It’s been an incredible year for Japanese spirits.
In July, at the International Spirits Challenge 2017, Suntory was named World Whisky Producer of the Year. Additionally, the company’s Hibiki 21 Year was given the Supreme Champion Spirit award, winning over 1,480 other spirit entries.
Yamazaki Limited Edition 2017 rolled out in spring, to huge international acclaim and praise. And of course, we have to mention the Japanese gins, which made their international debut over the summer. These new craft gins by Nikka and Suntory are set to reach Western shores by the end of the year.
However, for us Japanese whisky lovers, the most exciting part of 2017 comes now. At year’s end, we have some of the most exciting new expressions just hitting the shelves.
In short, 2017 could be the most exciting year in Japanese whisky history.
The list starts with the most exciting bottle of them all.
In October, Yamazaki 18 Year Mizunara Cask rolled out to both the Japanese and US markets. For years, Yamazaki 18 has remained one of the most popular and globally-awarded whiskies in the world. This new expression adds another element to the single malt.
Japanese Mizunara oak is highly regarded for its impact on the flavor of whisky. It is a rare oak, one which is both hard and permeable, making it difficult to shape and retain liquid respectively. Suntory has mastered the art of selecting Mizunara for whisky maturation.
Suntory announced that this new release features notes of coconut, orange and cinnamon. Yamazaki 18 is exceptional, so we expect the added influence of Japanese oak to this whisky to be a thing of beauty.
Released to the Japanese market on September 26th, these exciting new Moscatel-finished single malts should sell out quickly. Only 500 bottles each of Yoichi and Miyagikyo will be available for retail.
Yoichi & Miyagikyo Moscatel Finish Single Malts / Photo Credit: Nikka Whisky
The remaining 1,000 bottles of each will be distributed to bars and establishments across Japan.
While these single malts come without age-statements, their appeal lies in the experimental Moscatel finish. Moscatel is a Portuguese fortified wine, made with sweet, succulent Muscat grapes.
Yoichi single malt is famed for its intense, peaty character. Whisky fans often compare it to the expressions produced on the isle of Islay in Scotland.
This character balances out well with the Moscatel influence, as smoke meets grapes and tropical fruit on the nose and palate. Abundant honey and oak are present, and the finish comes in peaty and strong, lingering for some time.
The Miyagikyo release is more vibrant and refreshing, with the subtle addition of spiced raisins and sandalwood coming through.
Like the Yamazaki 18 Year Mizunara Cask, stock is limited. As it stands, it is unlikely any bottles will make it to Western shores.
Yoichi & Miyagikyo Rum Finish Single Malts
Although the Moscatel releases aren’t leaving Japan, Nikka isn’t going to ignore its Western fanbase entirely. They have a couple of new rum-finished expressions exclusively for Europe and the US.
Yoichi & Miyagikyo Rum Finish Single Malts / Photo Credit: Nikka Whisky
Only 3,500 bottles of each expression will be released. That’s 3,500 for both continents, so act quickly. The release date is scheduled for sometime in November 2017.
According to Nikka’s announcement, Yoichi’s powerful smoky character is met by a wonderful sweetness from the rum, bringing forth a perfect balance.
For the Miyagikyo release, the rum serves as the sweet backbone to the distillery’s more playful, fruity character.
From one of Japan’s smallest but well regarded distilleries, Chichibu IPA-finished single malt is one of the most exciting whiskies of 2017.
The Chichibu distillery, led by Japanese whisky rock star Ichiro Akuto, is known for producing some of the most popular single cask and single malt releases in Japan.
This IPA release spent its last year of maturation in a cask previously holding an India pale ale brewed by Shigakogen, one of Japan’s most popular craft breweries. The whisky was bottled over summer and released in Japan in early September.
At 57% ABV, this expression is defined by strength, intensity, and a surprising smoothness; traits found in most Chichibu releases. When the hoppy, citrusy character of the IPA joins in, an amazing balance comes through. One note in particular that lingers is a juicy grapefruit flavor.
This one isn’t as limited, with 6,700 bottles released, so be patient. Keep an eye on your local liquor store for a bottle.
This single cask release was bottled for Chichibu fans in Germany, and sadly sold out during pre-orders.
The Warrior Series bottling was distilled in 2009 and matured in a sherry cask until 2013. In order to add depth to its character, the whisky was moved to a French white wine cask, where it matured for another 4 years. Bottled in spring 2017, this release is the first part in the exciting Japan Warrior series, which will feature annual single cask releases.
Notes of white wine, grapefruit and young peaches burst onto the palate. The whisky has a creamy mouthfeel, which helps to highlight its floral character. Lastly, the finish is oily and rich, lasting long after you expect it to end.
Have any German buddies who love whisky? Best send them a message quick.
The Japanese whisky boom seems to escalate day by day, as the great producers in Japan keep firing out new, experimental bottles. No-age statement releases are becoming increasingly popular, allowing producers with young stock to create some stellar expressions.
If these whiskies are any indication, it seems 2017 will end on a very positive note.