Whisky Odyssey
Old-fashioned with a twist of the modern 

Going to Japanese whisky heaven with Yamazaki (Suntory) and Miyagikyo (Nikka)

Another visit to Japan, after doing a blog about two Yoichi single malt whisky’s two weeks ago. I have to admit that my original intention was to post today’s blog then. It was Saturday 6 April, and coincidentally the Miyagikyo that we taste today, was distilled on the 6th of April. All the way back in 1989. But I am going to be honest here, I was a bit intimidated by my own samples. I have tasted them before, so I know they are of bespoke quality. But since the incredible explosion in prices for original, good Japanese single malt whisky, the Miyagikyo and the Yamazaki are now also incredibly expensive. In these moments you wonder if you will ever taste Japanese whisky of this standard again. So, a savoury moment.

I also want to add that the final two samples are reasonably high in abv. That is why today I kick off with a very new release, to set the tongue to the alcohol setting. Also, it is an interesting product. After that we continue on to Yamazaki, a distillery owned by Suntory (forever linked to Bill Murray now) and established as one of the pioneers in Japanese whisky, in 1923. We conclude with the other Nikka distillery, next to Yoichi, which is the aforementioned Miyagikyo (established in 1969). That distillery was purposely build to contrast with the already existing Yoichi Distillery. The aim, with bigger pot stills indirectly heated by steam, was to create a more soft and floral whisky. The distillery seems to be able to make multiple different styles.

Kanosuke Single Malt Japanese Whisky, bottled at 48 % abv

Makeup: This particular expression was bottled on 18 January 2023 after maturing in ex-Shochu, American white oak casks. Shochu is a Japanese traditional hard liquor, distilled spirits made from grains and vegetables.

General impressions: I have tasted this whisky before and was not too impressed. Still, I did not throw away the rest of the sample, and glad I did not, so we can explore it once more for this blog. My handicap is, of course, that I am not familiar with Shochu, so we will just write down what we come across. Which is a rather floral aroma intertwined with boiling water of cauliflower and broccoli. Sounds worse that it is, actually, it makes for a rich bouquet. The taste is young and a bit harsh on the tongue. I am reminded of rice, and a slight bitterness makes for an unpleasant finish.

Conclusion: Kanosuke came into operation in 2017. It needs more time to mature and develop, for sure, and I would be curious to see how it behaves in more regular whisky casks. It is easy to establish this whisky was made with skill. Now all it needs, is time.

Score: 79 points
Disclaimer: taken from a sample acquired from whisky friends in a bottleshare group.

Yamazaki 1995, 15 years old, bottled at 54,9 % for La Maison du Whisky

Makeup: Matured in a sherry butt in the Owner’s Cask Series. Distilled in 1995 and bottled at the age of 15 years old as a single cask, from # 5J 3020. You can buy this bottle in the Whiskybase Market … for € 5.400,-.

General impressions: Clearly a sherried beast in the glass, the liquid being as dark as Pepsi, with a golden brown hue (see photo). Not unlike the fantastic Longmorn 1971 by Spinola which featured in the very first Something Special Saturday entry on this blog. Smells the same too, when you dare stick your nose in the glass. Very heavy on furniture or shoe polish. My father had it as a routine on Saturday morning to shine all his good shoes. I am taken back to my youth straight away. A smell that stays with you forever, doesn’t it?

My sample oxidated for quite some years in a small bottle already, but the whisky did not suffer from it. On the contrary, I have the impression I can deep dive on it, and find more subtleties than on previous encounters. Let me tell you, it is simply a breathtaking whisky in general, worldwide. How on earth did Yamazaki obtain such an amazing cask in the 90s, where we are used to this style of casks in early 70s GlenDronach and Longmorn? Well done!

And then you take a sip. I think Serge Valentin has a word for it, some brigade he calls? But yes, you could make a video of this glass standing on your table, nothing else, and post it on P-Hub. It would be a massive hit. It spanks you with strawberry and deep, dark red cherry. Almost every millimetre of your tongue has a different, separate receptor. Sweet on the forefront, getting more woody and coffee-like towards the back, until inevitably you have to swallow this dark nectar. The finish is hot, bursting of delicious wood spices, and leaves you dazzled. You may notice by my notes, it is more emotion I experience than there is a burst of tastes. You could even say this is a pretty straightforward sherrymonster, delivering totally on its promise. It delivers in spades, really. I added some water, but that brings out the slightest metallic note, so might you be wealthy or lucky enough to get this bottle, just drink it neat. It is whisky heaven.

Conclusion: I have to thank my good whisky friend Nol Willems for at one time including this bottle in our Blind Tasting Bottle Club series. This, to me, is a personal favourite in my all-time top 5. A prime example of excellent sherry matured single malt. Worth the price tag? Well…

Score: 94 points
Disclaimer: sample acquired through membership of a Blind Tasting Bottle Club.

Miyagikyo 1989, 18 years old, bottled at 60 % abv by Nikka

Makeup: Whiskybase says this is bottled as expression #20 in the Single Cask Warehouse series. The whisky was distilled on the 6th of April 1989 (so two weeks and 35 years ago) and bottled on 9 July 2007 (which is also almost 17 years ago… jeez). The cask number is 105419. The exact identity of the cask is actually not revealed. Miyagikyo was originally named Sendai Distillery.

General impressions: Well, people make mistakes, and my mistake was probably to place this one after the Yamazaki, based on the alcohol volume. Anyway, the nose is a bit more subtle and I think the aid of water is needed here. Let’s first sip away at it. Oh, what a contrast, surprisingly sweet to start off, but the finish is all on delicate wood. Every aspect of this whisky seems to be balancing on a scale. The slightest breeze might tip it over. The woodsmoke is delicious here.
The whisky is spicy but there are also all kinds of soft spots on it, like sour candy, cinnamon, powder sugar. With water these elements are greatly enhanced, on the wings of gently minty notes. Some nutty flavours form on the palate but in general I think this was not the most talkative cask, of which one can only assume it was a cask that previously held sherry.

Conclusion: Complex, a bit hot and impressive whisky. This also travels easily towards the 90 points line, but then struggles to get past it. No problem to settle here. The spirit is a bit soft and the wood impact maybe not enough to mellow out the whole package. Still, a whisky experience, and ground under the solid reputation of traditional Japanese single malt whisky.

Score: 90 points

Disclaimer: sample acquired through membership of a Blind Tasting Bottle Club

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