Age: No age statement
Spirits are aged in oak. Whether it’s brandy, rum, bourbon or even wine, oak casks are the vessel of choice. And while that probably has more to do with the physical properties of oak than the flavours it imparts on the liquid, the fact is that the use of oak has become so ingrained that hardly anyone questions it anymore. Of course many regulations forbid the use of anything other than oak, leaving no room for alternatives. But in Japan, the rules around liquor production are not so strict. And this is where Kamiki comes in.
Admittedly, Kamiki don’t own their own distillery. Instead, they buy up whiskies from around the world, blend these together and subject them to a second period of maturation in casks made from sugi, also known as Japanese cedar. Sugi is considered the national tree of Japan, and is often planted around temples and shrines, where cedar wood is also commonly used for interior design. No surprise then that Kamiki’s intention is to create a Japanese style whisky. And while I’m not sure the result is particularly Japanese, it certainly is unique. As the first whisky in the world to be aged in cedar wood, Kamiki is tapping into a treasure trove of flavours not found in other whiskies. Much has been made of the difference between European and American oak (or even Mizunara), but cedar is something else entirely. And it doesn’t seem like Kamiki is done experimenting, since their latest expression uses sakura (cherry wood) casks! For now though, let’s see what impact this unfamiliar wood type has had on Kamiki’s core expression.
Colour: Autumn gold
Nose: Deeply spicy and very aromatic, almost incense-like. The scent of freshly ground black pepper mingles with nutmeg, before giving way to sandalwood and hazelnut. Aromas of toasted wood and slightly burnt caramel suffuse into dark chocolate and coffee grounds. Earthy yet mysterious, Kamiki carries itself with gravitas. This is quite special, I’m intrigued!
Palate: While the nose was complex, the palate is set ablaze by an inferno of wood spice. Notes of peppercorn and cinnamon are rather overwhelming, leaving space for just a hint of cigar smoke.
Finish: Long and intense, with more of that spicy, fiery character. Once the onslaught dies down the aftertaste is actually very pleasant, offering notes of aromatic wood and charred peppercorn steak.
Verdict: Kamiki prides itself on its uniqueness, and their entry-level bottling certainly is different. With the rest of the world using plain old oak, finishing in cedar casks was always going to make for a peculiar whisky. And while there was so much promise on the nose, in the end the cedar wood was just a bit too overpowering. While Kamiki set out to create a Japanese style whisky, I feel like this bottling just lacks the subtlety to be compared to its compatriots. Come to think of it, I can’t even imagine what Kamiki’s Intense Wood expression must taste like.
And yet… I have to admit it’s been really fun to try this dram. Maturation accounts for most of the flavours in a whisky, so it should come as no surprise that using a different wood type would provide some unfamiliar flavours. But even so it’s amazing to see how different Kamiki is after just a short period of finishing in cedar casks. And for that alone, Kamiki is well worth a try!
Value for money: 🤩🤩