The Isetan Department store basement in Shinjuku has a remarkable whisky collection and sampling bar – a veritable wonderland for whisky afficianados.
I was like a kid in a candy store however trying to find someone who could help was slightly challenging given my non-existent Japanese. Hence figuring out what I was potentially buying involved some guess-work.
One goal was to track down something from the elusive discontinued Karuizawa, Kawasaki or Hanyu distilleries. Which definitely meant more carefully checking out the Ichiro’s Malt offerings as they astutely bought the Kawasaki and Hanyu discontinued stock.
However… I’m not entirely sure if I succeeded in my mission!
My best guess is that this particular whisky is a special bottling for Isetan using a blend of both rare Kawasaki whisky with Hanyu, sometimes found under the label ‘Houou-uhi’ (roughly translates as Pheonix).
If I am wrong, I would very much appreciate being corrected and educated further!
- Colour – Deep copper
- Nose – Lemon, mustiness of the rainy season, mud from a wet forest, nori like the seaweed used in sushi wraps, hint of jasmine perfume… as it aired a subtle complex perfume enveloped
- Taste – Like a dry fine cognac, wood, oil, pepper spices, matured roasted Indian spices, sense of sea, distinctly ‘Asian’ merging sweet, salt and spice perfectly
- Finish – Long majestic finish, very refined
- Without a doubt this was the show stopper of the evening
- A grand dame in her full finery!
- Part way through our discussion, I received an update from my Japanese friend in Amsterdam that she also believes it is Houou-Uhi – a blend Hanyu Distillery (12 & 20 year) and single grain whiskies from Kawasaki (30, 32 and 35 year)
- Bottled exclusively for Isetan and, as far as I can tell, only available in its Tokyo Shinjuku store – or perhaps on auction?
- The bottle and packaging alone are unique and elegant. The only other 200 ml bottle I’ve seen is on Whisyrific’s post about Ichiro’s Malt 1991 Hanyu
However I’m still not 100% certain we correctly identified it… The bottle I have does not state that it is a blend (whereas other labels do)… and the only number I can decipher in the notes is 30 (not the other years). Despite several attempts, I cannot seem to find a combination of Ichiro’s Malt, 46.5% and 30 other than the Houou-Uhi blend!
PS – A couple of us revisited it last night. Alas the delightful zesty lemon nose had evaporated. The sense of seaweed also dampened however there was more of a honey vanilla that emerged and the flowery perfume remained – I would still identify it best as jasmine. The cognac-like element was prominent, as was the oak. Some also described it as having a dark bitter chocolate quality. Key was unlike many whiskies that simply do not live up to their nose – this one absolutely does! Overall brilliantly balanced. Whatever this mystery malt truly is… if you spot it, grab it!
- Nonjatta on Houou-Uhi (including a mini language lesson)
- AA Whisky and Whiskosity on Houou-Uhi
- Whisky base with a Hanyu Houou-Uhi 12 year priced at Euros 599!
- Scotch Whisky Auctions & Just Whisky on Ichiro’s Blend for Isetan
We sampled this together with Suntory’s Chita Single Grain Whisky, Nikka’s Taketsuru Pure Malt 17 Year and Ichiro’s Malt Chichibu 2009 French Oak Cask as part of a Japanese themed tasting session held on 19 February and again on 26 February 2015.
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This is a great range! I do remember this in Isetan. They also bottled a 1988 Macallan. I understood all ‘Ichiro’s Malt’ whiskies to be Hanyu, whether single cask or vatted, but I’m not entirely sure either. It wasn’t expensive back either.
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Wish I could get more easily! I’m quite sure there will be some Hanyu in this… however have reached out to ‘the man’ and his team member to check. Just sent several detailed pics and await the solution to this ‘malt mystery’ with bated breath!