Monday, June 25, 2012

Whisky Club

Remember how I met a friendly man at Liquors Hasegawa? Well he invited me to a small gathering that meet once a month to enjoy food and drinks. He happened to be showcasing a few bottles of whisky. I went to the meeting not knowing what to expect. What I was greeted with was this.

A small selection of whisky
Of course a very delicious selection of food was prepared to accompany this fine selection of whisky. An hour later the rest of the members came with bottles of Bourbon whiskey to try. It was a good time that was had by all. I look forward to going again.

Here is the list of whisky that I tried.

1. Glenkinchie 12 - 43%
2. Glenkinchie Double Matured 1991 - 43%
3. Knockando 12 1997 - 43%
4. Highland Park 12 - 40%
5. Visual Flavour Highland Park 1994 - 52.4%
6. Glen Moray 8 - 40%
7. The Arran Malt 10 - 46%
8. The Golden Cask Bowmore (11 years old) - 58.2%
9. 2011 Whisky Live Tokyo Chichibu Distillery (3 years old) - 62%
10. Lagavulin Distiller's Edition Double matured - 43%
11. Martin Armstrong Whisky Broker Bunnahabbain 20 - 52.2%
12. Ballantine's 17 - 43%
13. Bulleit Rye - 45%
14. Old Fitzgerald - 50%
15. Dun  Bheagan "Islay" 8 - 43%
16. Jim Beam Signature 6 grains 6 years - 44.5%
17. Signatory Vintage Longmore 14 - 43%

Three expressions of Talisker

A friend of mine has tried more whisky than I have but has proclaimed that his favorite single malt of all time is Talisker. He will drink other whiskies but will always go back to his beloved Talisker. For me, Talisker is a very drinkable whisky that has the saltiness of the sea in every drop. Talisker is distilled on the only distillery on the Isle of Skye. At Liquors Hasegawa I saw a beautiful boxed set of three Taliskers. I just had to buy it.

The lovely boxed set

The Taliskers outside their box
The three expressions are Talisker 10, Talisker 18 and Talisker Distiller's Edition which is finished in Oloroso casks. All of these are at 45.8% and the bottle size is 200ml. I look forward to trying these as a "vertical tasting" later.

Monday, June 18, 2012

What I've tasted at Liquors Hasegawa

Here are some pictures of the whiskies that I tasted at Liquors Hasegawa. I've tried a few other whiskies but I forgot to take pictures of them. It really is an education to be able to try so many different types of whiskies.

Green Label and Black Label

The Laddie Ten and Old Pultney 12
When I took the two bottles of Johnnie Walker to the counter, I told the shop assistant that there wasn't enough Blue Label for a tasting. She agreed and only charged me 100 yen for the small sample. I enjoyed both Johnnies but I preferred the Green Lable more because it had more character. The Blue Label was far too easy and smooth to drink. And for the price tag of around 12,000 yen I could buy two bottles of fine single malt.

Next I tried Bruichladdich's The Laddie Ten which is an unpeated Islay whisky. The other was a standard bottle of Old Pultney 12 from the Highlands. Two very different malts but both very well made. I look forward to trying these out again.

Which Ichiro's should I get?

I was down at Liquors Hasegawa and decided to try a few Japanese malts. I have a few bottles of Yamazaki and Hakushu at home and I really like the taste of these. They are decent malts and good for a beginner to try. I was feeling a bit extravagant and wanted to buy an Ichiro's malt for home. The beauty of being able to try before you buy is the draw card at Liquors Hasegawa. I narrowed my selection to three Ichiro's Malts.

Mizunara Wood Reserve and Wine Wood Reserve
The Mizunara Wood Reserve had a strong Japanese oak nose that is quite different from anything I have ever smelled before. It will take some time for me to get used to. The Wine Wood Reserve had a rich and fruity nose which I quite enjoyed. After careful consideration I bought a bottle of Ichiro’s Malt Double Distilleries instead. The bottle is a blended malt (vatted malt) of sherry matured whisky from the old Hanyu distillery which closed down in 2000 and new-make from the Chichibu distillery which opened in 2008. This new spirit that has been kept in Japanese oak casks. In other words it's a careful blend of the old with the new. You could say that I bought a cross between the MWR and the WWR. I look forward to opening this on a rainy day. And being the rainy season here in Japan it might not be long before I do.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Clynelish 14

When I first tried to get into whisky 7 years ago I bought a few bottles of whisky. These were drunk very slowly throughout the years. It was a struggle to get through them because I didn't appreciate whisky at that time. Most of them were shared with various friend when they came over. Most of these friends have returned to their home countries so at least I have the memories of sharing my whisky with good friends. Some of the whiskies I bought were Glenfiddich, Canadian Club, Tullamore Dew and of course Johnnie Walkers. The standout whisky from those days is a 14 year old bottle of Clynelish. I still have this bottle but there are only a few drams left. It's probably oxidised to hell but I'll be savoring this bottle and when it is finished I'll get a new and improved replacement. I wonder what whisky I'll get in its place.

Clynelish 14. A great whisky!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

"Peaty Monsters!" Ardbeg 10 and Laphroaig 1/4 Cask

When I initially tasted Ardbeg 10 at a whisky tasting session I wasn't impressed. The reason was that I just recovered from a really bad cold and couldn't smell anything. The peat didn't really help. A few weeks later and I tried another peaty malt and this time I fell in love. I really love these peaty malts and I look forward to trying out more of them. The two "peaty monsters" I have in my whisky cabinet are the Laphroaig Quarter Cask and Ardbeg 10. Both are lovely whiskies. The usual price of Ardbeg 10 is around 4,600 yen but I got it at Tanakaya in Mejiro for only 3,600 yen. That is a great price! Ardbeg Day is June but I'm enjoying my Ardbeg a few days later. Here are my tasting notes.

Two peaty monsters side by side.
Old whisky metal carton lids to keep in the aroma.

Laphroaig Quarter Cask NAS 48% ALV 700ml bottle
Color - light tan (-1 amber)
Nose (neat) - upfront, strong but tempered initial peat followed by malt, honey, iodine, phenolic. Later nosing produced old leather boots
Taste (neat) - caramel, oaky wood, vanilla, golden syrup
Nose (water) - peat mixes in well, strong vanilla, iodine, sea breeze
Taste (water) - sweet, vanilla and oak
Finish - Long lasting sweetness and the vanilla
Conclusion - A strong peaty blast with residual sweetness.

Ardbeg 10 46% ALV 700ml bottle (new)
Color - light white wine (-2 amber)
Nose (neat) -Strong but muted peat, balanced with lychees and sweet corn sugar syrup
Taste (neat) - vanilla, sweet, young oak, woody, iodine, tea, sea salt
Nose (water) -peat recedes, toffee and caramel caramel with a hint of strawberries
Finish - Nice and long.
Conclusion -Excellent. I will need more time with this one.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Liquors Hasegawa

The best place in Tokyo to try many single malts at the cheapest prices is Liquors Hasegawa located in the Underground shopping area just outside Yaesu exit of Tokyo station. Not only do they have a great selection of single malts but also miniatures and other premium spirits. The prices are good too. For example they were selling a bottle of Glenmorangie "Original" 10 for only 2990 yen. That is cheaper than what I got for it at Rakuten Kawachiya.

The coolest thing about this place is that you can try nearly all they have on offer for a small tasting fee. For example Johnnie Walker Blue Label can be sampled for a low price of 200 yen for 10mls. I dare you to try and find a price like that in any bar. While browsing around a friendly customer allowed me to try some of the tasting  samples he bought. I tasted an Ardbeg Renaissance and a few other premium single malts. I myself sampled Ardbeg 10 and Port Charlotte. The man kindly took a picture of me. The total price was 200 yen for the two samples.

Nosing Ardbeg 10

Port Charlotte An Turas Mor
The procedure for tasting is very simple. On the bottles that can be sampled is a white sticker with red kanji that says tasting fee with the price of the tasting fee. It looks like this 有料試飲 (yu-ryo shi-in). There is also a label that says not to open the bottle (it's very tempting to take a whiff but don't) but to take the bottle to the counter where the shop attendant will, after paying the small fee,  get a tasting glass and make a small space for you to enjoy. Bring a bottle of water to water down the sample is necessary. This place is highly recommended to try premium single malts at a reasonable price for your whisky education.

It's a little hard to describe how to get there but the best way is the exit the underground Yaesu exit of Tokyo JR station and look for Yaesu Underground shopping center. Once you are there look for an information booth and ask how to get to LIQUORS HASEGAWA リカーズハセガワ 本店. Also be care to go to the main shop and not the west branch locate in the same shopping center. If you do manage to get to the west branch then ask them how to get to the main shop. The west branch specializes in wine and doesn't offer whisky tastings.

Opened 10:00am to 8:00pm daily. 

 I forgot the mention that it's not only Scotch whiskies that can be tasted but also Japanese whiskies and other spirits. The prices for the tasting depends on the price of the 700ml bottle. The below information was taken for their website.

Tasting prices
Under 5000円 - 100円
Over 5000円 but under 10000円 - 150円
Over 10000円 but under 15000円 - 200円
Over 15000円 but under 20000円 - 250円
Over 20000円 but under 25000円 - 350円
Over 30000円 but under 35000円 - 500円
Over 35000円 but under 40000円 - 600円
Over 40000円 but under 50000円 - 700円

I also translated the tasting rules that can be found on the website here.
Liquors Hasegawa Tasting rules

1. Liquors Hasegawa is not a drinking establishment.
2. Tap water is available. You can bring your own bottled water.
3. You cannot taste 3 samples at once. 2 samples is okay.
4. Please wait patiently if the cashier is busy.
5. The tasting tables are located within the bottle aisles. Please be mindful of other customers.
6. Intoxicated customers may be refused service.

Map can be found here (flash)

Friday, June 1, 2012

Quercus Bar (Ikebukuro)

After a long day teaching yesterday I decided to head to a whisky bar. There are many choices to choose from in Tokyo but I've never been to a whisky bar before. For many years I've just been drinking beer so that means I've been to many of the craft beer bars around Tokyo and that was about it.

Whisky bars are a great way to try whiskies that you have never had before. Due to limited space at home and limited finances, I can't buy all the bottles I want. I have to be selective and buy things that I like to drink. Anyway I had two choices, Campbelltoun Loch in Yurakucho or Quercus Bar in Ikebukuro. I read that Campbelltoun Loch is a great place but a little small. I decided to try Quercus bar instead. I'll leave Campbelltoun Loch for another day.

The sign just outside the door.

Quercus Bar is a 10 minute walk from Ikebukuro JR station  east exit, left along Meiji-dori road. It's on the basement level of a MOS Burger shop. When I entered just after 5:30pm there was already a lone customer enjoying a quiet dram and the bar owner, Watanabe-san. I sat down at the bar and started to chat with Watanabe-san and asked him what he recommended. He asked what I wanted to drink and I said Springbank. He then recommended a whisky especially bottled for the bar. It was a very dark amber and look interesting. I however stuck with the Springbank.

Springbank 10 @ 46%
Springbank, from the Campbelltown region is a lovely whisky and a favorite of mine. I also chatted with the customer who liked a wide variety of drinks but especially whisky. After enjoying the Springbank I ordered an Islay malt that I have never tried before. Lagavulin 16 is a smooth and strongly peated whisky but very well balanced. It was nice but it didn't really capture my imagination.

Lagavulin 16 @ 43%
Lastly I ordered a Japanese malt from the Ichiro's Malt range. They only had The floor Malted so I order that. It was a little expensive at around 1,300 yen a dram. My first impression was that it had a very overwhelming aroma and was quite young. Looking at the bottle label I saw that it was indeed a young whisky having being matured for 3 year, the minimum age. It was a little too young for me but subsequent releases will be very nice I'm sure. The bill was 3,400 which is cheaper than most places.

The Floor Malted @ 50.5%

I thoroughly enjoyed my first ever visit to a whisky bar and I look forward to visiting this bar again.  Highly recommended. I wonder which bar I will visit next.