Yumi Yashikawa, the global ambassador for the Chichibu Distillery, will hold a seminar at The Highlander Inn as part of the official festival docket.
No less than nine young Chichibu
When the Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask was named World Whisky of the Year by whisky writer Jim Murray, it propelled the entire category out of the hands of small group connoisseurs and into a much larger marketplace. Initially, that made Japanese whisky a very hard to obtain commodity, as interest far outstripped supply.
The Yamazaki Distillery is the oldest in Japan, founded in , and their Year-Old single malt is not just the flagship for the distillery; In some ways, it was a pioneer for Japanese whisky as a whole. Introduced in , it was the first Japanese single malt that received a serious effort to market it outside of the home market.
Japanese whisky follows the Scottish model, with malt whisky, blends of malt whiskies and blends of malt and grain whisky. Grain whisky is usually made from corn, distilled in a column Coffey still rather than a pot still, and often has a lighter character than pot-distilled malt whisky.
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Already out is the Bourbon Batch and Whiskey Batch Sourced from Indiana, this is a two-year-old, straight Rye whiskey finished in Sherry casks. The latter step has softened the otherwise boldly spicy rye flavor profile, and endowed it with some nice dried fruit notes.
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The folks at WhistlePig farm in Vermont are understandably proud of this expression, because it is the first to contain whiskey made from their own in-house distillery, using grain grown in their own fields. Taylor Four Grain Bourbon became the granddaddy for four grain bourbons from the moment of its release. Heretofore, four grain bourbons traditional Bourbon recipes rely on three grains: In the past several years both Suntory and Nikka whiskies have won a plethora of gold medals at the World Whiskies Awards; at the awards Suntory's Yamazaki year whisky was declared the world's best single malt, and at this year's awards Nikka's Taketsuru year won for world's best blended malt.
Despite the increasingly good reputation of Japanese whiskies, neither of the booths were nearly as mobbed as the Buffalo Trace and Old Rip Van Winkle tables were; it may be a while before they get that kind of name recognition.
I started at the Suntory booth with the peaty, spicy Hakushu year—but that was nothing compared with the Hakushu Heavily Peated, which was like drinking a campfire: Japanese whisky is often compared to Scotch in style, and it's easy to see why after tasting it. Masataka Taketsuru, who worked for the first commercial distilling company in Japan, Kotobukiya which would become Suntory , and later left to start his own company—Dai Nippon Kaju, which eventually changed its name to Nikka—had previously studied distilling in Scotland.
Aside from the Hakushu Heavily Peated, though, there weren't a lot of smoke bombs. In fact, if anything characterized the Japanese whiskies I tried, it was that they were remarkably restrained, smooth, and well balanced. Julia Thiel Nikka whiskies Taking notes at tastings is notoriously difficult, what with juggling a glass, a pen, and a notebook while trying to stay out of the way of other people who also want access to the table. And, of course, there's the fact that your palate is being overwhelmed by a series of highly alcoholic whiskies in fairly quick succession.
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I did my best, but have only brief notes on the Suntory whiskies, and even less from the Nikka table. The Hibiki year by Suntory was one of my favorites, slightly spicy with a distinct butter cookie flavor; the Yamazaki year also Suntory was another, a peaty, complex, intense whisky.
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At the Nikka table I tried one of their newest offerings, Coffey Grain, which has only been on the market for about six months. It's a grain whisky rather than a malt whisky meaning that it's not made exclusively from malted barley—in this case it's percent corn , distilled in Coffey stills also known as column stills.
Both the grains and the stills used for the Coffey Grain are typical of bourbon, and it does taste quite a bit like a bourbon, smooth, rich, and malt-forward with pronounced caramel flavors. It's just been released in the U. I tried the clean, fruity, slightly spicy Classic, followed by the spicier Concertmaster, which offered notes of darker fruit. The style is very different from the Scotch-inspired Japanese whiskies; I didn't taste smokiness in any of the Kavalan whiskies, though there was plenty of fruitiness. In Kavalan's Solist series, the same whisky is aged in different barrels, and the differences were striking.
The sweet, heavy sherry cask whisky was less boozy than the bourbon cask version, which tasted practically flammable. My favorite was the Vinho Barrique wine barrel-aged , which offered the complexity of wine and the booziness of whiskey. One note about the Japanese and Taiwanese whiskies I tried: And that huge flask in the first photo? That was at the FEW Spirits table, where I was tasting their excellent single malt whisky when another attendee reached out to touch the flask sitting on the table. The guy asked what it was but she refused to tell him, instructing him to hold out his glass while she hoisted and tilted the enormous flask.
He took a sip and guessed: