Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Wild Turkey 8 Year

Distillery: Wild Turkey
Age: 8 Years
Proof: 101 (50.5% ABV)
Price: JPY 2500

This is the youngest Wild Turkey bottling to bear an age statement. In terms of age, it sits between Wild Turkey 101 and Wild Turkey 12 Year. Wild Turkey 101, though it doesn't bear an age statement, is a blend of 6-8 year whiskey. This means that the Wild Turkey 8-year shouldn't be substantially different from the 101.

In the past, Wild Turkey 8 year was available in the US. Over time, however, the age statement disappeared. At first, it was replaced with the phrase "No. 8," but this phase eventually disappeared as well. Japanese consumers place a strong emphasis on age statements, however, so this expression has remained available in Japan even after disappearing from shelves in the US.

At half the price of the Wild Turkey 12 Year, however, you would expect that it won't be quite as good (and you'd be right). It's got all the flavors that make the 12 Year great, but those extra four years really calm down these flavors so that they're working in unison and not fighting for your attention. That's not to say that the 8 Year is bad. It's a pretty good whiskey for a pretty good price, it's just somewhat of a let down considering how amazing the 12 Year is.

Looking at the glass, the color is a tawny brown. Enough light shines through to betray the fact that flavors will not be particularly decadent. About what you would expect from an 8 year bourbon.

Right off the bat there is a lot of wood flavor vying for your attention along with the 50.5% of the bourbon that consists of alcohol. Once those two settle in you get those classic caramel and vanilla flavors of the Wild Turkey taste profile that you know and love with a little bit more wood. All in all, it is more similar Wild Turkey 101 than the 12 Year, which is to be expected given that similarity in both age and price point.

Verdict: A good bourbon, but there are much better exclusives to the Japanese market. If you are a Wild Turkey fan, consider picking one of these up if you can't find the 12 year (now that it is out of production).

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Wild Turkey 13 Year Distiller's Reserve

Distillery: Wild Turkey
Age: 13 Years
Proof: 91 (45.5% ABV)
Price: JPY 6000

Filling out the age statement Wild Turkey produced for the Japanese market is the Wild Turkey 13 year. Even though its the oldest member of the bunch, its doesn't really taste that way.

According to the explanation on the side of the box, the 13 Year is specially selected from barrels that aged on the lower levels of the rickhouse. This drives the alcohol content down and also makes the barrels age more slowly than those higher in the rickhouse. Accordingly, all 13 years that this bourbon has spent in the barrel are not borne out in the taste profile.

Wild Turkey used to distill at a lower proof than other distillers, allowing the company to add less water to the finished product and, according to the company, achieve a richer flavor. It stands to reason that a lower proof going into the barrel means there is less margin for error in the aging process. I have a suspicion that the 13 year was in part created in part to allow Wild Turkey to sell aged bourbons that had fallen below 101 proof mark at a premium price. This makes a lot of sense in Japan where age statements sell bottles.

The bottom line is that even though this bourbon is one year older than the Wild Turkey 12 Year, it tastes younger and has more in common with the Wild Turkey 8 Year.

This bourbon also seems to be geared toward the Japanese pallet (e.g., I.W. Harper 12 Year, Four Roses Platinum) which makes it a milder experience overall than the Wild Turkey 12 Year, but overall the flavors are more balanced. This bourbon would work very well in a highball, which is unfortunately how a lot of high end whiskey is consumed in Japan.

The nose is somewhat deceiving. It has the beautifully developed nose of the Wild Turkey 12 year that is not backed up by the flavor.

Upon tasting, you can immediately tell this is related to the 8 and 12 year. A little more spice and a little more balance than the 8 year overall. The dark caramel flavors that predominated the 12 year are missing, but there is not as much vying for the attention of your pallet as there was with the 8 year.

Honestly, this bourbon seems like it was made to be given as a gift, probably to someone who doesn't know much about bourbon. The packaging includes a box, it has a nice 13-year age statement and is marked as "distiller's reserve." Unfortunately, your paying for what's on the outside of the bottle as much as you are paying for what's inside.

Verdict: Save your money for something else like Blanton's Straight from the Barrel.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Wild Turkey 12 Year

Distillery: Wild Turkey
Age: 12 Years
Proof: 101 (50.5% ABV)
Price: JPY 5500

Wild Turkey 12 Year didn't used to be export only. In the past, Wild Turkey would release limited edition bottling. The older of these had a gold label, while later editions had a "split-label" where the age statement appeared on a separate smaller label lower down on the body of the bottle. I tasted the gold label variety at Cask Strength and it was very good. One of the best bourbons I have ever tasted.

Does this bottle measure up? No, but it's still very good.

The 12 Year sits in the middle of the age-stated Wild Turkey offerings - at four years older than the 8 Year and 1 Year younger than the 13 Year. Those four extra years in the barrel compared 8 Year have really made a difference.

The nose has a lot of dark fruit and brown sugar. It smells very similar to the Blanton's Straight From the Barrel.

The taste really lives up to the nose. Its sweet at first with caramel and moving to lots of wood. It tastes the way bourbon should, which is not surprising given that Wild Turkey uses a standard (13% rye) mash bill.

Wild Turkey 12 is very good but has recently gone out of production. While this bourbon can still be found on shelves with some diligence, it is only getting hard to find. Some online sites are now asking around JPY 15,000 per bottle.

Verdict: Highly recommended. One of the best Japanese-only bourbons.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Ancient Ancient Age 8 Year

Distillery: Buffalo Trace (under contract with Age International)
Age: 8 Years
Proof: 86 (43% ABV)
Price: JPY 1400-2600

Ancient Ancient Age 8 Year sits between the Ancient Ancient Age 10 Star, which is about 6-years-old, and the Ancient Ancient Age 10 Year. It shares its mash bill (BT#2) with Blanton's, another Age International expression, but its taste profile is a little sweeter and it is a little less complicated overall.

Ancient Ancient Age 8 Year is 86 proof, four proof lower than the Ancient Ancient Age 10 Star. The dilution seems to balance out the additional two years of aging compared to the Ancient Ancient Age 10-star and also affects the color.

Aside from the "8 year" on the label, the design is essentially the same as other Ancient Ancient Age expressions.

It's not as dark as you might think, given that its 8 years old, but its a little darker than Ancient Age 10 Star.

The bourbon is sweet, spicy and with lots of woody tannins (even though its only 8 years old). Ancient Age, like Blanton's, is made using Buffalo Trace's high rye mash bill (#2) and it really shows. The spiciness of the rye and the wood really define the flavor and overwhelm the sweetness of the corn.

Though Ancient Ancient Age and Ancient Ancient Age 10 Star are fairly easy to find, the 8 year is rather scarce. In fact, the 10 year is probably easier to find than the 8 year and the prices between the 8 and 10 year are almost identical.

Verdict: All-in-all, this bourbon is more similar to the Ancient Ancient Age 10 Star than the Ancient Ancient Age 10 Year. The harsher alcohol flavors are still present and the taste profile hasn't evened out in the way Ancient Ancient Age 10 Year's flavor has. As is the case with many bourbons, this one improves a lot once it's warmed up in your glass. I don't mind drinking this bourbon, but given its price and scarcity save some room in your cabinet (or suitcase) for something else.

Thursday, January 30, 2014


Neighborhood: Roppongi
Address: Main Stage Roppongi Building B1F, 3-9-11 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo
六本木ビル B1F 東京都港区六本木3-9-11
Capacity: 40+
Seating Charge: JPY 1000
Bourbon Selection: Good
English Menu: No

Cask is a bourbon and Scotch bar with a small but curated selection of bourbon, including many antique bottles.

Cask is located in the basement of the Main Stage Roppongi Building down the hill from Roppongi Crossing toward Akasaka. Even though the website states that it closed as of June 2013, it is still very much open, but due to the change of name from "Cask" to "Cask Strength" and a modification of the logo it seems to have undergone a change in management. I will refer to it as "Cask," for the remainder of this post.  It has a good selection of bourbon and a great selection of Scotch. In the case of bourbon, their real strength is found in their selection of antique bourbons.

The layout of the bar is simple. A long bar that will seat about 15 people extends along one side of the room with the whisky stacked to the ceiling behind it. There are a few private rooms for larger parties. A staff member will take your coat as you take your seat.

As I mentioned, Scotch is this bar's real strength. About 1/8 of the space behind the bar was devoted to bourbon, while the remainder is overtaken by towers of Scotch. On each shelf, the bottles are stacked three deep - which leads to the real problem with this bar.

Cask doesn't maintain a menu or any sort of comprehensive list of all the whisky that is available. This wouldn't be a problem except that only the bottles on the front row (approx. 1/3 of the inventory) is visible. For the remainder, you have to ask the bartender and this conversation plays out like a game of Go Fish.  Nevertheless, I spied a few rarer modern bourbons: Eagle Rare 17 and Elijah Craig 20. Pappy and other Buffalo Trace Antiques were unaccounted for.

In the end, the best thing to do is ask the bartender for his recommendation. I told the bartender that I tend to like higher proof aged bourbons and he suggested Old Ezra 101 15, Wild Turkey 12 (Limited Edition) and Elijiah Criag 18. Both the Old Ezra 15 and the Wild Turkey 12 Gold Label were excellent. The Gold Label was produced in the late 80s and early 90s and is considered among the best Wild Turkey bottlings.

Once I had picked my poison, the other short coming of this bar became manifest - the glassware. Now, I am rather finicky when it comes to glassware, but if you order your whiskey straight, it comes in a shot glass. I think you will agree that this is ludicrous. Whisky that is ordered on the rocks, on the other hand, comes in a nice tumbler with a spherical ball of ice. This almost makes ordering your drink on the rocks worth it, notwithstanding the fact that it would ruin the flavor.

I have mentioned that Cask's strength is antique bourbon and they do have a good collection. I saw Early Times, Very Very Old Fitzgerald and Old Crow, all from the 50s or 60s. There were likely even more bottles in the second or third row, but all of these were too rich for my blood at JPY 6,000 per shot.

That brings me to another point. A "shot" at Cask is less than 30mL. The bartender will very carefully measure out each drink in a jigger so that it is slightly less than 30mL.

Sitting along the front of the bar is the real pièce de résistance: Black Bowmore, White Bowmore, Gold Bowmore and a bottle of Wm. J. Friday 1870 Brand pre-prohibition rye. As my taste tend heavily toward American whisky, I gave the Wm. J. Friday a shot.

The Wm. J. Friday Rye was made at a distillery bearing the same name sometime between when the distillery opened in 1879 and when it closed in 1918. The bottle didn't state which year it was from (or carry any age statement at all) and there were no markings on the bottom of the bottle.

The Wm. J. Friday was very good. The color was very dark and it had great brown sugar and banana notes. There was a maturity and character to it that I have not seen in contemporary ryes.

All in all, Cask is a great place for Scotch and a decent place for bourbon - very good if you are looking for antique bourbons, but with prices that are a little higher than similar bars.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Blanton's Straight From the Barrel

Distillery: Buffalo Trace (under contract with Age International)
Age: NAS
Proof: 132.7 (66.35% ABV)
Price: JPY 4500

Blanton's - the brand credited with creating the idea of a single barrel bourbon - at cask strength.  

As you can see, in this case, barrel strength means 132.7 proof (66.35% ABV). Most of the bottles I have seen are a little above 130 proof. This is a little higher than Booker's, which is normally in the 120s, but not far off. A 5% difference doesn't make that much of a difference at this level.

Blanton's Straight from the Barrel is non-chill filtered, which means it becomes cloudy with the addition of water or ice. I think this adds a little more body to this bourbon compared to its diluted brethren. I normally drink this as-is, without the addition of water or ice, but a drop or two of water can sometimes open up the aroma and flavor. Because it is non-chill filtered, each drop of water creates a little vortex of esters that swirl through the glass.

The bourbon smells like brown sugar, lemon, vanilla and dark fruits. As it warms up the lemon/citrus flavor falls away and dark fruits become more prominent.

This is forward, aggressive and masculine, as you would expect from such a high proof bourbon. Lots of dark fruits and woody tannins.  It really lives up the nose. It is not, however, "hot" and the burn of the alcohol is not as pronounced as you might expect given the proof. The wood is somewhat surprising given that its probably only about six years old, but the woodiness is not unpleasant and should not be taken as a sign of over aging. 

Verdict: Buy it, even if you don't like Blanton's Single Barrel. 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A.H. Hirsch

A.H. Hirsch is both a brand and a bourbon and it may very well be the best bourbon you'll never taste.

A.H. Hirsch was produced in 1974 at the Pennco Distillery (later Michter's) in Shaefferstown, PA under contract for Adolph Hirsch. It was matured on the grounds of the distillery until the distillery went bankrupt in 1989. The bourbon was rescued before the sale of the distillery's assets and sold to Gordon Hue.

Hue's plan was to sell the bourbon under the brand A.H. Hirsch in the Japanese market. At this time, Japan was booming as a bourbon market and extra-aged bottlings commanded quite a premium. Hue didn't bottle the bourbon himself, but instead enlisted the help of Julian Van Winkle (yes, that one) to bottle each of the expressions. The 15-year-old expression of A.H. Hirsch was bottled in 1989/1990 and the first batch of the 16-year-old expression a year later. These early bottling were sold entirely in the Japanese market.

At this point, the majority of the bourbon was placed in stainless steel vats to arrest the aging process, though a small amount continued to age for up to 20 years.

The Hue family later sold the bourbon to Preiss Imports who bottled the remainder of the bourbon. These are the bottlings available in the U.S. Preiss Imports's bottling of the 16-year-old expression is known as the "gold foil" version and is the most ubiquitous of all bottlings.

Preiss Imports still owns the Hirsch brand and has put out various bottling (many of them very old) under the "Hirsch" name. Even though they bear the "Hirsch" name, these later bottling share nothing else in common with the A.H. Hirsch.