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…