Today we have a fun one for Amongst the Whiskey - a Japanese malt whisky! While I've primarily reviewed Irish whiskey, bourbon and rye previously, there has been a lot of buzz on malt lately. I have explored a few Japanese whiskies in my past, but none stood out to me as particularly convincing to enjoy on any consistent basis moving forward. I am however always open to new things, and even more eager to have my perceptions changed by new experiences, so I will be going in here with an open mind.
This is a relatively new distillery, and from what I've gathered from some of my fine friends on the web, a vision of owner Kimio Yonezawa that's been a long time coming from a family rich in the history of brewing and distilling. If you're interested in learning more about the origin story here, I'd recommend reading this article from nomunication.jp. It's a great read on the history of the brand as well as some of the intricate details I know you whiskey nerds (like me) will love.
I'd like to thank Hatozaki Whisky who were kind enough to send this along for a review with no strings attached. Now let's have a taste!
Company on Label: Kaikyo Distillery (Akashi Sake Brewery)
Whiskey Type: Japanese Blended Malt Whisky
Mash Bill Percentages: 100% Malted Barley
Age: 12 years
Further identification: This small batch product was primarily aged 12 years in American oak casks before spending 6 months in barrels that previously held Umeshu liqueur, which is produced from small plums called ume
Nose: I smell soft grape soda from a distance as I move this glass closer towards me. Oily, bright, decadent plum presents powerfully from below my beard as the glass gets closer to nose height. Diving fully in I begin to find light milk chocolate, sugar cookie and coffee bean aromas. It's viscous and oily in the nose-feel like many well-aged Irish whiskies tend to have. Everything presents delicate, fruity and easy on the nose. A deep inhale builds in just a hint of slightly savory sea salt and olive oil.
Returning my nose to the glass from a sip adds in light hints of amaretto, dragonfruit, and pomegranate. Overall this glass continues to be exquisitely delicate and fun to explore. Hints of anise, sweet tarts and bright florals can be found late in the glass. The now empty bulb of my glencairn smells like light charred oak, ambrosia perfume and raisin.
Palate: On first sip I'm greeted with fig jam, funky earth and marsala wine - undoubtedly a parallel to the Umeshu liqueur which is unfortunately lost on me due to the lack of personal experience with the spirit. Like the nose, this once again reminds me of Irish whiskey, particularly ones that are sherry finished. I can tell already that I would probably be a fan of ume based on these comparative notes. Another sip shows off more zest now with expressed lemon peel and grapefruit coming through. Chewing a bit elicits a comfortable wave of earthiness amidst a creamy mouth coating of thin caramel sauce. The linger has a touch of sassafras and root beer that I dig. Further sips refine away complexity at this point, but approachability remains high. My last sip tastes of caraway seed, granola and earthy graham cracker.
This is the perfect introduction to the Japanese whisky scene for an Irish whiskey lover to explore; the parallels to some of my favorite whiskeys from Midleton are prevalent all throughout. I am definitely also interested in trying Umeshu liqueur now, because there were a lot of similarities to sherry or madeira that I was finding. Ultimately this was a really fun whisky to sit with and explore; the whole experience is thoroughly interesting and enjoyable if you're good at dissecting low proof whiskies. While this might not be something I venture into regularly still, I'd definitely recommend trying this one for yourself. Between three tastings, I had two very positive experiences and one slightly lackluster tasting. This may not be one for a late night or a 2nd pour of the day, but it truly shines on a fresh palate. Let me know down in the comment section if these tasting notes sound up your alley or not!