Japan

Review: Queensborough Omakese Japanese Style Gin by Jason Hambrey

Queensborough+Omakese+Japanese+Style+Gin.jpg
ABV
43%
Aging
None
Recipe
N/A
Distiller Central City (Surrey, British Columbia)

“Omakese” refers to “chef’s choice” in Japanese - and this is Central City’s choice for a different take on gin - it is distilled with sansho pepper, yuzu lemon, cherry blossoms and Japanese tea alongside more traditional gin botanicals. I quite like gins with sansho pepper - they add a nice spicy kick at the end which adds, both in sipping and mixing. This gin is quite different in style and even body (lighter) than the standard Queensborough gin.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2019

The nose has intriguing coastal notes – dried seaweed, rock pools – but also light floral notes, pepper, spice, and even some light woody notes like menthol or eucalyptus. Nice, rich tea notes. The palate is dry, rich, and has a very nice spicy character – with the building sansho pepper at the end and mixed, tannic teas in the middle. I quite like sansho pepper in my gin – it adds a real spicy richness. And as you keep drinking, the spicy character continues on and on…

Make sure that you have a full go at this, as the combination of the spice and the tannins from the tea make an incredible combination in the mouth with additional sips.

Assessment: Recommended.


Review: Nikka Coffey Malt Japanese Whisky by Jason Hambrey

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

Similar to the Nikka Coffey Grain (which I really like), this is a malt made in Nikka's coffey still.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: 6/14E481631

  • Bottling Date: August 2016

A very Japanese nose – light incense, apple juice, vanilla, spicy oak, banana, and light dried citrus. Well balanced and elegant. The mouthfeel is rich, with a rich spiciness – clove, rosewood, and sandalwood – and light fruit and floral notes to balance it out. There is lots of vanilla and oreo ice cream. The finish is sweet with light floral notes, raisins, prunes and a suggestive maltiness. It’s very  easy to drink, but I think its sibling Coffey Grain is actually better.

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

Value: Average. Based on $90.


Review: Nikka Taketsuru 21 Year Old Blended Japanese Malt Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Taketsuru 21.jpg
ABV
43%
Aging
21 Years
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Yoichi & Miyagikyo (Japan)

Review (2016)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: 6/14C221641

  • Bottling Date: ~2014

I get a lot more sherry here than in the 12 Y.O. Again very rich. Spicy – cinnamon, incense, green cardamom – but also raisins, figs, grape, vanilla, and, again, old wood. Rich and nutty too. Very nice, mature whisky. On the palate, it’s well integrated, with a very nice balance between the sherry, wood, brown sugar, candied orange, rancio, and green cardamom. Great whisky- very subtle and elegant- though quite tame, so if you like big bold whiskies this isn’t like that. Finishes with quite a bit of rancio, roasted nuts, and marmelade. Magnificent whisky.

It has the extremely satisfying, well-aged effect that you see in the development of great rancio and wood in old armagnac - it really is quite brilliant.

Very Highly Recommended (18% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Very low, at $373.


Review: Nikka Taketsuru 12 Year Old Blended Japanese Malt Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Taketsuru 12.jpg
ABV
40%
Aging
12 Years
Recipe
Malt Whiskies
Distillers Yoichi & Miyagikyo (Japan)

This is a blended malt Japanese whisky, and this version has recently been replaced by a NAS version because of the hugely increased demand for Japanese whisky.


Review (2016)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2014

Terrific integration of the grain, though I do not mean the cereal notes (of which there are none). Lightly earthy, with lots of old wood and vanilla. Full of the richness of prunes and spicy, woody notes like incense. I quite like the profile here. With time, sherry notes come to the fore, alongside parmesan, honey, brown sugar, and mixed roasted nuts. Very clean on the palate, though a bit simpler than the nose, with the grain lightly leading the way along, with slightly sweet wood and vanilla. A bit spicy too, with some cinnamon and clove and anise. Tingles on the finish with wood, smoke, and a bit of white pepper. Slightly Dry. Terrific! If only the palate were a touch bigger…

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

Value: Average, based on $100 CAD.


Review: Nikka From the Barrel Blended Japanese Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Nikka FTB.jpg
ABV
51.4%
Aging
N/A
Recipe
Malt and Grain Whiskies
Distiller Miyagikyo & Yoichi (Japan)

The worldwide whisky boom has certainly affected multiple countries, Japan not withstanding. Earlier this year, Nikka decided to stop bottling the revered Yoichi single malt in order to meet demands for their blends – of which this is one. It is made by the Yoichi distillery, which lies in southern hokkaido and was founded by Masataka Taketsuru – the legendary pioneer of Japanese whisky who studied in Scotland and even had a Scottish wife.


Review (2016)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: 6/100561002

  • Bottling Date: ~2015

Nose: For a 50% whisky, the nose is surprisingly quiet. Primarily, wet, mossy earth and some fino sherry notes amidst vanilla, apricot, oak, pencil shavings, caramel, saffron, white grape, roasted almond, and milk chocolate. Very rich grain in this!

Taste: Thick, with very light earthy barley, dried apricot, pears, dried cherry, prunes, and a decent, but clean, malt backing and some oak in the mix. Clove, cinnamon, a bit of nutmeg, and caramel in the mix too. Quite sweet and sour – too much so, perhaps. With water, at first, it seems to become more sour and the malt comes out more. As you add more water, it becomes quite sweet but better balanced, and still retains flavour well – it makes me wonder, perhaps, if this one was made to be had with soda. I prefer it a bit watered down.

Finish: A bit of lingering peat, light caramel, white pepper, clove, vanilla ice cream, and malt notes.

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

Value: Average, based on about $90 CAD / 750 mls.


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: Nikka Miyagikyo 10 Year Old Japanese Single Malt Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
45%
Aging
10 Years
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Miyagikyo (Sendai, Japan)

Miyagikyo is located in the foothills of the miyagi prefecture near the town of Sendai. It was built in 1969, the second distillery made by Nikka, after Yoichi. The distillery encounters very high humidity and still uses a coffey still dating back to 19th century. It took the meticulous Masataku Taketsuru 3 years to find the site, his second one.


Review (2015)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2014

A malty nose, with some incense-like woody notes. On a secondary level, very light floral notes, like lilly, cinnamon, wet earth, pear, lemon peel, and light sweet vanilla. Light and intriguing. The palate continues to be malt, with light fruit as well and a touch of a floral nature as well. There is a slight earthiness and smokiness resembling ever-so-light peat, as well as buckwheat. Very clean, well-balanced, with the players working together very well.

The finish is fairly light, with the maltiness coming through over and above everything else. A bit of smoke and spice, with a cayenne pepper feel, comes through over time as well. This is a very nice light malt, with a good mix of floral, fruit, and spice characteristics. It’s of a character that you could just sip it down casually and just enjoy, but if you were to stop you would find there’s a decent amount going on to create the character. Sophisticated.

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

Value: Low, based on $160.


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: Hibiki 12 Year Old Japanese Blended Whisky by Jason Hambrey

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

In Scotch blended whisky, single malt and grain whiskies are sourced from a number of different distilleries in order to create the blends. As in Scotland, blends are bigger sellers than single malts in Japan.  In Japan, however, whisky producers do not collaborate with one another, resulting in the need for Japanese whisky producers to produce a large variety of different styles of whisky on their own. They do this using different stills, yeast strains, and casks. Hibiki includes whisky from Yamazaki, Hakashu, and small bit from Chita. Different, perhaps, to single malts we are usually accustomed to – this is partially matured in plum wine casks, and the whiskies are filtered through bamboo charcoal. Hibiki is produced by Suntory, one of the world’s largest drinks companies who own all of the aforementioned Japanese distilleries (they also own Jim Beam, Alberta Distillery, Canadian Club, among others).


Review (2015)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2014

Nose: The first thing I noticed were light bourbon overtones. Lots of fruit notes, with apple, raspberry, and lots of plum which grows with time as the whisky sits. The grain is rich and plump, and there are some mossy earthy notes as well, with some interesting wood notes that I can’t quite pin down (I was going to say bamboo but I resist since that might just be my imagination because of the association with Japan). Very nicely balanced.

Taste: Very nice mouthfeel, and a big kick of plum at first before a good dose of barley and some underlying peat smokiness which I didn’t even detect on the nose. Vanilla enters in on the end. There is some sturdy oak and cognac in the background, giving a nice backdrop. A very light bitterness is in the mix which knocks things down a tad.

Finish: Lightly smoky, with some green apple skins and barley, and some sherry-like rancio notes. Nicely balanced, but could be a bit longer and not quite as soft. There’s wood in the mix as well, but it’s not too big.

Very interesting, covering a large range of flavours without being too overwhelming. Very well put together, and I really enjoy the breadth, integration, and simplicity of this whisky.

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

Value: Average. Really not too bad for ~$100 CAD, and certainly not in terms of Japanese whisky.


Review: Hakushu 12 Year Old Japanese Single Malt Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Hakushu 12.jpg
ABV
43%
Aging
12 Years
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Hakushu (Hokuto, Japan)

Review (2016)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: T4AKP

  • Bottling Date: 2014

Looks like natural colour!

At the first whiff, you know this is gonna be good – well balanced, lightly oily. Green apple, pear, soot, smoke – yet still so light! Hazlenut oil, roasted hazlenuts, fresh apricot, vanilla, macadamia nuts, peach jam, and light cucumber. The palate is sweet, with a lot more barley than seen on the nose – roasted malt. Sweet, with peach, dried apricot, and finishes with a dollop of smoke. Nice malt, too.

The finish is sweet, with some smoke, apple, macadamia nuts, almonds – but these are not to say that it is overly nutty, but the notes are there. Peach jam. A beautifully integrated whisky, and a terrific nose. A favorite duty free pickup of mine.

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

Value: Average. Not bad, especially in some duty free shops. But it appears now they’re all gone, these days at least…