Chita Single Grain, by Suntory

Originally launched in Japan a few years ago, The House of Suntory has just announced that they’re bringing the Chita single grain whisky to Australia, adding to the current range of Yamazaki, Hakushu and Hibiki products that already grace our shelves.

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Distilled from corn, the Chita Single Grain is produced at Suntory’s Chita Distillery in Aichi Prefecture, near Nagoya, Japan. It’s said to have been matured in a combination of ex-wine, sherry and bourbon casks and is a fantastic warm-weather dram. I’ve had many Chita Highballs (Chita on ice, topped with soda) in Japan and can attest to their insanely refreshing (and oddly reviving) nature!

I’d love to tell you more about the Chita Distillery and how this whisky is made, but Suntory are rather secretive about those details, so we’ll have to save that for another time. Hopefully.

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Tasting the Chita single grain 43%

On the nose it’s sweet, yet fruity with notes of tinned tropical fruits, slightly acidic tropical fruit juice, vanilla custard, creme brûlée and floral honey. Nothing particularly leaps out of the glass at you, so I think the nose can be best described as delicate, but fragrant.

The palate is similarly restrained and quite mild in its delivery. It’s creamy, with some sweet honey and vanillas, some of the tropical notes from the nose, but delivered like a punchy aged grappa. Sweetness fades to some spicy bitter-sweet oak, and while the palate is rich and desserty, it’s also quite light.

It’s that composition that makes this a great summer sipper, but equally (if not more-so) enjoyable in a highball. I’d quite like to put this one through its paces in a few summery cocktails, so I’ll report back if that’s a success.

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The Chita single grain whisky, by Suntory, is available in Australia now at a recommended retail price of $89.99. Thanks to Suntory Australia for the sample pictured here!

 

 

 

Nikka Coffey Grain

Nikka’s Coffey range comes to Australia

In years gone by, Australian shelves were graced with aged-stated whiskies from Nikka’s Yoichi and Miyagikyo distilleries. Those days disappeared a few years back and for a while the only expression you could get your hands on was the incredibly tasty Nikka From The Barrel. That is until now. Asahi Premium Beverages are gradually launching the full Nikka Coffey series into Australia, starting with the Nikka Coffey Grain.

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Thanks to that good news, I recently found myself sitting down with Naoki Tomoyoshi and Emiko Kaji from Nikka Distilleries to learn all about the Coffey series, and how they do things at Nikka.

The Coffey Series and grain whisky

Not trying to re-write whisky literature here, but it probably helps to know two quick things, to help put this new release into perspective:

  • Where the Coffey term comes from, and
  • What grain whisky is.

No, the ‘Coffey’ reference has absolutely nothing to do with the delicious brown caffeinated beverage! It comes from Mr Coffey (known to his mates as Aeneas), who is credited with inventing and patenting a continuous column-still design in 1830. That design would go on to become the most sought-after piece of equipment for grain whisky producers around the world. As for grain whisky itself? Whereas single malt whisky is made solely from malted barley, generally in a pot still, grain whisky can theoretically be made from any grain, and it’s distilled in a column still (sometimes also referred to as a continuous, or Coffey still).

Emiko tells me that Nikka’s first Coffey Still (they now have two) was imported from Scotland in 1963 and was installed in their Nishinomiya facility. That facility was later closed and in 1999 both stills were re-located to their Miyagikyo Distillery, where they now produce the grain distillate for their entire Coffey series (Coffey Grain, Coffey Malt, Gin and Vodka). In the case of their Nikka Coffey Grain expression, it’s distilled from American corn (with a small component – less than 5% – of malted barley), before being filled into casks at 63% ABV.

Tasting notes

On the nose it’s immediately sweet, creamy and buttery. I get notes of cinnamon finger buns with runny icing, a touch of orange peel, toffee, coconut and sweet tropical fruit.

The first thing that strikes me about the palate is the texture. It’s milky (or creamy), with a fantastic oily texture. That texture brings with it an immense depth of flavour. Creamy tropical fruit, whipped vanilla cake icing, candied popcorn and biscuity notes. The finish stays sweet, with a touch of oak.

This is so well-constructed, refined and classy – completely moreish and delicious.

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So what makes Nikka Coffey Grain so different?

In my personal experience, I’ve found that grain whisky tends to be very one dimensional and often needs to have been quite well-aged to even begin exhibiting any kind of depth. Nikka Coffey Grain is completely different though. I mention my experiences to Naoki and Emiko, and ask why they think Nikka has been able to create such a tasty grain whisky, compared to their Scottish counterparts?

Naoki offers up an interesting perspective when reminding me that traditionally, Scottish grain whisky was produced for one reason: blending. When it comes to blended whisky (a blend of single malt and grain whisky), the grain whisky component generally serves as a filler. The traditional school of thought is that the complexity in blended whisky comes from the malt whisky, therefore the grain component is literally used to bulk-up the blend. And to make enough grain whisky, distilleries have generally focused on volume – pumping out as much volume as they could, to fill as many casks as they could (often very tired casks, filled one-too-many times, in my opinion).

Naoki goes on to explain that Nikka once treated their grain distillate as a filler as well. But they quickly learned that they could bring added complexity to their blended whiskies (such as Nikka From The Barrel) by paying close attention to the spirit quality and style coming off their Coffey still. They also fill into a variety of casks (ex-bourbon barrels, a range of refill casks and re-charred casks) to give them a broader flavour range of matured whisky down the track. It’s that ethos that has allowed them to produce such an incredibly tasty whisky.

There’s so much more to the Nikka story

This post is all about the Nikka Coffey Grain, but spending some time with Naoki and Emiko reinforces just how much more there is to the Nikka story. Between their two distilleries they have 14 stills (six at Yoichi and eight at Miyagikyo). A combination of steam heated and direct coal-fired stills, they’re all different shapes and sizes, and all have been designed and forged in Japan. Over the years, they’ve also cultivated their own yeast library, boasting in-excess of 700 different strains, six of which are currently in use across their distilleries at the moment. They don’t stick to one style of malt either, distilling a number of different barley varietals, along with malt that has been peated and/ or roasted to different specifications. Add to that all of the different casks they’re filling into, and you literally have thousands of different possibilities.

And the most amazing part in my mind? These random statistics aren’t just marketing fluff. Nikka use all of these aspects, every single day, when creating their whiskies. They actively seek to create a vast range of different spirit types so that once matured, they can create complex, delicious whisky.

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Naoki tells me that’s another reason why it’s so hard for them to increase production. Whenever someone asks ‘why don’t you just make more whisky?’ – aside from the fact whisky needs time to mature – for Nikka it’s not just a case of making more of one whisky. Rather, it means increasing the volume of each and every one of these whisky styles, so they have the right components for whisky creation and blending in future.

Nikka Coffey Grain – Available now

Even just this week I saw a post on Facebook from a whisky-fan who had just tasted the Coffey Grain for the first time, while skiing in Japan. A photo of three newly-purchased bottles was attached, along with a caption about how he was blown away by the flavour, and that it’s now his new favourite.

It’s winning fans the world over, and when it tastes this good, it’s really not hard to see why. The new (to Australia) Nikka Coffey Grain will be hitting select retailers shortly, with an RRP of $129.99. The rest of the range should be making its way to our shores throughout 2018 and into early next year.

 

Bar White Oak

by Whisky + Alement

If you happen to follow me on Instagram (@whiskyledger), you may have noticed that I recently visited Japan. My trip was an incredible experience for a number of reasons, but right up there at the top of that list would have to be the incredible whisky bars. We simply don’t anything quite like them in Australia.

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Well, if there is one bar here that comes terribly close, without a shadow of a doubt, it would have to be Melbourne’s Whisky + Alement. These guys just do everything right in my opinion. From the bar you can comfortably perch yourself at, to the knowledgeable and friendly bartenders to the ever-changing back bar of over 600 bottles. For a genuine whisky-lover, this place just nails it. As if there weren’t enough reasons to love them already, they’ve just gone ahead and given us another one. Bar White Oak.

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Bar White Oak

Owners Brooke and Jules and one of their bartenders, Kelvin, were avid Japanese whisky fans well before Japanese whisky became the cool kid on the block. Between them, this love of Japanese whisky has led them to curate one of the most impressive collections you’re ever likely to see. Given the craziness over all things Japanese whisky at the moment they could no doubt flip these bottles at auction for an eye-watering price, but that’s what separates whisky collectors or speculators from people like Brooke, Jules and Kelvin.

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They bought these bottles with the sole intention of drinking them and have decided that now’s the right time to pop the corks. On top of that, they want whisky fans to join in on the experience as well. Enter; Bar White Oak – a consumable exhibition – inside Whisky + Alement.

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Filling the tiny space in the front window of the bar, the Bar White Oak pop-up is a dark corner of awesomeness. The timber archway draws you into the large phone-booth sized nook, lined on both sides with around 150 different Japanese whiskies – the vast majority of which you won’t be able to find anywhere else in the country. There’s everything from old blends to entry level drams and a considerable range of true hero bottles like single cask Yamazakis, Karuizawas. You’ll also find award winners like the Yamazaki Sherry Cask. Pretty much every Japanese distillery is represented, including ones you’ve probably never heard of. Everything’s available by the full or half pour and everything is there to be opened, and more importantly, enjoyed.

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SMWS member’s preview

Whisky + Alement also happens to be an official partner bar of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) and through this partnership, SMWS members were offered and exclusive preview of Bar White Oak the other night. Two exclusive Japanese drams were poured on arrival; a rare cask strength Ichiro’s blend and an SMWS single sherry cask Miyagikyo. They were matched with some excellent sushi, great conversation and the chance to be the first soul to crack open any of the Japanese whiskies on the back bar. Yes, this was a Japanese whisky fan’s dream come true!

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What you need to know

Bar White Oak is now officially open and will run for six months. The bar will feature a rotation of Japanese whisky, with approximately 150 different Japanese bottles on the bar at all times. That’s more than any other bar in the country. Heck, even the best-stocked whisky bars in Japan don’t have that much Japanese whisky on offer. Seriously!

Bar White Oak
270 Russell Street, Melbourne VIC

Sunday & Monday – 4.30pm to 11pm
Tuesday to Friday – 4.30pm to 12.30am
Saturday – 7.00pm to 12.30am

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A special thanks goes to the Scotch Malt Whisky Society and Whisky + Alement for the invitation to the preview night. I guarantee you’ll be seeing me again at Bar White Oak.

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.

Suntory whisky launch

Six new expressions for Australia

Until now, Suntory products have been fairly thin on the ground in Australia. Sure you’ve been able to track down the odd bottle of Yamazaki 12 year old, or maybe even a Hibiki (if you know where to look), but as far as official imports go, they’ve been fairly non-existent.

With the recent rise in popularity of whisky – and Japanese whisky specifically – Suntory Australia have started to officially import six expressions, which can now be found in most major liquor stores right throughout the country. For details on the range and pricing, see this recent post.

With that decision came a product launch and on a recent Monday night they hosted a rather decadent soiree in Sydney, which unfolded a bit like this.

Suntory whisky launch, Sydney, Australia

As a general rule, I don’t like Mondays. However, when they involve whisky, and in particular, a rather lavish evening of whisky, excellent food and great company, they all of a sudden become a whole lot better. Such was a recent Monday when Suntory Australia officially launched six of their bottlings in to the Australian market, in Sydney, at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

Gallery

Upon entry, guests were treated to a highball (whisky + soda water) of Hibiki 12 year old and Perrier sparkling water, served simple and tall in a Champagne flute.

Hibiki 12 Highball

I’ve had whisky + soda before, but never in this ratio. I can’t say I’ve ever really contemplated diluting a quality whisky to this extent, but it was actually really refreshing. I don’t think it’ll replace a good G&T in summer, but I’ll certainly start to alternate my choice of libation on those warmer days!

Crowds

Guests mingled in the main foyer area of the gallery around six illuminated plinths, each housing one of the six Suntory expressions now available locally.

Yamazaki 12

If Suntory were hoping to achieve the whole museum display piece look, then as far as I’m concerned, they nailed it. People stopped and stared, read the placards and took photos. Some seemed to admire them as genuine display pieces (and why wouldn’t you? The faceted Hibiki bottle is a work of art).

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Although it was mere metres away, I must admit that I was enjoying myself so much that I completely failed to notice the tasting room setup toward the back, right up until we were politely ushered in.

Tasting

As someone who really appreciates detail, the setup of this space was incredibly visually pleasing. Everything was perfectly aligned, miniature maples adorned the waist-height tables, the glasses were all etched – logos facing forward – and were all adorned with perfectly sized watch-glasses.

Glasses

It seemed rather fitting that in a setup of such precision and craftsmanship we were trying Japanese whiskies, created with much the same attention to detail.

Following a brief introduction, Suntory’s Global Brand Ambassador, Hiroyoshi (Mike) Miyamoto, took us through a tasting of the three core expressions in front of us – Yamazaki, Hakushu and Hibiki – all of the 12 year old variety.

Mike

Unfortunately, some of the crowd got a bit restless at times, but I suppose that’s to be expected for a group of 150-200. In any case, I absorbed plenty of new info and will write up my thoughts on these three core 12 year old separately.

Trio

The tasting marked the end of the evening’s formalities. Guests were invited to the adjacent space (which usually holds the Gallery’s main restaurant) to be greeted by whisky and matched canapés, expertly prepared by the Restaurant’s chefs. Think grilled short rib with truffle béarnaise, parmesan and herb gnocchi and seared scallop with passion fruit and vierge dressing – these were seriously tasty.

Canapes

A nightcap wasn’t hard to come by, with three stations spaced around the room, each serving a duo of Yamazaki, Hakushu or Hibiki. Guests were invited to try them neat or on the rock (yes, singular).

Drinks pouring

I say ‘rock’, as each station was equipped with a flawlessly clear block of ice. My initial reaction was that they were for display only (and probably made of plastic). But oh no, they were the real deal and they were being hand-carved and served. I know, I know, it’s a bit crazy to get excited over ice, but these were rather impressive.

Drinks rocks

A DJ kept the beats coming at an ambient level (kudos for not trying to deafen us all on a Monday) and drinks and canapés were still freely flowing as I said my farewells to friends, old and new. A very fitting local introduction for a quality whisky brand steeped in history – just like the rest of the objects within the walls of gallery.

Set

My thoughts on Suntory’s core range will follow in a new post shortly.