Archive for December, 2012

JAPANESE WHISKY ‘The blessing of nature and the wisdom of man.’ by Mark Davidson – Japanese Whisky News


‘The blessing of nature and the wisdom of man.’

Unlike the Scottish and Irish whisky industries the Japanese can trace the start of their production back to a clearer date. Although will that date be the turning of the first turf at the first distillery site, or the moment the first spirit runs off the still, what about the first bottling? Perhaps it should begin with the first action to set the ball rolling. This is harder to pin point.

We know western influence in Japan sped up after a trading agreement led to American goods being brought in to the country in the mid 19th century. From this point unusual products like beer and bread became known and as we have since seen the Japanese are masters of assimilation usually followed by improvement. Foreign spirits were known as ’yusho’ with gin making an impression as early as 1870. For whisky this initially meant a very loose translation of the imported Scottish article. After 1912 and a reversing of high taxes and tariffs applied to domestic spirits as compared with imports it was not long before business men saw an opportunity to make a Japanese whisky. What was needed was an individual with production knowledge. Enter our hero, Masataka Taketsuru, a young scientist from a family of sake producers. As a chemist he was first employed in 1917 by Settsu Shuzo, a spirit making company. The company’s owner, Kihei Abe, decided to send his gifted employee to Scotland to study the science of whisky making. At this time the Japanese economy was in good shape thanks to the demands set on the allies’ industries during the first world war requiring assistance from abroad.

Having first studied in Glasgow, but not sitting exams, Taketsuru sought tutelage from production expert J. A. Nettleton in Elgin. Unfortunately due to Nettleton’s high fees Taketsuru had to settle for five days work experience at Longmorn distillery in April 1919. Following this he enjoyed a further two weeks at Bo’ness distillery then finally a five month spell at Hazelburn distillery in Campbeltown commencing in January 1920. His guide at Hazelburn was recently instated and introduced a laboratory at the distillery to assist in the improvement of the plant’s apparently uninspiring product. This must have pleased the young Japanese chemist, especially since his question to the manager of Longmorn: ‘is there any distillery in Scotland where a microscope would be used?’ was met with the reply ‘no, I do not think so’.

Returning to Japan, with a Scottish bride, Taketsuru found his situation was not ideal. His employer wished not to make ’proper’ whisky but was content to make an ’ersatz’ style. Further, due to the end of the war Japan’s economy had slowed and his company were unable to afford the high costs of producing the real thing even if they wanted. Meanwhile Shinjiro Torri, the nephew of a ‘foreign drinks’ maker, had an idea to employ a Scottish distiller within his company (later to be known as Suntory). With Taketsuru looking for work the gap was filled and a ten year contract was signed in 1923.

Almost immediately the two had disagreements. Taketsuru saw the northern island of Hokkaido was the ideal location for a distillery thanks to its coastal situation and cool climate- in keeping with his experiences of Scotland. However his employer was concerned with the island’s distance from the main market and the overheads involved with such a far off site. Thanks to the proximity to Kyoto, the local transport network and proven water quality Yamazaki was chosen to host Japan’s first distillery. After a devastating earthquake building started in 1923 being completed in November 1924. The following year Taketsuru had to return to Scotland to seek advice from his mentor, now at Cragganmore distillery since the closure of Hazelburn earlier that year. Despite detailed studies and scientific methods of investigation Taketsuru had yet to master the drying stage at the end of malting as well as the complexities involved in still firing. Problems solved the first whisky was released on the first of April 1929.

Just before the first release Torri bought a brewery and put Masataka in charge. Perhaps he was unhappy with the direction Masataka was taking his product, the initial release ‘Shirofuda’ was not popular due to its full character, and wanted to remove him from direct involvement with production. Alternatively it could have been the case that Torri wanted his son to take a more important role within the company. Whatever, Masataka was further from his goal of creating a whisky comparable to what he had seen in Scotland.

Waiting until his contract ended Masataka set out on his own. Backing came principally from three respected business men, two of which probably got to know Masataka thanks to his wife Rita’s job teaching English. This time Masataka got his way, thanks again to good connections some cheap reclaimed land was made available in Yoichi on Hokkaido. Nearby both peat and barley were available but a grace period was honoured and initially only apple cider was produced, it was felt leaving your sponsor to set up a rival firm was just not cricket. Whilst trading under the name ‘Nihon Kaju’ (changed to ‘Nikka’ in 1952) difficulties due to a lack of experience, high cost and complications of shipping the apple drinks to market the business failed. Turning to whisky it still took six years of losses before the first whisky was sold in 1940. Once again it took a war to bolster business. Luckily for Masataka Japanese military officers liked a dram and with imports stopped his brand was in favour.

However by the 1950s Masataka’s sponsors were concerned the business was not performing. The feeling that his devotion to following the Scottish lead was unrealistic, lower grade ‘whisky’ was cheaper and more popular, tastes at the time were less discriminating. Around this time two elder share holders sold out to Asahi brewers. With 51% of shares the new owners forced in a light whisky which became the second best selling in the country. A parallel can be drawn here with Suntory’s experience, the follow up to their unpopular and heavy first release became, and still is, very popular: ‘Kakubin‘.

Come the 1960s and Nikka’s first coffey still was installed at the Nishinomya bottling plant ‘Tochgi‘. This was followed in 1969 by the company’s second malt facility at Sendai, later called Miyagikyo. At the time the biggest distillery in the world and intended to make a more Lowland style although heavily peated versions are made. Their well received Nikka Coffey malt is also made there.

It was after his death, in 1979, that Masataka Taketsuru’s commitment to making Scottish whisky came full circle- in 1989 the company bought Ben Nevis distillery. During this year the company’s growing interests also included the purchase of a cognac distillery. Throughout his career he seldom compromised, for example waiting ten years for the Scottish to introduce the steam heating of stills before using the method himself shows his respect for his teachers.

‘Whisky! I don’t eat much, I get eight hours sleep and for the past 40 years I’ve been drinking a full bottle of good whisky every day’-

Masataka Taketsuru

Some notes:-

Karuizawa malt and Kawasaki grain distilleries are owned by Sanraku-Ocean (aka Mercian since the 1990s after the company’s successful wine business). The company accounts for around 4% of the Japanese whisky market. Karuizawa is currently mothballed, it insisted on using Golden Promise barley and mostly used sherry casks for maturation. Unlike Nikka and especially Suntory the distillery is small and concentrated on making only one style of whisky: a big slightly peated make through small stills.

Kirin-Seagram also holds a 4% share. Kirin tied in with the former Canadian company Seagram and benefited from access to its partner’s nine Scottish distilleries. This allowed the make from Gotemba distillery to be mixed with malts imported from Scotland, in the mid 80s the majority of bulk exported Scotch was shipped to Japan. Gotemba was opened in 1973 and conversely makes a light malt and a heavy grain. Like other Japanese distilleries it sits at high altitude (620m). The present incarnation of the owning company inherited the Four roses Bourbon when Seagram divested its drinks interests.

Suntory claim about two thirds of the market. Their empire stretches overseas to include production of spirit in Brazil, Mexico and Thailand as well as owning Bowmore, Auchentoshan and Glengarioch. The company also owns a 25% stake in Macallan, with other interests stretching from ice cream to the Encyclopedia Britanicca. Not unlike Teachers the company had a chain of ‘pubs’ throughout Japan ensuring their product was very accessible while promoting loyalty. Yamazaki distillery doubled in size in 1958 and while malting stopped in 1972 (currently all malt is imported- mostly from the UK) production continued to expand after both 1980 and 1989 saw further increases in capacity. The distillery temporarily ceased production in 1987/88 to allow work to progress. There are now six pairs of stills, all different shapes and sizes which along with varying methods of heating and condensing, angles of lyne arms, yeast and barley strains, peating levels, cut points, maturation wood choices and environments, two mash tuns (one wooden, one stainless steel) not to mention the permutations of matching wash and spirit stills the range of possibilities for flavour is very broad. All this is due to the small number of distilleries in Japan and also to the lack of reciprocal trading between producers making comprehensive blending difficult without innovations during distillation. Other developments include producing malt spirit via continuous stills, producing grain spirit through pot stills and even bamboo filtering is used for one variant- a la Lincoln County process oriental style. In 2009 Yamazaki single malt was the 8th best selling single malt in the world even only on account of domestic sales.

Suntory’s second malt distillery Hakusha was once there world’s biggest boasting a yet unparalleled 55 million litre capacity and storage for 800 000 casks, all this at 700m above sea level.

In 2003 Suntory decided to push exports, thanks to a down turn in popularity of Japanese blends in the 1990s the part played by malts in the strategy is significant, much in the way Scotch whisky has seen a development in the interest of single malts. A mark of the company’s determination to succeed in the west is perhaps the launch of its blend Hibiki 12yo in Europe before release in the home market.

The remainder of sales are shared between Nikka and twenty other companies, the latter accounting for again 4% of business. Included in these smaller firms is Takar Shuzo who in 1986 were the first Japanese company to take direct interest in Scotland with the purchase of Tomatin distillery as well as the Antiquary blend. Tomatin was at one point the largest malt distillery in Scotland. When the partner in the business Okura sold their 20% stake they were replaced by Maruben. There is also the new Chichibu distillery. Ichiro Akuto, whose family started in the drinks trade in 1625 as sake brewers, wanted to replace the distillery built by his father in the 1980s but demolished in 2004. His new still is performing well and there are plans to use local barley and peat to produce a 100% Japanese whisky. He uniquely used Quercus Mongolica (Mizunara/water oak) for the wash backs as well as maturation. The wood has a reputation for leaking and since Hokkaido’s forests were cleared for pasture the species is now rare in Japan.


Mark Davidson…

Of a distinguished Banff 1968 vintage Mark Davidson has a short but full body and so marries well (& subsequently producing two limited editions), frequently seen at whisky fairs in Scotland yet curiously difficult to find outside his domestic market it is hoped his inaugural launch on the Canadian scene will be well received. He is at home in independant bottling circles being most commonly found in the William Cadenhead livery where he has enjoyed a 13 year finishing period, however as a stand alone single expression under the Jolly Toper brand he can come into his own while being a fine mixer.

Ralfy Publishes Whisky Review #328 – Indian Whisky News introduces a new whisky from Goa, India with Whisky Review 328 – Paul John Malt Whisky

NIKKA News From La Maison du Whisky – Japanese Whisky News

a quick note from our friends at La Maison du Whisky;


Nikka will be giving a small allocation for Europe of the limited release Taketsuru 17 yrs Non-Chill Filtered. Given the rarity (less than 100 bottles), there will be an online pre-sale for fans of the NikkaWhiskyEU Facebook page.

More details here:


Didier Ghorbanzadeh

Nikka Whisky Brand Manager

La Maison du Whisky

Happy New Year From The Malt Maniacs!

Vancouver Island Members of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society – Scotch Whisky News

Vancouver Island Members of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society

Our premier FIRST FRIDAY tasting is just one week away. You will shortly receive the official mailing with the January Outturn from the Canadian Branch of the SMWS, but in the meantime, here are the details;

Date:                           Friday January 4th, 2013.

Time:                          6:00pm.

Location:                    The Strath Ale Wine & Spirit Merchants, 919 Douglas Street, Victoria.

Price:                          $40 for Members, $50 for Non-Members.

Registration:            Please drop in to the store to purchase a ticket or call me to have your name on the list with a “virtual” ticket. Space is limited so you need to register to secure your place and to assist us in set up and catering.

Guests:                      Non-Members and Guests are most welcome.

NOTE:  Please remember these are cask strength whiskies, so you should not be driving home after the tasting.

The event will follow the traditional Society format with a formal sit down tasting of the seven new Outturns for the month.  We will provide some appropriate food nibbles to assist your palate.

We will also have a few bottles of previous releases (Oct, Nov, Dec) available at the tasting for those who may have missed out before.

All releases including the new January ones are available for purchase on the night, on a first come first served basis.  Every member will be given a chance to buy a bottle of any available whisky before someone else can purchase 2 or more.  Any non-member who joins the Society on the night may also order product.

New members who have not as yet picked up their Membership Kit, can do so at the same time.

As always, if you have any questions at all, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Make sure to book your seat and I look forward to seeing you Friday.



GlenDronach Releases 7th Batch of Single Cask Bottlings – Scotch Whisky News

GlenDronach releases 7th batch of single cask bottlings

“FAULTLESS”, “brilliant” and “complete” are just three of the adjectives Jim Murray has used in his new 2013 Whisky Bible to describe the five expressions that comprise GlenDronach’s latest batch of single cask bottlings.

It’s the seventh batch to be released by the award-winning Aberdeenshire distillery.

The five, ranging from 18 to 40 yo, are now available in the UK and will be released in export markets from January 2013. Two have been matured in Pedro Ximenez sherry puncheons and three in Oloroso sherry butts.

All five have been specially hand-selected by The BenRiach Distillery Company’s Managing Director Billy Walker whose tasting notes speak lovingly of “an orchestra in full flow”, “an effusion of honeycomb” and even “teasing notes of toffee apples”.

The cask details are as follows:

1972 cask # 710 / 40 years old / Oloroso Sherry Butt / 49.0% vol. / 356 bottles 

1989 cask # 5475 / 22 years old / Pedro Ximenez Sherry Puncheon / 51.6% vol. / 600 bottles 

1991 cask # 3183 / 20 years old / Pedro Ximenez Sherry Puncheon / 51.3% vol. / 600 bottles 

1992 cask # 1123 / 19 years old / Oloroso Sherry Butt / 57.8% vol. / 524 bottles 

1994 cask # 98 / 18 years old / Oloroso Sherry Butt / 58.2% vol. / 628 bottles

In his 2013 Whisky Bible, Jim Murray was very complimentary about all five, but reserved special praise for the ’72, ’91 and ’94 vintages:

Of the 1972 cask # 710, he said: “The richness of the sherry is almost the stuff of make-believe…the delivery is of oak crashing in a forest – mighty and all-consuming…wow, this is like a big succulent bourbon matured in a top-class sherry butt. This is a malt which if you should ever chance upon, you give the guy your coat if you have not money enough; even your undergarments if it does the trick! For this is a whisky so complex, so complete, it is almost exhausting.” He gave it 96.

He commented re the 1991 cask # 3183: “Almost a coffee cake and Swiss roll marriage with grape jam for filling…mocha-flavoured Lubec marzipan notes sidle in delightfully…the light spices pulse. Tries to be syrupy and overbearing but fails miserably. Has to settle for being brilliant.” He gave it 95.

And summing up the 1994 cask # 98, he said: “Absolutely huge grape: a real Dundee cake dripping with Oloroso and Demerara…a faultless sherry butt. I had this sample in my hand as the Queen gave her address to round off her 60th anniversary celebrations: I could hardly have had a more fitting dram with which to toast her.” It also achieved a 96.

Keep an eye on our website and Facebook page over the coming weeks for more information on these new releases, tasting notes and exclusive product photography.

If you would like to receive more information regarding the Batch 7 releases, please contact us on

A picture of the 1972 40 yo is above.

GlenDronach & BenRiach “Morning Mountain Coffee, Cowboys, Bluegrass and Elk” – Scotch Whisky News

Morning mountain coffee, cowboys, bluegrass and elk

So the time and miles have flown by and I thought I would give you all another wee update of my travels. Many, many firsts, fantastic experiences and, I must admit, a few disappointments.

I recharged my batteries over the summer break and jumped straight on a plane to Taiwan. I was picked up from the airport and dropped in a hotel in the centre of Taipei. Not one for spending time in hotels I was out for a wander, a hot wind blowing and mopeds buzzing like wasps swarming. I dodged my way round the corner to the night market where what must have been miles of narrow lanes were jam-packed with stalls, cooking, selling clothes, jewellery, ect,  and gaming stands, throw a ball at this, knock over that. All bustling with the young and old, parents with children, courting couples then my Scottish frame upsetting the age old and well practiced flow of pedestrians: me doing the ‘which side are you going to pass on’ dance with every third person, oopsing and sorrying as I stepped on the foot of every fourth and totally bringing my directions flow to a standstill with a gentlemanly ‘after you’ to the people coming in the other direction. With everyone still laughing and joking, neon lights flashing and umami smells wafting, I thought I would turn in for the night. It was 2am and I had an 8am high-speed train to Taichung. The wine and spirits festival in Taichung was a small part of a larger Expo event and over the next 3 days with the power of the kilt and a smile I made friends with some fantastic people as I would take a break and walk round the massive hall; Row3, the tea twins in highland Taiwanese dress, Row 5 the cookie family who kindly kept me fed with moon cakes and a fantastic old man of 97 who was as sharp as a tack and fit as a fiddle who, in exchange for the odd dram, would keep me drip-fed with his most beautiful mountain coffee.

All in all I had 5 tastings, multiple store, warehouse and distributer visits and covered both BenRiach and GlenDronachs full core range plus exclusive bottlings for Taiwan. Every single one was received with great enthusiasm and appreciation.The other thing I’m finding out is the different ways in which people drink whisky around the world. In Taiwan, while time is taken in nosing and tasting in the traditional style, I also had the great fortune to attend a fantastic whisky dinner where dishes of every style were served to the table with 4 bottles of our whiskies on each table. Small glasses were filled and with a raise of the glass and a ‘gan bei!’, the contents would be swiftly consumed. As guest of honour and as custom dictates, I introduced myself to the other 30 or so guests and greeted them individually in this manner. As you can understand it was a fantastic night and a great way to finish my visit to a most welcoming and beautiful country.

The Sates and Canada
I started off in Dallas, and there was my first disappointment! Alistair had built a picture of Texas as cowboy boots and Stetsons and apart from a dude in Fortworth obviously returning from a rodeo due to his right hand being slung up round his left shoulder and a very painful looking limp, that was the sight of my only cowboy. And what did I think of Dallas? Awesome!! Its great turning up somewhere and it’s totally NOT what you expect. I was only there for 2 days but we covered a lot of ground. Stacey, who looked after me, made the plan of attack; hitting liquor stores large and small and later in the evenings it was time for the bars, tasting as we went along. I was surprised of the knowledge and enthusiasm of the staff in the stores and bars. With the mind boggling amount of product in each store, they knew both BenRiach and GlenDronach very well and were eager for any more information I could give them as well as loving the new expressions they were trying for the first time. The bars mostly had the emphasis on cocktails but again the enthusiasm and more so the palate on these guys was amazing.

The same was true in San Francisco, primarily I was there for the whisky festival, but we still hit the stores, bars and restaurants. One manager hurrying away after our tasting to update his blog with his latest news. I became a barman for the night thanks to a great restaurant “The 5th Floor” on 4th St pouring a selection of both brands. The 3 hours flew by and we managed to convert some malt lovers from their usual tipple to BenRiach and GlenDronach and opened up the single malt world to some that had never thought of trying it before. (I like it when you have to twist someone’s arm to get a glass in their hand and then seeing their faces as they fall in love with it).

It was “Fleet week” in San Francisco so plenty to do while I had a few days off to charge the batteries before heading to Canada most notably “Hardly Strictly Bluegrass” in Golden Gate Park which with my love of music was right up my street!! Bridge, pier, Chinatown, trams…. I squeezed it all in.

Then it was off to Toronto and Montreal: again only 2 days in each covering the ground but cover it we did!! In Montreal Martha had laid on two fantastic food paired tastings: one sit down 5 courses and one more informal canapé style. The chefs for each matching each mouthful perfectly with the drams, which reminds me I need to get a copy of the menus for both!! The shop tastings were also fantastic and due to demand, having to do back to back tastings in the signature store in the city centre proved we must be doing something right.

There are many other people and places in the last few months I would like to mention but if we are talking about ‘firsts’, Sweden stands out as it was a full on club tasting tour. 4 tastings in 4 days touring the central region of the country “Dalarna” which I found very similar to Scotland in its scenery; pine forests, mountains and lakes. I could have been back home but for one difference, instead of signs warning of sheep and deer the warnings were for Elk and Beaver! Unfortunately I saw no sign of either in the 1000 odd miles we must have travelled! Each tasting of around 80 people at a time had a great mixture of young and old, male and female, first time malt drinkers and well practiced die hards – many of whom I had previously met on their past pilgrimages to Scotland. Club tastings for me are great fun as you can go a bit deeper into the production techniques and cask descriptions so you always get some interesting questions throughout which I love. The last tasting particularly stood out as it coincided with the local brass band concert in the park opposite which culminated in a pyrotechnic display synchronised to Handel’s Royal Firework overture. With a dram in hand it was a great way to finish the tour! With gifts of elk salami (still in the fridge), dollar horses and a black owl wobbly balancing thingy on my bookshelves, I can’t wait to get back for another tour!!

As usual there is a lot I have missed out and I must thank everyone I have met along the way (most of them Belgian as it seems to have been my second home over the last few months)

Until next time!
Stewart Buchanan

GlenDronach Cask Strength – Scotch Whisky News

GlenDronach Cask Strength

In November we bottled a new cask strength expression to complement our range.

This whisky has been matured in the finest Pedro Ximenez and Oloroso sherry casks. A classic GlenDronach exactly as we made it – cask strength, non-chill filtered and at natural colour.

The first batch has been bottled in November at 54.8% and consists of around 12,000 bottles.

Tasting notes:

A deep golden body glistens with rich crimson.

A luscious balance of succulent sherry aromas explode in honey drizzled golden sultanas spiced by warm oak and gentle ginger.

Intense toffee and cocoa cascade into the rich sherry soaked dark fruits. Zested orange explodes in the long alcohol infused chocolate fondant.

Long and lingering.

GlenDronach website.

After their Whisky Test Win, The New Zealand Whisky Company Helps Whisky, Rugby & Other Sporting Clubs in Canada Host An International Whisky Tasting Fundraiser – New Zealand Whisky News

After their Whisky Test win, The New Zealand Whisky Company helps whisky, rugby and other sporting clubs in Canada host an International Whisky Tasting Fundraiser

From the stunning clean-sweep of wins over the English, Welsh and even Scottish whiskies in a Whisky Test Match series around the UK in November 2012, Greg Ramsay (CEO) of The New Zealand Whisky Company dreamed up a win-win campaign to celebrate the launch of their whisky in Canada AND help Canadian whisky and sporting clubs raise funds. The New Zealand whisky industry has a strong connection with Canada, as you can read about here.

By hosting an international whisky tasting event – similar to the series run in the UK in November – the whisky or sporting club can potentially raise some much-needed funds for their club, while their members have fun and educational evening (often in the off-season).

It’s really easy to run the fundraising event – the New Zealand Whisky Company sends the club a kit which tells them, step-by-step, how to run the event. They even provide material for the club to promote the event.

For a small cash outlay by the club (to buy 5 bottles of international whisky for the event), on top of the value participants get in learning about whisky through the tastings the total prize pool available to hand out on the night is around $240 CAD (The New Zealand Whisky Company sends some whisky-related products for the prize pool).

Pricing the event as they recommend, the club only needs about 8 people to break-even so the 9th and every person after that who comes along is adding to the clubs’ coffers.

And, The New Zealand Whisky Company is offering some excellent bonuses too – including whisky hipflasks, Rugby balls signed by an All Blacks player, a personal group tasting event hosted by The New Zealand Whisky Company CEO at the club AND even a return flight from Canada to New Zealand for one lucky whisky drinker.

A sporting or whisky club in Canada must register online before midnight Sunday 17 January 2013 UTC. More details and where to register can be found here

Top Pick & New Arrivals at K&L Califonia – Whisky News



• Macallan 25 year old, Distillery Bottling Single Malt Whisky 750ml ($699.99) Extremely Limited! Macallan’s 25 year old sherry casks are a modern classic.


Canada – Rye

• Whistle Pig “Triple One” 11 Year Old Straight Rye Whiskey 750ml (cannot ship) – 6 available ($119.99)


Single Malt Scotch

• Arran 12 Year Old Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky 750ml ($64.99)

K&L Wine Merchants

Phone: 877-KLWines (toll free 877-559-4637)


San Francisco, Redwood City, Hollywood CA

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