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Monday, 22 December 2008

Nature/Nurture- The Japanese way

Two days away from Christmas and fortunately, our spending spree is complete (save for that trip to the appalling 'Uniqlo' to purchase some garish looking 'Heat Tec' under-garments for my niece...nice...)
2008 has been a tough year for most people, but let's smile, turn our back on ill-feeling/ the 'recession' and embrace 2009 like a welcome hug from a loved one... now is certainly not the time for crying into first class drams!
The last month or so has given us at Caskstrength time to reflect on just what a spectacular year it has been for whisky. Some sensational releases all over the world - many included in our own 'Best in Glass' awards. In the final part of our Japanese whisky month, we've got another couple of crackers for you- a tasty 80's vintage from the house of Kariuzawa and the some newborn spirit distilled at the brand new Chichibu.
following on from the recent trio of great Kariuzawa single casks comes number 3397- distilled in 1998 and bottled last year. will this one round off a perfect year for the now closed distillery? let's see...

Karuizawa Distillery - Cask 3397 - Distilled 1998 - Bottled 2007 - 59.8% -

Nose: The classic mix we've come to associate with aged Karuizawa is immediately apparent- mustiness, old books, forest floors, slightly burnt sugar and a Vermouth'y aromatic note. Give it a little time and a light fruitiness (stewed rhubarb) emerges, and a musky but vegetive rounding off an extremely pleasant and welcoming aroma. With a little water, the musky note develops into something more meaty, with almost hints of roast lamb.

Palate: Ooh... super sweetness, like a very milky mocha with about 10 teaspoons of rich demerera sugar. The sort of thing you covet on your regular visit to the local cafe, but end up coming out with a curdled and overpriced smootie. As with the Karuizawa 1971, this is strong stuff at nearly 60% but oh, so drinkable. Lovely sherbet notes come through as it enters the finishing straight.

Finish: Drying oak, less depth and length than the prize winning 1971, but hints of that sweetness and an aromatic, almost bamboo shoot freshness to it.

Overall: Another corker from this majestic distillery. Sadly closed now, but as our interview with Marcin Miller recently observed, there are still a large number of casks just waiting to be discovered. We'll be at the front of the queue, rest assured.

Next up- The first born spirit, from the virginal Chichibu distillery... doesn't this seem strangely fitting, given the time of year??!!

Chichibu - Ichiro's Malt - Cask 126 - distilled and bottled mid 2008- 62%

Nose: Cor! as diametrically opposite to the Karuizawa above as you could get... Feinty, sweet, candifloss, like a rich caramel ice cream sundae, topped with crushed nuts. Dig deeper and you'll start to notice a slight comparison with the older Japanese single malts - a mossy tang and almost juniper freshness.

Palate: HUGE cereal hits you here- and I mean HUGE- like a classy Muesli. Honey covered oats, big, juicy dried fruits and malty goodness. Pour this on your morning breakfast for the ultimate AM zing... (note- please don't even contemplate this- not even if you buy that stupidly expensive GM-free 'Rude Health Muesli' from Sainsburys... Sensible Ed.) At this age, there really isn't anything else in the mix, but it promises to something very, very exciting indeed.

Finish: More cereal and a spirity freshness, as you'd hope for from a quality new-make. I enjoyed this in the same way I did the first time Caskstrength experienced Kilchoman's new- make, or the Bruichladdich X4+1 albeit without the huge, fresh swathe of peat.

Overall: Keep watching this distillery. Ichiro Akuto is a proven master of distillation, with a background spanning 21 generations of supreme skill and innovation from sake to single malt. We look forward to tasting this after some time in a quality cask....