Karuizawa 13, 1997, “Spirit Safe”


Here’s a particularly pointless review to start the month. Japanese whisky as a category has been rather fucked for the last couple of years—and probably will be for more than a couple more. Very little is available, very little of that is worth buying, and what is worth buying is not worth buying at the prices being asked for them. (The one exception is the Nikka Whisky from the Barrel, which is now available in the US for a reportedly good price.) And in the general landscape of fucked Japanese whisky there is little as fucked as Karuizawa, the closed distillery all of whose remaining stock was purchased by a cartel that has figured out how to stoke and exploit an overheated market. For reference, the Whisky Exchange recently released a 29 yo and a 31 yo for £6000 each and you had to enter into a lottery for the privilege of making a fool of yourself by buying one. Then again, no one who is paying that amount of money for a single bottle of whisky is particularly concerned about money. Anyway, the Karuizawa I am reviewing today was released well before all this madness began: in 2010. I don’t know how much this cost then but back then you could purchase 28 yo Karuizawa from the Whisky Exchange for less than $200. I think this was bottled for Whisky Magazine Japan for OXFAM. There was another release that bore this “Spirit Safe” label that was a 19 yo. I have no idea what that was like but let’s see about this one.  Continue reading

Chichibu Peated, 2010-2013


This turned out to be Japanese food and whisky week on the blog. I reviewed two Japanese restaurants in the Los Angeles area (Raku in West Hollywood and Osawa in Pasadena) and on Wednesday I had a review of a young Yoichi.  And now this Chichibu to close the week. Aha, you’re thinking, what about Monday, you bastard? Didn’t you review a Bowmore then? Well, joke’s on you, cynical interlocutor: Bowmore is owned by Suntory. Not so clever now, are you? Chichibu, however, is not owned by Suntory. It is to the big Japanese producers as Kilchoman is to the big Scottish producers: small, artisanal etc. I believe they started distilling in 2008, which means nothing very old has come on the market from their own spirit. This one is certainly not old. Distilled in 2010 and bottled in 2013 it’s even younger than Wednesday’s Yoichi. It’s also peated. I’m curious to see how it compares with young peated Islay malts. Let’s get right to it.  Continue reading

Yoichi 5, Genshu Single Cask 406182


I reviewed a Japanese restaurant yesterday and will have a review of another Japanese restaurant tomorrow. Here in between, therefore, is a review of a Japanese whisky. This marks a dramatic return to my usual practice of pointless reviews (from the perspective of people looking for buying guides): not only is this Yoichi single cask no longer available, it was only ever available at the shop at the distillery—meaning you’d not only had to have gone to Japan to be able to buy it, you’d had to have gone to Hokkaido. I did neither of these things. This sample came to me through a swap, a couple of years ago, with a generous fellow whisky geek—he was also the source of the other Genshu casks I’ve reviewed: a 10 yo, a 15 yo and a 20 yo. I think these were all 500 ml bottles and that the full name of the series is “Taradeshi Genshu”. Who or what that refers to, I’m not sure, and the internet is not being of much help. If you know, please write in below.  Continue reading

Hakushu 18

Hakushu 18
I am a big fan of all the Hakushus I’ve tried (not very many): the 12 yo, the Heavily Peated (not the one released in the US but the original at 48%) and the Bourbon Barrel. I’d always wanted to buy a bottle of the 18 yo as well but failed to do so before the prices of Japanese whisky went through the roof—it’s not available in the US and in the UK now runs about £160 which is way more than I am willing to pay for 18 yo whisky. And so I’m very glad to be able to try it now through a sample swap. I don’t really know anything about how this is made or composed—if you do, please write in below.

Hakushu 18 (43%; from a sample received in a swap)

Nose: Quite fruity at first with apricot and orange peel, but notes of light caramel and toffee soon emerge as well. Some wood polish/over-ripe banana after that. Gets sweeter as it sits, and with more time all the notes marry together. Water makes the nsoe a little muskier/sweatier and also a little grainier.  Continue reading