...where distraction is the main attraction.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Highlander Inn Tokyo: Part 2, More Pours? More Pours.

Part 1 was on Monday.
Part 2 is today!

The stash, each shelf three or four bottles deep...

After I completed the Ben Nevis Quartet, Suzuki-san produced this single PX Puncheon of '04 GlenDronach and asked if I had tried it yet. Before I could complete the word no (or iie, if I attempted Japanese at that moment), he'd already poured me a good drop.

*!free pour!*
GlenDronach 12 year old 2004 - for BarShow 2016 - cask 5527, PX Puncheon, 58.6%abv

To my surprise there was a substantial combination of green herbs (in the palate) and baking spices (in the nose) balancing out the usual PX grape jam attack. I'm normally not a PX cask fan but this was a good drink with its sweetness at a moderate level.
Rating: B-/B (82-85)

Next, Suzuki-san produced this whisky that was selected by the Japanese owner of Highlander Inn Craigellachie (and, I think, Tokyo). It's a full strength batch of 36yo blended scotch whisky (though whiskybase says it's a blended malt).

BLOGGERSPLAIN:  Oishii means "delicious" in Japanese.

*!free pour!*
Oishii Wisukii 36 year old small batch blended whisky - 51.1%abv

Its nose is gorgeous. Gentle sherry notes merge with mild peat, along with moments of stone fruits and citrus fruits. The palate is lightly sweet with an earthy peatiness. Then a blast of grapefruit. Dried fruit, tobacco and grapefruit in the finish.

This is great, very complex and easily consumed, and only available at the two Highlander Inns. Oishii indeed.
Rating: B+/A- (89-91)

I was unable to purchase the most recent Springbank Local Barley, or should I say I was unamused at its $160+ American price. But... having spied Highlander Inn's bottle on the shelf, I knew it would be one of the final drinks of this visit. I'm thankful to say I received the bottle's inaugural pour.

Springbank 11 year old 2006 Local Barley (Bere) - 53.1%abv

Color - Amber
Nose - Medium peating and a mild float of oak. Notes of maple syrup and pecan rolls.
Palate - White fruits and white peaches on top. Mild peat in the middle. Richer here than on the nose, almost candied. Water brings out a fresh herbal bitterness.
Finish - Medicinal and sweet.

Commentary - There's no denying this is good, but it's missing the complexity, balance and (important!) sheer deliciousness of the 16yo Local Barley. I'd also take either of the Springbank Greens over it. So, if you were kicking yourself over not getting this bottle, stop kicking yourself. If you're now kicking yourself for getting this bottle, stop kicking yourself. It's still good!
Rating - B (85-86)

This bottle sat in front of me the whole time, so it was inevitably going to make its way into my glass. I've found Port Askaig 19 year old to be a real pleasure, so I was interested to see how this (SPOILER ALERT) Caol Ila spirit works within a sherry cask. (UPDATE: Or maybe not Caol Ila. See the comment section for more info.) Here's my final drink of the night:

Port Askaig 15 year old Sherry Cask - 45.8%abv

Color - Gold
Nose - The sherry is very mild here. Instead CI's beach, salty ocean and seaweed notes lead the way.
Palate - Caol Ila + melon + chocolate. Then mint and a subtle note of vanilla bean. Then a mild bitterness keeps things honest.
Finish - Mint, chocolate and a slight white fruit note, but mostly Caol Ila 12yo with more stamina.

Commentary - Another success from Port Askaig, mostly because the sherry steps out of the way to let the good stuff through. Though I prefer the 19yo, that one's price has gone up nearly 50% in the 3 years since I bought it. This 15yo's price hasn't changed much since its debut 2 years ago and retails about $30 cheaper than the 19.
Rating: B/B+ (86-88)

If you're looking for the sort of place that won't make you feel disrespectful for wearing short sleeves, if you're looking for a spot to listen to some Scottish music (and no I don't mean Frightened Rabbit, who aren't half bad though) while sipping on beer and whisky, if you're looking for a cozy place to explore some single casks, then I recommend spending a couple hours at Highlander Inn Tokyo. It's one small block north of the Nakanosakaue station, about 5 minute metro ride from Shinjuku. Toshiyuki Suzuki will likely be the man slinging the drinks, and he's very honest and knowledgable about the bottles on the shelf. Kei Kimura also provided great service to everyone at the bar, and he's the more internet savvy of the two, so hopefully he's reading this. Thank you, gentlemen.

No, this was neither the first nor last of my bar visits in Japan, but I knew it would be a joy to recall. Many more bar posts will follow in the coming weeks...


  1. Hi Michael,

    Looks like you had a great time in Japan. My only visit was in 2004, which unfortunately was when I had no interest in Japanese whisky. Ah well, regrets are for later in life.

    Now onto the Port Askaig 15 Sherry Cask: My local whisky club got into a spirited debate regarding this one. Okay not really, but we couldn't come to consensus on origin. Some default to Caol Ila, but some of us think this particular release, along with the 45 year old, is Bunnahabhain. The bottler has admitted that they have more than one distillery they are pulling from nowadays, and Bunnahabhain is still at Port Askaig geographically speaking. The 45 y/o is almost definitely not Caol Ila given the age of the current CI distillery. As to this one, assuming it is the most current release and not the older 15 y/o (I don't think that one was marked "Sherry Cask", the bottling notes specify that it is a blend of 20% 1997 peated whisky and 80% 2001 unpeated whisky, all aged in first fill oloroso. 97 is a known year for Bunnahabhain doing peated runs, and as for the unpeated part, I was unaware of Caol Ila releasing any of their unpeated spirit to IBs. Then there is the claim of maturation in first fill oloroso casks. Now I get that we can't really trust the bottler not to have recasked into that for a finishing period, but overall that origin description sounds more like Bunnahabhain than Caol Ila.

    Now as to taste . . . Like you, I only tasted this after . . . ahem . . . A few drams, so I'm going to have to wait until I open my own bottle to decide. This did taste more like Bunnahabhain than Caol Ila to me, but I came into tasting it thinking that, so that isn't any real proof. Not to mention the fact that distilleries are perfectly happy to sell off-profile barrels to IBs anyway, making any discussion of distillery character questionable in the first place (though PA 19 sang CAOL ILA to me).

    At any rate, I actually would be thrilled for this bottle to be either distillery given that they are my two favorite Islay distilleries (and it's not exactly as though I dislike any of the other ones, either), but the nerd in me just has to debate the topic.

    What are your thoughts on my meaningless origin conspiracy theory?



    1. Hey Eric,

      Gotta say this is really interesting. Are you certain the bottling notes said 80% unpeated? (I didn't think to take a pic of the back label.) From what I've read elsewhere "80% fruitier whisky" is all anyone seems to reveal. Here's my clumsy logic why that may matter:

      Because Specialty Drinks specifically label this whisky as a "Islay Single Malt" we know that both sets of whisky have to come from the same Islay distillery. I adore Bunnahabain's 1997 peated stuff because it's big and dirty, bigger and dirtier than anything else being made on the island at that date. 20% of that in any mix would peat the hell of the result. Heck, <10% of current Laphraoig in a blend will do it. I haven't had any past the age of 16yrs, so maybe 20yrs in oloroso casks calms it down. But as soon as I see a 1997 vintage for an unnamed Islay peater, I assume it's a Bunny since the distillery seemed to have swapped out zillions of those casks.

      It would be even more fascinating if this combination results in characteristics similar to teenage Caol Ila. Whisky dudes with much more experience than I (who appear to get their review samples directly from Specialty Drinks), have always assumed Port Askaig was Caol Ila due to its style and because the distillery sits right next to the port itself. I did see the Bunnahabhain theory about the 45yo on Serge's site. And Bunnahabhain sits about 5 miles north of the port. Anyway, if the rest of the <45yo Port Aksaigs were Caol Ila, I'm guessing the producers wouldn't want to drift too far from their brand style. So either they use Caol Ila or they recreate a Caol Ila style.

      The other possibility is that this is Caol Ila stuff. 20% being their regular peating level, and 80% being their unpeated-but-actually-lightly-peated "Highlands" style. The CI factory makes more of that "unpeated" style than just for the annual release. It's a major ingredient in a number of blends. For instance, a number of years ago I was told by an industry person that the "unpeated" CI is or was the leading malt in JW Red Label.

      The Caol Ila possibility feels a little slim unless the bottling notes were just "fruitier". But I like the Bunny possibility better, especially if they were able to recreate a style with a different distillery's product.

      Sorry for my long response.


    2. I checked with somebody who should know and while they cannot publicly confirm they did note that Eric is right about Caol Ila not allowing any of their unpeated malt out of their inventory. So, this is almost certainly a Bunnahabhain.

      And it wouldn't be the first time a Port Askaig <45 yo has been a Bunnahabhain either, I don't think. If I recall correctly there's been at least one younger one as well.

    3. Here I was about to admit that Michael's keen eyes spotted my probably faulty underlying assumption that "fruitier style" = not peated and agree that this could actually be Caol Ila, and along comes MAO to demonstrate my complete and total infallibility. Fear not, I shan't forget to thank you and all the other little guys out there once I become the next Jim Murray.

      Down to brass tacks: Since Bible is already being used in conjunction with whisky, what other religious text should I appropriate to highlight the divinity of my whisky palate? Unfortunately I do not follow any sort of spiritual path myself, and my ethnicity could best be described as WASP meets polar bear. First one to name my upcoming work gets a discount on a signed copy!

      Or: thanks for the information, MAO.

    4. @MAO - If that somebody is who I think it is, then I should probably take everyone's word for it and renounce my certainty of the Caol Ila spirit in this whisky.

      @Eric - I recommend going with The Whisky Vedas. The White Hatted One ain't got s*** on them.