Japanese Trio: Ichiro’s Malt & Grain Classical Edition, Akkeshi Lidong, Nagahama Inazuma Extra Selected Edition No.2
What you need to know:
- A trio of Japanese whiskies have been released: Ichiro's Malt & Grain Classical Edition, Akkeshi's Lidong and Nagahama's Inazuma Extra Selected No. 2
- Ichiro's Malt & Grain Classical Edition is blended to offer a more "classical taste" which seems to mean a higher proportion of malt whisky used in the blend and also adding a smoky component to it. Whisky is said to have a gorgeous, heavy flavor with a long finish. Bottled at 48%.
- Akkeshi's releases have followed their 24 Solar Terms series, now in the 5th edition - Lidong or Winter Begins. This bottling will use local Hokkaido malt and is said to offer notes of fruit basket, chocolate, bittersweet notes, barbeque. Bottled at 55%.
- Nagahama's Inazuma series features collaborations with other distilleries through swapping of whisky stocks. The new Inazuma Extra Selected Edition No. 2 will feature whisky from Eigashima Distillery (or better known as Akashi). It will use non-peated malt from Nagahama and lightly peated malt from Eigashima, together with other imported foreign malts. It is said to be fruity, refreshing herbs, gentle peat, barrel tannins, with a long finish. Bottled at 47%.
- These bottles have already gone on pre-sale or open sale, with Ichiro's Malt Classical Edition already hitting bars. No word yet on the total outturn for all three releases. You should probably see all of them turn up in full volume in November 2021.
- My opinion is that the demand for them is a little too hot, so chasing them down is probably not worth the trouble or price. If you're keen, hitting a bar to try them is probably a better idea. I'm particularly interested in the Ichiro's Malt Classical Edition and Nagahama's Inazuma.
- Cop the Drop of Not Verdict: Not
From Left to Right: Akkeshi's Lidong, Ichiro's Malt & Grain Classical Edition and Nagahama's Inazuma Extra Selected Edition No. 2
This week we have a trio of Japanese whiskies being released, all of which have been hotly anticipated and booked to the brim in their pre-sales. Particularly the Ichiro's Malt & Grain which has already begun to hit bars. But let's take a look at them properly before we run headfirst fearless into the fray in our hopes of bagging them.
Ichiro’s Malt & Grain Classical Edition
By now, some of you may have spotted a new edition of Ichiro’s Malt & Grain World Blend floating around called the “Classical Edition”.
You know you can always count on David at Aloha Whisky Bar to get his hands on the latest bottles. (Image Source: @AlohaWhisky Instagram)
This new edition to Ichiro’s Malt & Grain repertoire follows from other editions such as the White Label, the Limited Edition and the 505, which was released to help bars tide through the Covid pandemic.
The Classical Edition is said by the distillery to pursue a more “classical taste”, which seems to mean a higher proportion of malt whisky used for the blend and also adding a smoky component to it. The blend will comprise of whiskies sourced from the five major whisky producing regions: Scotland, Japan, Ireland, Canada and the US. These five components were together further matured in the Chichibu climate before bottling at 48% ABV.
Ichiro's continues to focus on using the five major whiskies. (Image Source: @Bar_Villapon Instagram)
We’re told by the distillery that as single malts become increasingly distinctive in their individual styles and personalities, as will blends become more complex, and that inevitably the possibilities become endless for what is possible to create.
This unique blend is said to deliver a gorgeous, heavy flavor supported by the individuality of each component. It has a long finish as well.
Thus far it is still unclear as to whether this will be a limited run bottling or will join Ichiro’s core range as a regular.
The bottle is still on pre-sale on some sites and retailers but has already begun to hit bars and the hands of fans at least in Japan.
The only other distillery in Hokkaido aside from the stalwart, Yoichi, is Akkeshi Distillery, which has been busily releasing bottles since their debut at the start of the year, as part of their 24 Solar Terms series.
The 24 Solar Terms is a traditional Japanese concept that follows the culture’s lunar calendar, where a year can be divided into 24 seasons or solar terms, this includes seasons such as Spring Equinox or the Summer Solstice.
Akkeshi’s goal has been to demonstrate the effect these seasons have on the whiskies produced from the distillery. That said, while some of the bottles released have been purely made of their own distillation (aka legally Japanese whisky), some of them have otherwise been effectively world blends.
The 5th instalment of the 24 Solar Terms series by Akkeshi Distillery, Lidong. (Image Source: Akkeshi)
The distillery is now in their 5th instalment of the series, named Lidong, which is also known as “Winter Begins”, which as the name suggests, is when winter begins. It is technically the 19th Solar Term and signifies the peak longitude of the Sun, after which winter begins to set.
What is particularly exciting about this release is that the label is much more of a color pop than previous labels that have been fairly muted and this is to commemorate a local delicacy known as the Chitose candy that is typically enjoyed during this season.
During the Shichi Go San festival, children are given Chitose-Ame or "One Thousand Year Candy", which comes in a decorative bag featuring cranes, turtles, bamboos and other lucky symbols to wish a long life for the children. In each bag you'll find two long, thin, red or white hard candy, which symbolizes healthy growth and longevity. (Image Source: Japan Centre Blog)
But of course, what’s inside is important as well. The important takeaway here is that this bottling will use locally harvested Hokkaido malt. This is because the local barley is not just twice as costly as imported Scottish barley, but also has a much higher alcohol yield of 80-90%. We are told that this will imbue the whisky with flavors of Satsuma Mandarins, roasted chestnuts and roasted sweet potatoes. Overall, we should expect a richer, sweeter whisky from Akkeshi.
Official Tasting NotesFruit basket, Chocolate, Soy sauce, Citrus sweetness and sourness, Chocolate-like sweetness and bitterness, White pepper, Barbecue, Tangerine-like sweetness.
This bottling will weigh in at 55% ABV and we don’t know yet what the total outturn will be, but we are told to expect it in November 2021. And just a little sidenote, the distillery has mentioned that this bottling will be particularly expensive compared to previous bottlings due to the higher costs of using domestic barley, as well as packaging and distribution.
Nagahama Inazuma Extra Selected Edition No. 2
Nagahama is a fascinating distillery – it is not only the smallest whisky distillery in Japan, its parent is the Roman Beer company which specializes in craft beer-making, but what is really interesting is how they have actively pursued collaborations with other distilleries.
Earlier in the year, the distillery collaborated with Saburomaru Distillery for a “Far East of Peat” release which gave us cute singing goldfishes on its labels, and now they are releasing another collaboration with Eigashima Shuzo Distillery.
This is unique because whisky swapping (as the practice is known) is very much a Scottish practice and has historically not been done in Japan, given that for a long time, there were few yet large Japanese distilleries that were able to produce a wide variety of whisky styles. As a result, the giants like Suntory and Nikka mostly kept to themselves.
Things started to change in the new wave of craft distilleries coming to life in Japan. As these craft distilleries typically have much smaller production capacities and fewer distillation stills; there are only so many variations of whiskies to be created independently. As a result, these craft distilleries have begun to swap whisky stocks with one another in the name of experimentation in creating a wider variety of whiskies.
Inazuma Extra Selected from Nagahama's first collaboration with Saburomaru Distillery and the "bulbul" bird which is native to Saburomaru Distillery's hometown Toyama City. (Image Source: JP Whisky.net)
This is particularly important in the area of blends as most craft distilleries have no grain whisky production ability, and hence must swap stocks to get their hands on the much needed key ingredient of a good blended whisky. Especially if they want to comply with the new JSLMA regulations to qualify as Japanese whiskies, they will need to find locally distilled grain whiskies.
Eigashima Shuzo Distillery or White Oak Distillery is known for their Akashi line of whiskies. (Image Source: The Whisky Exchange)
Eigashima Shuzo Distillery is better known as White Oak Distillery and most Japanese whisky fans would probably be familiar with their Akashi line of whiskies. It might surprise some to know that Eigashima Distillery is actually the first licensed whisky maker in Japan.
What’s interesting about this collaboration is that White Oak is one of the big Japanese whisky stalwarts, as such it is certainly a curiosity as to what White Oak is doing collaborating with a significantly smaller, younger distillery.
This collaboration will come in the form of the Inazuma Extra Selected Edition No. 2 bottling, part of the Inazuma line. The Inazuma series also featured collaborations with Saburomaru Distillery for two bottlings, “Synergy Blend” and “Extra Selected”.
The second Inazuma collaboration, this time with Eigashima Distillery, featuring the stork, native to Eigashima's Hyogo prefecture. (Image Source: Nagahama)
The Inazuma series consistently spots a label which features Lake Biwa (where Nagahama Distillery is located) and also native birds of their collaborator’s prefecture, symbolizing the friendly relationship between the two distilleries. Previous collaborations with Saburomaru Distillery featured the “bulbul” bird, the mascot of Toyama City where Saburomaru is based, while the new release will feature storks which are native to the Hyogo prefecture, where Eigashima Distillery is based.
The distillery tells us that for this bottling, “Non-peat malt raw liquor distilled at Nagahama Distillery and lightly-peated malt raw liquor distilled at Eigashima Distillery are blended with other imported foreign malt liquor carefully to complement each other. We have created a blended recipe with the aim of enhancing each other's "extra" taste.”
The Inazuma Extra Selected Edition No. 2 with Eigashima Distillery. What will No. 3 bring? 🤔 (Image Source: Nagahama)
Official Tasting NotesColorAmber Color.NoseThe top note has a refreshing, fruity aroma reminiscent of grapefruit, and a refreshing accent of herbs and mint. Gradually, the peat scent reminiscent of the seaside tide rises.PalateVery smooth on the palate, accented with ripe red apples, dried fruits and berries behind a fresh orange. Comfortable tannins from barrels.FinishThe finish is long and the soft peat scent disappears when shaken.
This is bottled at 47% ABV, no word yet on total outturn, and will go on sale 9 November 2021.
As usual, the demand for Japanese whiskies are exceptionally hot and even in pre-sale, these whiskies have been completely wiped, though you’ll probably start seeing them come out in the secondary market in the coming month. That said, they’re all mostly contained within Japan, so if you’ve got some good contacts in Japan, you’ve got a pretty good shot of bagging at least one of them.
Otherwise, our opinion across all of them is that they are likely overpriced and just a little too hard to find and we’ll likely see more versions and iterations from these distilleries. After all, Akkeshi has 19 solar terms left to go and Nagahama remains a very small distillery and so you’ll likely see more collaborations in the works, and Chichibu well, there are plenty of Ichiro’s Malt blends out there, such as the 505 which I believe is quite easy to pick up and I believe will become more sought after in due time.
You're better off heading to your favorite bar to try some of these new releases than breaking a sweat trying to find them yourself. (Image Source: @BarNemuri Instagram)
For all three of them, Cop the Drop or Not Verdict: Not
Of course, if you’re a dedicated fan, there’s really no stopping you is there? But for drinkers, I would say your best shot is to try it at a local bar rather than try and bag one whole bottle yourself. Taste-wise, I do imagine the Ichiro’s Malt Classical Edition and the Nagahama Inazuma Extra Selected No. 2 to be quite tasty, still not sold on Akkeshi unfortunately!
You might also find interesting...
- The story of how the little Chichibu distillery came to be the most sought after Japanese whisky in the world [Part 1]
- Akkeshi Kanro and Usui Japanese Whisky
- Not all Japanese whiskies come from Japan. A new labelling rule means you'll now know if your favourite Japanese whisky really is Japanese.
Happy Hunting and Kanpai!
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