Saturday 28 August 2021

Gordon & MacPhail launches 7 new Glenlivet Expressions, including Private Collection 1976 [Tasted #537 - #539]

Ahead of the September release of the oldest single malt Scotch ever bottled, Gordon & MacPhail's Generations 80-Years-Old from Glenlivet Distillery, G&M is launching seven new Glenlivet expressions across both its "Private Collection" and "Connoisseurs Choice" ranges.

The bottles, which range from £104 to £1,750 include:
  • Gordon & MacPhail Private Collection 1975 from Glenlivet Distillery, Refill Sherry hogshead
  • Gordon & MacPhail Private Collection 1976 from Glenlivet Distillery, Refill American hogshead
  • Gordon & MacPhail Private Collection 1976 from Glenlivet Distillery, First fill Sherry hogshead 
  • Gordon & MacPhail Private Collection 1980 from Glenlivet Distillery, Refill American hogshead
  • Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseurs Choice 1993 from Glenlivet Distillery, Refill American hogshead
  • Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseurs Choice 2003 from Glenlivet Distillery, Refill bourbon barrel
  • Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseurs Choice 2004 from Glenlivet Distillery, Refill bourbon barrel

Keep an eye on the blog for more details on the Generations 80 Year Old soon, but ahead of that, G&M were kind enough to send through samples of the Private Collection 1976 (American Oak hogshead), Connoisseurs Choice 2003 & Connoisseurs Choice 2004 so we could share our thoughts.

Gordon & MacPhail Private Collection 1976 from Glenlivet Distillery (43.9% ABV, 45yo (30th Jan 1976 to 8th Feb 2021), refill American hogshead #1565, 1 of 124 bottles, Speyside, Scotland, £1,750)
Colour: Yellow gold.

Nose: Subtle pears, green apples and vintage oak spice. A creaminess emerges, vanilla milkshake-like, then apple pie with cream.

Palate: Leather (new leather) at first, remaining throughout and quite dominant. Honey-drizzled apple slices and licorice follow, with some maple syrup after some time. There's a slight milk chocolate note too after a while, but the leather remains throughout. 

Finish: Honied apples, a lingering nutty slice, and lemon zest.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 90/100. Different notes to what I was expecting, based on the specs alone, but a very enjoyable and unusual dram, with a fantastic nose (an excellent candidate for the 1920s Blenders Glass, if you have one). The years have imparted some varied and interesting flavours, and it all works well together.

Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseurs Choice 2003 from Glenlivet Distillery (46% ABV, 17yo (1st Jul 2003 to 14th Jun 2021), refill bourbon barrels #800356 & 800358, 1 of 510 bottles, Speyside, Scotland, £127)
Colour: Light yellow gold (Riesling-like)

Nose: Green apple and paprika spice. There's a slight dustiness, and with time, some peaches and then apple crumble.

Palate: Follows the nose, with peaches and apple, but there's a creaminess to it - almost like a vanilla apple pie. After time a slight herbaceousness follows.

Finish: Herbaceous, with lingering vanilla cream.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 89/100.

Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseurs Choice 2004 from Glenlivet Distillery (46% ABV, 16yo (10th Nov 2004 to 21st Jun 2021), refill bourbon barrels #800671 & 800672, 1 of 510 bottles, Speyside, Scotland, £104)
Colour: Light yellow gold (Riesling-like)

Nose: Green apple and spice like the 2003, with a bit more meatiness - some tangy fruity BBQ sauce, with white pepper. After 20 minutes, vanilla cream emerges.

Palate: Banana, apple, pears, custard pie with vanilla cream. Slight hints of pineapple and pear.

Finish: Herbaceous, with a very slight meaty smoke.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 90/100.

All seven whiskies are available now, from the usual UK outlets including The Whisky Exchange (no word yet on Hong Kong or Australian availability or pricing). A big thanks to G&M and ANMComms for the samples.


Friday 27 August 2021

SMWS & Starward: Distillery 148 lands with two impressive releases [Tasted #535 & #536]

I heard a funny comment about the Scotch Malt Whisky Society the other day - that technically only one quarter of their name fully describes what they do. They no longer bottle only Scotch whisky, they no longer bottle only malt whisky, they no longer bottle only whisky...but they are still a Society (one of which I've been a devoted member since 2013).

Some may think the inclusion of grain whiskies, world whiskies and other spirits has changed the Society, and I agree - it's changed it for the better. This blog was always about enjoying whisky (and the occasional dark spirit) on its merits and flavour alone, regardless of where it comes from or how old it is, and that's a philosophy SMWS really take to heart.

So when SMWS started bottling whiskies from "new world" whisky countries like TaiwanIndia, England, Denmark and Sweden, to me it wasn't a case of "Oh no, they're deviating from their roots!" it was a case of "OK, so when will we see an Aussie distillery?" 

That question was answered last month, when Luke McCarthy's excellent Oz Whisky Review broke the news that, finally, an Australian SMWS distillery code had been announced. Distillery 147 (Sydney's excellent Archie Rose) had the honour, with their 2yo 147.1 "Jacaranda Jam". Long-time readers might remember that time Archie Rose let me make a nuisance of myself by "helping" them "make whisky" one morning back in 2015 (long story short: it was great, educational fun).

Photo credit: SMWS Australia

They say "good things come in threes" and that's certainly the case here, as is pleased to be the very first to break the news that hot on the heels of 147.1 comes 148.1 (and in 2022, 148.2) - from none other than Melbourne's Starward!

Further down you'll find further details and my tasting notes on both releases (a huge thanks to Matt Bailey for the samples & opportunity), but I felt this was a good chance to revisit some key events in the history of Starward, and pull out a few highlights Hendy and myself have experienced over the years.

2013 was the year Starward's first whisky was released (matured in Australian ex-Apera casks), and was the result of 6 years of hard work, stemming from founder David Vitale's vision to create a quality, accessible, distinctly Australian whisky. It seems obvious now, but looking at Starward's recent success and immense following, but back then it was a big gamble.'s friendship with the distillery goes back to early 2013, when David was kind enough to give up an hour during a flying visit to Sydney to sit down and talk me through the (then) "New World Whisky Distillery" over a coffee at Shirt Bar. David generously gave me a 200mL bottle of the whisky, and my tasting later that evening confirmed this was one to keep an eye on! 

Fast-forward a few months to late 2013, and David was again kind enough to give me an in-depth, private tour of the distillery (the old Essendon Fields-based distillery, before the move to Port Melbourne), tasting the various stages along the way - wash, new make, and maturing cask samples. 

For me this it was a fascinating insight into this new Aussie distillery, and a real eye opener as to the differences between UK and Aussie distilleries - which was never more apparent than when I asked about the "spirit safe". David showed me the open, sheet-metal fabricated box (below) where the spirit ran off the stills, and asked if I'd like to have a taste - by cupping my hands underneath and scooping some up! Something you could never get away with in Scotland!

It wasn't long after that that Steph and I moved to Hong Kong & expanded into Asia, and Hendy came on-board to continue the Aussie coverage. Moving to HK meant leaving behind 99% of our whisky collection and taking only 1 bottle each, but for me the choice was easy - Starward's very first "New World Projects" Single Cask Release #1. I figured this had to be the only bottle in HK (if not Asia), and I used it to spread the good word of Aussie whisky until the bottle was emptied. 

I stayed in touch with David, and the following year had the pleasure of arranging Starward's very first tasting outside Australia, with David taking a small group of HK whisky lovers through an eclectic mix of Starward whisky, new make and gin. By that point, the Starward range had grown to encompass two core bottlings (a red-wine matured whisky sitting alongside the original ex-Apera product), along with a few weird and wonderful "New World Projects" releases.

Funnily enough, 6 years on I still regularly have whisky catch-ups with some of the same people (often at the same venue) only now they're bringing Starwards to the tastings themselves (not an easy feat, considering Starward still isn't officially distributed in Asia)!

It's hard to believe that was 6 years ago, but since then it's seemed the distillery can do no wrong, with the move to brand new distillery right in the heart of Melbourne (the main reason for my 24hr trip to Melbourne in 2018), multiple new release whiskies (some limited, like the recent Unexpeated and the ever-popular "Ginger Beer Cask" series, some permanent, like the innovative Two-Fold blended "Double Grain", which Hendy had the pleasure of seeing launched at the Distillery in 2019), and even a bottled cocktail series, including 2019's delicious "Red Manhattan".

...which brings us to today. It's probably fair to say that as a young distillery, having your stock sought by independent bottlers is a clear sign of your popularity, and Starward has (in the last year alone) been bottled by no less than 3 well-respected "Indies": Berry Bros & Rudd, Adelphi and That Boutique-y Whisky Company (the latter tasted by Hendy back in May).

Now however, Starward can add another feather to their cap: being bottled not just by another independent bottler, but by the world's leading whisky club, The Scotch Malt Whisky Society.

SMWS 148.1 Starward "Apera for Everyone!" will be the first release, a 6yo single cask "dot one" distilled on 27 November 2013 and matured in a 1st Fill Apera barrique. Sitting in the "Deep, Rich & Dried Fruits" flavour profile, this is the oldest independently bottled Starward ever released, and was distilled at the original Essendon Fields distillery. Bottled at 58.3%, it will be accompanied by a special historical write-up and released in the October Outturn, launching via regular and ballot release on Friday 1st October at midday AEST. From an outturn of 210 bottles, 174 will be made available to Australian members (the remaining 36 will be heading to the UK).

SMWS 148.2 Starward "Kirsch Me Quick", from the "Spicy & Sweet" flavour profile will follow in early 2022. A 3yo single cask bottled from a 1st Fill red wine barrique, it was distilled on 27 April 2017, weighs in at 55.5% and will see 274 bottles released (238 for Australia, 36 for the UK). 

So enough do they taste!?

SMWS 148.1 Starward "Apera for Everyone!" (58.3% ABV, 6yo, Melbourne, Australia, Pricing TBC, Available from 1st October via
Colour: Golden-brown treacle.

Nose: At first, that big fruity Apera hit, but then a nuttiness emerges, along with a slightly leathery herbaceousness. After time, some berries and cherry notes With a few drops of water, more fruit, with pear and some peach showing through. 

Palate: Initially: wow. Big apricot and peach notes, then chewy milkbottle lollies, caramel chews, fresh toffee and Manuka honey. Water adds a little herbal smoke and vanilla cream. Incredibly complex and delicious.

Finish: Warming, soft, and lasting for days, with apricot and fruit compote.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100. Super complex, AND super delicious. Starward casks set a high barrier as it is, but this goes well beyond. An absolutely unique and stellar dram.

SMWS 148.2 Starward "Kirsch Me Quick" (55.5% ABV, 3yo, Melbourne, Australia, Pricing TBC, Available early 2022 via
Colour: Reddish golden-amber.

Nose: Fresher than the .1, with more red fruits & some dried fruits. There's a slight herbal note and dehydrated orange wheels. Water doesn't change it much.

Palate: Spice, soy, herbs, cigar tobacco - it reminds me a lot of other ex-red wine Starward single casks I've tried. The complexity and balance is excellent for a 3yo. There's a slight BBQ meatiness too, and with water, a more tannic / drying note, with more spice and less fruit (IMO, it's better without water).

Finish: Salted chocolate, long and slightly drying with berry-like tannins.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 90/100. Closer to the single casks Starward fans know and love than the "dot one". Very good, and instantly recognisable as a Starward.

It's been my immense pleasure to break the news of this pairing of my favourite whisky club and one of my favourite distilleries, and equally great to see Starward come so far over the years. Well done to all involved, and a big thanks to Matt Bailey and the SMWS for the opportunity to taste and talk about these whiskies.


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Saturday 21 August 2021

Sakurao 1st Release Cask Strength Single Malt Japanese Whisky [Tasted #534]

Following our reviews of the Komagatake x Chichibu "Malt Duo" & Kanosuke First Edition, as part of our look into the current state of Japanese whisky, we're moving onto another exciting new First Release - Sakurao "1st Release Cask Strength Single Malt Japanese Whisky".

Seemingly continuing the trend of Japanese distilleries locating themselves in picturesque locales, Sakurao Distillery is located in the town of Sakurao, on the coast of Hiroshima facing the historic Itsukushima Shrine and its "floating Torii gate" off Miyajima Island. Now sure, location doesn't necessarily dictate the quality of the whisky, but a location like this does make the distillery pretty accessible for tourists, which can only be a good thing for both the distillery and Japanese whisky in general.

What's interesting about Sakurao (formerly Chugoku Jozo) is that they've actually being producing whisky for several years (as well as gin) - but until establishing Sakurao Distillery, they weren't distilling it in Japan. The "Togouchi" brand (which many would know as that short, rounded bottle containing Scottish / Canadian whisky aged in a former railway tunnel in Hiroshima) made up the entirety of the company's whisky, but now they're distilling both malt and grain right in Japan.

(The excellent Nomunication blog has a detailed write-up on the topic which is worth a read.)

Somewhat confusingly, they've actually launched two Japanese-distilled single malt brands - Sakurao (which I've tasted below), and Togouchi single malt, a domestic-only product for Japan. So as it stands, "Togouchi" is both a Japanese-distilled single malt brand, and a world blended whisky brand! The former is matured at the coastal distillery, the latter in the aforementioned Togouchi railway tunnel.

Photo credit: Sakurao Distillery

Confusion aside, we applaud any Japanese whisky producer who wants to "go legit", so let's see how their first release stacks up...

Sakurao 1st Release Cask Strength Single Malt Japanese Whisky 2021 (54% ABV, 3yo, Sakurao Japan, $2,080HKD available from AFTrade)
Colour: Rich amber-honey.

Nose: Sandalwood, quite active oak, dark chocolate & orange peel

Palate: Sweet, creamy vanilla essence (intense - almost vanilla-pod like), milk chocolate drops, then a subtle earthy smoke forms, and sticks around. There's chocolate raspberries, cherries, and a little salinity.

Finish: Medium in length, with the sweet choc-cherry notes running through to the end.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 89/100. If I'm honest, I haven't loved many of the Togouchi blended whiskies I've tried (although their new Coffee liqueur is pretty tasty, and a steal at $168HKD). This Japanese distilled Sakurao though is very enjoyable, and shows a lot of promise for what's to come.

Thanks to AFTrade Hong Kong (importers / distributors of all Sakurao spirits in HK) who provided the whisky for review.


Wednesday 18 August 2021

Komagatake x Chichibu Malt Duo Blended Malt Japanese Whisky [Tasted #533]

Continuing our look into the current state of Japanese whisky, and following my recent tasting of the Kanosuke First Edition, we move onto Mars Whisky next (and uh, Chichibu as well), in the form of the Komagatake x Chichibu "Malt Duo" Blended Malt Japanese Whisky.

A blended malt may not seem that special, but in the world of Japanese whisky, it kind of is. Unlike Scotland, the Japanese whisky industry doesn't really have a history of cask trading. Yes, there are blends and blended malts, but they're typically either Scottish/Japanese (or "world") blends, or blends of whiskies from within one company's portfolio (Suntory's "Hibiki" being a good example of the latter, containing Yamazaki malt, Hakushu malt and Chita grain).

What makes this "Malt Duo" so special is it's a blend of two different malts from completely separate whisky distilleries, and two cult Japanese distilleries at that - Chichibu and Mars Shinshu

The story goes that in in 2015, Mars Shinshu Distillery and Venture Whisky's Chichibu Distillery began exchanging malt spirit and maturing it in their respective locations, and 5 years later in 2020, we have the result. This particular release was matured at Mars Shinshu distillery (and therefore contains Shinshu-matured Chichibu), whilst another release was matured at Chichibu (containing Chichibu-matured Komagatake in the blend). Still with us?  

10,918 bottles of this "Komagatake x Chichibu" were released, whilst the "Chichibu x Komagatake" was a 10,200 bottle release. 

Official HK importers of Mars Whisky, AFTrade were kind enough to provide a sample of the whisky for review. Having tried quite a few Mars whiskies on the blog previously, I was very keen to see how this one fared.

Komagatake x Chichibu "Malt Duo" Blended Malt Japanese Whisky (54% ABV, Over 5yo, Japan,  available from AFTrade)
Colour: Golden amber.

Nose: A little heat initially, then pear, some grassiness, some herbal notes and then milk chocolate.

Palate: Personally I'd call this more "Komagatake" than "Chichibu" - I got notes of green apples, melon, chewy caramel, a youthful nuttiness, chocolate and maple syrup.

Finish: Medium in length, with the sweet maple / caramel notes quickly becoming spiced - almost like subtle chilli, with some slight oak tannins at the very end.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 89/100. A tasty whisky, but more importantly, a historically important, and quite unusual bottle in the Japanese whisky market, and hopefully an indicator of thigns to come. More of this please, Japan! 

Thanks to AFTrade for the sample.


Saturday 14 August 2021

New Australian independent bottler "Old Master Spirits" & their 1957 Cognac [Tasted #531 & #532]

Instagram can a wonderful place for whisky lovers. Sure, there's content galore, but more than that, it's a place for like-minded fans to meet, share stories / thoughts / tasting notes, and in many cases develop real-world connections.

I'd been following David (@whisky.nerd) on Instagram for a while, occasionally chatting here and there, recognising a similar appreciation for whisky as myself (especially those from Japan, Scotland and Australia), when he noticed that I'd recently posted about Cognac, and its growing interest from whisky lovers. David mentioned he was bottling a few Cognacs independently for the Aussie market, and would I be interested in reviewing them?

(Well of course!)

Old Master Spirits is the result, and their launch bottlings aren't your every day Cognacs, with both a 1957 (63yo) and 1984 (36yo) to be released next month. 

The Cognacs (the 1957 a Fins Bois, the 1984 a Grande Champagne) come from Jean Luc Pasquet who act as both a distillery/producer, and negociant (and saviour of old, rare Cognac casks from the hands of blenders). These two bottlings come from JLP in their latter capacity, and thanks to Old Master Spirits' desire to share the stories of not only the Cognacs but the people behind them, there's some great detail behind each one.

We know for example the 1957 was distilled by Jean Aubineau (who is still alive and releasing incredibly rare Cognac today) and the 1974 by Claude Hillaire, who together with his wife Arlette, took over his father's vineyards in the 1970s and now see their grandchildren continuing to tend to the vines and produce Cognac in Angeac-Champagne. 

There's more about each cognac on the Old Master Spirits website.- worth a read for anyone who might be interested.

Unlike whisky, Cognac over a certain age can be transferred from cask to glass demijohns, and can legally continue to "age" from then until bottling (for example, a 1900-distilled Cognac transferred from cask into demijohn in 1980, and bottled in 2000, could legally be called a 100yo Cognac, despite "only" spending 80 years in oak). 

I asked Deni Kay, co-owner of Old Master Spirits about this, and he mentioned both their Cognacs had spent their entire life in oak casks prior to bottling - noting it was an important factor for them. 

Also unlike whisky, Cognac can (and very often does) contain additives other than caramel colouring, including sugar and Boisé (a goo made by boiling wood chips....yes really). Plenty of commercial, big-name Cognacs will contain these, but enthusiast cognacs, often bottled as single casks, generally remain unadulterated. It goes without saying that these two Cognacs fall into the latter camp, having been bottled with no added colour/sugar/additives, at natural cask strength, without chill filtration and from single casks.

It's not hard to see that the team behind Old Master Spirits are true dedicated whisky / spirits lovers.

So, provenance, age, purity and branding, tick (not to mention extra kudos for starting a new independent bottler label in Australia), but how's the liquid? 

Let's find out....

Old Master Spirits 1957 Fins Bois Cognac Jean Luc Pasquet (47.6% ABV, 63yo, Saint Simeux, France, $429AUD)
Colour: Firey orange-gold.

Nose: Earthy stone fruits at first, with creme caramel and sweet toffee chews. With time things become more tropical - pineapple, green grapes and mango. There's a slightly grassy note, and after a while a slight sea saltiness. A very complex and enjoyable nose.

Palate: All the fruit from the nose carries through to the palate, with mature citrus fruit as well. There's an "old malt whisky" like note of wood polish and vintage cigars, though the oak is very much in balance and not overpowering - impressive considering the Cognac spent 63 years in it.

Finish: Pineapple and guava, peaches and a lingering sweetness.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 93/100. A very well-made, complex and delicious Cognac, with none of those "acetone" notes I've found on some Cognacs (even some near this age).

Old Master Spirits 1984 Grande Champagne Cognac Jean Luc Pasquet (53.8% ABV, 36yo, Angeac-Champagne, France, $229AUD)
Colour: Golden-orange copper.

Nose: Fruit-driven, with strawberries and cream, slight citrus spice, red jelly babies and hints of mint.

Palate: Sweeter than the 1957, with more confectionary notes - fairy floss ("cotton candy" for our American readers), pink jelly beans, and some slight wood polish notes. Raspberries follow, with 

Finish: Mint at first, then sweet oak, ripe apples, pears and a residual strawberry sweetness.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100. Not as complex as the 1957, but far from simple and absolutely delicious. A great contrast to the 1957.

(It should be noted that whilst Old Master Spirits provided generous samples of both Cognacs for this review, I enjoyed them so much I've ordered a bottle of each.)

Both Cognacs are being released on 1st Sept (7pm AEST) via Old Master Spirits' website, and due to the very limited quantity, are being released in 500mL bottle format (70 bottles of the 1957, 168 bottles of the 1984). Sign up to their mailing list for 24 hour presale access here.


Friday 13 August 2021

Kanosuke First Edition Single Malt Japanese Whisky (2021) [Tasted #530]

First cab off the tasting rank (following our look into the state of Japanese whisky these days) is the Kanosuke First Edition. Part of a wave of new Japanese whisky producers, Kanosuke opened their Kagoshima-based distillery in 2017, commencing production in 2018 in an idyllic setting literally a stone's throw from Fukiagehama beach, on the Western coast of Japan.

Destined to do things a little differently (and give themselves plenty of options), the distillery installed three, not two pot stills (all of different shapes with different neck sizes and lyne arm angles) to allow a variety of new make spirit to be produced. The whisky for the "First Edition", which is said to number around 15,000 bottles, includes spirit from all 3 stills, aged in several different casks but primarily re-charred American white oak ex-“Mellowed Kozuru” aged Shochu casks.

The distillery released a number of in-progress "new born" sample bottles over the past few years, but 2021 saw their whisky reach 3 years old, and as such, in June Japanese whisky fans were treated to the first Kanosuke whisky.

Hong Kong distributors AFTrade were kind enough to send the whisky for review, so without further ado, here we go...

Kansouke Single Malt Japanese Whisky "First Edition" 2018-2021 (58% ABV, 3yo, Kagoshima, Japan, available from AFTrade)
Colour: Deep amber-red.

Nose: Herbal lozenges initially, followed by the rich berry flavours you get from red jube lollies, then blackcurrant Soothers. Sultanas round things out.

Palate: Easy-drinking, mellow, with red / berry confectionary notes, currants & blackberries. Then come raisins soaked in sherry, a slightly wine-esque grape note, and some vanilla-infused oak after time.

Finish: Long, and follows the palate well (a well-integrated malt). There's a little citrus that comes through right towards the end.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 90/100. For a 3yo whisky, and a first release, a very solid showing. Can't wait to see what interesting releases come out in the future, especially given the variety of spirit the distillery plans to produce.

Whilst AFTrade appear to be sold out of the Kanosuke First Edition individually, it is still available (at the time of writing) in a pack with the Sakurao First release, which we'll have up on the blog shortly).


Thursday 12 August 2021

What is "Japanese Whisky" these days?

If you go back 10 or so years, the term "Japanese whisky" generally meant (to most whisky drinkers) Yamazaki or Hibiki. Maybe for some well-versed drinkers, Miyagikyo, Mars Komagatake or Yoichi. Hardcore enthusiasts were probably aware of whiskies like Hanyu and Karuizawa, but they certainly weren't known outside of a core group of enthusiasts.

Back then, these whiskies were all relatively accessible and comparatively well-priced (yes even the Karuizawas). More or less every Dan Murphy's stocked Yamazaki 12 (at well under $100AUD/bottle), and almost every decent Japanese bottle shop (and even Japan's airports) stocked age-statement Suntory and Nikka whiskies at incredibly fair prices. You could walk into most (good) Japanese whisky bars and try a selection of Ichiro's Malt Cards Series for less than you'd pay for a dram of Lagavulin 16 today.

Then in 2015 a man in a hat said the Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013 was the best whisky in the world, and everyone lost their mind. Now sure, this was far from the first award ever given to a Japanese whisky (Hibiki 21 for example had won "World's Best Blended Whisky", at the arguably much-more-relevant World Whiskies Awards, several times before 2015), but it did seem to be the catalyst for a barrage of hype, price hikes and scarce availability that continues today.

Some might say the hatted man simply shone a brighter light on what was already an incredibly high quality spirit (and they'd be right), but however you look at it, the hype started building, and casualties followed. In the coming years, Nikka discontinued their beloved age statement single malts (and later, many of their much-loved blends), Suntory temporarily halted favourites like Hibiki 17 and Hakushu 12, and the prices of pretty much all remaining Suntory and Nikka age statement (and NAS for that matter) whiskies skyrocketed. 

...and that's not even mentioning whisky from closed Japanese distilleries (to see how things are going there, just check out these auction prices of a "full deck" of Ichiro's Malt Cards Series from 2015, 2019 and 2020 respectively).

After a few years came the the wave of what many have termed "fake Japanese Whiskies" - those which took advantage of loose legislation in Japan which meant that producers could (and still can, for now) bottle whisky made from 100% imported spirit such as Scotch or Canadian whisky, and sell it as "Japanese Whisky" domestically and around the world. 

Again, the use of non-Japanese distilled spirit isn't a new thing. Nikka for example had been thought to be using Ben Nevis (which they own) in their hugely popular "Nikka from the Barrel", for years, but the rise in Japanese whisky popularity in the past 5 years has seen a big increase in other overpriced, opaque/ambiguous bottlings calling themselves "Japanese", often with samurai or other imagery, with absolutely no guarantee as to where the spirit originated. 

(For the record, I have no problem with the practice of imported spirit being bottled and sold by Japanese companies, and companies like Nikka who are willingly being transparent about the issue should be applauded. My issue is with those being deliberately deceptive, trying to "fool" their customers into thinking the whisky was distilled in Japan when it wasn't.)

More recently though, we've seen a ray of hope emerge - "proper" Japanese whisky from new or newly-expanded distilleries/brands, producing unique, Japanese-distilled spirit, and in the last few years (and especially the last 12 months), we've seen the first whisky releases from many of these start to emerge.

With thanks to our friends at AFTrade Hong Kong, we're going to feature a few of these whiskies over the coming week, with detailed tasting notes and some background into each distillery. Specifically, we'll be trying:
(Links to the articles will be added as they're posted)

We hope these posts give you some insight into these new, exciting Japanese distilleries and a little taste of things to come from Japanese whisky in the future. If you have any thoughts of your own on these whiskies (or the Japanese whisky scene in general) please leave them in the comments below!