The Last Samurai Japanese Single Malt Tasting Part I

Last week an intrepid group of whisky tasters joined me at the Kensington Wine Market to sample through a range of very rare, and some old, Japanese whiskies. While sampling the whiskies participants were treated to some photos from my recent whisky tour of Japan. It was a great evening, with an incredible range of whiskies.

In the weeks leading up to the tasitng, while sorting photos and deciding which whiskies to pour it became quickly apparent that we were going to need more than one tasting to do Japanese whisky justice. To that end I have scheduled a second Japanese whisky tasting for Thursday August 8th to feature some other new, interesting and rare Japanese whiskies, as well as the best photos from the other half of my trip. More info on the Last Samurai Part 2 can be found at the bottom of the post.

By way of tempting you to come out to the second tasting, here are my notes on the seven Japaneses whiskies sampled on July 25th. Three of the whiskies are from the now closed Karuizawa distillery and the other four are single casks from the Nikka Whisky Co. The Karuizawa’s range from the $110 Asama to a 1969 vintage 42 year old single cask which retails for nearly $1200. The Nikka’s included single casks of Yoichi (1989), Miyagikyo (2002) as well as two whiskies distilled in Coffey stills: one from malted barley and the other grain. It was a very good lineup! Tasted in the following order:

  1. Karuizawa Asama -46% – 12 Year – Ex-Sherry European Oak – The name Asama comes from the active volcanic mountain in who’s shadows the distillery is built. – My Tasting Note: Nose: nutty, earthy and leathery; there is a touch of Nutella, clove, burnt orange, struck matches and citric malt; layers of honey and toasted oak; Palate: sweet, nutty and toasty with some firm spice, leather and even a touch of tobacco; honey baked ham with cloves; raisins, dates, figs and burnt bacon; possibly a touch of sulphur (struck matches), but not enough to ruin it; Finish: leathery and fruity with spicy chocolate, brown sugar and more honey glazed ham w/ cloves. - $109.99
  2. Nikka Miyagikyo 2002 – 62% – 9 Year – Cask No. 101127 – Refill Sherry Butt – Distilled: 12/13/2002 – Bottled: 7/4/2012 – My Tasting Note: Nose: thick, creamy and perfumed; big juicy malt, honey and mint with milk chocolate; crisp green apple, Demerara sugars, nougat and intense but rounded floral top notes; Palate: big, chewy and punchy; more nougat, loads of honey, candied apple, more Demerara and hints of dark fruits; thick creamy oak, juicy barley and subtly leathery sherry notes; the spices are a little hot but decadent and tingling with traces of minty milk chocolate; Finish: coating, creamy and fruity; soft toasted oak, tingling mint and smooth milk chocolate; very long, floral and layered. - $268.99 *Only 7 left!
  3. Nikka Coffey Malt 1998 – 58% – 12 Year – Cask No. 218774 – American Oak – Distilled: 9/19/1998 – Bottled: 7/6/2012 – My Tasting Note: Appearance: I don’t normally dwell on this, but it is so dark for American oak! Nose: soft, creamy and chewy; honey comb, coconut icing, juicy California orange, aloe-like floral tones and Scottish Tablet; very Bourbon-like, soft like Marker’s Mark; Palate: big and Bourbony on the palate this is one very sweet dram; white grape juice, liquid honey, canned pineapples and huge Demerara notes; molasses, almost like an El Dorado rum; becomes more floral with white chocolate Hershey’s Kisses as it settles down; Finish: long, creamy, toasty and floral with hints of pineapple, Bourbon and Demerara rum. – $264.99
  4. Nikka Coffey Grain 2000 – 63% – Cask No. 231198 – Distilled: 11/9/2000 – Bottled: 7/5/2012 -  My Tasting Note: “Nose: very doughy, cookies & cream, soft toasty oak and cooked raisins; loads of honey, reminiscent of Sauternes wine on the nose and big American oak whiskies; Palate: very honeyed and toasty, floral with loads of oily grain; syrupy and spicy like a straight rye whisk(e)y ; becomes darker, more leathery and peppery with strong notes of clove; Finish: drying and toasty sweet with more honey, bright grain and peppery spices. - $246.99
  5. Karuizawa 1984 Cocktail Series – 59.3% – 28 Year – Cask No. 7975 – Maured in a Shery Butt – Distilled in 1984 – Bottled in 2012 – My Tasting Note: Nose: “dark chocolate shaving, Christmas cake, leather, tobacco and all the best classic sherry cask elements; brown and Demerara sugars, polished mahogany and a well-worn leather cigar humidor; the dried spices show last, with aromas reminiscent of an Indian spice market; Palate: oh so rich, elegant and smooth; the flavours come in waves: dried fruits, dark chocolate shavings, old musty oak, new leather wallet, Cuban cigars and dark earthy spices (clove, fennel and allspice); very well balanced with loads of depth and complexity; Finish: long, rich and still elegant with more chocolate, dried fruits, tobacco and leather: seems to be a theme in this whisky! - $403.99 – SOLD OUT!
  6. Karuizawa 1969 42 Year – 61.3% – Cask No. 8183 – “400L ex-Bourbon CasK” (something smells wrong here-including the whisky: Bourbon? Really?) – Distilled: December 1969 – Bottled: August 2012 – My Tasting Note: “Nose: very woody, oak shavings, cedar shakes, cigar boxes and softened old leather; rum raisin pudding, burnt butter, hard toffee and melted brown sugar; there are some notes of melon and other tropical fruits too and surprisingly a little malt; Palate: very toasty and oaky with more wood shavings and musty old oak; there is some underlying vanilla extract, more hard toffee, coffee beans, a hint of clean wood smoke and floral honey; its becomes more spicy, leathery and darker while retaining its softness; the fruit is still there: rum raisin and melons with the addition of strawberry licorice; Finish: both drying and coating, the oak is showing its age but this is not over the hill; it finishes in a flourish of creamy oak, melons and fading sugars; Comments: I must admit I am not familiar with 400L Bourbon casks, didn’t think they were possible, and given Karuizawa almost exclusively used sherry casks this whisky is an oddity. Is it truly American oak or a mislabeled ex-European oak whisky? When I first sampled it I would have said European oak, now I’m not so sure! Never the less it is a lovely, rare and very collectible whisky. - $1176.49
  7. Nikka Yoichi 1989 – 60% – 23 Year – Cask No. 206497 – Recharred Hogshead – Distilled: 2/13/1989 – Bottled 9/21/2012 – Heavily Peated – My Tasting Note: Nose: meaty, honeyed and malty to start; ripe melons, Sunkist oranges, ocean seasoned creosote covered piers and steamed mussels; the nose is layered but understated; after some time candied nuts emerge as well as white chocolate; Palate: the oily peat and chewy malt roll onto the palate and cling on for dear life; very medicinal and maritime with notes of tar and creosote; under the peat reek layers of spice, floral notes and vanilla cream struggle to get loose; smooth caramel and chcocolate espresso beans make a late appearance; Finish: maritime, peaty, salty and oily with some salty fish on the one hand, but also honeyed oak, melon and white fruits. Comments: lots of layers to this one, even with the huge peat influence. - $293.99

The Top 3 Malts By Voting:

  1. Nikka Coffey Malt 2002 – This one was also the best selling of the night!
  2. Karuizawa 1969
  3. Nikka Coffey Malt 1998

My Top 3

  1. Nikka Yoichi 1989 – Think it may have been too peaty for some.
  2. Karuizawa 1969 – Super complex, on the verge of long in the tooth.
  3. Karuizawa 1984 Cocktail Series - A big sherried fruit bomb!

THE LAST SAMURAI – Part 2 - Thursday August 8th – $50


My recent whisky tour of Japan has left me with a treasure trove of photos and insight into one of the world’s lesser known whisky producing nations. We are proud to offer North America’s largest selection of Japanese whiskies, and when it came time to putting on July’s Last Samurai tasting, it quickly became apparent we had too many photos and too many whiskies to limit ourselves to just one tasting. The Last Samurai Part 2 will consist of four whiskies from the Chichibu distillery, as well as other from Yoichi and Miyagikyo distilleries. This event is sure to delight, and not leave you feeling Lost in Translation!

The tasting will be $50, and you can register by phone or online: .

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