Dekantā celebrates Japanese whisky’s 100th birthday

Scottish Field drinks blogger Peter Ranscombe raises a glass to the centenary of Japan’s whisky with some unique bottles.

ONLINE retailer Dekantā last night toasted the Japanese whisky industry’s 100th birthday with the launch of its second single-cask bottling.

In 1919, Eigashima became the first distillery in Japan to be granted a licence to make whisky, although it wasn’t until the 1960s that the site began full-scale production.

Last year, Dekantā launched Kikou, its first single cask Japanese whisky, at the Sexy Fish restaurant in London.

Kikou was distilled at Eigashima in 2011 and aged in a cask from the silent Port Ellen distillery on Islay, celebrating Japan’s close connections with the Scotch whisky industry.

This year’s offering, Kigai, took the remaining Japanese whisky from the same Port Ellen cask and finished it for a year in a barrel made from Mizunara oak from Japan.

The result was unveiled at a tasting last night in Edinburgh, following on from last month’s release in Japan.

Side by side

Kikou (£516, continued to be really expressive on the nose, with lemon, light caramel, honey and smoky notes.

On the palate, it was noticeably tannic and dry, with spicy black pepper flavours joined by sweeter cinnamon, brown sugar, caramel, honey and a touch of raisin.

Adding water softened both the mouthfeel and the 58.4% alcohol, bringing out more of the lemon and green apple tastes from the spirit, but also highlighting more of the spicier clove and a sea salt-like tang.

Kigai (£434.49, tipped the scales at 60%, with the alcohol giving heat alongside the black pepper, sea salt and cloves.

It had a much sweeter smell – with aromas of molasses, honey and toffee – and the mouthfeel was much rounder too, even without the addition of water.

A few drops further softened the whisky’s texture, but also exaggerated the spicy notes, with the sweet honey and hot black pepper wrestling one another for dominance.

Stole the show

It was fascinating to try the Kigai and see the difference the Mizunara oak made to the base Kikou, but it was another whisky on show last night that really caught my eye.

Kimiki Sakura (£157.99 for 500ml, was the first whisky to be finished in Japanese sakura wood, one of the species that produces the country’s famous cherry blossom, and follows in the footsteps of Kamiki’s previous bottlings, which were the first to be finished in Japanese cedar.

Both sweet and sour cherries came to the fore on the nose, alongside orange peel and cedar.

The 48% alcohol felt much gentler following the cask-strength samples, with sweet flavours of Christmas evening in front of the fire – including fruit cake and cherry liquor-filled chocolates – mingling with demerara sugar, honey, caramel and raisin.

The fruitier lemon and green apple notes from the base spirit became more obvious when water was dribbled into the glass, but the spicier notes again became more obvious, including black pepper and white pepper.