Sunday, March 27, 2011

A reminder about Whiskyfun's tasting week



A reminder to anyone interested in Japanese whisky that you really have to take a look at Whiskyfun's Japanese whisky tasting sessions. He has been posting since the Great East Japan Earthquake hit and it is a really powerful reminder of the vigour of the Japanese whisky industry at a time when most of the news coming out of Japan is doom and gloom.

Quake relief tasting and auction in NY



NYCWhisky.com and Teleport-City.com are organising "A Dram for Japan: A Whisky Tasting and Auction for Japanese Quake and Tsunami Relief" from 5pm-8pm at Ward III (111 Reade St, NY NY) on April 2. 100 per cent of the proceeeds go to the Japan Society's quake and tsunami relief fund.

Keith Allison at Teleport-City says: "$30 ticket gets you food, whisky, and cocktails created by the lads at Ward III. Bottles of whiskey, artwork, toys, and other collectibles will be auctioned or raffled off as well."

Info on who's pouring and what's up for auction can be found here. Tickets can be bought here. If you have any questions, you can reach Keith Allison at keithatc@teleport-city, Ellie Tam (ellie@nycwhisky.com), or call Keith at 347-860-9346.

If anybody else has any notices for similar events involving Japanese whisky then please send them in.

Amid the chaos



Amid all this chaos (and a blizzard of figures on Nonjatta! Very odd), my wife has just given birth to our second son, Dan. I am a very proud dad.

Chris Bunting, Nonjatta

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Some more facts

Update 31.3.2011: I have attached extra figures from March 24 and March 30 at the bottom of this post. 

It seems people are continuing to interpret the confusing news coming out of Japan in ways that are, in my opinion, completely out of proportion to reality. I have heard one account of a whisky shop in Europe that said it would be canceling all contracts with importers and not taking any more Japanese whisky at all from now on.

To me, this seems wrong in many ways, some of which are really matters of individual moral choice. But I do think everybody has a responsibility to at least engage with the facts on this. It is just completely ridiculous to be talking about Japan as if it were a village. Talking about not buying products from the Osaka or Hokkaido because of the situation in Fukushima is like saying you won't buy products from Austria because of a problem in the Netherlands when the wind has been blowing in the other direction.

Below is a image taken from this official Japanese government website showing radiation levels in Japanese prefectures from the 18th to the 23rd of March (all the major foreign governments/nuclear agencies have been saying that the Japanese are being responsible in this situation and so I think these figures can be trusted). It follows on from the post I made previously covering the 15th to 17th and so presents a fairly continuous record. I have marked it with the names of whisky distilleries. The radiation levels are measured in microsieverts per hour. Microsieverts are a thousand times smaller than millisieverts.

Note that the Fukushima and the Miyagi prefecture measurements are not given in the graphs below. Miyagi is the home to Miyagikyo distillery. These are figures relating to Miyagi. Again, we do not seem to be talking about very worrying figures at the moment. Also please bear in mind that different locations in some of these prefectures are going to get different amounts of radiation. The background radiation will differ between prefectures.

To put these measurements in some perspective, one one-way trip from Tokyo to New York would give you and anything in your luggage about 100 microsieverts of radiation. Natural background radiation in the UK ranges from about 2000 to 7000 microsieverts a year (according to this Scottish Government news release). If that higher figure is right, and places like Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Aberdeen do have quite high background radiation levels, I think that means an hourly microsievert level of about 0.79 on these graphs. There are numerous sources of radioactivity in our normal diets. Consider the humble banana.

I make those comparisons not because I am trying to minimise the seriousness of the situation facing Japan following the earthquake and the accident at Fukushima. My son has just been born and I suspect I am more concerned about the radiation right now than the vast majority of people (hence my constant checking of stats like those below). I am no nuclear expert and I may well be being simplistic in my interpretation of radiation measurements (if anybody knows any better please post here/tell me, because I am convinced the best way to deal with this issue is to shine the light of reason on it). But I am trying my best to engage with the real stats and, as I say, I think it is everybody's responsibility to engage with the reality of the situation on the ground, rather than just recycling scare stories that have no foundation in anything other than the word "nuclear".



This is another good page, giving some different unofficial figures and some good context on the situation in Tokyo (which shows that quite substantial jump in radiation) in recent days.

Also, official reports on radiation levels in water:
March 22
March 21
March 20
March 19
March 18

Update: These are the figures from March 24-30. They are not presented in quite the same way. I believe the original figures excluded background radiation, while these show the range of normal radiation (will have to check that interpretation).

Friday, March 18, 2011

Trying to put the radiation scare stories into perspective

I have thought long and hard about whether to put up this post.

I have had a number of email conversations with members of the Malt Maniacs group and others about how the situation at the Fukushima power plant might affect Japanese whisky. I had not wanted to post on the topic until the situation had stabilized and we had access to the full facts. I thought a post on this topic might fuel groundless fears. However, it has become clear to me that rumours and scares appear to be spreading among foreign fans of Japanese whisky. This concern has been built on the back of what has, quite frankly, been laughably bad reporting of Japan's problems in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake. I have had emails talking about Japanese food and drink products, not just whisky, being "finished" in the international market. Some correspondents have said there was no way they will buy Japanese because of the problems at Fukushima.

This is absurd.

Below is a image taken from this website showing radiation levels in Japanese prefectures from the 15th to the 17th of March. I have annotated it with the names of relevant prefectures to Japanese whisky fans (in blue) and the names of distilleries (in purple). The radiation levels are measured in microsieverts per hour. Microsieverts are the smaller of the two measures of radioactivity being mentioned in the media right now (microsieverts and millisieverts). They are a thousand times smaller than millisieverts.

To put these measurements in some perspective, one one-way trip from Tokyo to New York would give you and anything in your luggage about 100 microsieverts of radiation. Natural background radiation in the UK ranges from about 2000 to 7000 microsieverts a year (according to this Scottish Government news release). If you are particularly worried about ingesting radiation, consider the humble banana. The funniest thing I saw in these past few days was two colleagues taking long drags on their cigarettes as they swapped worries about the radiation.

Note that the Fukushima measurement is not given in the graphs below (but here is a post with some measurements). Also please bear in mind that different locations in some of these prefectures are going to get different amounts of radiation. The background radiation will differ between prefectures.

Let's get this in some perspective and support these people. Please stop the scare talk.

[Update 19.03.2011: Miyagi prefecture measurements have now been removed from the website from which I took the measurements (based on official Department of Education stats). I don't know why. It is possible that the figure below was inaccurate. I don't think there is any suggestion at this stage that there has been any major event since to hugely increase the flow of radioactivity to Miyagikyo. Nikka Whisky's Miyagikyo distillery is in Miyagi. This is a screenshot of the latest figures, which cover an extra day of nothing much happening.]



That is the situation as, I think, it stands at present. We don't know how this situation will develop but this is the advice on a realistic worst case from the British government's chief scientific officer: http://ukinjapan.fco.gov.uk/en/news/?view=News&id=566799182 .

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Earthquake and Chichibu

Ichiro Akuto at Chichibu Distillery reports that the distillery and its staff are safe. There was damage to a water tank and some fencing. Ichiro is also quoted by David Croll at Whisky Mag Japan as saying there may be some minor damage to bottled stock. But, basically, we are not talking about anything very serious





Just so we are clear about the geography here, Chichibu was affected by the Friday's massive 9.0 magnitude earthquake, but, like Tokyo, it is a very long way from the main disaster areas. I have included the distillery on the disaster map first posted on the Miyagikyo post for reference. (I have put an update on the Miyagikyo post which is in line with earlier reassuring reports.)


View Earthquake and Miyagikyo distillery in a larger map

Monday, March 14, 2011

Whiskyfun devotes the week to stricken Japan


See bottom of post for ways to help

Serge Valentin at Whiskyfun has decided to devote the week to Japanese whisky tastings, starting, of course, with Miyagikyo from the Sendai distillery, which in the middle of the disaster zone. Take a look at his post on the superb whisky they have made.

Serge's Japanese sessions:


I will update the post on the situation at Sendai and other facilities in the area when myself or other get more information. We obviously have to be patient. People have a lot on their plates that is far more important

If you want to help, please consider these options:

Immediate donation via Paypal to various involved charities

Or directly through itunes.

Or directly to:

Japanese Red Cross
American Red Cross
British Red Cross (Japan Tsunami Appeal).
Canpan Fields (Japanese NPO)
Save the Children
Non-Believers Giving Aid (scroll down the page for Japan earthquake relief)
NGO Jen (in English and Japanese)
International Medical Corps
Association of Medical Doctors in Asia

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Earthquake update


View Earthquake and Miyagikyo distillery in a larger map. Red flag was the epicenter of the quake. The red boxes are among the areas where there has been most devastation. Much of the damage has been caused by tsunami, rather than the original 9.0 magnitude quake. The blue flag marks Miyagikyo.

Update 25.3.2011: I got a message from Minoru Miake, manager of the production section at Miyagikyo. Translated from the Japanese, it said: "Fortunately, there was no big damage to the factory. Family and workers were safe. It will take time, as we don't have any petrol or oil, but in April we may be able to start making malt whisky again."

Update 17.3.2011: Mark Gillespie at Whiskycast reports a representative of the company: "Employees of Asahi and Nikka are fortunately safe and the Miyagikyo distillery was not seriously damaged. I heard that the facilities including the pot stills and the coffey still are OK." There is of course very major disruption to road and other communications links. A full assessment of damage to stock has not yet been carried out.

Update 13.3.2011: According to David Broom at Whisky Magazine, the organiser of Whisky Live Tokyo David Croll has talked to Hisamitsu-san at Nikka Whisky. Miyagikyo distillery and staff are, apparently, okay.


A number of people have asked me about the situation at Nikka Whisky's Miyagikyo distillery following the massive earthquake in that area. I am contacting people at the company but I think they are very likely to be overwhelmed by the situation at the current time. I have had one report from someone outside Japan with very good contacts with Nikka saying that, other than damage to some stock at Miyagikyo, there does not seem to have been very severe damage. But I think it is important to understand that this is a developing situation. Communications across the region have been very severely affected. I was doing a report yesterday about the damage to firms and two companies had no clear idea of what had happened to their factories in the North. The situation does look very grave. Miyagikyo is inland and in the hills, so these huge tsunami may not have affected it, but it is directly to the east of the 8.9 shock and very close to some of the communities that have been most gravely affected. Of course, there is the terrible possibility that some of the people who work at the distillery have been caught up in the disaster on the coast. I am sure all our thoughts are with them.

There are other whisky facilities in the areas affected by the quake. For instance, there is a facility at Tochigi. Again, we are all hoping they have not been affected.

I will update Nonjatta as soon as I receive any news.

To get an idea of the extent of the damage, look at the image of Natori on this New York Times page. Natori is about 15 miles to the southeast of the distillery. This high definition footage is from a different area, further to the North, but gives some sense of the possible destruction.

If you want to help, please consider these options:

Immediate donation via Paypal to various involved charities

Or directly through itunes.

Or directly to:
American Red Cross
Canpan Fields (Japanese NPO)
Save the Children
Non-Believers Giving Aid (scroll down the page for Japan earthquake relief)
NGO Jen (in English and Japanese)
International Medical Corps
Association of Medical Doctors in Asia

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Japanese whiskies dominate World Whisky Awards again

DSC05465

For the second time in four years, Japanese whiskies scooped both the major categories at this year's World Whiskies Awards. And for the first time in the competition's history a single distiller won both of those top prizes: Suntory.
Best single malt in the world: Yamazaki 1984
Best blended whisky in the world: Hibiki 21-year-old
Dave Broom, chairman of the judges, said:
“Undoubtedly this was the highest quality final round we have seen yet in the WWA. All the whiskies there were superb examples of their region and style and to take the top prize was a major achievement. For one distiller to take both prizes is a phenomenal achievement and shows the world the quality which exists within Japanese whisky. This achievement will send a clear message around the world.”
The competition is organised by Whisky Magazine and is one of the major events in the international whisky calendar. It has been one of the key driving forces in establishing Japan as a respected whisky region. In 2001, a precursor of the competition shocked the world by announcing a 10-year-old Yoichi whisky as the best single malt in the world. In 2008, the victory of a Yoichi 1987, from Nikka Whisky, and a Hibiki 30-year-old blend from Suntory, in the same two categories scooped by Suntory this year prompted portentous headlines in the UK press. Now, they have done it again. The competition is judged by a team of international judges of writers, retailers, distillers and blenders from the UK, US, Canada, France, Germany and Japan. They taste whiskies ‘blind’ over two rounds to first discern sub-category, then category winners.

Yamazaki 1984, a really unique whisky that blew my mind when I tasted it, topped its age category within Japanese single malts, beat all the other Japanese single malt sub-category winners to become the best Japanese single malt winner. In the final round, it was pitched against all the other single malt sub-category winners: Springbank 12-year-old, Auchentoshan 1998, Glenmorangie Signet, Glenfarclas 40-year-old, Bowmore Tempest, Highland Park 25-year-old, Redbreast 15-year-old, Bushmills 16-year-old and Kavalan Solist (from Taiwan!).

In the blended malt category, Glenmorangie’s James Martin’s 30yo beat last year's champion, Nikka Whisky's Taketsuru 21-year-old.

Another interesting story from the awards was the good performance of Ichiro Akuto's Ichiro's Malt range in the "Best Non Scotch Blended Malt Whisky" category. Taketsuru 21 came out on top but the other sub category winners in that division were Ichiro's Malt MWR (Mizunara Wood Reserve), Ichiro's Malt Double Distilleries, and Ichiro's Malt Wine Wood Reserve.

In the Japanese section, the best blend and single malt categories were won by the overall competition winners. The sub-category winners in the Best Japanese Blended Whisky section were Hibiki 12, Hibiki 17, Hibiki 21 and Nikka From the Barrel. Best Japanese single malt subcategory winners: Hakushu Bourbon Barrel, Yoichi 10 Years Old, Yoichi 1990.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Buy my friend's novel!



"Crazy Noise" is a rip-roaring thriller set in Tokyo by Mark Bossingham. It is very well written, with some extraordinarily lyrical passages, but is also a really fast and compelling read. I zipped through it in about a week. It has been previously published as a book, but it this link is to the brand new Kindle edition.

Karuizawa 1991 for Oxfam



Review by Nonjatta contributor - Dramtastic:
Karuizawa 1991 19-year-old #3206 for Oxfam 60.8%
Nose: Sweet pipe tobacco, pureed dark summer fruits, sherry, raisins, blood oranges,
Palate: The sweet pipe tobacco dominates at first, then tangy oranges and cigar smoke dryness. Water brings some oiliness to the mouth feel, also dried mushrooms, moss and lemon pepper.
Finish: Long. Cigar smoke, oranges, pepper, vanilla. Drying. It is certainly better balanced than the 13-year-old Karuizawa for Oxfam but, like that one, lacks the complexity and wow factor of the better Japanese Malts.

Karuizawa 1997 for Oxfam



Review by Nonjatta contributor -
Dramtastic:

Karuizawa 1997 13YO #3312 for Oxfam. 60.2 per cent alcohol.
Nose: Oak, vanilla , sherry, raisins, red grape and a hint of white chocolate.
Palate: Without water, mainly Seville oranges and vanilla. Really needs water to tame it. Not particularly complex, the water brings out some nuttiness--at first creamy, then bitter. Also orange dark chocolate, sherry and more vanilla, but you have to work hard to pick up any of it.
Finish: Is fairly hot with or without water. The spirit actually numbs the palate which makes it difficult to pick up any subtleties. There's a little cigar smoke. Overall, a simple and at times brutal malt that clubs the palate into a fairly useless state of submission. The nose is the highlight.