...where distraction is the main attraction.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Notes from a tasting: Shot Bar Zoetrope

There are so many choices at Shot Bar Zoetrope.  So many whiskies one cannot find in the US.  I went to Zoetrope to at least have a glass of Yoichi 20 and the official Hakushu Sherry Cask before I attempted to buy either.  That idea was formed before I got to Japan and discovered that those whiskies were no longer found in stores.

The first thing I discovered was that Zoetrope was out of Yoichi 20.  Then, later in my tasting session, Horigami-san actually encouraged me to steer clear of the Hakushu Sherry Cask and try something bolder and better.  So with my original plan shelved and the late night adrenaline wearing off, I stared at the detailed menu.  I was overwhelmed by the Venture Whisky options and didn't have internet access to get some reference (though I probably could have just asked Horigami-san for suggestions).

Again, so many choices.  I knew how much I enjoyed Nikka's single malts (and their From the Barrel blend), so I decided to go for something I hadn't had yet.  How about a sherried Yoichi?  Nikka has a series called "Key Malts" that they sell at their distilleries and pour at their bars.  These bottlings let the drinker see what goes into their blends and vattings, and let adventurous folks try out their own mixes.  Two very good bits of news about the Key Malts is that they have age statements (12 years) and are bottled at 55%abv.  Let's see Suntory compete with that.

Yoichi 12 year old Sherry & Sweet (Key Malt), 55%abv
Nose - First whiff: rubber and burning carpet, surprisingly raw.  But after a couple minutes, it picks up beefy and nutty notes from its casks.  It opens up fully at twenty minutes with loads of toffee, chocolate, and marzipan.
Palate - Sweet indeed, but also very salty.  Yoichi tends get salty on my palate, here it intensifies.  Meanwhile, the little peat that shows up reads closer to its mossy form than smoke.  Pepper and soil notes move in after a while and help hold the whole package together.
Finish - So much sherry, as per the name, but also an herbal-liqueur-like bitterness.
Comments - The regular (or former regular) range's 45%abv bottlings have a grace and elegance that this one swaps out for sheer power.  Meanwhile, I'm not sure that much peated malt was involved.  So though it's a big winter malt, it's not as smoky as one may anticipate.
Grade Range: B-/B

While I was sipping the above Yoichi, I decided on comparing it to another one.  I went with a straw-colored 5 year old Genshu Single Cask.  These Genshu single casks used to be sold as exclusives at certain retailers around the country, but I'm not sure that's happening anymore.  One has to go to the Hokkaido distillery to get one now, if they have any in stock.

Yoichi 5 year old Genshu Single Cask, 62%abv
Nose - Not as rough or hot as I'd expected from the age and abv.  Definitely US oak.  Vanilla peat.  But it's the notes of sweetened bean curd and Ceylon cinnamon that are most memorable.
Palate - Little oak here, which lets the malty spirit shine.  Very herbal, like fresh basil and dried oregano.  Light on the peat influence.  Again, almost no ethyl burning.  It's not old whisky, but it could be mistaken for a 10-12 year old from a refill cask.
Finish - A soft wave of peat and caramel.  And, ah yes, here comes the heat.
Comments - Not terribly complex, but still very good for a 5 year old whisky. I wish there was an easier way to obtain a bottle.
Grade Range: B

Speaking of young whisky: Ichiro Akuto.  Horigami-san has obtained some of his own exclusive casks from Akuto-san.  I figured I'd go with one of those since I didn't know what I was talking about when it came to Venture Whisky whiskies.  He lined up a few of his exclusives in front of me and, since I like me some Rum cask action, I went with this one.

Ichiro's Malt 2000-2009 for Shot Bar Zoetrope's 3rd Anniversary
Cask #9800, finished in Rum Wood, 60.7%abv

Nose - Dessert whisky!  Brown sugar, molasses, caramel, toffee, and milk chocolate each take turns then come back again for seconds.
Palate - Loads of cinnamon, pepper, and vanilla.  Young, but not rough or sharp.  And not nearly as sweet as the nose lets on.  Some nuts and cocoa powder show up with time.
Finish - Identical to the palate, again not as sweet as one would think.
Comments - While I am so glad that the palate was less sugary than the nose, it is the nose that's the winner here.  And, not so coincidentally, it's where the rum finish sings the loudest.  I would have loved to have seen what this would have been like if it spent 12+ years in its original cask before getting poured into the rum barrel.
Grade Range: B-/B

One of Harold Lloyd's ill-advised but financially-necessary sound films (The Milky Way) was ending and a better silent one (Speedy?) was starting up on the film wall.  This was when I was going to end with Hakushu's Sherry Cask, but Horigami-san said that it would not go well with what I'd been trying.  And then he added that this one, the first malt's mate and at half the price of the Hakushu, was better anyway.

Miyagikyo 12 year old Sherry & Sweet (Key Malt), 55%abv
Nose - Roast beef, cherries, and roses.  Those exact three things, over and over again.  Then, after twenty minutes it shifts towards black pepper, seaweed, and a hint of wood smoke.
Palate - Very reminiscent of Glendronach's single oloroso casks.  So rich, grapey, and chocolatey, without losing its maltiness.  But this one here brings in a bright mint leaf note to keep it unique.
Finish - Sticky sweet and endless. Mostly sherry but some nice malt lingers behind along with orange peel.
Comments - My god, how sopping wet are these sherry casks before they're filled?  I'm serious, every sherried Japanese whisky I had on this trip was enormous.  Yet not out of balance.  This Miyagikyo got better as it went along, thus it was the finish that won me over, leaving it as my favorite whisky of the night.  A great recommendation by the boss.
Grade Range: B+

And on that high note, I thought it best to depart.  I was beginning to zone out (thus the grade ranges rather than number grades), already planning how I'd get back to the hotel, hoping I wouldn't get lost in Shinjuku.  Not this time, at least.  It had been a long travel day and there was more travel to follow in the morning.

If (or when) I return to Zoetrope, I would drift further from my comfort zone, going with a couple Mars malts, a Chichibu, and one of Kirin's Fujis.  I absolutely recommend Zoetrope as a stop to make if you (a whisky fan) are in Tokyo.  Don't go there looking for Scotch.  There's plenty of that elsewhere.  Go there looking for Japanese whisky.  You'll find some.


  1. That savory character is definitely my favorite part of Miyagikyo.

    1. I think I need to give the OB Miyagikyos another try now. It would be great if somehow Nikka would bring some ex-sherry Miyagikyo to the US. It would probably be either expensive or NAS (or both).