Japanese whisky is all the rage now, and if the whisky was distilled in a now closed distillery, you can just double the crazy. Add to that the yearly debate about the so called “Whisky of the Year”, and you got total madness.
Of the two closed Japanese whisky distilleries, Karuizawa tends to steal the spotlight with a crazy margin between the (very expensive) retail price and prices at auction. This was not the case, obviously, in 2000, when Toa Shuzu, owners of the Hanyu Distillery shut it down due to lack of a market for their whisky. At that point, Ichiro Akutu, who’s grandfather founded the distillery in 1941 bought up the 400 casks left in stock, and began releasing single cask expressions each carrying a playing card, under the label “Ichiro’s Malt”.
After completing all 52 releases last year, two additional Joker releases were made: a single cask joker (in a black and white label with only 241 bottles available) and a vatting of casks distilled in 1985, 1986, 1988, 1990, 1991 and 2000 that were matured (and in one case finished) in a sherry butt, a puncheon, ex-cognac cask, a hogshead, a Madeira wine cask, and in an ex-bourbon barrel finished in a chibidaru cask (a Japanese quarter cask). This expression is reviewed here, after I tasted it at the Whisky Show in London last month.
Ichiro’s Malt Hanyu Joker (57.7% ABV, NCF, NC)
Appearance: Bronze with thin and slow legs.
Nose: The unique combination of casks has a profound effect on the nose, imparting honey and sherry notes, with a slight wine-y mustiness. Sultanas and ripe red fruit are present.
Palate: The first thing you pick up is the oak, but not overly so. There’s dried fruit sweetness on the palate and a definite cognac-y quality, in a full body liquid.
Linger: Tannic and mouth drying, the long finish leaves a deposit of spices in the back of the throat.
Not a single cask release, this vatting is a masterpiece. There are many more layers to discover there, as this is a whisky you’ll want to spend a long time opening up and deciphering.