Among the countries that produce world whiskies Japan is lonely at the top.
With the exception of one antique bottle of Old Farm 1938/1943 100 Proof
Straight Rye Whiskey from the USA, no world whiskies have ever broken into
the '90 points or more' bracket - except for Japan. In the nine years that
I've been judging in the Malt Maniacs Awards (2003-2011) I've found several
Japanese whiskies that were scoring comfortably into the 90s.
Japan has over a dozen active & recently closed (malt) whisky distilleries;
is Japan's largest producer of whisky with a market share of more
than 60%. The company produces several other drinks as well, including
vodka, gin, brandy and various liqueurs. The company owns two different
distilleries; Yamazaki (their first distillery) and Hakushu / Hakushu Higashi
(a complex with both an inactive old distillery and an active new distillery).
Another big player in the Japanese whisky industry is Nikka - a subsidiary
of the Asahi brewing company. Nikka was founded in 1934 and currently
owns two distilleries; Miyagikyo (built in 1969) and Yoichi (est. 1934).
Visit the Nonjatta site if you want to learn more about Japanese whisky.
(43%, OB, Bottled +/- 2010, Japan)
Nose: Sweetish and malty start, followed by more fruity notes. Nicely polished. Spices too - a complete package. Quite complex.
Taste: Round & sweet start; a little grittier in the centre and quite dry and tannic in the finish. Clove?
Score: 85 points - further proof that the Japanese have reached the same level of craftsmanship as the Scots.
(60%, OB, Spanish oak 'Bota Corta', C# 3C40789, 571 Bts., Japan)
Nose: Oolalaah! Wood, smoke and fruits. Evolving spices. Slowly crawls towards the edge of silver, but doesn't quite get there.
Dark tea. Organics. The fruits grow more complex over time. This needs quite a bit of breathing, but it's more than worth it.
Taste: Prune jam. Sublimated sweetness. Dry, smoky finish - too woody for the upper 80's in my book at first sight.
Slightly odd fruits take over in the finish. Ah, wait - there are the prunes again. They don't make 'em like this in Scotland anymore...
Score: 86 points - and it improves even further after some breathing; lovely complexity...
(60.7%, OB for The Number One Drinks Company, C#7381)
Nose: Coffee and Mocha. Pleasant profile, but initially not very expressive. Starts subdued, but grows more complex over time.
Nutty and slightly dusty notes emerge. Oriental spices as well. Tertiary fruits. After maybe half an hour the coffee took over again.
Taste: Full and sweet. Powerful woody finish with lovely sweet fruits. Solid undercurrent. Something medicinal in the finish.
A beautiful mouth feel with a fair dose of peat. Surprisingly drinkable at cask strength, as long as you take little sips.
Score: 87 points - it's not exactly a 'peat monster' (especially in the nose), but I think most peatheads will love it.
Karuizawa 12yo Pure Malt Whisky
(40%, OB, Bottled +/- 2008, Vatted malt, Japan)
Nose: Round, sweet and fruity with a faint whiff of smoke in the background. Distant meaty notes.
Hint of gunpowder. Subtle development over time. No sherry monster, but it's there. Marzipan?
Over time lighter fruits and some spices take over. Very enjoyable. The nose alone would score +/- 85.
Taste: Soft and smooth start, with a very solid centre. Sweet. The smoke dominates the fruit here.
Smooth centre. It's 'smoky' rather than 'peaty', though - more sweet than salty. Fairly smoky finish too.
hey, now I get a hint of liquorice on the palate - nice. This one definitely improves with breathing.
Score: 83 points - and that's just because the finish was slightly thin and underwhelming.
This score is for a freshly opened bottle - it might go up after re-tastings.
Karuizawa 19yo 1988/2007
(58.3%, The Whisky Fair, Refill Sherry)
Nose: Paint thinner and clay. Dusty. A tad rubbery for a few seconds, growing fruitier.
Settled down after a minute, so I added some water. Nuttier and veggier, but still fairly sharp.
More organics after circa 10 minutes - putting the 'nasal' score somewhere around 80 points.
Taste: A little nondescript at cask strength initially, with lots of liquorice in the centre. Pinch of salt.
After adding some eater the finish became very dry and woody. Too much for me, I'm afraid.
Score: 78 points - the nose is fairly interesting, but the finish pulls it out of the 80's for me.
Karuizawa 19yo 1988/2007
(60.6%, The Whisky Fair, Sherry Wood)
Nose: Big, fruity and sweet. After a few seconds more organics emerge. Lovely!
Hint of sulphur after a minute. Softens up with some water. More and more organics over time.
This one really improves with breathing. Early summer fruits emerge - and the sulphur remains.
After circa 20 minutes some unexpected peat emerged. Whiff of rubber as well, and Celery.
Taste: Sweet and fruity in de start, quickly growing smokier. Great mouth feel, especially with water.
Some liquorice as well. An intriguing hint of peat in the finish. Excellent stuff!
Score: 88 points - I had it at 87 points for a long time; the continued development gave it an extra push.
The Karuizawa 1992/2007
(61.5%, OB for The Number One Drinks Company, American oak/Sherry Butt, C#3330, 430 Bts.)
(One of many different bottles from the Karuizawa distillery that were submitted for the 2008 Malt Maniacs Awards.)
Nose: Big, smoky & powerful. Fruity notes and a whiff of rice crackers. Gunpowder.
Lovely leathery notes after a few minutes of breathing.
Taste: Big, sweet & full. Fruity tannins in the finish. Quite a lot of smoke.
Score: 85 points - people that loved the old smoky Glan Gariochs from the 1970's will love this one...
Kawasaki 'Ichiro's Choice' 1982/2009
(65.4%, OB, refill Sherry Butts, 668 Bts.)
Nose: Powerful woody aroma's. Smoke and toffee. Dry sausage. Pepper and leather. Spices. Organics after a while.
Taste: Sweetness and smoke. Cough syrup. Chocolate. Remarkably complex.
Score: 90 points - another spectacular malt whisky from Japan; they really know how to make whisky.
Nikka 12yo '70th Anniversary'
(58%, OB, Single Coffey Grain, Bottled +/- 2008)
Nose: Complex light fruits. Not a very big 'voice'. Spices. Opens up within a minute; a very 'broad' profile with lots of changes.
It's an eye opener that a grain whisky that's so young can be so good. I like this much better than the Johnnie Walker Blue Label.
Taste: Solid with a great mouth feel - until the dry, hot finish. Quite sweet. Doesn't live up to the nose. Touch of liquorice.
The smooth start reveals it's a grain whisky, but it has more substance and complexity than most grain whiskies this young.
Score: 84 points - a Japanese single grain whisky is not something you see every day... Surprisingly good stuff...
(63%, OB, C#80283)
Nose: Peculiar. Light with some odd fruits and something metallic. Leather? Sweet coffee in the background. Quite unique.
None of the peat I found on the palate, though - a sneak attacker... It needs quite some time to reveal all its sides.
Taste: Hey… Loads of wood before the peat explodes in the centre. Dry, smoky and salty. Kildalton type seriousness.
Fairly salty and sharp in the centre. In the finish a piney bitterness takes over, pulling it from the lower 90's.
Score: 88 points - but I should add that this whisky doesn't respond very well to several months of breathing.
Nikka 12yo 'Yoichi'
(64.8%, Cask #129484, Warehouse #8, Bottled +/- 2004)
Nose: Rubber. Soft organics. Pizza. Sweet. Toffee. Samson heavy shag. Sweaty. What a brilliant nose!
Taste: Peat. Smoke. Dry tannins. Oak - very woody. Marmelade. Excellent. Wow, this is a 'Godzilla'...
Score: 88 points - one of the very best Japanese whiskies I've tried so far. Excellent stuff.
Suntory 'Kakubin' NAS
(40%, OB, Blended Japanese whisky, Bottled +/- 1997)
Nose: Very subtle - this is obviously not Scotch whisky. Light and floral with a touch of honey. Grain influence is clearly present.
Taste: This feels very gentle on the palate. Apple. Despite feeling very light, this whisky sticks in your mouth.
Score: 69 points - up from 65 points for a freshly opened bottle. Not a stellar score, but better than most Scotch blends.
Yamazaki 15yo 1993/2008
(62%, Suntory OB, Puncheon #3Q70048, D. May 1993, Btl. June 2008, 492 Bts.)
Nose: Light and fruity start. Raspberries. Vaguely coastal in the background. A lovely 'spring' whisky. Whiff of menthol?
After tasting the malt I got much more machine oil, rubber and peat. Hint of chloride? Vague organics. Subtle fruits.
The perfumy and floral elements become more pronounced with some water. Rubber remains in the back.
A dash of water destroys the balance. The fact that it is heavily peated doesn't really show in the nose.
Taste: Whoah! Completely different from what I would have expected based on my first nose impression.
Surprisingly peaty. Not the 'organic' kind though; this has overtones of diesel oil. Grows much perfumier.
After five minutes - and before I added water - it reminded me of a Bowmore that was bottled +/- 2000. Leathery.
It grew even more perfumy with some water - not unlike drinking rose water. Smoky, leathery finish.
Score: 86 points - even though I don't usually like perfumy malt whiskies, this is interesting stuff.
It certainly represents one extreme in the wide spectrum of single malts - but it's hard to rate.
Likely to divide people quite strongly and my score really is an average of me flipping between 77 and 85.
Yamazaki 18yo 1990/2008
(61%, Suntory OB, 2nd Fill Spanish Oak Sherry Butt #0N70646, 504 Bts.)
Nose: Whoahhhh! Now that's sherry character... Coffee. Chocolate. Polished wood. Leather. Smoke.
Strong but subtle. Some faint spices in the background, but the wood remains dominant. Softens up.
Breaks open with water; needs a few minutes to settle down. More coffee and mocca. Roasted nuts.
Lovely development over time; this malt needs at least 45 minutes. No perfumy notes in the nose.
Taste: Surprisingly soft start at more than 60%, followed by a fruity centre and a long woody finish.
After adding water I got much more perfume on the palate, but it doesn't dominate as in the 15yo.
After it has adjusted to the water, the lovely tannins in the finish really blossom. Excellent mouth feel.
Score: 84 points - but it would have easily coasted towards 90 points it the perfume hadn't popped up.
If you don't mind perfumy notes and/or were a fan of the Bowmore style ca. 2000, this will rock your world.
Yamazaki 12yo Pure Malt
(43%, Suntory OB, Japan, Bottled +/- 2004)
Nose: Pine. Furniture polish. Light. Something meaty. Hint of fish. Faint menthol.
Taste: Sweet and smooth. Fresh oak. Not really a challenge on the palate.
Score: 76 points - today I'd put this just a notch above average.
(43%, Suntory OB, Bottled +/- 2001, Japan)
(The label says it's a 'pure malt', so this bottle could contain whisky from more than one of Suntory's stills.)
(However, Craig Daniels claims that it's a single malt whisky...)
Nose: Wow! A little oily and grainy at first, with a strong shoe polish association. Sour sherry notes. Some smoke. Malty.
Is that peat? Soap? Two-stroke oil. Surprisingly deep and organic. Sherry? Subtle, not a lot of volume. Rice crackers?
Very spicy & aromatic. Great development. Shows a different face every minute.
At times it had something fishy, not unlike Hákarl - an Icelandish shark speciality.
Taste: Weak, creamy start. Nice, but a little grainy as well. Not as good as the nose.
Oily. Improves after a few seconds into a solid centre, followed by a dry, lasting finish.
Sweet. It becomes maltier and fruitier over time, but remains a little rough and 'bourbonish'.
Score: 77 points - not bad at all for a 'replica' of a Scotch whisky!
This 'Deviant Drams' section is a mere diversion from the main focus of the Malt Madness website: single malt (Scotch) whisky.
My knowledge of and experience with world whiskies and other alcoholic beverages is relatively limited, but I have plenty to say
about single malt Scotch whisky. For example, there's a Beginner's Guide to Single Malts with 10 pages filled with lots of useful
information for (relative) beginners and the 'Distillery Data' section has profiles for over a hundred malt whisky distilleries.
Clicking on one of the links below will take you directly to the distillery profile of that particular whisky distillery in Scotland.
Aberfeldy - Aberlour - Ailsa Bay - Allt A' Bhainne - Ardbeg - Ardmore - Arran - Auchentoshan - Auchroisk - Aultmore
Balblair - Balmenach - Balvenie - Banff - Ben Nevis - Benriach - Benrinnes - Benromach - Ben Wyvis - Bladnoch
Blair Athol - Bowmore - Brackla - Braeval - Brora - Bruichladdich - Bunnahabhain - Caol Ila - Caperdonich - Cardhu
Clynelish - Coleburn - Convalmore - Cragganmore - Craigellachie - Daftmill - Dailuaine - Dallas Dhu - Dalmore
Dalwhinnie - Deanston - Dufftown - Edradour - Fettercairn - Glen Albyn - Glenallachie - Glenburgie - Glencadam
Glencraig - Glen Deveron - Glendronach - Glendullan - Glen Elgin - Glenfarclas - Glenfiddich - Glen Flagler
Glen Garioch - Glenglassaugh - Glengoyne - Glen Grant - Glengyle - Glen Keith - Glenkinchie - Glenlivet - Glenlochy
Glenlossie - Glen Mhor - Glenmorangie - Glen Moray - Glen Ord - Glenrothes - Glen Scotia - Glen Spey - Glentauchers
Glenturret - Glenugie - Glenury Royal - Highland Park - Imperial - Inchgower - Inverleven - Isle of Jura - Kilchoman
Killyloch - Kinclaith - Kininvie - Knockando - Knockdhu - Ladyburn - Lagavulin - Laphroaig - Ledaig - Linkwood
Linlithgow - Littlemill - Loch Lomond - Lochnagar - Lochside - Longmorn - Macallan - MacDuff - Mannochmore - Millburn
Miltonduff - Mortlach - Mosstowie - North Port / Brechin - Oban - Old Pulteney - Pittyvaich - Port Ellen - Pulteney
Rosebank - Royal Brackla - Royal Lochnagar - Saint Magdalene - Scapa - Speyburn - Speyside - Springbank - Strathisla
Strathmill - Talisker - Tamdhu - Tamnavulin - Teaninich - Tobermory - Tomatin - Tomintoul - Tormore - Tullibardine