New Arrivals

The first snow of winter, marching towards us across the Jura.

Different perspectives on the approaching snowstorm on the French Jura. All photos: PKR

Different perspectives on the approaching snowstorm on the French Jura.
All mountain photos: PKR

The sun was shining in a final burst before a major storm that was due to hit overnight, and I had to go for a final autumn run in the last bits of warmth, even as I could see winter’s 1-6

No images here of the white carpet that greeted us the following morning, it all started melting soon after sun-up.

But in celebration of winter’s greeting card, we tried the Suntory produced Hibiki Japanese Harmony Master’s Select blended whisky I mentioned in a recent post, a foray into mostly unexplored territory for single malt fans such as ourselves.

According to Master of Malt, “Hibiki Japanese Harmony is made with malt whiskies from the Yamazaki and Hakushu distilleries, as well as grain whisky from the Chita distillery. The whiskies are drawn from 5 different types of cask, including American white oak casks, Sherry casks and Mizunara oak casks.” The blend includes ten different malt and grain whiskies.

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For me, this is limited edition blend is a curious mixture of tart, oaky acidity with round apple sweetness and not much in between, a double-edged sword that I’m not sure I love, but which I definitely enjoy. It’s like one of those candies which you might not like at first taste, but which you can’t seem to stop yourself from eating.

The Hibiki bottle and stopper.

The Hibiki bottle and stopper.

I do, however, think the bottle, with its 24 facets and matching stopper, is very lovely. The 24 facets are meant to represent the two dozen Japanese seasons, and I’ll be the first to admit that although I lived in Japan, I didn’t realize just how many seasons I was experiencing over the course of a year.

Alps across Lake Geneva, before their winter coat.

Alps across Lake Geneva, before their winter coat.

What I do know is that a new season is upon us. It’s cold outside.

Yes, winter is not only coming – it is already here.

That doesn’t have to be all bad.

Toes Dipped

Yoichi Distillery Image via: Whisky Magazine

Last week I posted that I was ready to dive in to the world of Japanese whiskies, and to that end, I bought a couple of bottles at the recommendation of the knowledgeable staff at Besson in Lausanne, Switzerland. At 50cl, he bottles were smaller than the usual 75cl, but I wanted to be able to try more than one, and frankly, the larger bottles of fairly generous selection were at price levels I wasn’t ready to scale until I’d first had a try.

What I can say after my initial dip of a toe into the sea of Japanese whisky is this: My wallet is already cringing in fear of what is about to befall it. Because this is a world worth exploring.

I started with two samples of Nikka whisky – one blended, one pure malt – from the Yoichi distillery. nikka-pure-malt-black-whisky

The Yoichi distillery was founded in 1934 by Masataka Taketsuru, the man who established Japan’s first distillery while working for Kotobukiya (the company that would go on to become Suntory).

Taketsuru, who came from an established family in the sake production business, studied in Glasgow, Scotland before going on to work at a number of Scottish distilleries. I can only imagine the kind of determined personality it took to leave Japan for Scotland in 1919, marry a Scottish woman over the objections of both families, and return to Japan to found a successful business in a completely new field.

According to Whisky Magazine, Taketsuru learned that “The distillery should be located in a cold climate with an appropriate humidity, there should be a high quality water source and an abundant supply of  herbaceous peat. Furthermore it should be close to an area where barley is grown and where there are forests to supply wood to make barrels and also the coal necessary to fire the stills.

Yoichi, to the north- west of Sapporo on the island of Hokkaido, satisfied all of these conditions and was chosen as the site of Taketsuru’s distillery. There they carry out traditional distillation, using coal to direct fire the stills, something which is no longer seen even in Scotland these days.”

nikka-from-the-barrel-whiskyMy first samples were Nikka Whisky from the Barrel, and Pure Malt Black. I loved the apothecary bottles, the simplicity of labeling, and the interesting bottle shapes.

Whisky from the Barrel is a blended whisky, which I found to be pleasantly light, floral, with a nice oak air. Light apricot flavors, bit of spice, and overall, just a lovely sipping experience.

The Pure Malt Black was a delight – delicious rounded fruit notes which I’ve read described as red gummy bears. For me, it was more like a combination of sugared quince and sweet rose. Just a hint of peat and oak, but all very light and balanced. I have a feeling that this is one I will be adding to our regular stock.

I was fortunate to find two shops in Lausanne that had an interesting and varied selection of Japanese whiskies, the Besson cigar and whisky shop, and the Caveau de Bacchus, both just around the corner from one another.

And now, onwards.