Review : The Koshi-no Shinobu Blended Whisky Mizunara Oak

A bit of a let down when you score something that brings a glisten to your eyes and a warmth that surrounds your heart, at least until you ‘google lens’ the contents of the box. The oriental scripts and the ultra cool Samurai labelling on the bottle – definite distractors!!

The internet calls it fake whisky, and why is that? Perhaps the lack of guidelines that define what Japanese whisky ought to be? The absence of a strong definition of what constitutes a Japanese brew? Japanese distilleries currently have a vast choice if they choose of an array of spirits at their feet, both local and global that can be either blended or lapped up and infused in Japanese techniques only to be sold at higher prices in the name of rarity and brand. And though unfair as it sounds, it does give distilleries as a whole the freedom to experiment, giving a wide array of permutations, each imbibed with a flavour laced with Japanese traditions. Right or wrong, I don’t know…but the excessive costs and the “fake” build up, surely not fair! Boo!

Now to be fair, the Shinobu distillery (in this case) has been crystal in declaring the contents of their concoction – from boxing to labelling and even on their website. Coming back to our review of the Koshi-no Shinobu Blended Whisky, this award winning spirit is the brain child of Mr Ken Usami, master distiller and blender at Shinobu. The distillery itself is situated in Niigata, a humid subtropical region beside the Sea of Japan that is blessed with snow and a fair share of rainfall during the month of July and the winter months of November and December. Niigata is also locally known for its three white treasures – high quality rice – credit to Niigata’s humid, water rich climate, sake (no surprise there) and snow!

The distillery received its license to produce whisky quite recently, sometime in 2017, and with much of the distillery still under construction, it made sense for master blender Usami to create a global whisky with a Japanese twist, blending a combination of carefully selected whiskies from all around the world. This blended whisky is made with a 1:1 ratio of malt to grain, matured in a combination of ex-sherry and ex-bourbon casks and then finished further in Mizunara Oak. Housed in a very mundane, unappealing bottle with a rather simple screw top, all lights turn to the labelling once you set your eyes on the lavish, colourful and ultra oriental styling.

ABV : 43%

Eye: Pale Gold | No artificial colouring

Nose : Brown sugar, cream and maple syrup, with floral nuances, flakes of milk chocolate and a gentle citrus zest. Fresh wood laced with bits of sundried, charred tomatoes with flakes of ginger and a pinch of pepper.

Taste : Vanilla with a mild bit of char, maple syrup and baked apples. Nectarines, some grain, floral influences, green grapes left with some peppery notes.

Finish: Short to Medium |Sweet and tropical with bits of raisins.

This Mizunara finished blend is light yet heavy on those nose, crisp and fresh on the palate with a mild velvety feel to it. A bouquet with a loving sweetness, laced with fruits and floral notes that is both delightful and entertaining. But with time much of that depth disappears with only hints of history left behind.

At AUD $93, this is a well blended whisky of foreign origins that is fine tuned and brought to align with the orient. A tad too expensive, blame the rare Mizunara oak and the Japanese branding (though really not!). Above average by a tad, only thanks to the lovely play on the nose, but the short finish and the brief enjoyment that it brings does not qualify it to be a great one.

Slainte!

Update as of 17th February : At the time of writing this post, there were no clear guidelines on what constituted a Japanese whisky. That all changed in a few days, with the Japan Spirits and Liquers Makers Association publishing a set of standards labelling what one ideally should be. I did not want to modify the contents of the blog as it represented my thoughts and the facts at the time.

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