Updated: Jan 6
Here’s a single grain Scotch whisky from the Oishii Wisukii (Japanese for “Delicious Whisky”) lineup, bottled by bar and bottler, The Highlander Inn, that’s based in Craigellachie, Scotland. For those who aren’t familiar with them, they’re right at the heart of Scotland’s whisky trail, deep in Speyside territory. They run a small hotel, real cozy and all, but the serious attraction is of course their whisky bar, that’s run by Tatsuya Minagawa. Tatsuya-san had previously worked at Japanese giant, Suntory, and later moved to Scotland to work at the inn, subsequently taking over the business himself. If you’re in Scotland, this is one of the bars you definitely want to hit up.
Tatsuya-san, owner and operator of the famed Highlander Inn, at the heart of the Scotch whisky trail. (Image Source: Whisky Magazine)
When you’ve spent your whole life around whiskies, you kind of get an idea or two about what’s a good whisky, and so Tatsuya-san himself later moved to bottling his own whiskies as an indie bottler, branching out with various lineups, the flagship being The Highlander Inn Single Cask Annual Releases, followed by Maggie’s Collection and Oishii Wisukii (dedicated to small batch annual releases).
One of the eye-catching features of the Oishii Wisukii lineup is the manga-like noir labels featuring various people-based characters (I’ve been told these are actually real people). A little fun fact is that the artist behind these labels, Takeshi Abe, is the same artist who designed the labels for the legendary Playing Cards series by Ichiro’s Malt.
The striking anime labels are done by artist Takeshi Abe, who also designed the labels for Ichiro's Playing Cards series. (Image Source: Wenhotw.com)
Now, on to the whisky itself, it’s a single grain Scotch, which through some searching, I’ve found to be from Invergordon distillery, owned by Whyte & Mackay, and also primarily serves the namesake blend.
This one is 14 years old, matured in a refill European Sherry cask, bottled at a high proof of 63.9% ABV. I tried it as part of a tasting session led by the man himself, Tatsuya-san, a thoroughly enjoyable session hosted by Friends with Drams. So let’s get to it!
Color: Olive oil. A light straw-colored yellow.
Nose: Off the bat, really perfumery, with lots of sweet, estery notes. Light florals come to mind, ixoras, plumerias, daisies. There is a freshness to it as well, that of meadows and tall grass. It stays amidst the brighter notes, with a very uplifting scent, bringing me memories of standing amongst open fields with a nice cool breeze.
Fresh florals and a good dose of perfumery sums up the nose. (Image Source: The Telegraph)
Palate: This goes totally unexpected! A sharp U-turn from what was found on the nose, here it goes really deep with heavier notes of gula melaka (palm sugar), demerara sugar – brown sugars really. Deep and mellow. A huge contrast to what I got on the nose, though I’m really not complaining, I really do enjoy this fragrant tropical note of coconut and pandan that it construes.
Deep tropical notes galore. A big U-turn from where the nose was going. (Image Source: Jun & Tonic)
As the deep base notes ease up, a more familiar fresh floral, grassiness returns, the same notes from nosing the whisky. Here it goes on longer, with pancake honey syrup, sponge cake, lots of vanilla icing. Kind of reminds me an ice cream soda.
Back to regular programming. Vanilla sponge cake a much more familiar note. (Image Source: Betty Crocker)
Make no mistake, through it all it packs a substantial amount of heat but it never does get stinging, yet it makes apparent that it’s not to be messed with. Funnily, the thought of a fire-snorting dragon came to mind, which makes me wonder if it’s the reason Invergordon is often symbolished with a dragon.
Finish: The finish is fairly short, leaving trails of vanilla sweetness and light touches of oak.
There are many ways a whisky could impress, as I often highlight, whether it be through complexity, balance, unique profiles…list goes on. For those who’ve followed my reviews, you’ll know that of the best ways to my heart is a whisky that surprises. I like when a dram is able to make me stop short and go “say what?” and completely floors me and catches me off guard.
This is one of those drams.
Invergordon Distillery, belonging to Whyte & Mackay, primarily going into their blends. Most grain whiskies were designed for blend-making and hence sport a fairly one dimensional taste profile. Yet, I believe it serves as a great canvas for bottlers to express creativity in bending that narrative. (Image Source: Malt Madness)
I’ve tried my fair share of grains and while most grains are known to sport fairly similar profiles in terms of sweetness and vanilins, and often don’t get picked up as much as their single malt cousins, I’ve found it to be a great canvas for indie bottlers to demonstrate their creativity, primarily through bending that profile with the use of imaginative cask influences.
Fresh meadows in the streets, Ondeh-ondeh in the sheets. (Image Source: Rasa Malaysia)
This one completely caught me off guard. While the nose went the classic grain direction – sweet, vanilla, florals. The palate was a huge stunner. I could have sworn it would have been finished in a rum cask, but to my surprise, it was a refill Sherry. To be frank, I still can’t imagine how this was pulled off, but I enjoyed it thoroughly. The addition of more tropical flavors – brown sugar, coconut, pandan, gave it a depth and funk that added layers of dimension.
For what it’s worth, some have even compared it to ice wine.
This one really caught me by surprise, the nose headed one way and the palate taking a totally different direction. I'm impressed! Surprised, but impressed!