I think I’ve mentioned once or twice here on Miss Whisky that I’m becoming a big fan of Japanese whiskies. I’ve mostly been exposed to the Suntory brands (think: Yamazaki, Hakushu, Hibiki) and a couple of Nikkas here and there. And last year, I tried Chichibu for the first time and really fell in love.

So, when I went to the Whisky Exchange show this year, it was with a determination to try everything on offer from the Number One Drinks people – ie: the chaps that import a heck of a lot of Japanese whisky into the UK.

At last year’s show, they were the first stand I hit up. But back then, I was really new to big whisky shows so I only tried one whisky and continued on my way. This year, I had focus, poise, awareness – at least, I did for the first few drams.

On arrival, I ran into the man who gave me that Chichibu last year – Edward Bates – and fellow blogger, Jon Bryant (who provided pictures for this post since he had his snazzy camera to hand).

And what a line up the stand had. Over 45 minutes, I tried some extraordinary whiskies, discussed below.

Ichiro’s Malt Chichibu: The Floor Malted:

Made by Ichiro Akuto, this whisky has a fantastic back story. Deciding he wanted to see what effect a group of people could have on whisky making from its start, Akuto sent his entire team from Japan to a floor maltings facility in Norfolk where they proceeded to hand turn the barley in a traditional fashion. The whisky, in every other way, is made exactly the same as last year’s Chichibu The First, except for this interim work addition.

The three year old whisky is another belter from this distillery. On the nose, I got soya sauce, sugar, burnt firewood, toasted almonds, wheat and a teeny bit of lime, while the palate exuded cornflakes to the max and a bit of toasted coconut with lingering lime. While it was 50.5% it wasn’t overwhelming. It will retail for £90.

Karuizawa: 48%:

The first whisky I tried on the day from this now-closed distillery was the Karuizawa 48%, a part of the Spirit of Asama series. As background, this distillery shut its doors in 2000 but its former stock has been bought up by Akuto of Chichibu and Number One drinks is distributing this series. The releases are made up from a mix of the remaining stock from 1999 and 2000 (77 casks), which have been vatted together and put back into wood for further aging.

I found this version to have something heavily floral on the nose – I suggested orange blossom at the time but it would be good to retry it on its own to pinpoint better what I was picking up. It was thick on the nose – jammy, oily, buttery and sweet.

On the palate, there was a gentle hint of wood, almonds and lemons. It was very palatable and super smooth for this strength.

Karuizawa: 55%:

A bigger punch on the nose to start, this whisky had a much deeper earthy smell to me – it was a mix between wet, fresh grass in springtime and figs and baked plums.

The palate then proceeded to be all about the sherry influence in the wood – there was a big, chunky rush of dried figs and sherry for me on this one.

Karuizawa 1982:

The whisky in this beautifully labelled bottling was from 100% bourbon casks and sits at an ABV of 46%.

In my notes, I wrote that this was a “booming” whisky – really sharp on the nose. I picked up an instant hit of bakewell tarts.

The palate, however, veered very much towards the bourbon end of the spectrum. “Like chewing on a bourbon cask whisle smoking a cigarette” was my personal viewpoint. Sweet vanilla notes emerged but there was also something grassy and vegetal just sitting in the background.

It will be priced at £179, so it’s not an every day whisky by any means, but an interesting one to try to experience bourbon influence on Karuizawa whiskies which tend to lean more towards the sherry side.

Karuizawa 1984:

In telling us about this whisky, Ed said it was full of: “Really linear, bang, bang, bang flavours.”

I have an even stranger note, taken after my first sip: “It’s like a rainbow; my tongue’s on fire.” I remember very clearly wanting to write that down to try and explain the whisky, although I’m not sure that will make any sense to anyone reading this.

To give you a (potentially) clearer picture, this 64.5% whisky is a friendly punch to the nose – it explodes with orange, nutmeg, sherry and citrus notes. On the palate, without water it was quite woody, and I found that citrus note pulling through once more, featuring a yuzu flavour (which is a Japanese citrus fruit often made into a delectable sauce). With water, it was much gentler and easier to grab a hold of. “It’s just beautiful,” I added in my notes. A favourite of the day for me.


Kariuzawa Noh:

This single cask whisky is a part of the “Noh” series, which features a different Japanese theatre mask on each label. This bottle from sherry cask number 7576, is from 1983, bottled at 57.2% and is an alluring, deep amber colour.

On the nose, it was dripping with coffee, brown sugar and treacle scents while in the mouth, I found it very intense – an “accelerated dram” I wrote, that bounced between thickly sweet flavours and wood accents.

With water, the dram softened and exuded lemon peel notes on the nose and more of a cherry flavour on the palate. Wonderful.

By the time I’d made my way through all of these whiskies, I was feeling am even greater warm glow of affection for Japanese whisky. Every one of them was beautifully constructed and I only wish I could afford to stock my cupboard with these gems. So, once again I say, go out and try Japanese whisky if you’ve not had the chance yet. It will rarely disappoint.