Dec 312014
 

2014 was a hell of a year!

I started Malt and Oak in the very last days of April as a means of talking about my personal whisky journey while providing an “objectively subjective” view on the world of whisky and of the expressions I’m tasting, and as a way of integrating more deeply in the very rich and amazing “whiskyfabric” and the amazing people in it. In the eight months that ensued, the 164 posts covering about 180 whiskys were read more than 62,000 times. I must admit to being awed and humbled by this amazing readership for a brand new blog, and thank each of you for being the most important part in this journey.

Photo Credit: vegaschatter.com

Photo Credit: vegaschatter.com

2014 saw prices rise, some bottlers aggressively seek to close the retail/auction gap,  and a tsunami of NAS expressions coming in at higher and higher prices. Not surprisingly, Diageo’s Special Releases, Ardbegmania and a full blown Japanese whisky craze fanned the top of the most popular posts, in which I voiced a rather stark critique of all these forms of craziness. But nestled within the most popular articles of the year is also the exact opposite. Two very popular posts were on the best valued and most honestly consumer oriented whisky on the market, the GlenDronach 15 and the 12, in which I review one company’s commitment to fair pricing, keeping a sane core range (despite selling older whisky in the bottles) and a staunch commitment to quality, which includes no artificial coloring and no chill filtration.

The blog has been active for nine months, so I’ll list the top nine posts in order of popularity, and if you missed any of them, here’s your chance to catch up with them:

1. The Deadly Sins of Whisky – On Diageo’s pricing strategy for the special releases

2. Glendronach 15 – Is it the Best Buy in the World of Whisky?

3. Ardbeg Supernova (Miniature) Mania – And One Blogger’s Response

4. The Port Ellen Phenomenon and a Tasting of the 26 Years Old Malt Cask

5. The Balvenie Tun 1509  – This one actually surprised me in ranking so high, but it has some nifty geekery 🙂

6. Yamazaki Sherry Cask – Is it the Really the Best Whisky in the World?

7. The GlenDronach 12 – Sherry/Rum, Spice and Everything Nice

8. This one is a guest post by Jun Nunez, who reported on a Battle of the Monsters: Macallan Sherry Oak 18 vs. Glendronach 18 Allardice.

9. Octomore 06.3 Islay Barley – A Farmer, His Niece and A Whisky

 

Photo Credit: funmozar.com

Photo Credit: funmozar.com

As 2015 begins, I wish you and all your loved ones a happy new year.

May your wishes come true, and may the oldest whisky you enjoyed in 2014, be the youngest you have in 2015.

May your glass always be full, and your malt always single.

May your horizons expand, and the price of whisky shrink.

And may we all meet again in the end of 2015, with health and happiness and a great whisky year!

Slàinte !

Dec 222014
 

Yamazaki is Japan’s oldest distillery, but Nikka’s Yoichi is the most “Scottish” distillery in Japan. It’s located near the sea on the west coast of the northern island of Hokkaido, in conditions that are close to those of the western coastal Highlands (think Oban or Adelphi’s new Ardnamurchan) or even Islay, and still use direct coal fire to heat the stills. The location was chosen by Masataka Taketsuru, of Yamazaki fame, after leaving Suntory to start Nikka in 1934.

By 1940, World War II in the east was in full blow, and Nikka (then named Dainipponkaju, which would never work on exports) was sitting pretty with defense contracts to supply whisky to the Imperial Navy, where officers had to have their whisky and Scotch wasn’t an option because of the war.

Photo Credit: wikimedia.org

Yoichi has a core range of 5 single malts (NAS, 10, 12, 15 and 20 year old), with the bulk of the production going into Nikka’s Taketsuru vatted malts, the Nikka Pure Malt Black and the blends Nikka makes.

Yoichi is known for its coastal, even medicinal, qualities. The whisky is full bodied, even oily, with varying degrees of peatiness and smokiness, and the 10 showcases that character nicely.

Photo Credit: whisky.fr

Photo Credit: whisky.fr

Yoichi 10 (45% ABV)

Appearance: Gold, slow legs dripping from a long lasting ring.

Nose: First comes the peat. More highland than maritime, though. Under the peat is a layer of sherry sweetness. There’s also an oily-vegetal note which opens to floral notes and bread dough.

Palate: Peat, honey, peppery spice and zesty orange peel.

Linger: The spice lingers in the whole mouth, with light sweetness and smoke resolving into some metallic notes in a long lasting finish.

Conclusion

This is good stuff, not that we’d expect anything less from the Japanese whisky industry.

Again, price is a concern, as it is with all Japanese whisky, with Yoichi being in even more of a bind because it didn’t foresee the current boom, and didn’t lay down enough stock to age. Expect shortages, and price hikes on this front too.

The Yoichi 10 was tasted as part of the December meeting of the Malt Mongers Israel Whisky Club

 

 

 

Dec 212014
 

The Yamazaki 18 is a highly acclaimed whisky. It has much more sherry matured whisky than the 12, yet retains the characteristic “vanilla-orange” florals of  the Yamazaki.

Photo Credit: Ethan Prater on everystockphoto.com

Photo Credit: ratongloton.com

Photo Credit: ratongloton.com

Yamazaki 18 (43% ABV)

Appearance: Bronze with thin legs.

Nose: The telltale Yamazaki floral-orange-vanilla note is clearly there, with a deeper sherry. Sultanas, cinnamon, light clove with light notes of furniture polish. Smooth bittersweet chocolate and oak close out the nose. The sherry is clearly there, lending sweetness to the nose, but this isn’t the heavy sherry of the Yamazaki Sherry Cask or true sherry bombs.

Palate: Less complex than the nose, delivering a combination of pepper and sweetness with citrus bitterness and wood spice (mostly pepper) warmness.

Linger: Longish linger with spice in the throat, sweetness in the center of the tongue and tartness on the sides. The inside of the cheeks have the sherry tanins.

Conclusion

Beautiful expression of the heights to which precision crafted whisky can get. It’s a very accurate and balanced dram.

The only obvious problem with this whisky is its price. It basically doubled in price over the past few years, and we’re nowhere near the end of that trend, with a 15-20% price hike planned by Suntory for April 2015. In the UK you’ll pay £155 for a bottle of the Yamazaki 18, whereas the discontinued Macallan 1995 18 Year Old Sherry Oak can be had for £10 cheaper, and is on average double the price of 18 year old Scotch.

Dec 192014
 

Torben is a close friend of mine. Yes, we have yet to meet in personam, but we’re Facebook whisky friends, and share similar professional backgrounds. And he’s a great guy! We have a pretty constant exchange of samples going back and forth, and at any given time there’s usually a package en route from one of us to the other. In the last package, a surprise awaited me, as Torben sent me a sample of the Yamazaki Sherry Cask (the 2010 edition). I was amused to learn that while in transit, it was decreed (in scripture, no less) that the 2013 version of it is the best whisky in the world with a score of 97.5 points.

Father and Son, Yamazaki master blenders Shinjiro Torii and Keizo Saji. Photo Credit: thestar.com.my

As a reader of this blog you know that I don’t score the whiskys I taste. I’ll describe what I see, smell and taste, and give you my honest opinion about the whisky, vis-à-vis quality and price. I honestly don’t think that a scale of 1-100 can be used consistently to rate whisky. I mean, what’s the difference between a 95 and a 94? And between those two and a 94.5? And tasted blind, would you score them the same every time? So yes, Yoav (of Whisky Gospel) and I will talk about rating when we have tastings together, but neither of us score in our blogs. How is it, then, determined that the BEST whisky in the world is a 97.5 and the SECOND BESTS only a 97? Thus, with all due respect, I don’t subscribe to the concept of “the best whisky in the world”. Sure, I have my top 10 drams of all times, and I assure you that none of them are the best whisky in the world.

Getting to the whisky at hand, the Yamazaki Sherry Cask, I can tell you it’s a lovely sherry bomb, with a complex nose and a surprisingly intense palate. For its original price of about $110 (€80 in the exchange rate then), it’s a good dram. But the world has gone mad, as I just saw a 50 ml sample of it offered on ebay for €101. For a sample! That’s €1414 for the bottle, and I’ve seen bottles this week for as high as €1875.  Guys, this is a normal run of the mill sherry bomb, not all that different from the a’Bunadh or the Glenfarclas 105, just at a lower ABV. Good whisky, even very good whisky, but not so amazing as to justify costing twenty five fold what a bottle of a’Bunadh would.

Photo Credit: thewhiskyexchange.com

Yamazaki Sherry Cask (48% ABV, NAS, NCF)

Appearance: Deep bronze, thin and quick legs.

Nose: First you get the intense Oloroso sherry, very reminiscent of the a’Bunadh. Sultana raisins and prunes greet the nose, but they are not heavy on the spices with light cinnamon and clove and a sweet Christmas cake. Covered for a while you get a somewhat sour nose. The malt is richly there with cherry, sour berries, plum brandy and an underlying dusty balsamic note with a hint of licorice.

Palate: Very dry with cooked dried cherries and plums. The palate is surprisingly intense with the spices – cinnamon, pepper and clove in a sweet liquid with clear notes of sherry in that sweetness.

Linger: Sweet on the tongue with prunes and sultanas. Cinnamon and clove assert themselves in the back of the throat. Both the sweet and the spicy notes remain for a very long finish.

 

Conclusion

This is a beautifully intense sherry bomb, with the palate and the linger being particularly noteworthy. Despite being an excellent dram, it’s squarely in the league of the Glendronach 15 and 18, the Aberlour a’Bunadh and the Glenfarclas 105. The “Japanese effect” can only add so much value to the whisky. Thus, at current price levels, it’s best left to bible thumpers.

Dec 182014
 

The Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve is the new entry level NAS Yamazaki, now placed at the €50 mark the Yamazaki 12 occupied not too long ago.

This is an excellent Speyside impostor that will have you wondering if Yamazaki and Glenlivet aren’t working together.  It’s young. In fact, Suntory says that it was created to showcase the qualities of the younger whiskys they mature. Created by master distiller Shingo Torii, grandson of the great Shinjiro Torii, this is actually a very complex whisky that may make believers out of NASophobics…

Photo Credit: mybottleshop.com.au

Photo Credit: mybottleshop.com.au

Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve (43% ABV, NAS)

Appearance: Deep gold, quick and thin legs.

Nose: The Yamazaki’s signature vanilla-orange-flowers is there, but it only drops in to say hello. It’s noticeably younger than the 12 and more aggressive in presenting its aromas, but this is not a deterrent in any way. The nose would place you in Speyside in a blind tasting, with fresh grapes, green apples and fresh clean citrus. Time reveals melon, light balsamic vinegar and coconut cream.

Palate: Spice on the palate with gentle pepper, honey and sweeter spices like nutmeg and cinnamon.

Linger: The linger is long, sweet and spicy. You’ll find pepper and sweet sherry like notes with tartness on the sides of the cheeks and spice in the throat. The feel is almost like after drinking coke.

Conclusion

Excellent and complex, it will leave you wondering if this isn’t a Speysider, as it really disguises itself very well. Despite being a NAS entry level whisky, this is an excellent expression. At £50/€50, this expression offers a decent VFM and a bottle I can definitely see becoming people’s favorite daily dram.

This expression was part of the December 2014 tasting at the Malt Mongers Israel Club.