Suntory Hibiki 21-year-old

Suntory Hibiki 17-year-old and Hibiki 21-year-old

In 1987, Suntory’s Master Blender Keizo Saji decided to develop a blended whisky to reflect the sophistication of Suntory’s techniques. Suntory says that their Chief Blender, Koichi Inatomi, sampled and tasted aged malt whiskies from one million casks at Suntory. Maybe not just to make Hibiki, as 1 million casks sampled would mean 91 samples a day for 30 years… Anyway, in the end, Saji and Inatomi found the flavour they wanted by blending thirty distinctive malt and grain whiskies from Suntory distilleries, Yamazaki and Hakushu for the malt, and Chita for the grain. The first Hibiki, Hibiki 17-year-old was released in 1989 to celebrate the 90th anniversary of Suntory whisky. The 21-year-old would follow in 1994. Whatever the expression from the range, they are always presented in the brand’s trademark 24-faceted bottle representing the Japanese seasons. So let’s try those two initial expressions from the range, Suntory Hibiki 17 and 21-year-old.

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Yamazaki core range

Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve, 12yo and 18yo

Yamazaki Distillery is where it all began for whisky in Japan. I’ve written before about Masataka Taketsuru, who went to Scotland to study how whisky was made, then would help Shinjiro Torii create in 1923 the first whisky distillery in Japan: Yamazaki. Located near Kyoto, the distillery sits in a quiet place, surrounded by nature and greenery, and with excellent quality water, required to make whisky. Whilst it was founded in 1923, Yamazaki was released as a single malt only in 1984. Though I couldn’t book a tour (already full) when I went there, back in 2018, I could, however, visit the museum, which is free, and features more than 7.000 bottles in its whisky library. I’ll show you around, and then we’ll review the Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve, the 12-year-old and the 18-year-old.

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Nikka Yoichi 1988 - last dram

Yoichi 1988

This bottle of Yoichi 1988 is the first ever expensive whisky I ever bought. Well, I say bought, but in fact it was a gift from my girlfriend at the time, and wife now. Back in 2008, the World Whisky Awards had designated a single cask of Yoichi 1987 the best whisky in the world. So the next year, when Yoichi released its 1988 vintage, I was curious to buy one, as it was probably as good as the previous which was the best in the world, right? At the time, I had a starting interest in whisky, I had maybe half a dozen bottles, which was quite a lot compared to my friends who only drank things like Jack Daniels. But when the bottle was available at La Maison Du Whisky, it was sold for 220€ which was quite a lot for me at the time. Back in 2010, I was buying 50€ bottles, I was really not ready to put that price in a whisky. But some time later, during a nice weekend in Andorra, I discovered a fantastic off-licence in Andorra-la-Vella, that had it in stock for just 150€. Quite a price cut compared to LMDW!

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Chichibu On The Way 2019

Chichibu On The Way

We’re back to Japan for another Chichibu tonight, we’re racking up hundreds of miles of travel from one country to another with this Advent Calendar! Not sure our CO2 emissions are very high, though, since all this travel has been purely virtual and in my Glencairn glasses! Anyway. Though Chichibu is a very young distillery, its owner Ichiro Akuto comes from a very long tradition of alcohol making, since the family produced sake then shochu since 1625 in Chichibu. The family founded Hanyu distillery in the 1980s, bringing water from Chichibu by truck, before the whisky market collapsed and Hanyu closed down in 2000. Then as I said in my Chichibu The Peated review, Ichiro Akuto founded Chichibu in 2007, and tonight we’re trying a Chichibu On The Way bottled in 2019.

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Chichibu The Peated 2018

Chichibu The Peated 2018

We’re the first of December! While December means cold, wet or snowy weather depending on where you live, it also has more festive connotations with Christmas or other end-of-year festive events, and for many people from the 1st to the 24th of December: advent calendars! As the few years before, I’m doing a whisky advent calendar. This year again I couldn’t get a Boutique-y Whisky Advent Calendar (I reviewed one with Ainulindale in 2019) or another one from Drinks by the Dram, but Benjamin, a member of a French Whisky Discord server I’m a member of, and who spends probably way more than me on whisky, offered to do for a few of us our very own ultra limited whisky advent calendar. Five of us members ordered him one, gladly paid 300€ for 25 samples (yep, we have an extra one for Christmas!), and all we know is that the bottles used for the samples go from 150€ to 800€ a bottle… All the samples are just labelled with a number, and each day Benjamin gives us a hint or two in order for us to guess what it is. But first, where do advent calendars come from?

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Fuji Gotemba Single Grain at Aloha Whisky Bar in Tokyo

Fuji Single Grain review

Our friend and guest writer Mac from Kanpai Planet is back today with the review of another Japanese whisky, this time the Fuji Gotemba Single Grain.

Most drinks fans are familiar with Kirin, whether through their Kirin Ichiban Shibori beer (Kirin Ichiban outside Japan) or through Four Roses Bourbon, which they own.

But outside Japan, not many know that Kirin is the number 3 whisky producer in Japan, behind Suntory and Nikka.  

In November 1973, the Fuji Gotemba distillery began production. It was built by Kirin-Seagram, a joint venture established in August 1972 between Kirin Brewery Co., Ltd. (Japan) [50%], JE Seagram and Sons [45%] and Chivas Brothers [5%].

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Suntory Hibiki Blossom Harmony 2021

Hibiki Blossom Harmony 2021 review

Suntory’s first big announcement of 2021, back in January, was of two limited-edition variants on their two biggest brands: Yamazaki Limited Edition 2021 and Hibiki Blossom Harmony 2021. They were both released on May 25 and sold out almost immediately everywhere. There are allegedly 30,000 of each of these kicking around. They both had RRPs of ¥8800 (after tax, around €67 or $80), but now grace auction sites for 10x that. 

Our focus here is the Hibiki Blossom Harmony.

Coldorak’s Note: today we welcome a guest author, Mac aka Kanpai Planet, who does Youtube reviews of Japanese whiskies and other Japanese drinks on his Youtube channel. Yōkoso!

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Old and new Nikka Taketsuru NAS and 21-years-old

Old and new Nikka Taketsuru

The Nikka Taketsuru range is a good example of the problem Japanese whisky is facing. And I mean the true Japanese whisky, the one distilled in Japan, not the “bottle whatever and slap some Japanese kanji” fake Japanese whisky crap. As you’ve read a thousand times, there is a shortage of old Japanese whisky stocks, that is here for a long time (you can’t accelerate years, even though, and especially with 2020, you’d sometimes want to). And the demand for Japanese whisky is so high that the current production is not even enough to cover the needs. Thus, Nikka announced last year expansions for its Miyagikyo and Yoichi distilleries to fight shortage. But since whisky takes time to mature, the shortage will probably stay at least until 2030… And earlier this year, they sadly announced the total discontinuation of the 17, 21 and 25-year-old Nikka Taketsuru, their pure malt blend of Yoichi and Miyagikyo juices, named after the founder of the Nikka group. I won’t go into the history of Nikka and Masataka Taketsuru as I’ve briefly covered that previously on the Yoichi blind tasting I organized with friends. They also announced they would renew their NAS edition of Taketsuru, and thus today we’re going to review the old and new Nikka Taketsuru NAS, as well as the discontinued Taketsuru 21-year-old.

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Yoichi NAS blind tasting lineup

A blind evening with friends and Yoichi whisky

On Friday 22 of November, I organized a small blind tasting with friends I had sent samples to months ago. After a few last minutes cancellations, we were finally able to have that tasting, and the theme was 4 Nikka Yoichi non-age-statement single malts: the classic Single Malt one available in your usual liquor shop, and three distillery exclusives named Woody & Vanillic, Sherry & Sweet and Peaty & Salty. I’ll come back to it later, but tl;dr: it was a great evening, and the drams were really good. Oh, and I said blind tasting: well, kind of. We knew what drams we were going to taste, but had no idea of the order. Myself included. But let’s talk about Yoichi first.

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Yoichi Peaty & Salty review

Yoichi Peaty & Salty review

As I would reveal at the end of the tasting when everyone would have made their final guesses, the fourth and last dram we tasted was the Yoichi Single Malt Peaty & Salty. It is a distillery exclusive bottled at 55% abv, without age statement, in a 50 cl bottle. I paid 130€ on auction for this bottle including 60€ in shipping cost as the seller was from Hong-Kong.

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