Tuesday 13 October 2015

Whisky Live Tokyo 2015 (Part 1): Whisky Live Tokyo Party

It was only a few months ago that the stars aligned and I ended up in London (on a short work trip) at the same time as Whisky Live London 2015. Fast forward to September, and I again found myself on a work trip that also conveniently coincided with another Whisky Live - Tokyo, this time. 

(This might not seem overly strange, if it wasn't for the fact that I don't work in the spirits or whisky industry at all - this blog is just a hobby through which I can indulge my passion...)

Unlike previous years, when it was part of the Tokyo Bar Show (which we also visited this year), Whisky Live Tokyo stood on its own for 2015. After some help from the friendly Stefan of Nonjatta, I finally learned that the event actually comprised two parts:

Tickets were hastily purchased, and the countdown began...

Whisky Live Party Tokyo 2015
Being a convenient 30 second walk from my hotel, I made my way over to the Park Hotel just before the show was due to begin, and did a lap to see what was on offer. The best way to describe the party would be like a smaller, more intimate whisky show. 200 people and 70 different whiskies, in a quieter, more refined setting.

After being handed a Brew Dog palate cleanser (side note: Japan seems to love Brew Dog!) and my sheet of 20 tokens, the first bottle I noticed was an Ichiro's Malt "Cards Series" Hanyu Colour Joker - a vatting of Hanyus from 1985-2000. Despite quite a few bottles (3,690 to be precise) being produced, these bottles are still highly collectible and fetch a pretty penny at auction. Fair to say this one wasn't going to last long...

A few other gems I spotted before the official opening were a 42yo WM Cadenhead indepedent bottling from The Glenlivet, a fair selection of SMWS bottles, the 2014 Yamazaki Mizunara, and plenty more. Soon enough it was time to start sampling.

Unsurprisingly about 8 minutes into the party, the Colour Joker (costing 7 of our 20 tokens) was empty. I'd tried it a few months earlier, but couldn't resist another dram so made sure I got in early. With big creamy orange notes on the nose and toasted oak, leather and red berry compote on the palate, it was as enjoyable as I'd remembered.

Next up was the 42yo The Glenlivet from WM Cadenhead, who were well represented at both the party and the show the next day. At 40.2% ABV, it's fair to say this one may not have seen it's 43rd birthday had it stayed in the barrel, but 42yo is still a mighty impressive feat nonetheless. With ripe peaches on the nose and an oaky, thin and smooth body, it was an enjoyable dram but nothing overly special - somewhat typical of the majority of well-aged (40yo +) independent bottlings we've come across.

By this point I'd run out of my 20 tokens, so quickly purchased another 10 (2000yen - approx $22AUD / $130HKD) which led me to the 2014 Sherry Cask release from Hakushu. I did find the number of tokens a little stingy (especially when considering the event didn't include a take-home glass, OR any included food), but I guess there were some pretty special drams on offer, and they had to ration them somehow.

Steph and I tried the Yamazaki 2014 Sherry Cask back in December last year (at the bargain price of about $3AUD / $17HKD for a dram - thanks Japan!) so I was keen to see how the earthier Hakushu spirit fared in similar maturation. Turns out - very well. Truly an excellent sherry bomb, with plenty of rich fruity Christmas cake notes whilst retaining that trademark earthy characteristic.

After a few more drams, and a chat with the legends from Melbourne's Whisky + Alement who were also in town, it was time to hear from our host for the night - whisky legend Dave Broom. Dave (donning a kilt, of course) gave a brief overview of what he's been up to, having not been to Japan in 2 years, then introduced the guests for the night - Akuto-san (Chichibu master distiller and industry legend), Fukuya-san (Suntory Chief Blender and the man responsible for Hibiki), Sakuma-san (Nikka chief blender), and Tanaka-san of Fuji Gotemba / Kirin.

Each briefly discussed the event, the Japanese whisky scene and their own whiskies, and engaged in a brief Q&A with Dave. When finished, we realised time was quickly running out to use our left over tokens (this was a 2 hour party after all, not an all-day show).

With remaining tokens in hands, it was off to the Nikka table to try a limited 21yo Port Wood Taketsuru blend released for the 80th Anniversary in 2014. With a sweet madeira nose (with hints of sweet pastries and icing), a big smoky palate with caramel and strawberry notes, and a long smoky finish with lingering demerara sugar hints, this was a surprising and enjoyable blend.

Time was almost up, but I managed to sneak a few final drams including a unique (to me) triple-distilled BenRiach 16yo sherry cask from 1989 (with lots of walnuts and glacé cherries on the nose, and a lemon peel zestiness with tapioca on the palate) and two single cask Nikkas (one a Miyagikyo, one a Yoichi) - both also from 1989.

When all was said and done, it was a great night and a nice change from the regular format of whisky shows. Even though some aspects could be improved (food could have been provided, a souvenir glass would have been nice, as would a few more tokens) considering the quality and rarity of the drams on offer, and the ticket price (5000yen - $56AUD / $320HKD) I'd still say the show was good value, and would happily return.

Keep an eye out for Part 2 which will cover Modern Malt Whisky Market Tokyo 2015 - the larger show on the following day.


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