Tuesday 28 December 2021

Akkeshi Kanro & Boshu Single Malt Japanese Whisky (& Usui blended whisky) [Tasted #556 - 558]

After a bit of a pause, we're continuing our look at what Japanese whisky is today, this time with a trio of releases from Akkeshi - namely the "Kanro" & "Boshu" single malts, and "Usui" blended whisky.

These releases (sold and distributed in Hong Kong by AFTrade) are numbers 1, 2 and 3 in what will eventually be a 24 bottle series, known as the "24-season series", representing the 24 divisions of the solar year. 

Construction of the Hokkaido-based Akkeshi began in 2015, with distillation starting from October 2016. With stills by Forsyths (5,000L wash still, 3,600L spirit still) and the use of Mizunara casks, the distillery fuses the best of Scotland and Japan to, in their words"create a whisky similar to Islay malts" - a departure from the typically lighter, unpeated Japanese whiskies we see today.

Following in the footsteps of some other new distilleries, Akkeshi released a few pre-whisky spirit bottlings to give people a taste of what was to come, under the "Foundations" range. I remember back in the day (when travel was possible) spotting and trying some of these at bars all over Japan - at 200mL and ~¥3,300 each, they were a cheap and accessible way to get an insight into the distillery's future whiskies.

Their first single malt whisky ("Sarorunkamuy") arrived in February 2020, and the series above followed. Let's dive in...

Akkeshi "Kanro" Single Malt Japanese Whisky (55% ABV, NAS, Hokkaido, Japan, no longer available)
Colour: Yellow golden sunset.

Nose: Slight cereal note, with citrus spice, subtle smoke, and big notes of paprika and sandalwood. Slight salinity.

Palate: There's obvious peat, but a lighter, sweeter, fruitier variety. Hints of strawberry and orange, sea salt air, strawberries & cream, and a little of that cereal from the nose.

Finish: Long, light peat and slight new oak notes.

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

Akkeshi "Boshu" Single Malt Japanese Whisky (55% ABV, NAS, Hokkaido, Japan, no longer available)
Colour: Light yellow gold.

Nose: Citrus, lemon peel, blueberry, chocolate strawberries and a slight salinity.

Palate: Soft, subtle floral wooded smoke. Oak, coconut and campfire notes.

Finish: Dark chocolate, slight oak bitterness, citrus peel.

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

Akkeshi "Usui" Blended Japanese Whisky (48% ABV, NAS, Hokkaido, Japan, no longer available)
Colour: Golden amber.

Nose: Burnt toast, cereal grains, milk chocolate powder.

Palate: Sweet and floral, with notable sandalwood, orange peel and hints of fresh oak. Sweet and robust, with caramel chews after some time.

Finish: Long, soft oak with a slight pepper spice.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 88/100.

Thanks to AFTrade for the samples of these whiskies. Whilst they're now all sold out, subsequent releases in the series are now available.


Monday 27 December 2021

"Secret Speyside" launch dinner (Hong Kong) [Tasted #552 - 555]

Things have been a little quiet(er) on the Pernod Ricard whisky front in Hong Kong over the past few years, which is a shame as there had been some great releases and even better events from 2015-2018. Thankfully, that all seems to be over now, with an increasing focus on the HK market - a point punctuated by the recent local launch of the "Secret Speyside" range, a "carefully curated selection of 18–30-year-old whiskies from Speyside’s rarest distilleries: the vanished Caperdonich distillery, the pioneering Longmorn distillery, the landmark Glen Keith distillery and the remote Braes of Glenlivet distillery".

To celebrate the series' launch in Hong Kong, an intimate dinner was held at the recently-opened Ami / Woodear restaurant & bar in Landmark (who, sidenote, this blog was very happy to be able to convince to offer their amazing whisky selection by the half-dram recently). Hosted by Zachary Yu, the dinner paired Ami's modern French cuisine with four whiskies from the new range:

Aside from Longmorn, I'd only tasted the other distilleries as Indie Bottlings, so was keen to see how they fared as OBs (and doing so alongside four courses of Ami Executive Chef's Nicholas Boutin "fine bistronomie" cuisine was certainly a nice way to do it).

Zachary introduced the range, explaining it as a 15 bottle collection in total (each individually numbered and bottled at ABVs ranging from 43% to cask strength, with most in the 48% range), covering the four distilleries to show different sides of Scotland's Speyside region - from the Glen Keith's balanced sweet fruitiness, to the Longmorn's smooth toffee creaminess, to the Caperdonich's complex peat smoke.

With the whiskies introduced (and welcome Longmorn 18 Highballs consumed), it was time to dive in and try each whisky...

Secret Speyside Longmorn 18 Year Old (48% ABV, 18 Years Old, Speyside Scotland, $1,280HKD, £70.38 )
Nose: Fresh orchard fruit, most notably peaches.

Palate: Citrus zest and slightly earthy stone fruits. Orange cake topped with orange rind. A lesson in citrus - and lovely for it.

Finish: Long, oaked and sweet.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 90/100. Paired with Chutoro tuna, egg & heirlom tomato brought out some sweeter notes in the whisky - quite a good pairing overall.

Secret Speyside Glen Keith 21 Year Old (43% ABV, 21 Years Old, Speyside Scotland, $1,480HKD£133.33 )
Nose: Vibrant pear & apple notes (green apples). Fresh, slightly floral. After time, an almond florentine nuttiness emerges to replace the fruitiness.

Palate: Quite complex - the apple notes have become richer, red apples, there's a slight saline note and noticeable viscosity. After time, aged pineapple rings emerge.

Finish: Long, smoked apple tart, with a cashew & almond nuttiness towards the end.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100. With Langoustine, seaweed & duck foie gras the whisky's tropical/pineapple notes were ramped up, and chocolate orange notes emerged.


Secret Speyside Caperdonich 21 Year Old Peated (48% ABV, 21 Years Old, Speyside Scotland, $2,838HKD£200)

Nose: Noticeable fruity peat smoke. Smoked cherry pie. With time, strong notes of pineapple juice (just like I drank as a kid). 

Palate: Initially a meaty smoke, then cherry, strawberry notes emerge but the smoke remains underneath. Some orange rind comes out towards the end.

Finish: Long, berry smoke. 

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100. Wagyu beef cheeks, apple & sea urchin sauce complemented this nicely, with neither whisky nor dish significantly changing the other.

Secret Speyside Caperdonich 25 Year Old Peated (53% ABV, 25 Years Old, Speyside Scotland, $5,898HKD£404.17)
Nose: Beautifully floral, fragrant, subtle fruit smoke. With water, slight salinity.

Palate: The peat smoke is more noticeable than on the nose, but still soft and subtle. Apple, pear & peach comes through, and with water, some grape notes.

Finish: Long, savoury with subtle residual smoke. With water, the peat smoke is a little stronger.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100. All up, an incredibly elegant dram. Whilst it paired well with the Guinea fowl & octopus dish, this is a dram to enjoy on its own, with/without a few drops of water as you prefer.


It's wonderful to see Pernod Ricard's single malts "back" in a big way in Hong Kong, and we can't wait to try the rest of the "Secret Speyside" range. If these four are anything to go by, there's a great deal of variety (and deliciousness) to enjoy - which is pretty great considering they're all from the same ubiquitous region of Scotland.

A big thanks to Pernod Richard Hong Kong, Asian Vibe & AMI/Woodear for the invitation & wonderful dinner.