Tag Archives: 43%

The Chita, Japanese single grain

Bought: World of Whisky (Heathrow), 27th June 2017

Ratings:
79/100 – Whiskybase (average from 16 member votes)
3.6/5 – Distiller.com (average from 53 votes)

When it comes to understanding Japanese whisky distilleries and their brands I’m forever getting my Nikkas in a twist! So when I spotted this new Chita single grain I decided it was time to get my knowledge up to speed. Is ‘Chita’ a distillery or just a brand name? Well it’s a distillery founded in 1972 and owned by Suntory. As such its principal use is in Suntory blends, e.g., the Hibiki. Suntory own the Yamazaki and Hakushu distilleries, which provide the single malts that blend with the Chita grain to create such products as the Hibiki ‘Harmony’.

My curiosity didn’t end there and I wondered if there were any other grain distilleries in Japan. Miyagikyo distillery, owned by Nikka, have Coffey stills used for grain distillation for Nikka malts, and the Fuji Gotemba distillery also produce grain whisky. Of the 9 distilleries in Japan, Chita appears to be the only one that’s sole purpose is to produce single grain. During my search I found two other single grain distilleries, which have sadly now closed, the Nishinomiya Distillery (closed in 1999, owned by Nikka) and Kawasaki Distillery (ceased whisky production c.2006).

The new Chita single grain whisky, 43%, has been matured in a combination of sherry, bourbon and wine casks. Reviews on Whiskybase and Distiller.com are above average with comments of “for a grain whisky, it has substantial complexity”, “a grain whisky that in my view progresses nicely from nose to finish”, “seems like a quality pour” and “if you like the sweetness and smoothness of Hibiki, this is your whisky”.

I suspect that Jim Murray, author of the ‘Whisky Bible’, reviewed this single grain for his 2016 edition when it was only available in Japan. His description and 43% volume certainly match the bottle now available in the UK. He scores it 92.5/100, which classifies it as “brilliant”.

Tasting notes from ‘Master of Malt’:

Nose: Honeydew melon, citrus and honey’d cereal.
Palate: Vanilla sponge cake and more honey. A touch of orchard blossom.
Finish: Medium length, rather zesty.

Bell’s Decanters: Prince William’s birth (1982) and Queen’s 60th birthday (1986)

Bought: Whisky Auction, 24th May 2017

Ratings:
Birth of Prince William, 1982:
82/100 – Whiskybase (from 1 member vote)

Queen Elizabeth’s 60th Birthday 1986:
Not rated yet but listed on Whiskybase here.

Bell’s Decanters have arrived in my collection and the men in white coats are coming to take me away. Did I just go insane? But no whisky collection would be complete without one, even if the majority of people consider them to be a bit naff. This is probably why they don’t make much money at auction. I paid £11 for Prince William and £18 for the Queen’s 60th. Empty bottles sell for a similar price on Ebay. It seems weird to say they’re “yesterday’s antique” when they only appeared in the 1980s. Perhaps one day their value will bounce back but there seems to be a lot of them about. It’s time to buy them all up and smash them! Let’s reduce the numbers. I’m sure the royal family won’t mind.

The Bell’s decanter first appeared in the 1920s when it was made from blue glass and designed in a more traditional decanter shape. By the late 1930s the bottle began to take on a more bell-like appearance and was made from porcelain. By the 1950s Royal Doulton, a famous British porcelain manufacturer began making the Bell’s decanter in the brown and gold design seen in Ralfy’s video below. By 1960 Stode had taken over production and then in 1966 it was Wade of Stoke. The Christmas decanters (often seen at auction) began life in 1988, which is also the year the decanters started containing ‘Bell’s Extra Special Blended Scotch Whisky’. Prior to that it wasn’t extra special at all!

Both my examples are royal commemorative decanters, which Bell’s first produced for the marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana in 1981. This was also the first time that white porcelain had been used and all the stock sold out in a matter of months. Given this fact it’s hardly surprising that Bell’s decided to continue the royal theme with a second decanter release in 1982 for the birthday of Prince William. A 3rd release in 1984 commemorated the birth of Prince Harry and a 4th and 5th release in 1986 marked Queen Elizabeth’s 60th birthday and the wedding of Prince Andrew and Miss Sarah Ferguson. Since then Bell’s have done several more regal releases.

I’ve heard Ralfy (of www.ralfy.com) describe himself as eccentric many times but he always comes across as being quite normal. Nevertheless he sometimes shows eccentricity with his purchases and he’s currently the only person I can find that’s done a review of a Bell’s decanter on YouTube. Here’s Ralfy’s decanter advice from October 2012:

Johnnie Walker Green Label (2015 -)

Bought: World Duty Free, 22nd March 2016

Ratings:
82.67/100 – Whiskybase (average from 8 member votes) for 100cl version
84/100 – Ralfy (of www.ralfy.com)

The Johnnie Walker ‘Green Label’ first appeared in 2005 but by 2013 it was discontinued everywhere other than in Asia. In 2015 it returned (hurray!) with a limited edition to mark its 10-year anniversary. But rather than disappear again it has remained due to popular demand, and by having enough stock of the whisky that go into this blended malt. As it states on the box this is a vatting together of Talisker, Linkwood, Cragganmore and Caol Ila, which all have to be a minimum of 15 years old. And with no grain whisky to interfere with the mix you get to play a guessing game as to which of these 4 classic single malts you can spot in the taste.

Even though it’s been 2 years since the Green Label (GL) returned I see that Jim Murray’s ‘Whisky Bible’ book still contains his review from many years ago (95/100) so I haven’t included that. 82.6/100 on Whiskybase is for my 100cl version but the 70cl scores higher with 83.4/100 from 76 votes (it’s the same stuff in both bottles). That’s a pretty good score. Comments include “no big challenge, no need of too much attention. Simple but decent”, “what it lacks is a bit of power, but then again, the balance between subtle smoke and sweetness is well-done” and “initial taste is very good and promising, but the body never delivers. And it’s just downhill from there, with an almost non existing finish.”

Although ratings appear to be good the new GL clearly has its faults, especially to those who tried the previous incarnation. When Ralfy did his first YouTube review of the GL in 2010 he scored it a fantastic 89/100 but in his re-review in 2016 (below) he’s downgraded it to 84/100. He felt it had been slightly sanitised since his last review. ‘Malts of Montreal’ says in his YouTube review of September 2015 (here) that the old version was more smoky and peaty whereas the new GL is sweeter. This could well upset the Coal Ila and Talisker fans and I certainly didn’t taste as much Talisker as I was hoping when I tried it. But overall, without comparison to the previous version, the Johnnie Walker Green Label is a good blended malt and an enjoyable experience on the palate.

Ralfy’s thoughts on YouTube (April 2016):

Blackpool Trams (Glen Albyn) 12-year-old ‘Dreadnought No.59’

Bought: Online Whisky Auction, 10th January 2017

Ratings:
None I can find.

It took me a while to find out that this miniature is by the independent bottler ‘Signatory’. They’re not mentioned on the label but sometimes the bottle appears at auction in a Signatory box (mine didn’t). It was bottled in 1993 as number 2 of a series of four tram-themed miniatures for ‘The Wee Dram’ in Blackpool. I’ve been unable to find out what ‘The Wee Dram’ was but I’m assuming it was a shop, or possibly a pub. It’s not the current ‘Wee Dram’ shop located 90 miles away in Bakewell because that only dates back to 1998.

Although I’ve been unable to find a review about this specific bottle I have a similar mini Glen Albyn 12yo by Signatory bottled in 1993. Unfortunately it doesn’t fair very well where a reviewer says “one of those notorious bad casks of Signatory in the past.” It makes you realise that some whisky has more value in a collection than to a whisky drinker.

The four trams in the series of miniatures were:

No.1 – Longmorn 12yo ‘Blackpool Trams standard car no.40’ (on Whiskybase here)
No.2 – Glen Albyn 12yo ‘Blackpool Trams Dreadnought No.59’
No.3 – Glenury Royal 14yo ‘Bolton Tram no.66’ (on Whiskybase here)
No.4 – Glenturret 14yo ‘Edinburgh Car’

Although this was billed at ‘series 1’ there wasn’t a second series. A list of Signatory miniatures including the Tram series can be found here.

Macallan 15-year-old ‘Fine Oak’

Bought: Online Whisky Auction, 9th January 2017

Ratings:
79.5/100 – Whisky Bible 2017
84.12/100 – Whiskybase (average from 173 member votes)

When Macallan discontinued the 10yo, 12yo and 15yo age statements in 2013 it was the 15yo that vanished from the UK shops first (High Street and online). As old stock of the 10yo and 12yo dribbled back onto the market the 15yo has remained elusive, although I believe it’s been easier to obtain in the US and Canada. Thankfully bottles regularly appear in online auctions, which is where I purchased mine. But was it worth it as a drinking dram?

Jim Murray, author of the whisky bible, wasn’t overly impressed with this final version of the 15yo ‘Fine Oak’. In 2009 he scored the previous version 94/100 but in 2012 he added my new bottling with a score of 79.5/100, which classifies it as “average and usually pleasant though sometimes flawed”. He says, “As the stock of the Fine Oak 12 rises, so its 15yo brother, once one of my Favourite drams, falls. Plenty to enjoy, but a few sulphur stains remove the gloss.”

Although 84/100 on Whiskybase is a good score it seems that a lot of Macallan fans are left feeling disappointed with the 15yo Fine Oak. Comments include “appealing, intensely sweet with good infusion of multiple oaks, complex and alluring”, “pretty drinkable and also enjoyable but not really great either”, “I expected much more for this Macallan, so felt disappointed” and “too much wood influence? Not a brilliant whisky for that price.”

As the 15yo Fine Oak drifts into whisky history you feel it will always have its fans, such is the appeal of The Macallan but perhaps this wasn’t their finest hour. It’s worth noting that none of the comments on Whiskybase mention ‘sulphur’ and the previous version of the Fine Oak scores less with 83.25/100 (from 58 votes), which Jim Murray gives 94/100. So make of that what you will.

Here’s ‘Whisky in the 6’ from Canada with their review of the 15yo Fine Oak on YouTube (January 2016):

Glen Mhor 1978 14-year-old, Signatory

Bought: Whisky Auction, 22nd November 2016

Ratings:
76/100 – Serge Valentin (Whiskyfun.com)
83/100 – Whiskybase (average from 2 member votes)

Glen Mhor was one of many Scottish distilleries to feel the brunt of the whisky slump of the early 1980s, closing in 1983 and being demolished in 1988. Whiskybase currently have 170 different bottles of Glen Mhor listed on their database, 10 by the distillery and the remaining 160 by independent bottlers. The top three independents are Gordon & MacPhail (38), Signatory Vintage (22) and Cadenhead (14). My miniature is by Signatory and at 14-years-old it’s the youngest of the 22 listed on Whiskybase. Although 83/100 is a reasonable score it’s the second lowest of Signatory’s 22 versions of Glen Mhor with 5 bottles scoring a very impressive 89/100 or more.

Serge Valentin of Whisky Fun (and one of the Malt Maniacs) reviewed this Glen Mhor in 2005 and gave these tasting notes:
Nose: rather fresh starting on some fruity notes like green apple, kiwi, pink grapefruit and also some sherry. Develops on cereals: grain, muesli… It goes on with some porridge, yoghurt, caramel. Whiffs of white pepper. Really fresh, fruity and lively, with some jolly nice yeasty notes. Just a bit dusty, but the cask was still very neutral, it appears… Oh, some nice and bold vanilla fudge developing after fifteen minutes or so.
Palate: the mouth feel is quite powerful, the attack being little sour and unbalanced. Certainly less clean and fresh than the nose suggested. Some hot milk, brioche, yeast… Green vegetables, hydromel, bitter beer (like Bombardier). It gets even sourer after a while, and drying at the same time. A bit of apple vinegar… Too bad, it gets then even worse, with some disturbing offbeat notes.
Finish: is very sour, on green tomatoes and over-infused tealeaves

glen-mhor-14yo-1978-5cl

Braes of Glenlivet 1979 15-year-old, Signatory

Bought: Whisky Auction, 22nd November 2016

Ratings:
84/100 – Serge Valentin (Whiskyfun.com)
78/100 – Whiskybase (from 1 member vote)

‘Braes of Glenlivet’ sounds more like a pop group of horses than the name of a whisky distillery. Thankfully the name was changed to Braeval in 1994 to avoid any confusion with the neighbouring Glenlivet distillery. It seems a tad unfair since Braeval is one of only three distilleries in the glen of the river Livet, the others being Glenlivet and Tamnavulin. Braes of Glenlivet began life in the early 70s to provide malt for the Chivas Regal blend. The distillery was mothballed in 2002 but reopened in 2008 as the demand for Chivas Regal grew.

Braeval is a true blending malt because there’s no mention on Whiskybase of the existence of a single malt direct from the distillery. The book ‘Discovering Scotland’s Distilleries’ says the principal single malt is by an independent bottler and called ‘Deerstalker’, released as a 10yo and 15yo. At 40% and 46% respectively, neither score particularly well (much like my miniature by Signatory). It’s the cask strength releases of Braeval that get the accolades.

Serge Valentin of Whisky Fun summaries my bottle of Braes of Glenlivet by Signatory with, “interesting, really interesting – I can’t remember having had that much parsley in a malt before.”

Tasting notes from Whisky Fun:
Nose: quite some sherry but also unusual notes of varnish and parsley. Develops on dried oranges and bread crust, milk chocolate, getting then very herbal (dill, chive, coriander…) Very interesting. Also something slightly metallic, motor oil…
Mouth: not too bold but not weak, sort of strange, starting on overripe oranges but also lots of paraffin. Notes of cod oil (err…), cardboard, clay… Gets then very herbal again (dried parsley, thyme). I’m wondering whether there isn’t quite some peat in there. Unusual notes of green curry, Madeira, and retsina… That’s right, it’s quite resinous.
Finish: isn’t too long but balanced and satisfying, on peppered strawberries

braes-of-glenlivet-15yo-1979-5cl

Glen Albyn 1980 12-year-old, Signatory Vintage

Bought: Whisky Auction, 22nd November 2016

Ratings:
67/100 – Whiskybase (average from 2 member votes)

Yes, I confess I bought this miniature even knowing its poor rating on Whiskybase. But the problem is not due to the size of the bottle because the full 70cl version can only muster 61.33/100 from 3 votes. One member explains why “very, very, very strange whisky. One of those notorious bad casks of Signatory in the past. The distillery used to have a hit-and-miss reputation as well. Seems that this whisky has matured in an oil barrel.” Oh dear. We get to enjoy their tasting notes later.

So why did I get it? Because I’ve become a crazy collector of ‘Signatory Vintage miniatures in cardboard tubes’ that’s why! You had to ask. I now have a total of eleven, seven of which are from closed distilleries. To be fair on myself this Glen Albyn mini was being sold with two others, neither of which were considered to be as bad. Normally I would say that miniatures are a cheap way of getting a taste experience from a closed distillery but this Glen Albyn wouldn’t be a fair example. The liquid is better off staying in the bottle and joining the investment merry-go-round or tucked away in someone’s collection (mine for now).

Here are the tasting notes from Malt Martin on Whiskybase:
Nose: What’s this! Lots of gasoline. Like filling up your car at a petrol station. First I thought this was due to my glass, but it is really the whisky. Acetone and plastic. Later on some leafy and flowery notes. Biscuits.
Taste: Astringent and sharp. Orange peel. Lemon grass. Zesty. Also cereal and porridge. A little perfume. Lavender. Heather. Very strange again.
Finish: Medium long. Sourness. Pepper and a little nutmeg. Bitterness at the end.

glen-albyn-12yo-1980-5cl

Macallan 18-year-old ‘Sherry Oak’ 2016

Bought: Amazon, 14th November 2016

Ratings:
89/100 – Whiskybase (average from 30 member votes)
5/5 – Master of Malt (from 4 reviews)

If you want to get into whisky as an investment you can’t go far wrong with the Macallan 18yo ‘Sherry Oak’ (for now). If anyone criticises you with the tiresome adage “but whisky should be drunk!” slap them hard across the face and remind them that alcohol is a poison. But seriously, it’s none of their business what you spend your money on or how you treat your whisky. Those critics are usually hypocrites because they’ll be only too delighted to buy rare, vintage whisky at auction that would have been drunk long ago were it not for the collectors and investors. I bought my first Macallan 18yo in the summer of 2015 and only 18 months later it was consistently getting £100 more at auction. It’s liquid gold I tell thee!

But what is the Macallan 18yo like to drink? As I mentioned for the 1995 vintage, this is the Rolls Royce of whisky with a deep, smooth texture and heated seats. It’s very rare that you hear a bad word about the Macallan 18yo and year after year the quality is kept high. 89/100 on Whiskybase is a fantastic score and the equal of any previous vintage. Comments on Master of Malt include “perfect”, “the Macallan 18 is still one of my all time favourites”, “fantastic” and “a hefty price tag, but for a special occasion it’s worth it!”

Here are the tasting notes from Master of Malt:
Nose: Classic dried fruit, crème de cacao and crème anglaise with ginger and oak.
Palate: Winter spice, sultanas, toffee apple, rich oak and mixed peels.
Finish: Oak shavings, raisins and caramel.

If you would like to buy the Macallan 18yo and are happy to play a waiting game I’d recommend finding it on Amazon, adding it to your wishlist and waiting until the price drops to sub £150 (if you’re in the UK). I believe it had one mad moment when it hit £125 last year after dropping from the heady heights of its typical RRP of £200.

macallan-18yo-2016-70cl

Royal Chester 12-year-old

Bought: Whisky Auction, 8th November 2016

Ratings:
None I can find.

‘Royal Chester’ sounds more like a racehorse than a whisky. I’ve been following whisky auctions since 2013 and never have I seen a bottle of the Royal Chester 12yo blend. You’d think therefore that it would be valuable but that’s not how the whisky market works. If it’s not a single malt or a known make with pedigree then it wont make much as an investment. Even if this whisky hails from the 1980s it’s still only £20-£25 maximum at auction. If I keep it for another 20 years it might reach £40.

If you have a bottle of whisky where there’s nothing on the Internet about it then the next port of call is to search for the bottler. In the case of ‘Royal Chester’ this is Campbell & Clark Ltd, Glasgow. According to the website ‘UK Companies List’, Campbell & Clark Ltd were incorporated on 9/11/1934 and dissolved on 19/02/2010. Their category was “wholesale alcohol and other drinks” with address c/o Speyside Distillery Co Ltd, Duchess Road, Glasgow, G73 1AU.

Campbell & Clark Ltd are listed on Whiskybase here for two releases of the Glen Mhor single malt, bottled in the mid 1990s. Searching for ‘Campbell & Clark Ltd’ reveals that the company mostly specialised in blended whisky for the American market. The earliest example I could find was ‘Clark’s Reserve’ from the 1950s but also ‘David Ross’, ‘Lord Nelson’ and ‘John Blair’. Not exactly famous whisky names but very typical from a time when lots of blends were being produced.

So why have the name ‘Royal Chester’? The term doesn’t appear to belong to the city of Chester in the northwest of England, which has no royal patronage. There is however a ‘Royal Chester Rowing Club’ founded in 1838 and one of the oldest rowing clubs in the United Kingdom. There’s also a steam train engine built in 1925 called the ‘Royal Chester’. But there’s nothing on the whisky bottle or box connecting it with either of these. For all I know the name was chosen randomly or comes from the Royal Chester Hotel, Nagasaki, Japan. The mystery continues!

royal-chester-12yo-75cl