nutty sweetness.

Palate: The palate has a huge hit of highly reduced red summer fruits, with autumnal bonfire elements and some treacle toffee.

Finish: The finish is hints of pulled pork and BBQ beef brisket but with some sweetness to boot.

Overall: Just simply super. To the point where I have a bottle on order. Gets my vote and, more importantly, my money!

Interestingly, there will be a new entery level price whisky from Karuizawa in the very near future. The Spirit of Asama is a new vatting of Karuizawa that will be availiable in different markets, at different strengths and with slightly different falvour profiles. Already availiable in France and Sweden, the UK version (which looks stunning) will be sold via The Whisky Exchange and will set you back around £40 or so. We have tried the French version (Raspberry jam with hints of kiwi and gooseberry fool) and can attest that it is a much lighter style of Karuizawa than one would normally be used to, but we will wait for provide full tasting notes on the UK version when that hits the shops.