The best laid schemes o' mice an' men
Posted 02 March 2018 / In White Oak
Akashi Single Malt
Distillery: White Oak
Apologies to those visiting the site today to look for our March SMWS outturn notes – as of writing, the bottles have not yet arrived at the member rooms in London (I doubt the current wintery weather across the UK has helped things), so no preview tasting has been possible – we’ll aim to restore normal service in April for you all. So, in the meantime, we’ll revert to Japan, for a look at a whisky that’s relatively accessible, but not nearly as well-known as the likes of Suntory or Nikka – Akashi Single Malt from White Oak Distillery.
White Oak is located Hyogo just west of Kobe, which is itself just west of Osaka. It is run by sake and shochu maker Eigashima Shuzo Co. Ltd, who have operated since 1888, and even sold whisky way back in 1919 – yes, before Japan’s first distillery had even been built – so god only knows what exactly they were bottling up in those dark days. In 1984 the distillery proper was constructed, using the pot stills and washbacks from the original facility. But, even then, it didn’t really take off – alcohol tax reform in 1989 and a decline in the domestic market for whisky all took its toll on the small distillery, and little actual malt whisky was produced there. The distillery’s first release, despite notionally being in operation for 23 years was Akashi 8 year old. It was released in 2007 with only 4,500 bottles available.
Bottling in 50cl flasks, the distillery still has not released many expressions (Whiskybase lists only 66 over the last 34 years), however, it is clear that overall production, barrelling and storage has increased considerably – especially over the last 5 years. There are two commonly available bottlings from White Oak – Akashi Blended Whisky and Akashi Single Malt. The single malt expression is a non-age statement – with other Akashi’s listing 3, 4 and 5 years of age on them, one wonders quite how young this single malt really is – though in truth, it’s probably a multi-vintage vatting. It’s bottled at 46% ABV, and costs way more than it should do – around £65 in the UK.
Nose: Initially incredibly shy, but opens quickly in the glass. Sour lemons and oranges sit uncomfortably with bready, yeast and copper. Youth is apparent already. There’s a slight smoke here, though it seems rather acrid, almost akin to burning plasticine or melted bubblewrap. Strange. Sweetness is perceptible from undefined fruits and some gently honey, but it does not counter the sour aromas, not the bitterness of both oak and plastic/rubber. Water improves things, reducing sourness and acrid plastic and emphasising honey. Not a great start.
Taste: A reasonably filling mouthfeel, but one which delivers some strange flavours – undigested sugars and a very odd spice mix – cumin, allspice, masala and ginger, but all seemingly rubbed under someone’s armpit – musky, musty and frankly sweaty. Yeastiness continues on the palate and is joined by we soil earthiness. Woodiness is very present, though tasting more like ply and chipboard than grandiose old lacquered furniture. There’s some interesting underlying herbalness here – it reminds me of bitters. A few drops of water adds in some green flavours – cactus and aloe (both quite usual and interesting), as well as some doughy bread.
Finish: Short with bitter drying spice and cheap MDF.
Akashi Single Malt is not a total disaster, but it’s not hugely enjoyable either. To my taste, there are far too many artificial tasting flavours in here. Rubber and plastic and similar slightly synthetic flavours can work, but only when they’re integrated and part of a greater whole – here, they feel like they’ve escaped from a home chemistry set – they sit uncomfortably, sadly out of balance. There’s an OK underlying spirit here, and were the age-statement Akashi’s more affordable (hint: they get prohibitively expensive the moment you stick even a small number of them) I’d happily explorer the distillery’s range more fully. But, as an introduction to their single malt range, this is fairly poor, overpriced and not hugely enjoyable either.
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