SMWS – December’s Outturn of Japanese Whisky

annabelDecember saw the Scotch Malt Whisky Society release an unprecedented amount of Japanese Single Malt and Single Grain – and to make a splash The Society hosted an evening at it’s luxurious Queen Street members rooms on the 4th of December to allow a lucky few to try before they buy.

IMG_6815The Whisky Belle (Annabel Meikle) was our host for the evening.  Before our tasting Annabel spent some time educating us about Japan’s whisky making history, background and people, she also devled a little deeper into the traditions of some of Japan’s famous and not so famous Whisky Distilleries.  Below are some of the facts Annabel shared with us, accompanied with my take on the drams.

G12.1 “Oh so sweet” – Nikka Coffey Malt 11yo – 1 of 246 bottles – £ 120 approx (only available as part of a pairing)

One of the three (G11.1, G12.1 & G131, were all added in December) new Society grains to be added to the list is a Single Grain Whisky from the Japanese distillery Nikka.  Although relatively young in years at just 11 years old, this was a tongue tingling starter and crowd pleaser, setting us up nicely for the evening.

Notes of vanilla pods, fuzzy peaches, bran flakes with bananas and creamy hard candies were all mentioned – it certainly was a little fruit and nut cake for me.


IMG_6816G13.1 “A complete revelation” – Chita  4yo – 1 of 622 bottles – £ 92

Next up is one of the other no1 grain bottlings released this month, this time from Suntory’s grain distillery Chita.  Not to worry if you haven’t heard of this distillery, it’s not widely available and most commonly only found on sale locally in Japan.  But I am sure you’ll have heard of Hibiki, well Chita is likely to be the grain used in this popular blended Japanese Whisky.

We switched to a much fuller mouth feel, we could taste gingerbreads, cinnamon, sweetcorn , rich vanilla custard and stewed apples and pears, this grain was leaning more to the likenesses of Canadian rye and American bourbon.  Completely different from the G12.1.


IMG_6817B3.1 “A little box of treasures” – Rocktown 3yo – 1 of 238 bottles – £ 55

To say it has been a while since the Society last bottled a Bourbon would be an understatement – possibly about 10 years.  A baby to the world of Whisky, this craft distillery has been making bourbon since 2010 and only uses locally grown corn and wheat, trying to keep the process as local and traditional as possible.  This year Rocktown from Arkansas passed the Societies panel and has been awarded number B3.

On the night we all agreed that sugary vanilla was smothering us, but there was a huge hit of spearmint coming through – well that was it for me, it was sweet mint all the way, on the palate, in the glass and on the finish – sugary minty freshness.


IMG_6818120.7 “Sweet, fragrant and satisfying” – Hakushu 14yo – 1 of 517 bottles – £ 120 approx (only available as part of a pairing)

Only the seventh cask from this distillery and it was a beast at an age of only 14yo. As a popular 12 & 15 yo Japanese dram, Hakushu is owned by Suntory and enjoyed for its crisp, green pine and apple notes, must be a mistake here then…

…the colour was of treacle and the aromas were of a dark, fire stoked, cosy house, obviously the obligatory Christmas tasting notes were rolled out by everyone, but it really was Christmas time for that one dram.  Prunes, figs and dates coupled with fudge and dark chocolate were agreed on.  Crazily enjoyable with many deep oaky notes to boot.  Not the Hakushu you’d expect, but definitely a Hakushu I enjoyed.


IMG_6825116.20 “Fascinating complexity and finesse” – Yoichi 26yo – 1 of 452 bottles – £ 285 

This extremely rare dram went on sale from the Society on Friday 5th of December and could only be secured by a phone call and a payment card.  When that happens you know you have a special dram in your glass.

It was a salty sea shell holding a honey glazed oyster, the salt and sugary sweet notes were confusing and complex.  There was also wafts of smoke and dry cereal notes accompanying the sea influences.  Compared to the other 4 drams you could absolutely detect the ageing characters of damp bonfire smoke, dusty leather, the contradicting flavours added a depth we all agreed made this the dram of the night – it was a talking point.


With Japanese whisky showing huge growth in the market at the moment this tasting on the 4th December at Queen Street seemed fitting and right on time – all the drams of the evening displayed many different characters and also highlighted the differences you expect from single casks.  These drams were so popular and heavily anticipated they sold out the very next day in the UK.

Thanks to Annabel for sharing your unmatched knowledge with us on everything Whisky and Society and also thanks to Helen Stewart (Brand Manager, SMWS) for putting together five incredible drams for us all to ooo and ahh over .


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