Hibiki 21yo

Another decade jump in age, this time backwards, for my next review; the exquisite 21yo Hibiki from Suntory. The first time I got to taste this was at the World Whisky Awards workshop at the South African Whisky Live (presented by Rob Allanson) in 2013.

Hibiki-21yo_The Smoky DramWhisky: Hibiki 21yo, 43% ABV (Suntory)

Region: Japan

Style: Blended Whisky

Age: 21 years

Suntory was started by Torii Shinjiro, who first opened his store Torii Shoten in Osaka on February 1, 1899, to sell imported wines. In 1923, Torii Shinjiro built Japan’s first malt whisky distillery Yamazaki Distillery. Production began in December 1924 and five years later Suntory Whisky Shirofuda (White Label), the first single malt whisky made in Japan, was sold. In January 2014, Suntory announced an agreement to buy the largest U.S. bourbon producer, Beam Inc. This deal would make Suntory the world’s third largest spirits maker.

Hibiki means resonance in Japanese. Hibiki resonates from nature and all the subtleties found from the twenty-four seasons of the old Japanese lunar calendar. The Hibiki 21 year old is a blend of rare and meticulously selected mature grain malts aged over 21 years. The key Yamazaki sherry cask malt is vatted with other carefully chosen mellow unblended grain malts over 21 years old.

Colour: Deep to burnished gold with long, slow and medium legs.

Nose: Sweet with plum, Christmas cake, dried fruit and nuts and some light sweet spicy notes. There is a slight minty character hanging around the edges with some sandalwood and patchouli thrown in as well. Nose is clean and balanced.

Palate: Incredible upfront wood, with a nice mix of sweet and spicy flavours. Nice touch of chocolate on the mid palate and a very subtle nuance of light sweet smoke in the background. A really full and chewy mouthfeel to this one. Palate is stunning. It is in balance, smooth and drying.

Finish: Very long and smooth with sweet spiciness throughout and a nice drying end

Overall: My first whisky from Suntory and Hibiki range and what a fantastic whisky. Loved the full and chewy palate as well as the lovely interplay between the sweet and spicy notes. One other thing I really liked was the bottle, it had a nice heft to it and looks stunning. Can easily see why this won world’s best blended whisky 3 times already at the WWA.

My Score: 87

Chivas Regal 18yo Gold Signature

Time to get back to my reviews of 18 year old whisky and this time it is of a blended scotch whisky that has an age statement. Here are my views on the Chivas Regal 18yo (aka Gold Signature). Chivas Regal’s home is Strathisla Distillery at Keith, Moray in Speyside, Scotland. Strathisla is the oldest working Highland distillery which was founded in 1786.

Chivas Regal_18yo_The Smoky DramWhiskey: Chivas Regal 18yo Gold Signature, 43% ABV (Cost around R900)

Region: Speyside, Scotland

Style: Blended Scotch Whisky

Age: 18 years

Chivas Regal is a blended Scotch whisky that is produced by Chivas Brothers. Chivas Brothers can trace their roots back to the opening of a grocery store at 13 King St, Aberdeen in 1801. This grocery store sold luxury foodstuffs such as coffee, exotic spices, French brandies and Caribbean rums to a wealthy clientele. In 1842, Chivas Brothers was retained to supply provisions to the royal family at Balmoral Castle upon Queen Victoria’s first visit to Scotland.

The Chivas 18 year old is a blend that includes over 20 single malts from around Scotland, all who have been whiskies that were matured for at least 18 years, including the Strathisla Single Malt. Apparently there are 85 flavour notes in the Chivas Regal 18 year old.

Colour: Bright dark burnished gold to amber with many very thick legs.

Nose: Banana, dried fruits (xmas cake) and slight dark chocolate. Wonderfully rich with a butteryness to it that is accentuated with some toffee, caramel and honeyed sweetness, This is followed by a slight sweet smokiness and touch of ginger spiciness. Quite a balanced and pleasing nose.

Palate: A lovely smooth and full mouth feel greets you. There is spiciness and a sweet smokiness to it, with some richness and dried fruits. Mellow and warm drinking, with dark chocolate and a tongue tingling spiciness (sweet ginger) rounding out the palate. I do find some more individual flavour and depth to it.

Finish: Medium to long. Warm, dried fruits and spicy flavours that stay around.

Overall: I find the Chivas Regal 18yo a well-balanced and very easy drinking whisky, an almost too easy drinking whisky.

My Score: 82

Nikka Gold & Gold

Nikka Gold & Gold, my second review of a Japanese whisky, was launched in 1968 and for quite some time it was one of the core whiskies of the Nikka blended range. These days though it is a little harder to find.

Nikka_Gold & Gold_The Smoky DramWhisky: Gold & Gold, 40% ABV (Cost around R500)

Region: Japan

Style: Blended Whisky

Age: NAS

Previously on The Smoky Dram’s Japanese whisky tasting adventure we mentioned the story of Masataka Taketsuru, father of Japanese whisky, and his journey to establish Nikka.

Masataka established Nikka because he was determined to introduce his fellow Japanese to the joys of authentic whisky. His vision of whisky was formed by his experience in Scotland, and he knew that the right environment was essential. In Yoichi, he saw numerous reminders of Scotland, and this convinced him that this should be the home of Japanese Whisky. The location was selected because of its clean air, just the right humidity for storage, and abundant underground water filtered through a layer of peat. Yoichi produces a rich, peaty and masculine malt.

The Miyagikyo Distillery is also in northern Japan, in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, northern Honshu. Travelling in the area one day, Masataka came upon this site completely enclosed by mountains and sandwiched between two rivers. He immediately knew that this was the perfect site for whisky distilling. Sendai’s fresh water, suitable humidity and crisp air produce soft and mild malt.

Colour: Bright amber to burnished with long and slow medium to thick legs.

Nose: Fairly dry and malty start before the emergence of the sweet flavours; toffee, vanilla and soft sweet spices (ginger). Towards the get some Christmas notes; warm spices, brandied dried fruit, brandy tart and some very light Christmas cake.

Palate: Smooth, round and warming, especially with some time, with a subtle hint of peat. Sweet spiciness (cinnamon and ginger) again, some pepper notes, maltiness and a wood spice warm tingle at back of one’s mouth. A pleasant enough palate.

Finish: Medium to long finish that is warm with sweet soft spiciness (pepper and ginger) and slightly drying.

Overall: While a good quality blend, where I enjoyed the subtle play between the malt, sweet and spicy flavours, there are other blends from Nikka that are more readily available that I enjoyed more and preferred.

My Score: 80

The Black Grouse

From one blend type to another, this time a review of a blended scotch whisky – The Black Grouse. A blended whisky is a mixture of both malt and grain whisky. Also a blend usually comprises whisky from various distilleries so that the blender can produce a flavour consistent with the brand.

Black Grouse_The Smoky DramWhisky: The Black Grouse, 43% ABV (Cost around R180)

Region: Scotland

Style: Blended Scotch Whisky

Age: NAS

The Black Grouse (Tetrao tetrix) is a rare relative of Scotland’s national game bird, the Red Grouse. When The Black Grouse was launched, The Famous Grouse made a commitment to preserve this rare game bird by donating 50 pence from each bottle sold to the conservation efforts of The Black Grouse habitat. To date they have raised £300,000 to date and is on target to raise a further £150,000 by 2014 to support black grouse conservation in the UK where the bird is endangered. For more interesting Famous Grouse facts, see  10 things you did not know about The Famous Grouse.

The Black Grouse Blended Scotch Whisky is a marriage of The Famous Grouse (which includes Highland Park and The Macallan whiskies) with Islay malt whiskies. The smoky influence of the peated malts is balanced by the trademark smoothness of The Famous Grouse to create underlying hints of cocoa and spice. A long, smoky, aromatic finish.

Colour: Deep rich gold to burnished with long, very thick and slow legs.

Nose: Lovely gentle and not over powering peaty smoke at first, swiftly followed by seaweed and wet wood. There is also a sherried dried fruits and caramel sweetness, with cocoa and spice rounding the nose out. Fragrant and leads one onto the palate.

Palate: Medium and balanced. More of that light peaty smokiness as well as a lovely savouriness with a smooth and warm mouth feel. Sweetness is revealed by more of the sherried dried fruits and caramel. Nice wood spice tingle that starts on the tip of ones tongue, which then mellows out on the whole tongue. Lovely savouriness towards the end of the palate.

Finish: Long sweet peaty smoke and spicy finish that is balanced with a beautiful warm heart. Smooth finish with more of that cocoa and savouriness at the very end.

Overall: I like the way the peaty smoke integrates with the sweeter nuances of the whisky, the flavours really harmonise together pleasantly. I find the balance and overall structure of the whisky to be very well done. This is most probably one of the best whisky’s that one can use to introduce someone to smoky whiskies.

My Score: 83

Nikka Whisky from the Barrel

For my first review of a Japanese whisky I decided not on the first one I tasted, but rather the first one I bought for myself – the Nikka Whisky from the Barrel. Coincidently this is also my first review of a blended whisky. Simply put, a blended whisky is a mixture of both malt and grain whisky. 

Nikka_Whisky from the Barrel_The Smoky DramWhisky: Nikka Whisky from the Barrel, 51.4% ABV (Cost around R450)

Region: Japan

Style: Blended Whisky

Age: NAS

In 1918 Masataka Taketsuru travelled to Scotland, originally to study chemistry in preparation to carry on the family’s’ trade of making sake. However, Scotch whisky captured the young man’s imagination so he decided to dedicate his life to whisky and became the first Japanese ever to study the art of whisky making. He apprenticed at distilleries, learning first-hand from the craftsmen and receiving training as a blender. He would eventually become known as a master blender.

Masataka’s vision of whisky was formed by his experience in Scotland, and he knew that the right environment was essential. It became apparent that in order to produce whisky as he felt it had to be, he would have to become independent. So in 1934 Masataka established Nikka Whisky and built its first distillery in Yoichi, Hokkaido. Even though it was inconveniently located, he had always considered it to be the most ideal site in Japan for whisky-making. It was similar in many ways to the Scottish town where he had studied.

The Nikka Whisky from the Barrel is made from matured malt whisky and grain whisky that are then blended together and then re-casked to create a rich harmony of distinctly different whiskies. It is bottled directly from the re-casked barrels of whisky and features almost the same alcohol percentage, a gorgeous 51.4% ABV.

Colour: Tawny to mahogany with many slow medium to thick legs.

Nose: Starts off with dried apricots, citrus fruits (mostly oranges and orange peel), and leading to a charming florallyness and sweetness (sweet pecan nut slice). Furthermore there is also Christmas cake mix, sultanas and boiled sweets on the nose with a porty and almost brandied date loaf character. There is also a dabble of oaky spice to tease you.

Palate: Medium to full-bodied with good balance. Despite the high ABV it is very easy drinking and has a smooth palate that delivers a divine spicy burn at the back of your mouth. The spiciness is of the warm winter and Christmas spice variety with some wood spice also thrown in. There is also a sweetness on the palate, caramel toffee, as well as hints of fruit (a mix of citrus and apricots).

Finish: Fairly long with sweet fruitiness, toffee and a long spicy (winter and oak spice) tingle on front of tongue. The finish also has a very warm heart.

Overall: A delightful and powerful whisky from Nikka and Japan. The very pleasant nose draws you in, while the balance of spice and sweetness of the palate keeps you taking sip after sip (as it did me). Lastly the price point on this makes it one of the greatest value for money whiskies in the world (in my opinion – and more so if you are a fan of cask strength whisky).

My Score: 86