Japanese Whisky: Review of the Year 2020

2020: a year that will long live in our memories, an annus horribilis saved only by intermittent moments of whisky ecstasy.

Everyone has an opinion on the best whiskies of the year, and, after a lot of deliberating, here are the thoughts of our founder, B.S. Cullen.

Best Japanese Whisky of the Year: Chichibu for Friends of Bar Mahorobi (cask number 537, out-turn 161 bottles). Here is everything you want in a 10-year single cask from the world’s most lauded distiller: glorious nose, mesmerizing palate, and a finish that leaves you in Elysian Fields.  

Best Distillery Tour: Chichibu Whisky wins again. Now that the second distillery is up and running, the team at Venture Whisky reveal yet more of the magic behind their liquids.

Best Chichibu Malt Whisky: Friends of Bar Mahorobi (cask number 537, out-turn 161 bottles). That said, of the numerous single casks, it was a close call between five very special bottles, The Ghost XII (554, 157), The Game VIII (215), Bar Ikkei (544, 175), Bar Islands (542, 146) and Mahorobi which, takes it by a whisker. Other contenders were Yamazaki 2020 Mizunara and the latest long-matured blended Suntory for Salon de Shimaji in Tokyo.

Best Chichibu Malt and Grain Whisky: Mick’s of Niseko (cask number 4989, out-turn 230 bottles) just pips the other Malt and Grain single casks this year.

Best Mars Komagatake Whisky from their old distillery: Komagatake 28-year (cask number 160, out-turn 352 bottles).

Best Mars Komagatake Whisky from their new distilleries: Vacation Whisky 2015 Single Anejo Cask wins for its uniqueness. It just edges out two Papillon releases, Sherry Butt number 3397 (out-turn 643) and Sherry Butt 3356 (out-turn 635).

Best Whisky Festival: Chichibu Whisky Matsuri and Nagoya Whisky Lovers were the only two festivals held in 2020, so they are joint winners. We whisky lovers thank the organizers for all their hard work and look forward to real festivals post-pandemic.

Best Whisky Bar: Te Airigh in Chichibu. With its huge selections of Chichibu single casks and other hard-to-get Japanese whiskies, in addition to exceptional scotches, Yokota-san’s bar in Chichibu is a well-deserved winner.

Best Whisky Bar with Old Bottles: Bar Silence in Marugame, Kagawa prefecture, on the island of Shikoku. It’s dark inside and a real trek to get there but is worth it for legendary bottles like Samaroli Port Ellen 1976.

Best New Single Malt: Saburomaru The Fool. It was challenging to acquire a bottle of the regular edition (48% ABV) with only 2,000 bottles released, and nigh impossible to get hold of the cask strength edition (63%, out-turn 200 bottles). You won’t regret having a dram at a bar though. Overall, it was a banner year for new Japanese single malts, as Mars Tsunuki, Akkeshi and Shizuoka Distilleries all delivered their inaugural three-year editions.

And finally, something that is painful to say but must be said, the Worst of the Year. It is the new pricing structure of Kirin, which saw them treble or quadruple the RRPs of their elite whiskies (17-year Single Malt and 25- and 30-year Grain). In the words of Ricky Gervais’s Andy character in Extras, “Kirin, are you having a laugh?”

(c ) B.S. Cullen

To contact us, email info@japanwhiskytours.com see our Facebook page.

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