...where distraction is the main attraction.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Highlander Inn Tokyo: Part 1, a brace of Ben Nevis

Things went mostly according to plan throughout last month's Japanese trip, which is someting I can't say holds true of many (or any?) of my previous international trips. On Night Three, I scheduled a trip to Nakano to attend a pair of bars. And attend a pair of Nakano bars I did.

But instead of taking the train out there, I walked it. The temperature had dipped just below 90ºF that day, and this was an opportunity to see a mile and a half of the city I'd otherwise miss. Having put in over ten miles on foot earlier in the day, I found this stroll much to my liking. Start in the dusklight, end at a pub in the streetlight.

Highlander Inn Tokyo is a casual homey place, which is a welcome surprise in a city full of shiny impersonal drinking establishments. Everyone at the Highlander seemed to know each other. Lots of laughter. Lots of beer. Lots of Scottish busker music on the stereo.

Though it's not the sort of place that has 1000 whiskies behind the bar, Highlander Inn's selection is very well curated. And is probably north of 200 bottles anyway. Speaking the international language of single malt at any Japanese whisky bar is a pleasure, but the staff spoke enough English that two hours of chat flew by quickly. Plus I was able to squeeze in a few mizu o kudasai and arigato gozaimasu without embarrassing myself too much, I think.

The beers on tap sounded pretty swell after a humid day, but I was there for the whisky.

Asking a bartender for his supply of Ben Nevis is some genuine whisky hipster shit anywhere else in the world. But not in Japan. Thanks to Nikka's ownership, Ben Nevis has had plenty of presence in Japan for more than a decade. The desirable official 15 year old single casks used to be plentiful out there. The 10 year old is everywhere. Nikka's Pure Malt Black has long had some Nevis in it. And the country's indie companies have been bringing in single casks of it for some time.

So when I asked Suzuki-san (aka Toshi) for their Nevii, he quickly hauled out six indie single casks. He even recommended that I not select the oldest, most expensive one. Imagine a bartender doing that in The States! I selected three Benz and then was given a gratis pour of a fourth. (More bonus pours in part 2.)

Note: Because there was occasional cigarette smoke in the air, and because of all the socializing, my tasting experience wasn't precise enough to give exact scores, so I'm listing a rating range for all the stuff I tasted there.


Ben Nevis 18 year old 1998 - The Whisky Agency and Three Rivers Tokyo - 50.9%abv

Color - Light amber
Nose - Oh funk, so much BN funk. A good way to start. Also loads of maltiness. Fresh apples and milk chocolate.
Palate - Roasted malt and toffee. Apricots. Almost stout-y. Lightly sweet and almost no oak.
Finish - Barley juice. Milk chocolate. IPA bitterness meets the sweets and fruits.

Commentary - Very crisp and well balanced. Perfect ABV too. I'm sure if I had a whole bottle I'd find more complexity in it, but it's a great drinker as is. That hypothetical bottle wouldn't last long.
Rating: B+ (87-89)

Ben Nevis 19 year old 1996 - The Auld Alliance and Three Rivers Tokyo - Sherry cask - 50.2%abv

Color - dark gold
Nose - Bigger cask action. Dried stone fruits, dill and honey. Teriyaki and seaweed. Some good cereal grain notes in the back.
Palate - Here the cask calms down a bit. Apricots, fresh and dried. A rumbling bitterness that reads more herbal than oak. Brown sugar and malt. Wonderful mouthfeel.
Finish - Vanilla toffee, apricots, and that IPA bitterness again.

Commentary - If you can't make it The Auld Alliance, then it's best to bring The Auld Alliance to you. Though, you have to fly to Asia first, I guess. This BN is louder and a little oakier than the previous, but the massive spirit keeps the cask in check. It's more of a thinker than the 1998 TWA, something to puzzle over in cooler seasons.
Rating: B/B+ (86-88)

*!free pour!*
Ben Nevis 19 year old 1996 - Three Rivers Tokyo, Dance series - cask 2, sherry hogshead, 50.1%abv

Nose - Farmy as a horse barn in the heat. Milk chocolate. Maple syrup.
Palate - Bye bye horse farms, hello peach, plum and apricot orchards. A wisp of sherry cask and a dribble of herbal liqueur.

Commentary - Sherry hogsheads usually run right over the spirits they hold, making many of them plenty rich but also quite similar. Not this time. Again the Ben Nevis spirit pirouettes atop the oak throughout the experience.
Rating: B+/A- (88-90)

Ben Nevis 19 year old 1996 - The Maltman for Shinanoya - cask 1673, sherry butt - 51.8%abv

Color - medium gold
Nose - Very toasty. Notes of fruity ceylon cinnamon, butterscotch, white fruits and stone fruits. Mmm, and an industrial greasy edge.
Palate - Peaches. Peach candy. Watermelon Jolly Ranchers. Oh but then there's tobacco and dark chocolate.
Finish - Here comes the herbal bitterness (gorgeous!) rounding out the fruity sweetness. A maltiness lingers in the back.

A Story - I was ready to buy this bottle blindly from the Shinanoya store in Shinjuku upon my arrival in the country. But two weeks before my trip, their site said they'd sold out. Arrrrrrgh! But also, whew, I'd save some money. Then I saw it at Highlander Inn. And I drank it.

A Story continues - I now own a bottle.

Commentary - See above Story. I didn't know what to expect from this whisky. Thought maybe it'd be a sherry bomb with Nevis flair. But it was so much better than that. The fruit, the chocolate, the bitterness, the grunge, all in balance. What a thing. Possibly the best Ben Nevis I've had.
Rating: A-/A (92-94)

Yes, there's a part 2! Maybe it'll be a little shorter. Maybe it'll include a Springbank. I mean, I had to pause this tale somewhere. To be continued on Wednesday.