Non-Japanese Japanese whisky

Posted 29 May 2018 by Matt / In Chugoku Juzo
The Dramble's tasting notes for Togouchi 18 year old

Bottle Name: Togouchi 18 year old

ABV: 43%
Distillery: Chugoku Juzo
Region: Japan Age: 18

We’ve not reviewed many expressions from Japan on The Dramble recently, so whilst we’ll be looking to bring you some notes on the recently discontinued Hakushu 12 and Hibiki 17 year olds from Suntory shortly, for the time being it’s business as normal, and therefore today’s review is not of a Japanese whisky either. Wait and minute - Togouchi looks pretty Japanese doesn’t it?

Chugoku Juzo was founded in 1918 near Hiroshima as a producer of sake and shochu. The company does not distil any whisky itself, and since 1990 has been importing spirit from outside of Japan – in the case of Togouchi, malt whisky from Scotland, and Grain whisky from Canada. Whisky laws in Japan are incredibly lax compared to many other producing nations, and therefore once the import tax has been paid, these foreign casks are, for all intents and purposes, deemed to be Japanese and able to be labelled as Japanese whisky. It is perhaps, fortunate for enthusiasts that in the case of Togouchi, most retailers are honest about these components – the bottle and packaging itself simply describe the contents as Japanese blended whisky. I’ve seen some websites gleefully describe Togouchi as having been ‘naturalised’, but for my money, that’s stretching provenance well beyond its breaking point.

Of more interest is what Chugoku Juzo actually do with the whisky – it is aged in a 361 metre long railway tunnel in the mountain region of Nishi Chugoku Sanchi. The tunnel was bored in 1970 by JR railways to connect Kabe to Hamada, but was never completed. It is now used as an ageing facility by Chugoku Jozo for a variety of its products – the consistent 14oC temperature and 80% humidity been seen as ideal maturation conditions.

The Togouchi range includes two NAS releases – ‘Premium’ and Kiwami -  and a selection of age statement bottlings that has expanded from 12 and 18 year olds to now include 8, 9 and 15 year olds. For reasons that rather escape me, the 15 year old is far and away the most expensive of the series – its only real differentiator being that it’s a lightly peated whisky. The oldest of the series, the 18 year old was first released in 2012 at 43% ABV – a subsequent ‘new batch’, which is more commonly available is delivered at 43.8%. It’ll set you back around £115 from Master of Malt. We’re reviewing the original 43% release today.

Nose: Quite sweet, with toffee apples, apricots and honey. Burnt toast and hazelnuts provide some depth and are joined by light incense and cedarwood (have mizunara casks/heads been used here perhaps?) alongside more expected ex-bourbon aromas of vanilla. The grain elements are quite fresh and summery, but there’s still a slight touch of polystyrene cement here. Water introduces citrus peels and oranges, though diminishes some of the floral qualities.

Taste: A gentle arrival that is fairly fruity – honeydew melon, pears, peaches and light touches of tropical fruits – mango and banana. The mid-palate is much drier and wood-focussed – corns, sawdust, planking and vanilla. There’s a touch of artificialness here – plastic carrier bags and again the glue note. The addition of water softens the fruits, making them increasingly juicy, but leads to the wood aspects feeling a touch hollow and incomplete.

Finish: Short to medium in length with unprocessed grape juice, gentle white pepper and a degree of spirit rawness.

Togouchi 18 year old is certainly solid enough, with a pleasant nose and fruity arrival. However, the experience heads slightly downhill from that point onwards –  the wood influence is overwrought, and not fully integrated and there’s more youth here than you’d expect from a bottle displaying an 18 year old age statement. Interestingly, despite this being a Japanese whisky only in name, there is a degree of Japanese inspiration across its aroma and flavour palate. By no means bad, but, like most Japanese whisky (even the real stuff), rather overpriced. 

Score: 81/100

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