Eigashima Sakura

A quick glance at the label on this bottle confirms that this is a bit of an interesting one.

Eigashima Sakura

Distilled in July 2010, the Eigashima Sakura was matured in an ex-Shochu cask and a hogshead for a combined period of three years, before being finished is a red wine cask for a further one and half years before being bottled at 58% ABV.

I don’t know about you, but there are a few words on this label that I wasn’t immediately familiar with, namely the words Eigashima and Shochu. I have heard of both, but I must admit I had to hit the books (aka Google) and do a bit of research to really understand and appreciate this one.

Eigashima

We’ll start with Eigashima. You may not have heard of Eigashima, but you may have heard of another small Japanese distillery called Akashi. Well, in basic terms, they’re kind of one and the same.

Located just our of Kobe, Japan, Eigashima is the parent company that runs the White Oak Distillery, who produce whisky bottled under the Akashi brand. Interestingly, they only produce whisky for two to three months a year and with a team of just four people, they’re the smallest whisky distillery in Japan.

Eigashima Sakura

So if they’re only making whisky for a couple of months a year, what are they doing the rest of the time? Well that leads us to that second word I wasn’t overly familiar with..

Shochu

You see, Eigashima’s core business is producing two of Japan’s favourite distilled drinks, sake and shochu. Sake is essentially a brewed rice wine, but shochu is quite a bit different. It’s first brewed, then distilled and can be made from a variety of different ingredients including sweet potatoes, barley, buckwheat, rice, sweet corn or even brown sugar. After distillation it’s then matured for a relatively short time (compared to whisky), in either stainless steel tanks, clay pots or – you guessed it – wooden casks!

There’s a lot more to it and the history and production is quite fascinating, so feel free to check this out for further info.

Eigashima Sakura

Now that we know a bit more about Eigashima and Shochu, I’d say it’s time we taste. Kanpai!

Eigashima Sakura

When first poured, I’d say that the Sakura isn’t immediately recognizable as whisky. I get more of a plum wine and Slivovitz top note on a bed of raw white grain spirit and as it sounds – it’s not great. Air is its friend though. Fifteen minutes in the glass opens this dram right up to reveal a rich, thick nose of runny toffee, marmalade, balsamic reduction and heavily charred figs. I get a hint of potpourri, char and dark soy. It’s not sherried, it’s almost like an older complex Armagnac, but that grainy vodka-like spirit notes pokes it head through here and there.

On the palate it’s immediately oily giving rise to a burst of spirit heat which quickly fades to deliver sweet, chewy berry notes, brown sugar and a slight fizz. The residue is almost savory though, with a saline tang turning very dry and tannic on the finish with a slight bitter waxiness.

I would never pick this as a sub-five year old whisky and despite the young age and high proof, I have no desire to add water to this one. There’s so much going on which makes me think Eigashima have been very clever with their cask selection here. However, as is often case with heavy wine finishes, the drying bitter finish isn’t quite the crescendo I was looking for.

Eigashima Sakura

Having never tasted Shochu, I can’t really comment on the influence the shochu cask has had on this whisky. However, even before reading up on it, I did get a distinct white grain/potato spirit (almost vodka-like) note on the nose. I don’t know what type of shochu cask was used in the finishing (sweet potato, barely, brown sugar etc.), but this was a really interesting note, in a really interesting whisky.

Nikka whisky tasting

A round of Nikka nightcaps at Shirt Bar in Sydney

A stroll from Sydney’s Wynyard Station in a small laneway separating Kent Street and Sussex Street, you’ll find a cosy coffee by day/drinks by night establishment called Shirt Bar. Oh I left one thing out, they also sell shirts – lots of them!

Shirt bar

According to their site, they’re all about three of the things they love ‘tailored shirts, freshly roasted coffee and great whisky’. Walk through the doors and it’s not hard to see this represented in the eclectic styling of the warm and friendly fit-out.

Shirt Bar - Menu

Anyone who knows me knows how much I enjoy a nicely tailored shirt and a good coffee. But on a miserable, rainy Wednesday evening, it was Shirt Bar’s third love that saw me perched at a table up the back with some like-minded company. See, they don’t just enjoy and serve great whisky, but they’ve gone one step further and have set up their own appreciation group aptly called Scotch Club.

Pouring

I always keep an eye out for drinks and whisky tastings in Sydney and I’d read a bit about Scotch Club. I’m on their mailing list and I’ve read some great reviews of their events by fellow whisky fans Martin and The Baron – but their events always happened to fall on a weeknight when priorities clashed, so I’d never actually been along to one.

This was about to change though. My first Scotch Club was all about some of the whiskies that come out of Japan’s Nikka distilleries, Miyagikyo and Yoichi. To take us through four of their whiskies, our host for the evening was their Australian brand ambassador, Taka.

Taka

I must admit I haven’t had a whole lot of exposure to Japanese whisky, so I was really looking forward to this tasting. Here’s what we got to taste.

Miyagikyo 12 year old

Miyagiko 12

First up was a single malt from the Miyagikyo distillery, which you’ll find in northern Honshu, near Sendai. Built in 1969, the Miyagikyo distillery produces a lighter style of whisky thanks to its steam-fired bell-shaped stills, which require a longer and gentler distilling process. Interestingly (for a whisky nerd like me), the stills also have an ascending lyne arm, ensuring only the lightest spirit is collected.

This was indeed noticeable when nosing and tasting. On the nose, I got some citrus, apple cider notes, pear and a touch of sweetness and spice. I also got a note that I couldn’t quite put my finger on, but I jotted down ‘oddly meaty’ – whatever that means!

Fairly thin and light on the palate (surprising for a 45% ABV), reminded me very much of a Lowland style Scotch whisky. Soft sweetness, slight sourness, pears and quite a dry white wine-like finish.

Yoichi 15 year old

Yoichi 15

The next single malt came from the second distillery in Nikka’s portfolio, Yoichi.

In contrast to Miyagikyo, at Yoichi, they have a much faster and more intense distilling process, using direct coal-fired straight column stills fitted with descending lyne arms. Their water source is an interesting one too – using naturally peated water collected from an underground aquifer that lies beneath the distillery itself. All of these factors contribute toward producing a much heavier style of whisky.

On the nose I got a hint of sweet smoke, salted caramel notes and something a bit raisin-y. Much heavier on the palate than the Miyagikyo (they’re both bottled at 45% ABV) with some salty/saline notes, seaweed, light smoke and a bit of spice on the finish.

Taketsuru 12 year old

Taketsuru

The Taketsuru Pure Malt 12 year old is a blend of both Yoichi and Miyagikyo single malt whiskies (so there’s no grain in this one – similar idea to the Johnnie Walker Green Label).

Bottled at 40% ABV, this was the lightest of them all. I got some green apples and pears on the nose, vanilla notes and touch of spice. Reminded me a little bit of The Glenlivet 12 year old. Very smooth on the first sip, light sweetness, some gentle sour apple notes, maybe a touch of nuttiness, then bang – nothing. This has got to be the shortest finishing whisky I’ve ever come across. I think apple juice probably has a longer finish then this.

That’s not to say it’s a bad whisky (because its not), but I personally didn’t find it overly satisfying. I can see this being a great introductory whisky for a first-timer.

Nikka from the barrel

Nikka

The last whisky of the evening was also a blend of single malts from Yoichi and Miyagikyo, but this time there’s some aged grain spirit in there too – specifically, a grain spirit produced at Miyagikyo using imported corn from the US! The components are then married together and left to sit for a few months before being bottled.

Lovely and rich on the nose, sweet fruits, creamy, hints of spice and some faint bourbon notes. Big and juicy on the palate (it’s bottled at 51.4% ABV), caramel sweetness and some vanilla finish with pleasing spice notes.

I had only ever heard good things about Nikka from the barrel and it’s not hard to see why – it’s a mighty fine blend indeed.

Some final thoughts

Group

I should also mention that the tasting was accompanied by some quality food – individual servings of sushi, plus generously-sized charcuterie and cheese share plates.

As for the venue, Shirt Bar really is quite a cosy spot. The eclectic styling, interesting furnishings and odd bits of bar and tailoring paraphernalia make it an enjoyable spot to just sit back, relax and enjoy a few drinks, and that’s what the crowd seemed to do. Whatever your reason for being there, it looked like everyone was enjoying themselves.

The pours were a bit on the light side and I probably didn’t get to taste enough of each whisky to develop a proper opinion. But one thing I did get out of the evening was a real interest in exploring the world of Japanese whisky a whole lot more.

Whilst it’s a much younger industry (compared to the Scotch whisky industry), it’s still rich with history and great stories that make some of these whiskies truly fascinating.