Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Japanese Whisky tasting at Kyoto Garden restaurant

We have tasted Japanese whisky before, at a trade tasting, but we were very excited when we received an invitation to a tutored tasting of Nikka, the first whisky to be produced in Japan. It was held last week in the presence of The Japanese Consulate Head of Mission, His Excellency, Mr Mitsuru Murase, at Kyoto Gardens restaurant at 11 Kloof Nek Road
 In 1918, Masataka Taketsuru, whose family had been making fine sake since 1733, went to visit whisky refineries in Scotland to learn the secret of making Scotch whisky, which had captivated him. He studied at The university of Glasgow, the first Japanese ever to study the art of making whisky. He continued to work in the industry as an apprentice. He married his Scottish wife Jessie Roberta (Rita) and returned to Japan in 1920. In 1934 Masataka established Nikka Whisky, and built its first distillery in Yoichi, Hokkaido, and he eventually became a master blender
No one wants to do a whisky tasting and then drive, so we took the MyCiti Bus. The stop is at the bottom of our road. The trip, with one quick platform change in Adderley Street, took less than half an hour and it was in rush hour traffic
A pleasant street view of the far mountain from outside the restaurant; we arrived quite early
The whiskies laid out for the tasting
Kyoto Garden has whiskies from Suntory, who made the first Japanese whisky in 1924, but we didn't get to taste these
The tasting sheet for the 6 whiskies
Here they are, poured, with an accompanying glass of water to add after the first taste
Taygan Govinden with whisky presenter and writer Bernard Gutman

The amber light of whisky
Japanese beers
The line up. We started with the 2 single malts: Miyagikyo full of caramel, apricots and smoke with a soft vanilla honey perfume, pears and some salt. And the Yoichi NAS - Peat moss, herbaceous with red apple and caramel notes, a hot chilli tingle on the tongue and then toffee with cream. Both extremely pleasant and worth drinking. But not with too much water
The Japanese Consulate Head of Mission is His Excellency, Mr Mitsuru Murase, who gave the opening address
Whisky fundi Hector McBeth, a South African of Scottish descent, took us through the tasting and explained the whiskies to us, and showed us how to taste them, and how the Japanese, who are very fond of Scotch whisky, prefer to drink them. They add water and ice from a glacier, which sings in the glass. Sadly, we found that this seems to soften it a lot and, for us, it takes a lot of the flavour out of the whisky and it loses its alcohol heat, but that is the way they prefer it. The next was the Nikki Pure Malt Black - a blend of malts. Floral peaches and apricots with smoke and expensive wood notes. An oily glycerol mouthful , smoky bacon and tangerine fruit tingle that softens, with water, to peach juice. Then Nikka Coffey Grain, made with corn like a Bourbon had drum and burnt caramel and raisin on the nose, and Christmas pudding and caramel toffee on the palate. With water it turns to caramel milk chocolate like a Curly Whirly with whiffs of smoke
Japanese liqueurs and sake behind the sushi counter
Malu Copeland enjoying the tasting. The fifth whisky was the Nikka Coffey Malt; coconut and lime with herbs on the nose, silky and peaty with vanilla toffee and creamy milk chocolate on the palate . with water lactic caramel cream with a background of grapes and fruit
The final whisky was the Nikka from the Barrel, a blended whisky with 51.4% alcohol. This needed the glacial ice. Its nose was like prunes wrapped in bacon with smoky caramel. On the palate, red hot chilli caramel toffee and more prunes and bacon. With water, softer & more prunes and caramel
The sushi chef, Koshi Koyama, who has been with Scott Wood for 20 years, is a consummate expert at what he does
Saidi and his team in the kitchen, very important people
Some sashimi to cleanse our palates after the tasting, served with a clear sake, which had anise notes, rather like a pastis
and some sushi
The outside of the restaurant
The tasting notes. We enjoyed the tasting very much indeed and urge you all to try Japanese whisky when you have the opportunity. We did not find it to be like Scotch, but it is an excellent product in its own right. The water debate is up to you, it's entirely personal. Disclosure: We both have Scottish ancestry and have become familiar with it throughout our lives
© John & Lynne Ford, Adamastor & Bacchus 2015
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