I didn't do it in purpose but the light in this corner of the Royal Monceau was nearly as dark and redish as, say, the Experimental Cocktail Club (ECC). I had just recognized the founders of some of the most trendy cocktail bars in Paris and London. Pierre-Charles Cros, Olivier Bon & Romée de Goriainoff were also visiting this event to see what was going on in the spirits scene as they purchase large volumes of high-end spirits for their bars. This whisky and spirits event was organized by La Maison du Whisky, an important distributor in France and Europe.
The Japanese whiskies were in the spotlight during that one-day event, and Emiko Kaji, Nikka whisky ambassador outside Japan was there to give news about life after the earthquake, the tsunami and the questions related to the safety of the products as regards to the nuclear accident. I think that this is important for Japan and its companies to overcome two powerful aftershocks : the reflex of the Japansese consumer to retreat from spending on pleasure and good things when the country is going through a tragedy, and the risk that foreign buyers overreact in the face of the N-plant accident and stop buying Japanese food & drinks indiscriminately. I went to this event partly to hear about this issue (the other shameful reason being drinking free -and good- booze).
__Trebbiano d'Abruzzo 2009 "Emidio Pépé", a white which is fresh, balanced with a neat dry-wine feel. 12°. Bottle # 02093. Triple "A".
__ Clos des Amandiers Rkatziteli 2007; Mararo, Kakheti, Georgia. Superb nose, with intensity. The mouthfeel is almost as tannic as a red, would pass for a red blind, I think. 12 °. Bitterness with character. Vinified 6 months in amphorae with stems and skins, then racked to other amphorae for another 12 months. They don't use the press juice for this wine.
__Ottocento Crni 2009, a very nice wine from Croatia, made from Terrano, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Hand harvested, 15-days maceration in open tronconic vats and fermentation on wild yeasts with one year élevage. The wine is almost black and makes 15,2 ° in alcohol but has a fresh mouthfeel with a very nice substance and a solar expression, really a nice wine to drink. Made by a vigneron named Giorgio Clai. Costs 15 € in Italy (professional price without tax).
__ The Hibiki 12 years is a blended whisky aged in American and Spanish oak. The first mouth (my first whisky of the day) is a bit burning.
__ The Hibiki 17 years, a blend too is already much smoother and at the same time beautifully strong, no burning feel here. I like that.
__ The Hibiki 21 years, aged if I understood correctly in American, Spanish and Japanese oak, is yet another dimension, a velvety whisky which is very, very beautiful. Makes like the two others 43 ° in alcohol. Tastings like these allow me to taste whiskies that I wouldn't afford to buy.
The Hakushu Single Malt 12 years, that I taste at this table too, has this harsh mouth- and throat feel that I already noticed in prior occasions. Question of taste, I guess.
__ Taketsuru 12 years, a blend between two distilleries, Yoichi and Miyagikyo. 40 °. Not bad.
__ Nikka Taketsuru 17 years Pure Malt, means blend of single malt. It is also a blend from the two distilleries. Velvet and intensity. Here again, I notice how going from 12 to 17 years translates in a jump in quality and smoothness. Long mouthfeel with honey notes. Intense nose too. I'll keep this one in mind. France loves this one too where she feels notes of marple syrup. Costs 80 € at la maison du Whisky.
Nikka 21 years Taketsuru Pure Malt. This blend has a magic golden honey color. The note has hints of medecinal herbs, in the mouth it is fresh with the exact bitterness to balance the whole thing. Good length, a very nice whisky. Costs 110 € in Paris.
Nikka has two operating distilleries (see this page in English), one is Youchi and the other Miyagikyo, the latter being located in the Sendai region, but some 100 km away from the contaninated epicentre. After initial fears, tests have been conducted everywhere in the distillery on the vats, the casks, the whisky, the bottles and most important the water, and the results are negative. They need to reassure their foreign customers who have an imprecise idea of the risks and of the respective location of the distilleries.
France also told me about the Nikka Perfect Serve contest (watch this video) which will select bartenders who have mastered the Japanese bartending ethic, the winner being offered a trip to the Japanese distilleries.
First, she said that she wanted this special day to be under the concept of Ichi-go ichi-e, a concept meaning that every time you meet someone, it is a unique thing, something that has to be considered as having a big value. First, she spoke about the early days of the brand, about the scottish wife of the founder met when he spent time in Scotland learning about whisky making, then the setting up of the first Nikka distillery in 1934, the Yoichi one in Hokkaido, in a scottish-like environment. Then she told us about the second Nikka distillery, Miyagikyo which was founded in 1969 [in the region of Sendai]. With this second distillery, Masataka Taketsuruwanted to make whiskies of a different style from the Yoichi one. The whisky there is rather light and feminine in style, making in that regard not only malt whisky but also green whisky (whisky made with corn). Today in Miyagikyo they use also coffee alembic with continuous fire which is quite rare nowadays, even in Scotland.
Emiko Kaji continues, saying that Japanese people drink whisky dry or with ice cubes, but also in highball or mizuwari, which is mixed with water and helps bring down the alcohol level, which the Japanese appreciate. A mizuwari whisky can be had with a meal in Japan. Last year, highball or whisky mixed with soda, was very popular last year among young people.
Thierry Bénitah who heads la Maison du Whisky then explaines how they came to work with Nikka. It all started as they were in contact with the Ben Nevis distillery in Scotland, in the Fort William region : Ben Nevis is actually owned by the Asahi group and indirectly by Nikka, and in 2001, this Ben Nevis distillery imported the first cases of whisky in Scotland (and Europe by the same occasion). La Maison du Whisky asked to buy a few cases by curiosity and they were impressed by the quality of the product and by its packaging, and they began importing regularly these whiskies. At about the same time, Nikka was awarded the title of the best whisky in the world, which helped push up the sales. In 2006, they were selling 30 000 bottles a year, which they were buying until then through Ben Nevis. Nikka contacted them and asked La Maison du Whisky if they would accept to become their exclusive impoter for the European market, which they did. LMDW now sells Nikka whiskies in 30 European countries with the importation exclusivity. He explains in this conference which Nikka whiskies sell well and the ones he likes particularly. He explains that the Miyagi distillery didn't suffer during the earthquake or the tsunami, it is located some 45 km from the coast where the waves struck, at an altitude of about 200 meters, in a valley. It is also, he says, at 100 km north from Kukushima. The distillery stopped functionning for a while just after the catastrophe. After the conference we had the chance to taste a Nikka Yoichi 1990, a very beautiful whisky indeed, and which has been on the market here only for a month.
Mrs Emiko Kaji took the mike again to say that Nikka has three installations in the area including Miyagikyo, like for example a bottling line. They stopped the production at Miyagikyo after the quake because of lack of power and because suppliers were blocked too. The production resumed a couple weeks ago now and now reaches almost the normal level. She says that the distillery is not only in altitude but in a wooded area. She says that as usual even for other breweries, the malt that they use is imported from abroad, and the water comes from a deep water table beneatyh the distillery; they ckeck regularly the water and there has been no incidence from the nuclear plan accident so far. Like any other food & beverage products coming from the prefectures surrounding Fukushima, their whiskies were checked by the services of the European Community and nothing wrong was found, she says. they also plan to give more informations on all these details and answer to whatever question the customers could have on this issue.
Stanislas Vadme then presented then (in English) the perfect-serve ethic and Art, which he learnt from a Japanese master of bartending, Kazuo Uyeda...
Here is the audio file of a part of the conference [duration of this audio file : 37:35], Emiko Kaji's speech being translated into French by Nicholas Sikorski of LMDW. Stanislas speaks directly in English at the end of the audio.
The sake on the picture is (if I'm right) a Junmai, Denshu Junmai Dai-ginjo by Nishida Shuzo in the Aomori prefecture. That was nice swallowing experience too...
In short : I tasted also an oddity for me : rhum from Japan, Ogasawara rhum to be precise. The Osagawara islands depend of the Tokyo prefecture although theyre hundreds of km in the south.The nose brings sea scents it seems to me, and there are also saline notes in the mouth. Also tasted an Okinawan rhum.
Also tasted there : excellent whiskies from Scotland, Clynelish and Spice tree [no sponsoring here of course], which is very very nice indeed and a very good deal at 46 €. I've added a bit of (Scottish) water as it reaches 46 ° in alcohol in it and it was a nectar.