Japan

Review: Hibiki Harmony Blended Japanese Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
43%
Aging
Finished in Plum Wine Casks
Recipe
Malt and Grain Whiskies
Distiller Yamazaki, Hakushu & Chita (Japan)

One effect of all the Japanese whisky craze has been an increasing influx of no-age-statement whisky, as this Hibiki whisky has been introduced without one. I find, below, that it isn't inferior to the 12 Year Old.


Review (2016)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2016

On the nose, anise seed, with a general dry spicy feel and some pear. It takes some time to open up with some malt and vanilla coming through. The palate has creamy, buttery barley, with a light smoky end. There is also some rich barley, pear, and some very light earthy notes in the background and a reasonable amount of tannin as well. It’s sweet, with vanilla and a light edge of smoke on the finish. Rich barley is still in the mix, with a tinge of spice. Decent body, with a bit of a peaty vegetal character to it as well. A nice strength to this – the creaminess is nicely buffeted by the 48.2% bottling strength which brings in a strong bit of ancillary flavour.

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average. Really not a bad buy for $100, especially for Japanese whisky.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: LZ8DSU

  • Bottling Date: 2018

Toasted coconut, oak, plum, cherry – this is a very nicely balanced and interesting nose, which is lightly floral too with terrific wood notes. Loads of dried fruit, too. Terrific stuff! The palate is clean, loaded with rich wood notes and orchard fruit, finishing with more orchard fruit, oak, and vanilla with a gaining tannic influence which
eventually breaks to reveal even more fruit. Just wonderful whisky! Slightly better than the last one I reviewed.

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average. But, if you are in North America and want to explore Japanese whisky, this is one of the better (and relatively available) Japanese whiskies, given that there isn’t usually a large selection.


Review: Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt Japanese Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Taketsuru+Pure+Malt+1.jpg
ABV
40%
Aging
N/A
Recipe
Malt Whiskies
Distillers Yoichi & Miyagikyo (Japan)

Sadly, this used to be a 12 year old product but the age statement dropped (without even a corresponding drop in price) and it doesn’t quite carry the elegance it used to. However, it’s still a decent blended Japanese malt and it is a good representation of the style, is fairly available and is relatively cheap - so it’s still one I often recommend.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: 6/08H12 1854

  • Bottling Date: 2018

A sweet nose with lots of fruit – apples, plum – an old bag of clove and oak. Lots of pear, too. Chilli pepper, peaches, bananas, and white pepper too. It really gets better with time. The palate is big, and better than the nose – lots of big stone fruits, light spice, and a nice oak backbone and some wisps of smoke. More oak on the finish, which is fruity, lightly tannic, tangy, and a bit spicy. I liked the 12 year old better, but this is still good and one of the better available Japanese buys in Canada.

Recommended (81% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average. Which is a decent value score for Japanese whisky, which tends to be relatively expensive.


Review: Nikka Coffey Grain Japanese Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Nikka Coffey Grain.jpg
ABV
45%
Aging
N/A
Recipe
Grain Whisky (i.e. not Malted Barley)
Distiller Miyagikyo (Sendai, Japan)

Amidst all the craze around Japanese whisky, with many expressions dropping age statements or going out of production, there are a few great whiskies which appear to becoming more widely available (for now….) – including this one. This is a grain whisky, which, in short, means a whisky not made from malted barley as the definition arises from Scotland where the malts reign and this is part of the “other” whisky. Japanese whisky arose out of students of whisky who journeyed to Scotland to learn and take back what they learned – and, especially at the beginning (and still now) grains and stills were imported from Scotland to Japan – as in 1963 was the continuous coffey still used to make this whisky. The whisky is made in Miyagikyo. There aren’t many coffey stills currently in use, but they are around a few places, like here, or Crown Royal.


Review (2015)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: 6/04E341428

  • Bottling Date: ~2014

Nose: Vanilla, caramel, candied orange peel, light oak char, stewed apricot, and dry fresh oak. It is sweetly floral with a chamomile-type profile. Slightly sour, and dried corn husks come out with time too. Simple, but deep, and very well integrated. The use of oak seems very well in line with my experience with other Japanese whiskies, and this is very much like a well-aged (not necessarily long) grain whisky like the older Canadian corn whiskies (i.e. the Highwood ninety 20, or century reserve 21) or Scottish grain whiskies. Very pleasing.

Taste: Hot and complex at first, before some vanilla, lemongrass, and creamy oak come rolling in with some chamomile, before fading slowly to spices. Between the way that your mouth experiences different textures and flavours as you go about tasting this whisky, and the overall balance – it’s a very enjoyable whisky, particularly the middle bit with the creamy oak. Great texture, and great balance of grain and oak. That creamy middle is just so fantastic!

Finish: Cloves, tannins, honey, vanilla, chamomile, honeydew melon, fresh charred oak – good flavour but a bit dry, thin, and short.

Very nice stuff! Good whiskies have a great start, middle, and end – and it’s rare to find whiskies which have such a nice middle as this on the palate. Pleasing all around.

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average. Towards the higher end of the category for $100.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: 6/20G121406

  • Bottling Date: ~2018

What an incredible combination of grain and oak flavour – the perfume character of Japanese oak, the earthy, spiciness of oak, and a rich (and yet, so light) character of corn whisky. Beyond this, we have dried fruit, vanilla, beeswax, blueberries, and coconut. The palate is rich, with loads of dried fruit, oak, corn husks, baking spice, and a terrific underlying earthiness. The finish is full, with oak, dried fruit, and lots of spice.

Just a terrific bottling, and it’s remained fantastic. It doesn’t quite have the depth of the 2015 bottling, but it’s close.

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average. Towards the higher end of the category for $100.


Review: Nikka Yoichi Japanese Single Malt Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Nikka+Yoichi+1.jpg
ABV
45%
Aging
N/A
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Yoichi (Yoichi, Japan)

Yoichi was Taketsuru’s ideal place to make whisky - in the north, and not too different than Scotland - humid and mountainous, surrounded by the sea, and even with peat bogs about (this, however, is made with Scottish peated barley). There used to be a nice 10 year old of this around, but, sadly the age statement is gone.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: LZ8DSU

  • Bottling Date: ~2018

Apple, light smoke, macadamias, loads of stone fruit, almond, vanilla, nutmeg, apple seed, and even some dried mango. The palate is fruity, starting with apples and pears, progressing to a sweet, oaky middle, and finishing with a flourish of smoke, incense, and baking spices. The finish is very fruity, almost zesty with a citrus vibrancy and light spices. Smoke eventually controls the finish.

A very pleasant single malt, but not what the 10 year old used to be, sadly.

Recommended (81% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average, at about $100 CAD.


Review: Ohishi Sherry Cask Japanese Rice Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Ohishi+1.jpg
ABV
40.8%
Aging
Sherry Cask
Recipe
Malted and Unmalted Rice
Distillers Ohishi Distillery (Hitoyoshi, Japan)

Now here is something to write home about - a Japanese whisky distilled wholly from a mixture of malted and unmalted rice! It certainly has my interest piqued! There is actually a lot of distilled rice in Japan - usually shochu which is typically bottled above 25% but below 40%. However, this is a bit odd - because it’s distilled from rice, it wouldn’t be naturally associated with “whisky” (though it fits the definition), but because it’s aged, it wouldn’t naturally be associated with shochu. Notably, a large portion of the grain used in this whisky is grown on the distillery estate. And, like a few stills in Canada, the pot still is made of stainless steel, not copper.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2018

A very rich, unique nose – licorice root, tamarind, dried rice, soy sauce, prunes, plaintain, apple seeds, and a bit of sherry. Terrifically unique. The palate is fruity, with a big sherry influence but also lots of rice notes and even some kidney bean. The finish is similarly interesting, with loads of rice notes, dried fruit, and spice.

Very Highly Recommended (18% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher). On a taste persepective, this just gets a “highly recommended” score, but I just think it’s so fantastic to taste a nice Japanes whisky, made from rice– a rarity for a Canadian without much access. This is very Japanese in a way I haven’t yet experienced in whisky, which is terrific.

Value: Average. Nice stuff, but Japanese whisky doesn’t go for cheap….this is about $107 CAD.