In a half tipsy stupor from merrymaking at yatai food stores with the friendly folks of Fukuoka, I clamoured towards Bar Westie @barwestie2015, a whisky bar that I chanced upon earlier in the morning. Even with the chilly windy weather of the night, I was still burning up from the oyuwari shochu I had with my oden earlier (shochu chased with boiling water, a favourite in Kyushu).
The sign 御一人様でもお気軽にどうぞ translates to “Solo guests are welcome”, perfectly describing my situation as I was travelling alone at that point of time.
The bar master was deeply knowledgeable in his whiskies, advising the other patrons of his cozy bar with lore about their tipples. I found myself trying to catch on to every word he said while nursing my first dram.
The billboard for Bar Westie. Photo from Google Maps.
Moving on from my warm-up dram, the array of Akkeshi bottles caught my attention at the top of the bar. With barely serviceable Japanese, I requested for a peated single malt of the Akkeshi (there were 10 different malts and the bar master had to explain to me each one of them), not knowing it would’ve been the Akkeshi Taisetsu, of the Akkeshi 24 Solar Term series.
The 24 season calendar, 二十四節季. Infographic taken from WeXpats.
Long ago, Japan followed a 24-season calendar that followed the sun and moon’s movements - observing crucial natural phenomena for seasonal changes. Adopted from ancient China, farmers needed a reliable season to track the changing of seasons to time their harvests right. The spring equinox, summer solstice, autumn equinox and winter solstice have divisions in between them, actual dates varying year by year.
The Meji Government adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1873 during its modernisation. “6th Year of Meiji: Taiyo-reki". Source: National Diet Library
The 9th release of the series, the Akkeshi Single Malt 2022 marks “Taisetsu 大雪”, when the cold Siberian winds blow over the peninsula. This translates to “Greater Snow”, essentially signalling greater snowfall. Snowfall covers not only the mountainous regions, but also plains as well. In 2022’s calendar, Taisetsu falls on the 5th of December, and is the 21st of 24 “seasons”. An observable natural phenomena during this season is that animals start to hibernate over the winter.
Taisetsu. Source: Serai.jp
“The Homakai River, which passes through the peat layer of the marshland and is rich in nutrients. Its water used for making Akkeshi whisky is so limpid that you can see through it the schools of salmon returning to their hometown. Why not warm up your body and soul with Akkeshi malt and prepare for the long winter ahead?” The translation and original press release can be found here at Japanese Whisky Dictionary.
Label Art. Source: Nomunication
Keeping to the motif, the label sports a hibernating bear. In 2021, Akkeshi announced that they have extracted their first local peat from the area, and for this release, it seems that peat was extracted from the Honakai river west of the distillery.
At the point of this review, it’s long past winter, but perhaps some peatiness will knock some sobriety back into me.
Akkeshi 2022 Taisetsu Single Malt, 55% ABV - Review
Nose: Big, obvious peat. The peatiness here resembles hay and dried pressed flowers, being somewhat vegetal. If you dig deeper, there are some charcoal aromas as well. I would compare this to peated scotches from the Highlands as compared to the maritime ones from Islay. Letting the whisky sit a bit more opens up more floral aromas that remind me of wildflower meadows.
Taste: The first flavour that hit my palate was banana flavouring - a bit like a stewed banana dessert. As I tasted the whisky more, there’s more red fruit characteristics that come forth. At one point, I tasted raspberry ripple ice cream - like digging into a vein of funky berry jam being swirled into vanilla ice cream. There is also dried cranberries as well.
Finish: Somewhat moderate. There is an initial saline finish, which gives way to roasted chestnuts. The dried herbs and flowers make a comeback again, reminding me slightly of bag of dried thyme, mint, oregano and chamomile flowers all in one.
A pleasant peated whisky! It will confidently satisfy the itch if you’re craving that peat. However, it offers its own character with the abundantly floral and dried herbs nosing as well - and I particularly dig that raspberry ripple ice cream flavour.
Knowing that there’s more Japanese whiskies using their own local peat is music to any peathead’s ears. I recommend this whisky for those who are skeptical about peat in their Japanese whisky - it’s definitely interesting enough to worth a dram.