Tag Archives: japan

A Quick Trip To Japan

I recently had to make a quick trip back to Japan. This was far from a planned trip and even further from what any reasonably financially conscious person could consider appropriate given my current financial state of affairs. Especially with tickets running at about $1200/each and that like any self respecting posse I roll deep – four deep to be precise.

As many of my friends are quick to remind me, I shouldn’t be complaining. Instead I should be grateful for the opportunity to head back across the pond and enjoy the food and booze. Admittedly, both did take some of the financial sting away, at least temporarily. I did make the best use of my time to eat as much as possible while over there and I have the extra 5 pounds around my gut to prove it, but since this is a whisky blog I will stick to the whisky side of things.

Let’s face it there is still a lot more going on in the world of whisky over in Japan than there is here in the States. Be it the Japanese obsessiveness with being authentic and seeking to obtain the best whiskies or the States’ antiquated and oft nonsensical liquor laws, we usually have slim pickings. So I’m going to share a couple of my whisky experiences that I had during my brief visit last week.

Truth be told there are some whisky products that I am not all that disappointed are not available here. One would be the ever popular trend of the canned highball. The canned highball is as popular as ever – at least partially due to the huge highball commercial campaign by Suntory. I popped into one of the local grocery stores and their were at least six different canned highballs to chose from – even good old No. 7, Jack Daniels has entered into the canned highball fray. Out of curiosity I picked up a canon the limited – winter only – Suntory yuzu highball. It was pretty tasty actually, the synthetic yuzu flavoring did over power any possible remnants of whisky though. Light, refreshing and sweet, it is like the wine cooler of whisky drinks or a Chu-hi if you are familiar with the canned sochu drinks.

On to more positive whisky experiences…Liquors Hasegawa is a regular stop for me when I get over to Tokyo station. This great retailer is located inside of the vast underground city of Tokyo station and can be difficult to find your first time. But it will be well worth your efforts to find it. Liquors Hasegawa has a great selection of all types of spirits, wine and beer to just whisky. You can find 1960’s vintages of Armagnacs, Cognacs and Calvados. The best part is that they will pour you 10ml samples of certain bottles for a small charge.

I was fortunate enough to make two trips to Liquors Hasegawa. Realistically, even two was far from sufficient to taste everything that I wanted to. So I had to attempt to prioritize. On the first visit I started off with a sample of the newly reopened Japanese distillery Mars Shinshu 25 plus 3 (28 y/o). As you can tell by the age statement this is from their old stock before it was closed. The nose was fresh with apples, exotic spices and fragrant wood. While the palate was slightly bitter with the same fragrant wood, pencil shavings and some pepper.

Feeling like something a little richer I went with GlenDronach’s 21 y/o Parliament. This one did not disappoint. Plenty of rich sweet prunes and raisins along with stewed cherries. There was some sulphur on the nose but it had a nice chewy mouthfeel. Feeling like staying in the sherry realm, I decided to try the 2011 Whisky Live Tokyo single grain Kawasaki that was aged in a sherry butt. Not as big on the sherry as the GlenDronach but tasty nonetheless. A little synthetic, sweet dark sugar, cereal, the sweet grain softened it up.

Having enough of the sherry I decided to completely switch gears and went with a 25 y/o Signatory Port Ellen. At about $5 for a sample, why the hell not? This was one of those very clean fresh Port Ellen’s. Fresh, big peat on the nose along with falling autumn leaves. Along with the peat on the palate there was some flint and metallic edges to it.

I thought I was done but spotted something I have been wanting to try for some time: Four Roses Super Premium which is not available in the US. The sweet syrup on the nose gave way to the charred oak but was overall fairly restrained. The mouth was smooooooth but full and well balanced. Nice hints of vanilla and cherry cough drops. Balance was the key to this one for me.  Since it was still 11:30am by the time I emptied out the last of the Four Roses, I figured that I should get some food and be a little more productive with my day in Tokyo…





I did return a couple of days later and knocked out a few more samples while I was there: Acorn’s 19 y/o Rosebank, BB&R 38 y/o Glenlivet, OB Talisker 25 and an odd ball 1986 Dupont Calvados just for fun at the end. Why the US does not allow for retailers to sell samples like this is irritating to say the least. There were no derelict drunkards terrorizing the city because unlimited small 10ml samples were being sold. Well except for me…



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Whisky Unites: Japan Relief

Whisky is a unifier and this could not be more evident than the responses to the devastation in Japan.  Here are some of the events that I am aware of so far.  I will try to update and add events as I learn about them.  If you know of any other past or future whisky fund raising events please let us know.

Gordon & MacPhail stepped up big time and auctioned off the newly released Generations Glenlivet 70 Years Old to aid the Japanese earthquake and tsunami victims.  The winning bid for this majestic whisky was £15,000.  You can read more about it here.

Independent Distiller’s of Scotland created a special blend to help raise funds as well.  Arran, BenRiach, Bladnoch, GlenDronach, Glengyle, Kilchoman and Springbank came together for the cause and is releasing the Spirit of Unity.  You can pre-order a bottle at Loch Fyne Whiskies and Royal Mile Whiskies.

Umamimart is hosting an event in San Francisco on April 5th that includes food and drinks. Bulleit Rye, Glen Grant, Glenrothes and Suntory Yamazaki are the whisk(e)y related sponsors.  There are of course many other sponsors.

NYC Whisky organized a Dram for Japan at WardIII in New York to raise funds for the Red Cross and Japan’s Society Earthquake Relief Fund.

Julio’s Liquors of Westborough Massachusetts also held a free tasting to benefit Japan relief efforts.

There are also numerous local, smaller whisky groups and shops putting together fund raising efforts that will not get much attention but their efforts are just as important.  – Chris


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Whiskey Tasting for March

Yes, I added an “e” to whiskey as we are moving away from Scotch and Japanese whisky and moving into Irish whiskey this month.   It is St. Patrick’s day after all and I have to celebrate my Irish heritage…

This month’s tasting falls on the 17th.  Since the tastings are every third Thursday of the month we have been planning this for awhile.  However, we decided to change things up a little.  While we will still be enjoying spirits from Ireland, there will be no charge.  We only ask that you consider making a donation towards the Japanese relief efforts.  100% of all proceeds will be donated.  We are still in the process of narrowing down which organization the donations will be made to, however we are leaning towards the Red Cross.  If you are interested in attending please email: chris [at] whiskywall dot com for details.  We need to make sure we have enough whiskey for everyone.

*Special thanks to David Driscoll at K&L Wines for the support with the whiskey.  Also, many thanks to Spire Restaurant and Bar for hosting the location*

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Earthquake: My Unimportant Thoughts

Anything I have to say or write about the recent events in Japan are not really important or meaningful given what has happened.  This is more of an exercise in letting out some of the emotions that I have been holding in for the past couple of days.

I have been in a trance since last Friday – flipping back and forth between the television stations in Japan watching the constant stream of news on the earthquake and subsequent tsunami and now the precarious nuclear bind the country is in.  Feeling very helpless, I am at a loss on how to make sense of it all or even begin to understand the true magnitude of these events.  I did not lose any family members or friends in these last few tragic days so I consider myself lucky and do not even pretend to understand or feel the grief that those that have are experiencing.

Although I am not from Japan, I think of it as my second home.  I have gone back at least once a year for the last ten years and I have “lived” there for a couple of stretches.  As a result I am very comfortable in Japan.  Familiar with the culture and many local locations – the language not so much, a fact that my wife likes to repeatedly remind me of.

I was shocked to see the first images of the tsunami plowing through the towns and farms of northern Japan.  I pretty much stayed up the whole night watching the disaster unfold and at the same time trying to contact relatives and friends with my wife.  As the news coverage broadened I started to recognize some familiar places.   First, a town where we go every year as a family was now submerged in ocean water.  Then the huge oil refinery fire in a city close to my in-laws’ home.  That was just the start to more and more familiar – but at the same time now unfamiliar images of places where damage was being reported.  I couldn’t believe that the images that I was looking at were of the same places I was at just last summer.

The severity and breadth of this disaster so far is mind boggling and unfortunately there will be more bad news to come.  So when I first started seeing inquires and searches as to the condition of Nikka’s Miyagikyo Distillery I was truly pissed off.  With all of the death and destruction who really cares about a whisky distillery?  Miyagikyo is located in Miyagi Prefecture in the city of Sendai.  Sendai took a major beating from the quake itself but more so from the tsunami.

After taking some time to digest everything, I figured that watching almost 48 hours of news coverage on the disaster had taken its toll on me.  I also realized that Miyagikyo gives people a connection to the disaster that otherwise wouldn’t.  They might have never been to Miyagikyo but they know the distillery and they might have enjoyed the whisky that originated from the distillery located in the hills of Sendai – and as ridiculous at it may seem it might personalize it for them.  So I have come down from being pissed off and now appreciate that people are concerned enough to ask.  Once again displaying that whisky is a unifier – a social magnet that brings us together.

The good news is that reports from Chris over at Nonjatta is that the distillery appears to be fine.  I also searched on google’s satellite images of the earthquake and tsunami damage and although not pictured, I could tell that the tsunami damage tapered off before reaching the distillery.

There is a long way to go before the full extent of all of the damage is determined and an even longer way to go to before recovering.  But much in the same way they have become globally recognized for their whiskies, the spirit, determination, self sacrifice and detailed order of the Japanese ensure that they will recover from this disaster. – Chris

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One of the cooler #whisky bottles I have ever seen (Caol Ila)

This was given to me from a friend that obtained it from Japan.  It is a 2000 Caol Ila 8y/o and

With sleeve removed

bottled at 59%.  The bottle is only 200ML.  The box states that it is only for Tokyu Department Stores.  As all things Japanese it is wrapped with so much detail it is mind boggling.  I will be opening it soon so stay tuned for the tasting notes.  I apologize for the crappy cell phone pictures!

Opened Caol Ila Box

Caol Ila Bottle

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