Vita Dulcis 15 – Japan’s Kaikyo

Last year, Germany’s spirits importer Schlumberger brought two whiskies from Akashi-Tai’s Kaikyo Distillery – including this “Hatozaki Whisky,” named after a lighthouse nearby that dates back to 1657.

Naturally curious, I was happy to see it part of my Vita Dulcis 2020 Advent Calendar.

Japan – Kaikyo Distillery Hatozaki Blended Whisky 40%

  • Colour – So pale, it almost looks like water
  • Nose – It started off with soft brie or camembert, citrus spice… as it opened up, it became fruitier – particularly white nectarines and the cereals became more prominent
  • Palate – Apple juice that morphed into apple sauce with a bit of cinnamon and cheese, bit of honey
  • Finish – Light

I kept thinking of a platter full of different kinds of cheese, apples, figs, a scattering of nuts… it also reminded me of Akashi’s Red, perhaps even more so the White Oak.

What more do we know?

Based on the ABV, it seems clear the ‘Finest Japanese’ expression (not small batch) Hatozaki made its way to Germany.

From this interview with the owner Kimio Yonezawa, it is a blend of malt and grain, whiskies distilled in Japan and outside. In terms of casks, they use sherry, bourbon and Mizunara oak…. even XO plum Umeshu!

As for official tasting notes, here is what I could find:

Hatozaki Finest Japanese Whisky is a premium blend of whiskies, aged up to 12 years in barrel with a minimum malt whisky content of 40%. Light in style with a rich backbone of malt whisky character. Cereal notes and a light sweetness allow for the whisky to be used in both highball and straight pours.

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Vita Dulcis 13 – Canada’s J.P. Wiser’s 18 year 40%

A nice surprise in my international Advent Calendar was a chance to ‘virtually’ take a trip to Canada shortly before Xmas!

As I had some catching up to do, I speed tasted a few sips of four drams… one after the other… with this one the last. Good thing as it was a clear departure and one that needed time to settle into…

Here is what I found!

Canada – JP Wiser’s 18 year Blended Whisky 40%

  • Nose – Initial hit was acidic, almost varnish or glue, but then it immediately mellowed, became sweeter, light tart fruits like a crisp apple, pine sol… and after the 1st sip reminded me of dried sour plums
  • Palate – Smooth, rounded…. tamarind… dried sour plum – a bit tart, a bit salty, a bit sweet and overall tangy
  • Finish – Long finish… which continued with the dried sour plum theme

Sometimes you come across a whisky that has a single predominant quality. Or at least once you catch that dimension, all senses become fixated on it. In the case of this J.P. Wiser’s 18 year, for me it was dried sour plums – Li hing mui (旅行梅) – specifically the red ones. This quality activated my taste buds with its combination of sour, salt and sweet. It also struck me that it might make an interesting addition to a cocktail.

While Canadian, this one reminded me of Asia. During my tasting, I was on a video chat with a friend in Canada and she immediately knew exactly what I meant.  She shared one of their favourite summer drinks is lemonade over ice with sour plums – the best part is how the sour plums help cut the sweet, add another element and then after soaking up the lemonade are delicious to eat.

Bottom line…. the more I sipped, the more I enjoyed this one… It was distinctive, interesting and a good shift in character after some less than stellar whiskies.

Distillery official tasting notes? I couldn’t really find… this is all they have to say:

Aged to perfection over 18 long years and blended with exacting care to deliver a premium whisky with the smoothest of finishes. This multiple award-winning spirit is something you’ll want to have on hand to serve and enjoy on special occasions.

Taste profile: Autumn florals, green apple, fresh pine, caramel, spice, oak 

Funny thing is… as I sat down to write up my notes, I discovered the Bombay Malt & Cigar lads and I had tried this whisky a few years ago during a special Canadian focused evening. When I read my old tasting notes, I could see the similarities but after fixating on sour plums, it was like a broken record… all I could ‘hear’ (taste/smell) was that!

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Dunkerton Drams – Nikka Days 40%

We wanted to mix things up our second evening, so our selection reflected a wee jaunt around the world from Japan to England to Australia to Scotland.

We decided to kick things off in the far east with a dram from Nikka. What do we know about Nikka Days? Just that it is a blend of Miyagikyo and Yoichi with grain… and not much more.

Nikka Days 40%

  • Nose – Honey, pickled seaweed in a Bento box, tobacco leaf, subtly fruity floral, sour dough, pastry, bit of apple and pear, apple pie then hint of citrus
  • Palate – Straight forward, light spice with a bit of smoke, warming… back to apple pie
  • Finish – Minimal

A clear appetizer dram… a nice way to get thing started with a curl of smoke to add a little something more. No complexity or nuance, just a relatively light bright beginning… a way to whet the appetite.

While not listed on the Nikka website, TWE share the producer tasting notes….

  • Nose: Apples, pears and strawberry liquorice. Perfumed notes of daiginjo sake and white melon. Grainy flavours develop, with freshly crushed barley and malting floor sweetness floating out of the glass. White chocolate and a sprinkling of lemon zest sit at the back.
  • Palate: Creamy and soft, with grapes and apples on top of toffee and candied lemon. Delicate white chocolate notes are joined by darker liquorice hints and a tiny touch of barrel char smokiness. Right at the back is a bowl of apples, freshly peeled and sliced.
  • Finish: Lemon zest and buttery biscuits. Barley sugar sweetness to leave grain and spice.

Delicate and fragrant at first, with more weight hiding behind. A great all-rounder with enough complexity to sip and enough oomph to shine in a mixed drink.

Reading the notes long after we sampled, I could certainly see some alignment with what we found. However complexity and oomph? Not so much…. But overall a nice starter!

Just to give a feel for pricing, I checked it out on Master of Malt – at the time of writing, it is  available for GBP 39. That’s exceedingly affordable these days for quite a drinkable blend!

What else did we try in our 2nd Dunkerton evening?

And other Nikka experiences? There’s been a few…

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Taiwan’s Yushan Blended Malt 40%

Yushan is the new brand for Taiwan’s Nantou Distillery whiskies – currently available with three expressions – an ex-bourbon, ex-sherry and this blended malt.

I will admit I’ve tried none from Nantou before now… and frankly bought it on a whim!

Yushan Blended Malt 40%

  • Colour – Light gold
  • Nose – Apples and pears, then gosh! That pineapple is sooo pronounced! A nice tangy sharpness, a dash of sweet spices, honey and hay
  • Palate – A touch of spice, light and a bit citrusy, followed by a malty
  • Finish – Light spice chased by a bitter close

It isn’t a spectacular dram however it isn’t bad either. Something uncomplicated to enjoy on a summers evening.

Here are tasting notes from the chaps over at Master of Malts have this to say:

  • Nose: Sultana, pineapple chunks, thyme honey and some spicy nutmeg.
  • Palate: Creamy vanilla and tangy orange, joined by rounded malt and buttery biscuit.
  • Finish: Coffee bean, orange again and a slightly floral hint lingering right at the end.

I picked this one up from Master of Malt for €37.36 when they were still able to ship to Germany.

Til date, all other brushes with whisky from Taiwan was exclusively with Kavalan:

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Shackleton 40%

Stories of antarctic explorations capture the imagination with the tale of Shackleton whisky are well known.

“I believe it is in our nature to explore, to reach out into the unknown.” – Ernest Shackleton

Our whisky tasting  groups have explored different versions of this whisky reconstruction with:

Along the way I had picked up this version where it quietly sat in my whisky cabinet, biding its time til it surfaced as part of a birthday celebration.

Shackleton 40%

  • Nose – Sweet apple cinnamon pie, toffee, vanilla
  • Palate – Easy drinking, fruity, sweet with malty cereals, dried fruits, hint of tart citrus
  • Finish – Carries on from the palate

I will admit these are more fleeting impressions than proper notes as it was a sociable occasion. However sometimes an enjoyable blend like this is “spot on” and appreciated by our crowd. By the end of the evening, there wasn’t a single drop remaining – voting through consuming is always a good sign!

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Whisky Tales – Mackinlay’s Shackleton “Crannog” 3 year

Some whiskies you try and you are just dying to share what you discovered. Others, like this one, are less about the whisky and more about the story… living expedition adventures vicariously through film, letters, maps and more.

And what did our Whisky Ladies think?

Shackleton “The Journey” 47.3%

  • Nose – Sweet and sour, paradoxically of both land with grassy notes and sea with the brine of ocean spray. There was a sharpness too. Vanilla biscuits… then became increasingly sour
  • Palate – Spice, a touch harsh initially, bitter
  • Finish – Not much, but does it need to be with this whisky style?
  • Water – Much punchier… from no where peat comes out, has much more character and yes, indeed that is a finish too!

As a whisky, it was interesting but nothing that made us go wow!

As a story, we delved deep into the memorabilia, sparking lively discussions and attempts to read scribbles of yore.

We particularly had a giggle at the Indian connect – Vijay Mallya – from back in the day when he was a billionaire claiming the title of the “King of good times” before his rather spectacular fall and fugitive avatar. Along with Whyte & Mackay, he acquired the surviving 3 bottles, flew them back in his private jet and set in motion the reconstruction which led to the whisky we enjoyed.

You can read more in an earlier tasting of this whisky here: Going on an expedition! Shackleton’s The Journey.

More whiskies with stories to tell:

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Whisky Tales – Gerston Vintage (2013) Batch 1, 46%

Before we dove into our journey of discovery, our Whisky Lady shared the tale of two distilleries… enthusiastically outlining their background, differences and styles.

Gerston One (1796-1882) – A small farm to house scale Swanson family owned distillery that produced small quantity but high quality spirit that appealed to customers from London to Brazil and – most interesting for us in Bombay – in India as well.

Gerston Two (1886-1914) – Couldn’t be more of a contrast! Industrial scale, 10 times the capacity of the original, innovative and modern yet never quite captured the success of its predecessor.

The folks over at Lost Distillery took it upon themselves to reconstruct as close as they could to the original style…

And what did our Whisky Ladies think?

Gerston Vintage (2013) Batch 1, 46% Bottle 0838/1000

  • Colour – Vivid
  • Nose – Wow! Quite pronounced… then it started to settle down… Lot of saline, moss, reminded us a bit of compost, apples, then the peat crept in, caramel, still quite vegetable, hot floral, herbal
  • Palate – Multi sweet peat, cinnamon, slightly fruity
  • Finish – Salty spicy tingle, mineral
  • Water – Makes it milder, dampens the nose, however remains strong on the palate

One to just relax and enjoy… Not so complicated but nonetheless interesting.

What do the folks over at Lost Distillery have to say?

  • Appearance: Pale amber.
  • Aroma: A relatively closed nose; clean and fresh, with traces of linen and herbal fabric freshener. Laura Ashley? After a while a light, spicy prickle emerges, topping a fruity/doughy note: apple dumpling, made with suet and dusted with nutmeg. 
    With a drop of water the paper note advances, joined by warm leatherette and a trace of steam.
  • Taste: Smooth texture, sweet taste and a surprising amount of smoke in the finish – more coal smoke/steam engine than peat smoke. An unusual, antique taste, which holds up well with a drop of water, although the smoky element is reduced.
  • Comment: Interesting and vaguely ‘old fashioned’, especially without water.

I scored this whisky for another Whisky Lady from Dubai’s Le Clos Whisky Store for AED 360. It was certainly interesting and a great addition to our trio of whiskies with stories to tell:

Lost Distillery whiskies:

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Compass Box – Whisky de Table 40%

We closed with a Compass Box blend created specifically for La Maison du Whisky – something to capture an easy drinking experience like having a chilled glass of white wine with dinner.

Naturally our host followed the serving suggested serving instructions to chill the bottle… first in the fridge and then a bit of time in the freezer to ensure the whisky was properly cooled before sampling.

And then we sampled blind before the reveal…

Whisky de Table 40%

  • Colour – More like a pale white wine than whisky
  • Nose – Intense bubblegum fruit, dates, raisins, strawberry confectionary, lots of musk melon… the after the 1st sip, rose, wine fruit and sweet
  • Palate – Wow! The peat was so pronounced! Then it settled into a lovely honey – a balance of peat and sweet in perfect harmony.
  • Finish – Pure peat

It was such a contrast between the aromas and palate. Yet still such a people pleaser – easy to settle back and quaff.

What do the folks at Compass Box have to say? We suspect we tried the 2017 Whisky de Table No. 2:

The second edition of our Scotch whisky made to be shared and enjoyed like a traditional Vin de Table. The effusive distillery characters leap from the glass, unobscured by the heavier effects of maturation, providing a drink that is full of energy, versatile and beguiling. Serve chilled straight from the fridge like you would a white wine. This batch was made for the French market and released exclusively through La Maison du Whisky.

I found it quite different than my experience with the 1st edition. In case you are curious? Here are notes from my earlier brushes with this whisky:

Before Whisky de Table we tried :

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Compass Box – The Double Single 46%

Consider what you get mixing together a single malt with a single of grain? Well… if you have the exceptional blending prowess of the team at Compass Box, you would bring to the world of whisky The Double Single.

We sampled completely blind… served from a freshly opened bottle at room temperature. What did we think?

The Double Single 40%

  • Nose – Quite a contrast – very fruity and nuts, red plums, red berries, star anise, sour berry pulao, starch, tangy, even a bit of lavender, leafy, something beyond grape but not yet a raisin… all before the 1st sip!
    • After 1st sip – sweet lime, slightly funky wood, grape kool-aid…
    • After more time shifted into stewed apples
  • Palate – A lovely chilli spice and more, cloves, peppers, quite robust with loads of personality and a citrus twist
  • Finish – Smoke and wood char, spice… long and lingering

While there was absolutely no need to add water… we did… simply curious. And…? The water did wonders! 

  • Nose – Fruit and vanilla cream, oranges, yum!
  • Palate – A lovely meetha paan, all flavours sharpen, cutting the spice a tad, enabling a whole kaleidoscope of flavours to emerge, particularly aniseed
  • Finish – Still long and lingering with a light spice, aniseed remains

Above all, we were impressed by the incredible balance between the different elements. 

For those of us who have had The Double Single before, it didn’t disappoint. For those who hadn’t, just another reminder that Compass Box knows their stuff.

Curious what the folks at Compass Box have to say? Just check out what we thought when sampled early 2018  The Double Single.

Our latest Compass Box trio evening also included:

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Compass Box – Hedonism Quindecimus 46%

Up first in our latest exploration of Compass Box was Hedonism… But no ordinary edition… this was Quindecimus – their 15th anniversary special limited edition. It has an absolutely lush gorgeous label that simply screams nuance, complexity with a vintage feminine vibe.

Our host did his homework and knew this blended grain would take some coaxing and time to unfold… so he poured our glasses a half hour before we sat to start tasting.

We sampled it completely blind… and what did we think?

Hedonism Quindecimus 5689 46%

  • Nose – Started with soft caramel, light butterscotch, lemon, a bit astringent, sticky glue, wet grass, touch of kumquat, vanilla, sandalwood, a medicinal hint…
    • After the 1st sip some hazelnut, sweet grass joined, honey came increasingly to the fore, bread pudding and custard, with loads of butterscotch
    • Even more time and it took on such a lovely desert with cream and that fabulous butterscotch again
  • Palate – Citrus sweet… on the next sip there was chilli joining the sweet
  • Finish – Oddly flat and a bitter
  • Water – A mixed response – found it made it even more flat and left a bit awkward finish, others thought it added more character, with sweet and sour on the palate and a strong coconut quality

We set it aside and moved on to the other whiskies of the evening….

When we returned to it it, it was pure butterscotch, coconut on the aromas… however the palate and finish simply didn’t live up to the promise of the aromas.

With the reveal our host admitted after so much effort to to track this down, have it shipped to the US then bring to India it was a bit of a disappointment. I’ll also admit to having mixed experience with Hedonism – certainly interesting but not also bang on the mark, for me at least.

What do the folks at Compass Box have to say?

Fifteenth Anniversary Limited Edition release of 5,689 bottles. Bottled in February 2015.

Flavour Descriptors The combination of grain whiskies from different distilleries and of varying ages has created extraordinary complexity and juxtapositions of flavour. Indulgent yet lively, unctuous yet light, you will find a deep, sweet caramel coconut succulence combining with exultant tropical fruits.

Recommendations Drink this whisky as any true Hedonist would – however you like it, whenever you feel like it and in whatever quantity you deem appropriate. We particularly enjoy Quindecimus paired with sweet desserts or Highland fudge.

The blended grains are a combination of North British, Port Dundas, Dumbarton and a mystery blend aged more than 32 years.

After Hedonism, we continued on with :

And just in case you are curious? Here are notes from the earlier brushes with a different version of Compass Box’s Hedonism:

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