Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve

Yamazaki Distiller's ReserveDistillery: Yamazaki
Country: Japan
Age: No age statement
abv: 43%

Popularity always comes at a price. This is certainly true for Japanese whisky, where overwhelming demand and sluggish supply have put immense pressure on stocks of aged spirit. The result has been predictable: a move towards no age statement (NAS) bottlings, with whole ranges of age statement whiskies getting the axe. Sure enough, it’s always sad to see beloved whiskies disappear, but when done right, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with NAS bottlings. For some proof in the proverbial pudding, look no further than Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve. Launched in 2014 as Yazazaki’s entry-level whisky, the Distiller’s Reserve fills the gap left by the now hard-to-come-by 12 year old.  And for a first foray into NAS whiskies, owners Suntory have certainly not been stingy on the composition of this dram. Featuring whisky finished in ex-Bordeaux casks, older sherry matured spirit and even some of that precious mizunara oak, this Distiller’s Reserve is a captivating concoction. Perhaps all this justifies the hefty price tag – although having said that, this whisky sells for as little as €30 in Japan. And while this bottling is unlikely to make Yamazaki fans forget about the 18 or even 25 year old, the Distiller’s Reserve bears all the hallmarks of a worthy addition to the range.

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Miyagikyo Single Malt

Miyagikyo Single MaltDistillery: Miyagikyo
Country: Japan
Age: No age statement
abv: 45%

Freshly rebranded, Miyagikyo Single Malt replaces the previous Miyagikyo NAS bottling, as well as the distillery’s 10, 12 and 15 year old expressions. The reasons why are obvious, as skyrocketing demand continues to put pressure on aged stocks of Japanese malt. In fact, Nikka’s other stalwart Yoichi has received identical treatment, with the entire range being replaced by a similar NAS bottling.

Having said that, all signs point to the fact that Nikka has included some older whisky into Miyagikyo Single Malt. This is very much a good thing, and reverses a trend whereby Japanese NAS whiskies were becoming ever younger. A large portion of this dram was aged in ex-sherry casks, complementing the delicate distillery character with sweet, nutty undertones. This whisky was my travel companion during a recent camping trip in Japan, and sure kept me warm and cheerful on some cold Hokkaido nights. So while for me this Miyagikyo scores points for sheer nostalgia, it’s also objectively a very pleasant, rewarding dram that I can confidently recommend to anyone taking their first steps in Japanese whisky.

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Mackmyra Skördetid

Mackmyra Skördetid ReviewDistillery: Mackmyra
Country: Sweden
Age: No age statement
abv: 46.1%

The latest addition to Mackmyra’s Seasons range, Skördetid is Swedish for harvest time. There’s no denying that Mackmyra is a stylish company, and Skördetid could well be the most classy whisky the Swedish distillers have ever produced. This is in no small part due to a collaboration with Italian wine maker Masi, who provided the Amarone casks in which much of Skördetid spent its final 6 months. While this finish manifests itself clearly through sweet, nutty flavours, we should be careful not to give the Amarone casks all the credit. Because lest we forget, there’s also some first fill Oloroso and Pedro Ximénez at work in this carefully crafted vatting. Clearly then, Skördetid is Mackmyra at its fruitiest. The packaging too has been imbued with a splash of Amarone, with the sleek Mackmyra design overlaid with burgundy colours. Skördetid is a delightful dram that’s well worth a try!

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Slyrs Fifty One

Slyrs Fifty One ReviewDistillery: Slyrs
Country: Germany
Age: No age statement
abv: 51%

Tucked deep into the Bavarian hills on the shores of the Schliersee, we find Slyrs distillery, home to what is probably Germany’s best known whisky. Although founder Florian Stettler produced the first batches of Slyrs as early as 1999 at Lantenhammer distillery, it was not until 2007 that Slyrs opened its very own facilities, allowing them to upscale production significantly. As a result, Slyrs has garnered some more international exposure, racking up a series of awards and accolades along the way. Over the past years, Slyrs has not shied away from using European oak for maturing their whiskies, with Port, PX and Oloroso sherry finishes all gracing the shelves. But why choose, when you can simply bottle a combination of these casks? Or at least this is what Slyrs must’ve had in mind when releasing Fifty One, which is a vatting of whiskies matured in Port, Sherry and Sauternes casks. Fifty One refers to the bottling strength of this whisky, which, unsurprisingly, is 51% abv. Using that famed Bavarian malt, ageing in different casks, and bottling at a high abv… it sounds like Slyrs Fifty One ticks all the right boxes. Let’s see if that actually translates into a great whisky.

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Nikka From the Barrel

Nikka From the Barrel 01Producer: Nikka
Country: Japan
Age: No age statement
abv: 51.4%

Launched as far back as 1985, Nikka From the Barrel was quite a novel concept at the time. In those days, Japanese whisky consumption was in steep decline and people were more concerned with price rather than quality. Most spirit being sold contained less than 25% actual whisky, with the rest of the mix being made up of blending alcohol. In this sense, From the Barrel was a strange fish in the pond, a whisky full of  flavour at a time when Japanese consumers preferred their whisky light and smooth. The bottling strength of 51.4% was almost unheard of in those days.

Nikka founder’s son Takeshi Taketsuru’s vision was to give the consumer a taste of how a master blender might experience a whisky in the lab. This perhaps explains the unconventional way of blending, and the somewhat confusing name of this whisky. Because Nikka From the Barrel is not in fact a single cask expression, but a blend of which grain spirit from Miyagikyo and malt from Yoichi distillery are the main components. Rather than blending the liquid in a large stainless steel vatting tank, Nikka From the Barrel is placed in… you guessed it: barrels. These previously used casks help to marry the spirit for about 3 to 6 months, after which it is bottled straight from the barrel.

The result is a rich and flavourful expression at a blistering alcohol percentage. Nikka From the Barrel has withstood the test of time, and remains an immensely popular bottling. The packaging is extremely classy, and I love how understated this Nikka looks. The chaps at Master of Malt have referred to Nikka From the Barrel as one of the best value for money whiskies in the world. Given the general price level of Japanese whiskies these days, that’s quite a statement. Is their claim justified? Let’s find out!

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Mackmyra Vinterrök

Mackmyra Vinterrök Review 01Distillery: Mackmyra
Country: Sweden
Age: No age statement
abv: 46.1%

Of all the intriguing whiskies in Mackmyra’s Seasons range, Vinterrök is one that I’ve been wanting to try for a while. Sure, other smoky Mackmyras do exist, but a finish in strong ale casks makes Vinterrök sound like a particularly sumptuous affair. Mackmyra ages its spirit in Swedish oak, producing a rougher, more robust flavour palette that in my opinion lends itself quite well to a smoky whisky.

Last year I tried Vinterrök’s seasonal sibling Vinterdröm, which is a good whisky that nonetheless falls short of excellence. Vinterrök is another matter. Sweet without being fruity, this dram is a bold, flavourful expression that satisfies the senses yet leaves you wanting more. In Mackmyra’s usual classy packaging, Vinterrök would make a nice gift too. Or you can be sensible and decide to keep it all for yourself, this is tasty stuff!

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Flóki Single Malt 3 year old

Flóki Single Malt Review 01Distillery: Eimverk
Country: Iceland
Age: 3 years old
abv: 47%

With its football team qualifying for  both Euro 2016 and the World Cup, its tourist numbers increasing rapidly, and a geothermal energy sector that’s pushing technological boundaries, Iceland is really putting itself on the map lately (in a geological sense quite literally; due to its volcanic nature Iceland is still growing in size). To these feats we can now add another important distinction: Iceland has become an exporter of single malt whisky. Sure, Eimverk distillery from Garðabær has been knocking on the gates for a few years now, producing award-winning gins, Brennivín and an exciting whisky spirit. But due to the whims of law, Eimverk’s Young Malt was yet too young to carry the name whisky. Until now. While I have made acquaintance with the Flóki range before, this Single Malt will actually be the first time I’m trying Icelandic whisky.

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Suntory The Chita

Suntory The Chita 01Distillery: Chita
Country: Japan
Age: No age statement
abv: 43%

The SunGrain Chita distillery is – what’s in a name? – a grain whisky distillery owned by Japanese drinks giant Suntory. Since 1972, Chita has produced the raw materials for Suntory blends such as Hibiki and Kakubin. With the current shortage of Japanese malt whisky though, Chita has taken on a more prominent role. Over the past decade, sales of Japanese whisky have skyrocketed. With stocks of aged malt dwindling quickly, distillers have been unable to keep up with the sudden spike in demand. Much like in Scotland, Japanese whisky has therefore seen a shift to NAS (No Age Statement) bottlings, but single grain has also entered the scene to fill the gap in supply. Nikka Coffey Grain was the first example of this, and The Chita followed quickly as Suntory’s answer.

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Flóki Icelandic Young Malt

Floki Young Malt 01Distillery: Eimverk
Country: Iceland
Age: 13-14 months
abv: 47%

When you think of Iceland, you may picture glaciers and waterfalls, or volcanoes that annoyingly bring whole continents to a standstill. Perhaps you may even think of Vikings, Björk or fermented shark meat. But rarely will you hear the words Iceland and whisky uttered in the same sentence. Not until recently at least, because now Eimverk distillery is producing Iceland’s very own malt whisky. True, it will not be ready until November 2017, but there’s already a taster available for those who cannot wait. Fittingly subtitled First Impression, Flóki Young Malt is exactly that: a first introduction to an Icelandic whisky that’s far from a final product.

Bottled after having been matured for just over a year, this Flóki may not even call itself whisky yet. Despite this, it’s a very captivating drink, thanks in large part to the unconventional way in which Flóki is produced. For more background on Eimverk and Flóki, you can read about my visit to the distillery here. What is good to mention though is that because of Iceland’s harsh climate, barley produced on the island is much less rich in sugar content. To make up for this, Eimverk uses up to 50% more barley in each batch, and this has a very positive impact on the flavour of the spirit. You can expect lots of sweet cereal and an almost oily spiciness in this Flóki.

It has been great to make acquaintance with this Icelandic experiment in whisky making, even just for a first impression. It’s left me eager for more, and I will definitely be keeping an eye out to see how the Flóki range develops in the future. For now though, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this Young Malt. Skál!

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Mackmyra Vinterdröm

Mackmyra Vinterdröm ReviewDistillery: Mackmyra
Country: Sweden
Age: No age statement
abv: 46.1%

Sweden is perhaps not a country famous for distilling whisky, but since 1999, Mackmyra distillery has been producing a wide variety of excellent drams. Such has been the quality and acclaim of Mackmyra’s whiskies, that high demand pushed them to open a second distillery in 2011. This is the Gravity distillery, and in true Swedish fashion, its production is very environmentally friendly. 35 metres high and relying on the forces of gravity for many of its processes, it manages to save up to 45% on energy use compared to the first distillery. After distillation, the whisky is stored 50 metres below ground in an abandoned coal mine for maturation. The cask of choice for this is often Swedish, rather than American oak. Mackmyra claims this wood type gives the whisky a rougher, harsher flavour, which better represents the Swedish climate.

Vinterdröm is Mackmyra’s latest release in the limited edition ‘Seasons’ range. All of the whiskies from this range have received an unusual finish, and Vinterdröm is no different. Apart from Swedish and American oak, the whisky has aged in casks that previously held rum from Barbados and Jamaica, belonging to the famous rum producer Plantation. The result is a seasoned, sweet whisky with plenty of Caribbean swing in it.  With its sleek packaging featuring swanky palm trees, this whisky also just looks very cool. Let’s hope it tastes the same!

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