In amongst the sacks of fan mail that we receive at Dramble Towers this one jumped out at me last week: “Matt, it’s all very well going about reviewing great whiskies all the time, but can we have a few tasting notes for some of the crap ones too once in a while?” I considered this, shuddered, felt a little piece of me die inside, and then came to the conclusion that this was indeed a fair point - As an online commentator don’t I have some duty of care to highlight things best avoided? So, I resolved to take up this offer and to occasionally post tasting notes of bottles which are poorly made, faulty, unpleasant and in some cases downright loathsome. <Deep breath>
The tasting table at the Dramboree whisky weekend is a veritable cornucopia of fantastic and interesting bottlings of all styles and ages. Arguably less thrilling, but equally as remarkable is the selection of bottles brought along with the sole intention of winning the slightly less prestigious ‘worst bottle of the weekend’ award. Today’s review comes courtesy of that reviled selection in the form of the utterly risible Fujikai 10 year old produced by Monde Shuzo in Japan.
Monde Shuzo is a bulk winery located at the base of Mount Fuji. It's been in operation since 1952 and has produced several previous 'whiskies' under the Isawa brand in the 1980's. There is a stainless steel still on the site, but there's no actual indication that this is ever used to distil whisky - they certainly do produce liquor in the form of brandy and shochu, but the legal definition of 'making whisky' in Japan has a lot more flexibility than it does in Scotland, so whether they produce whisky completely from scratch, or even use the still to do so is certainly questionable.
Fujikai 10 year old is a 50cl bottle - it looks rather like a sake bottle at a glance - is matured in ex-bourbon casks, bottled at 43% and has an outturn of 8,808 bottles. The press release states "the full production details are held back by the Master Distiller". So much for increasing transparency.
Nose: An immediate hit of the hairspray your grandma used in the 1980's. This is reinforced further by nail polish remover and polystyrene cement. There's a leathery note and a bit of oak, but dig deeper and this slightly organic and earthy flavour comes across more like the aroma of a pigsty, or musty damp cardboard boxes. Across all this, I get rosehips - again, we're with grandma, only this time, it's her strong cloying perfume.
Taste: In fairness, the translation from nose to palate is excellent - all the disgusting and wrong flavours you've just smelt are present and (in)correct when tasting. There a really heavy plastic note here which adds to the sense that this is a highly synthetic composition. If you can ignore the flavour (and in particular the hairspray which is even more pronounced here) and dig deeper, its arguably smooth with little to no alcoholic bite for its 50% ABV - there's discernible leather and burnt tobacco, perhaps a hint of cinnamon (though it seems stale). It's not all bad, but it's pretty close to it.
Finish: Arguably the best part of the experience - mainly because it's nearly over. The finish is medium and does bring out a few woody notes such as pepper and salted nuts.
Virtually everything about this is wrong. The highly artificial taste is not only unappealing, it's also worrying - whilst sampling this, I was concerned with what I was putting into my body, and whether all of the fusel alcohols had actually been removed through the distillation process. Taking a prosaic view of this bottling, you could argue that it’s just a highly different take on malt distillation and part of the growing breadth of Ji-Whisky expressions. But, in all honesty, it’s just an unpleasant drinking experience that seems like a highly cynical cash-in on the global boom for Japanese whiskies.
Epilogue: After this travesty I went to rinse my glass out to find that it has been tainted by the undesirable flavours of the Fujikai. Despite being washed several times there was still a slight underlying flavour which I can only describe as ‘industrial ferry terminal’ – stale fish, red diesel, detergent and a hint of ferry passenger who's just been sick behind the ticket office. Pah! So much for a duty of care!