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Thursday, 5 March 2009

lost in translation? not with these drams...

COUGHSPLUTTERCOUGH.... oh, urrrggghh.
The cold to end all colds has descended on Caskstrength towers and it isn't showing any signs of leaving soon. The last time this happened, we were due to taste some sensational old White Horse and had to give it a miss. Damn it!!!

Right, time for a cunning plan. Our taste buds and nose holes need to return ASAP! As coincidences go, we just took possession of a bottle of King's Ginger Liqueur and that gave us a splendid idea for a life-giving cold remedy;

2 parts Highland Park 12 year old,
2 parts ginger liqueur,
fresh lemon juice,
a dash of honey and
a little shake of Angostura Bitters for good measure.

Heat gently over a steady flame and decant into a good sized tumbler. Consume steadily for the next 20 minutes and wait for the aromatic effects to kick in. Normal service will be resumed within the hour!!

And we're back. That feels so much better!

The plan was to seamlessly broadcast notes on some wonderful Japanese drams tasted over the last few days- then this damn cold hit and foiled everything. Still, the samples don't hang around here for long and we wanted to get a couple of posts up before our first birthday -keep an eye on the site over the next few days as we'll be posting the results of the Bowmore competition winner, alongside some wonderful celebratory tasting notes for one of our favourite drams of all time.

After previously featuring some excellent whiskies by Karuizawa and Chichibu, we bring you some other Asian delicacies, this time from Nikka, Yamazaki and Hibiki. Clearly, the bar is set ridiculously high for Japanese whisky at the moment- and these few examples don't disappoint in the slightest...

Nikka – Whisky From The Barrel- NAS (it might have one, but I can’t read Japanese!)- 51.4%- 500ml

Before we start on this one, we have to make a few points:

1. This bottle is beautiful. Seriously cool. Square, dumpy and interesting, with a screw top. It’s a nightmare to pour from for the first couple of drams. But once you’re beyond that (and that’ll be pretty darn quick!) it’s fine.
It’s just unlike any other bottle of whisky you’ll buy and will look fab on your table top.

2. The price. Okay, it’s only 500ml, but this just over £20 a bottle. Yes! £20. Think about that. It’s from the cask. In Japan. They bottle it, stick it on a boat and months later it ends up on a shop shelf in England. For just over £20. 51.4% Japanese whisky! Let’ see what it tastes like:

Nose: Very interesting nose. Dark and brooding and full of fresh wood. Really yummy. Dried apricots, mandarin. I wish I knew how old this was, as it smells old. Really old. Musty but fresh, like very well kept wooden tables you get in members clubs in London. No leather or musty books like you get with some “old” smelling whisky. The deeper you nose, the more you get: green apples. Peanut butter. This is goooood....

Palate: In it goes, big build up with that nose! Hummm... not the kick you would expect from a whisky at 51.4% but there is depth there. Not big sherry depth, more of a melange of interesting little flavours that make up depth; strawberries, Marmite, mint, pork scratchings, dark chocolate coco-powder (like the stuff on top of cappuccino's). Very interesting and tasty.

Finish: Lots of red chilli on the back of the throat, followed by soothing and clearing menthol which makes way for the beautifully strong oak to shine through.

Overall: This is not a tame whisky. The fresh mints, strawberry and coco powder make for a wonderful palate and the menthol at the end works so well with the red chilli. But the nose is the biggest surprise for this, making for a wonderful start. At again the ridiculous price of around £20, this is a bloody fantastic buy. Get it for a mate for a pressie and snaffle a bit away when they are not looking. They’ll think you bought them something a lot more expensive so you look like a great friend, plus you get to try it for free!! He he!!

Yamazaki - 18 year old - 43% - 70cl

Having tried 10 and the 12 year old's some time ago, I was unsure what to expect here. Whilst reasonable whiskies, they didn't inspire surprise or delight, like some of the other less well known Japanese whiskies available. Will this present a significant step up from its younger brothers?

Nose: Instantly open on the nose, this bears all the hall marks of a classic Japanese whisky. Mossy, musty, rich sherry, dark orange marmalade, with loads of polished rosewood and big spice. Striking similarities with the much older Karuizawa single casks we reviewed here last year.

Palate: Slightly rubbery, leading into rich, thick dark sugar and milky coffee, with an extra sweet backing of barley sugar. The sweetness dies away giving a very well balanced back palate of cereal and starchy overtones.

Finish: The starch develops into buttery potato, with sherbet and more sweetness. Very lengthy and enjoyable.

Overall: Such a huge step up from the 12, which I have a half-drunk bottle of, languishing unceremoniously in the drinks cabinet. Its rich texture gives the impression of a much older and wiser whisky, which is to be commended but, considering this is nearly £60 a bottle, it does beg the question of whether there are other options which put it could put it in the shade.

Suntory Hibiki 12 year old blend- 43% abv - 70cl - exclusive - released in May!!

Fresh off the back of its prize winning splendor, Hibiki are back with something slightly younger, but nonetheless effective. For those of you have tried the 30 year old blend, you'll know just how brilliantly adept our friends at Suntory have become at making a first class dram. Will this younger chap follow suit to claim the family silver too??

Nose: A huge hit of freshly pressed apple juice greets the nostrils with a fanfare and never really leaves, following up with a finely tuned procession of heather honey, waxed floors and zesty lemons. If I hadn't already shifted my cold, this would probably be the dram to kick it up the arse.

Palate: Wow, a super smooth swish across the tongue, giving fine sherry notes, sweet barley sugar and wholesome cereals. There's so much in here, one can only guess how many excellent casks have gone into making this work.

Finish: Finely tuned heather, cedar and spiced apples complete the circle - for a younger blend, this really has the wisdom of a much older gent.

Overall: Well, they did it again. Another excellent example of blending which will no doubt, win further awards this year, after it's released in May. A great whisky in its own right- and a great way to end this trio of tantalising Japanese delights. As they may say in Japan after a top dram...'Hontou ni ureshii' !!