...where distraction is the main attraction.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Nikka Tsuru 17 year old blended whisky

I don't know much about today's whisky, but I could not pass up a chance to try a 17 year old Nikka thingamabob. "Tsuru" comes from the surname of Japanese whisky pioneer and Nikka founder, Masataka Taketsuru. Taketsuru = bamboo crane. Tsuru = crane. Cranes decorated the bottom half of the white phallic ceramic decanter when Nikka chose that format. The same birds adorned the stopper of Tsuru's glass bottle editions. The Tsuru line also had a cheaper NAS version for some time.

Some sites say the Tsurus were retired in 2016-2017, while other folks say they tried the whisky at Yoichi distillery not too long ago. Either way, I'm pretty sure the Tsurus were blended whiskies, acting almost like little siblings to the Taketsuru blended malt range.

Ownership: Nikka
Range: Tsuru
Type: Blended Whisky
Region: Japan (and others?)
Distilleries: Miyagikyo, Yoichi, and Nishinomiya (and others?)
Age: at least 17 years
Maturation: ???
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
(from a bottle split)


The nose is a bit vague and blurry at first. Some nondescript fruits and florals, with peanuts and almonds, gentle toasted oak. But, the citrus fruit notes sharpen with time, baking spices appear, and at times it smells like a bag of mixed Kasugai gummies.

The Nishinomiya grain seems to control the palate. It's very sweet, with some oranges and cream(-ish) sherry. Sometimes ashy, other times cardboardy, but frequently bitter, it doesn't work well as a sipper.

The palate's sweetness dominates the finish. Black pepper, tannins, and tangy citrus stay far behind.


I probably should have put this in an (expensive) mizuwari, because that must have been its purpose. One can't help but compare it to Chivas 18yo, thinking of all the great malt content buried within the blend. It smells nice, but even 17 year old grain whisky smells nice, and a higher ABV may not have solved the palate. A standard 17yo Nikka blend sounds like a very good idea in the current marketplace (or always), so perhaps this could be resurrected with a little more Yoichi in the recipe, perhaps?

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - ???
Rating - 77

Friday, March 17, 2023

Chichibu 2021 US Edition

I end this Chichibu week with a whisky I've eyed many times, and would have purchased blindly had it been $100 cheaper. Unlike the 2020 US Edition, the 2021 is not peated. And it has a bit more oak in the recipe. This time there are three new oak barrels, three new oak hoggies, and four first-fill barrels. Looks like Ichiro Akuto's crew is showing the US some love via the use of shiny, unsullied American oak. Will the spirit survive???

Distillery: Chichibu #1
Location: Chichibu, Saitama Prefecture, Japan
Ownership: Venture Whisky
Range: US Editions
Age: ???
Maturation: 10 casks, see above
Outturn: 2150 bottles
Exclusive to: USA
Alcohol by Volume: 53.5%
(from a bottle split)


A burst of toasted barley reaches my nose first, followed by fruits similar to my fine single cask (okay, it's not MY cask, but gosh I wish it was): first kiwis and guavas, then citrons. Some lovely notes of roses, moss, ocean, and candied pecans pass through the background. A dunnage note leads the palate, followed by lots of sweetness via orange candy and National-Distillers-esque(!) butterscotch. It gains plenty of non-woody bitterness with time, as well as some caramel candy and chile heat. It finishes sweet and peppery, almost smoky, with some limes and caramel candy too.

DILUTED to 46%abv, or 1 tsp of water per 30mL whisky

The nose simplifies and focuses on kiwi, guava, candied pecans, and a bright mintiness. The creamy palate offers grapefruits, cherries, peach creamsicles, and a touch of barrel char. It finishes with maraschino cherries, limes, earth, and caramel candy.


Yes indeed, this is Chichibu for the American palate. It's almost like they mixed 10% great bourbon in with 90% classic 'Bu. And I like it. I don't think it's the distillery at its best, but all those fruits cannot be silenced, so it's still a powerful single malt. Though it's out of my price range, 8-10 year old Chichibu from a refill barrel sounds mighty fine right now. If I can source it, I will review it. But for now I take little issue with this American Chichibu.

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - I'd rather not look
Rating - 88

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Chichibu 2020 Peated US Edition

Chichibu has released one US Edition each year since 2018. Their 2019 version was dreamy, or, rather, "flabbergasting". That one was unpeated, while their 2020 Edition was peated. I enjoy both types of Chichibu spirit, so I've been looking forward to this one no less than Monday's pour, maybe even a touch more.

Though the bottle's label doesn't provide an age statement (though Whiskybase says five years), it does list the cask types and numbers of the whisky's ingredients: four first-fill bourbon barrels, three refill bourbon barrels, two refill Chibidaru (quarter casks), and one refill "wine" cask. At this point I trust this distillery's blending more than nearly any other producer in the world, so let's have at it!

actual abv: 55.5%
Distillery: Chichibu #1
Location: Chichibu, Saitama Prefecture, Japan
Ownership: Venture Whisky
Range: US Editions
Age: maybe 5 years old?
Maturation: 10 casks, see above
Outturn: 2109 bottles
Exclusive to: USA
Alcohol by Volume: 55.5%
(from a bottle split)


Much like Yoichi's older malts, this Chichibu's nose is not overwhelming peaty, instead it's right in the Goldilocks Zone. A little bit o' farm, a touch of industry, and a few band-aids. Menthol, mango, and milk chocolate make up the rest. Uh-oh, the palate lands right in the Caol Ila / direct-fired Ardmore plane. Salty bonfire smoke, sweet oranges, and tart limes, with a bitter herbal rumble underneath. The citrus outlasts the smoke in the finish, while dried herbs and salt stay around even longer.

DILUTED to 46%abv, or 1¼ tsp of water per 30mL whisky

The nose becomes a little louder. More farm, more ocean, wet stones. Less industry. Hints of grapefruit and guava in the background. The palate reads very salty, almost brothy. Limes and minerals in the middle. Soil in the back. The mouthfeel has become surprisingly thin. It finishes with limes, salt, and minerals.


A peated style seemingly tailored for my palate, this Chichibu could take on many of the better casks of the distilleries referenced in the notes above. It only shows its youth when diluted, while at full strength it seems like a 12-18 year old aged in 2nd-fill casks. The quarter casks and wine cask seem to have merged with the others without making a fuss, giving that spirit plenty of room to shine. Yep, another winner from Chichibu.

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - ???
Rating - 89

Monday, March 13, 2023

Chichibu 2019 Travel Exclusive

If you haven't noticed, I like Chichibu's single malt, A LOT. For my palate, it's the lone young distillery (in the world) whose quality matches its hype. How they have nailed a high quality product at such a young age is a complete mystery to me. I just hope they keep on doing it, and perhaps release something under $300 someday.

I will be reviewing three Chichibus this week, with each whisky sparring against my fab lone bottle of the 'Bu. First up is the 2019 Travel Exclusive release. Yes, the travel retail market continues to be uninspiring, but perhaps the Saitama single malt can work its magic even on the brightly lit shelves of Haneda and Narita duty free stores...

Distillery: Chichibu #1
Location: Chichibu, Saitama Prefecture, Japan
Ownership: Venture Whisky
Range: Ichiro's Malt
Age: ???
Maturation: ???
Outturn: ??? bottles
Exclusive to: Japan Duty Free shops
Alcohol by Volume: 57.5%
(from a bottle split)


The nose begins simple, though unremarkable, just barley, caramel, and a hint of vanilla. It takes time for the fruit to arrive, but when it does it is good, and there are flowers. Mangos and citrons. Roses and jasmine blossoms. Ovaltine lurks somewhere back there......then shows up in the palate, all malty and milk chocolatey. The same barley, mangos, and roses appear here too. It's all very sweet until tart and bitter citrus balances things out. Maybe some cloves in the background? It finishes sweetly. Lime candy, clementines, a little bit of banana. Plenty malty.

DILUTED to 46%abv, or 1½ tsp of water per 30mL whisky

Bye bye, vanilla and caramel. Hello, oranges and guavas on the nose, with hints of lime and pine needles underneath. Tart, bitter, and sweet citrus dominate the palate, with that maltiness still rippling along. It finishes with good doses of tart citrus and smoky chiles.


This is the first Chichibu I've had that feels a little young and slightly oaky. A contemporary version of Chichibu perhaps? It is still very very good whisky. The palate rocks at full strength. The whole thing loses some complexity when diluted, but expands its great citrus notes. So it's another one I'd love to have at any time, but not the distillery's A-game, which may be why it was shuttled out to the airport.

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - ???
Rating - 85

Friday, March 10, 2023

Bourbon and Rye Day Friday: Hayner Original 6 year old Rye Whiskey

Though my friend, Heather, a lifelong Ohioan, is a bourbon fan, she's less keen on rye. She knows I'm a fan, so when her dad opened his bottle of Hayner 6 year old rye, she brilliantly saved me a 2oz sample. Thank you, Heather!

Hayner Distilling Co is a legally licensed distiller located in Troy, OH, but they bottle other producers' distillate. And they are fully transparent about that. For instance, their website lists the four bourbons that go into their Straight Bourbon Whiskey, as well as the mashbills and percentages of each whiskey. Diving for Pearls approves! Their Original 6 year rye, with its vintage label, is 100% MGP 95/5 rye. Diving for Pearls double approved!

BTW, it has been more than 5 years since I've reviewed an indie bottling of MGP rye. 'Twas an Old Scout, reviewed two weeks after my younger daughter Beatrice was born. Beatrice now drives a BMW X5. How time flies.

Yes, I already tucked into it. It's frickin' MGP rye, people.

Brand: Hayner
RegionTroy, Ohio (Distilled in Lawrenceburg, Indiana)
Age: at least 8 years
Mashbill: 95% rye, 5% malted barley
Maturation: 5 five years in new oak, then moved to another new oak barrel for one more year
Alcohol by Volume45%
(sample from my buddy!)


A massive note of marble rye with pickles leads the nose. Pine sap and halvah fill the middle, with cherry candy and plum wine in the back. The bready, gently peppery, dry palate goes very light on the sweetness (a big plus on this site). Tangy berries, crisp green bell peppers, and mint leaves make up the rest. It finishes dry and salty, with mint, pickle brine, and ginger beer.


I forgot how much I enjoy MGP 95/5 rye. The nose's first note is a like a reassuring old friend, one I've missed so. The Hayner 6yo stood up to its sparring partner, Lot No. 40, more than adequately. In fact, hell, I liked it better. It won't spin your head on your shoulders like the Willet MGP single barrels, but it's a high quality sipper, if you dig this style. I dig this style. Might have to stop by the distillery shop...

Availability - At the distillery shop
Pricing - $49.95
Rating - 85

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Kanosuke 1 year old 2018 New Born

Kanosuke is another one of Japan's baby distilleries, and by that I don't mean they distill babies, despite the name of today's product. Owner Komasa Jozo produced a barrel-aged shochu for decades before firing up the Kanosuke pot stills in 2017. Their whisky is now old enough to be whisky, with some 3-4 year old bottlings appearing over the past couple of years. But before that, the company sold "New Born" spirit (1-2 years old) in 20cL bottles. Intrigued, I split one of these bottles with Dr. Springbank...

Distillery: Kagoshima
Range: New Born
Location: Kagoshima, Kagoshima, Japan
Ownership: Komasa Jozo
Age: 1 year (May 2018 - May 2019)
Maturation: "white oak casks"
Alcohol by Volume: 58%
(from my half of the bottle pictured)


Breakfast cereal oat clusters, pie crust, marshmallows, and caramel show up first in the nose, followed by a little bit of pine sap and some floral but farty ethyl. (Floral But Farty Ethel Merman is the name of my indie band.) Whew, that palate is capital 'N' New. Not far from raw spirit, kind of like malted rye white dog. Mostly burning, cassia, and peppercorns. And that's its finish as well.

DILUTED to 46%abv, or 1½ tsp of water per 30mL new born

The nose has simplified and focused into Nillas and graham crackers floating in ethanol. The palate has become very sweet, loaded with cherry candies up front, white bread crust and peppercorns in the back. It finishes like sweetened white dog.


You may or may not have noticed that I did not begin this post's title with "Things I Really Drink". Though I do have this bottle, I'll be damned if I can get through 30mL of this stuff in a sitting. It's very raw without being actual new make. I should have bought their New Pot rather than this par-baked stuff. Their warehouses likely hold some five year-old single malt. I'd be much more interested in those casks than their New Born products.

Availability - Still around 3 years later
Pricing - $25-$30 depending on exchange rates
Rating - 71

Monday, March 6, 2023

Shizuoka 3 year old 2017, cask 2017-026 for Hasegawasaketen

Gaia Flow created something a bit different in Shizuoka distillery. Unlike most Japanese whisky distillers, some of their barley is sourced from local farmers. Inspired by sake production, the owners had several washbacks fashioned from local cedar trees. Their wash still is wood-fired, and somehow they acquired an old Karuizawa still which functions as one of their spirit stills. Clearly, Shizuoka aims for their own specific style.

But what will it be? The distillery started production in late 2016, and their oldest single malt is about five years old now, so unless they've discovered some sort of Chichibu-type miracle, plenty of time needs to pass to see how the whisky develops.

Today I'm opening my lone Shizuoka sample, a single bourbon cask bottled for Hasegawasaketen, a six-shop sake/liquor retailer in Tokyo. Its spirit was distilled using the Karuizawa spirit still and the wood-fired wash still (denoted as KS + WS on the bottle label).

Distillery: Shizuoka
Location: wait for it..........Shizuoka, Shizuoka, Japan
Ownership: Gaia Flow
Age: 3 years (18 Nov 2017 - 27 Apr 2021)
Maturation: bourbon cask
Cask #: 2017-026
Outturn: 263 bottles
Exclusive to: Hasegawasaketen
Alcohol by Volume: 51.6%
(from a bottle split)


It has a simple crisp nose. Honey over apples, bananas, and lemon slices. Pinot Grigio, and a hint of dijon mustard. The palate starts of with barley and pears. A little of lemon juice and honey. Witbier, kirsch, and a mineral hint. It's very sweet and new, right through the finish, where there's pear brandy, rock candy, and a lemon shady. (Sorry, not sorry.)

DILUTED to ~46%abv, or ¾ tsp of water per 30mL whisky

The nose still has that light Pinot Grigio fruitiness with a touch of minerals. Subtler notes of shortbread, white chocolate, and mint extract linger in the background. The palate is simply marshmallows, barley, and ginger ale, and the finish shows the same.


Though quite decent for a three-year-old whisky, this Shizuoka is still but a three-year-old whisky. Plenty of bright fruits appear in the nose, while beer, eau de vie, and sugar ripple throughout palate. It's thankfully free of vodka and ethyl notes, though I wonder if the low (for 3yo whisky) ABV has something to do with that.

While I appreciate the distillery's technical measures, it's difficult to divine anything about their future from a three-year-old whisky. Though I would normally grouse further about such a young release, this single malt reads fully-matured compared to the subject of my next review.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - ???
Rating - 82

Friday, March 3, 2023

Bourbon and Rye Day Friday: Knob Creek 15 year old bourbon, batch KC002

After a 5+ year hiatus, BARD Friday returns! As with all my reviews, I give you no promises regarding the BARD whiskies' relevance, though it's still cheaper and easier to buy contemporary bourbons and ryes compared to single malt scotch, especially here in The Midwest.

Let's start the fun with the KC002 batch of Knob Creek 15, which was released either in 2021 or 2022. As I'm sure I've written many times, Knob Creek and I have a weird relationship. In general, I almost always prefer rye over bourbon in everything from sippin' to mixin'. But I like the Knob Creek brand's bourbon a lot more than its rye, to the point that I'm unmotivated to ever try another KC rye. On the positive side, yay KC bourbon! Here's the oldest one I've had.

pic source
Owner: Beam Suntory
Brand: Knob Creek
Distillery: Jim Beam Distillery
Location: Clermont, Kentucky
Mash Bill: 77% Corn, 13% Rye, 10% Malted Barley (I think)
Age: minimum 15 years
Batch: KC002
ABV: 50% ABV
(from a bottle split)


Pretty fruit notes arrive early in the nose, with pineapple, lemon zest, and cherry jello ringing the loudest. A hint of honey drifts towards flower blossoms with time. Soft whiffs of confections. And, yes, plenty of earthy char.

An intense burst of cherry candy meets almost-smoky levels of barrel char in the palate. Cinnamon, mint leaf, and salt rest in the middle, lemon and honey in the back.

Tannins fill the finish, yet do not wreck the tongue. Smaller touches of salt, lemon, blossoms, and mint leaf cower beneath.


The adorable nose wins, of course. Though quite good, the palate is prevented from ascending further by the brutality of charred white oak, something I frequently find in >12yo bourbons. It's like the leveling-off of a mountain. We never see the top, just an early plateau. This whiskey still works very well though, and may be one of the best contemporary 15yo bourbons I've had, though that's not saying much.

I would absolutely drink this again! And if you don't mind tannin aggression, I hope you find Knob Creek 15 year old at its SRP.

Availability - USA
Pricing - anywhere from $100 to $300
Rating - 84

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Eigashima 12 year old, cask 5113

Somehow I've gotten this far without reviewing an Eigashima / White Oak / Akashi single malt. That ends now!

Eigashima Shuzo allegedly became the first officially licensed Japanese whisky distiller when they picked up their license in 1919 (four years before Yamazaki), but I'm not sure until the family-run company really invested in production until the 1980s, once the current distillery opened. Nonetheless, I'm still going to root for this wee producer, because I'm really hoping that as the smaller Japanese whisky-makers (Chichibu, Mars, Eigashima, Kanosuke, Shizuoka, Okayama, Kurayokshi, and on and on and on) release high quality age-stated single malts SOMETHING will inspire the two majors (Suntory and Nikka) to do the same, damn it.

So far Eigashima's ≥12yo releases number in the single digits. And here's one of them, a single sherry butt of 12 year old stuff flexing a 60%abv.

Distillery: Eigashima
Location: Akashi, Hyōgo, Japan (between Himeji and Kobe)
Ownership: Eigashima Shuzo, Co. Ltd.
Age: 12 years (???? - ????)
Maturation: sherry butt
Cask #: 5113
Alcohol by Volume: 60%
(from a bottle split)


Oh nice, 'twas a gentle butt. The nose shows citrons and limes, as well as their blossoms. Almond extract and candied pecans. Clover honey and cinnamon red hots. Hints of anise and maple in the background. But then there's the palate. First comes a mix of soil, black peppercorns, and green peppercorns. But really it's like you forgot about the ribs on the grill and burned them to shit but then took a bite just to find out what carcinogens taste like. I think there are some sweet oranges in the back, but my palate is murdered. It finishes with nothing but savory ash.

Time to go Full Ralfy on the dilution.

DILUTED to 45%abv, or 2 tsp of water per 30mL whisky

The nose remains very pretty with honey, anise, citrus blossoms, and a whiff of delicate smoke. The palate isn't as pushy, but it's still mostly bitter smoke with a touch of lemon candy in the background. It finishes with bitter ash and lemon peel.


This is the sort of "smoke" that feels like an accident. The nose and palates come from two different planets, or rather two different multiverses (since that's what kids are told to be into these days). It smells lovely. It tastes......like an oops. An interesting oops, but still an oops.

Dram Dracula, a nice reliable fellow who I've come across in online whisky groups, gives it an 85, but qualifies it with "Not something I would want to drink again, if I may super honest." I'm currently using it as a smoky rinse for my Ginza cocktails. Next time around I'll seek out a bourbon cask from Eigashima at a lower abv. Hopefully that delivers better results.

Availability - ???
Pricing - ???
Rating - 78 (saved by the nose)