Posts

Nantou Distillery (Omar whisky) visit!

Nantou distillery has been making Omar, a Taiwanese whisky, since 2008. The distillery tours there are quite like those of Scotland. The tour guide makes the experience more intimate, more personalised and less commercial. Nantou distillery’s willingness to experiment makes them unique, especially to whisky geeks like myself! I know many of you are more interested in the whisky; so I will leave the technical production details to later in the article!

Omar Whisky

Nantou winery makes different fruit wines and liqueurs which can be used to season casks for unique cask finishes. Omar whisky has released whisky finished in casks of Lychee Liqueur, Plum liqueur, Black-Queen Wine and Orange liqueur.

Batch 4 Lychee Liqueur Cask Finish

This Lychee liqueur finish has a balanced Lychee note that does not overpower the whisky. I enjoyed the tropical fruit notes of pineapple and mango alongside notes of pear drops!

Batch 1 Orange Liqueur Cask Finish

This dram is for the orange lover with notes of orange puree, orange zest, and orange flower water alongside some lovely notes of vanilla and honey from its prior maturation.

I am particularly fond of their bourbon cask strength, both peated and unpeated! But do not fret about the age statements. Due to a higher average temperature, maturation speeds are a lot faster than Scotland. A 3-year-old whisky at Nantou would taste similar to an 8 to 12-year-old whisky matured in Scotland. The 8-year-old cask strength is a special release; it feels like a 15-20-year-old scotch.

Omar 8yo 2009 Cask Strength

This 8yo is very soft and demure, giving notes of old oak, vanilla, pears and mandarin oranges!

Omar 3yo 2014 Peated Cask Strength

The 3-year-old peated cask strength displayed a high calibre of maturation, with the right balance of peat smoke. Water will draw out more smoke for people who love that note! This delicious yet affordable single cask would be good smoky daily dram!

Omar 10yo 2008 PX Sherry Cask

For sherry bomb lovers, this is an absolute sherry nuke or WMD! This is the result of 8 years in sherry hogshead before finishing in a PX cask for two years. This dram holds notes of Christmas cake, cinnamon, chocolate, plums and dried fruit!

Barley

TTL buys barley in bulk from multiple maltsters. Most of the unpeated barley is from maltsters in England, while most of the peated barley at 35ppm is from maltsters based in Scotland. The moisture content is also similar to specifications required in Scottish distilleries, around 4%.

Milling & Mashing

The barley is milled into grist with the standard ratio of 70% grist, 20% barley husk and 10% flour. Distilleries maintain specific ratios to assist in the filtration of wort and to prevent choking in the pipes. The grist is sent to a German semi-lauter mash tun with a charge of 120000L. Hot water is added three times; the first and second streams form the wort. The third stream, called the sparge, picks up the remaining sugars, but it is low in sugar. The sparge is not mixed with the first 2 streams, but to maximise sugar recovery. This is done by reusing the sparge for the first stream to be added to the next batch of grist.

Fermentation

The wort goes into one of the stainless steel washbacks to undergo fermentation, turning it into a strong beer called wash. In this stage, the yeast will start eating the sugar in the wort and produce carbon dioxide and alcohol. For Omar whisky, this fermentation process takes an average of 72 hours using French distiller’s yeast. This is slightly longer than the 48 hours of fermentation in most modern Scottish distilleries. The wash from Omar is around 7-8% alcohol by volume (abv).

Distillation

Pot stills

The wash goes into one of 2 wash stills to be distilled into low wines. This distillation removes the barley solids leaving mostly ethanol, water and aromatic compounds. The low wines are pipped into the spirit still for its second distillation to reduce water content. Nantou Distillery currently has 2 Wash Stills and 2 Spirit Stills. One spirit still is different, as it, strangely enough, has a window. The stills are of varying sizes, one at 7000L, two at 5000L and the last one at 2000L.

Cut of the Heart

There are three components in the spirit still distillate. The head comes first at a high abv, followed by the heart, which is what goes into the barrels, and lastly comes the tail which has a lower abv. The cut of the heart affects the new make spirit and how the whisky tastes. If the cut starts at a higher abv, the new make spirit gets lighter, fruity notes, but also more undesirable flavours from the heads. If the cut ends too low, it gets heavier flavours but risk lowering the final abv.

The master distiller decides how to balance these two points. For Omar, the cut of the heart is somewhere between 73% and 64%. This means that the stillmen sends distillate above 73% (heads) and below 64% (tails) into a tank to be redistilled. The heart that is within the range will go into barrels for maturation. Due to Taiwan’s legislation, Nantou Distillery reduces the strength of their new make spirit to just below 60% abv before filling in casks.

Maturation

Cask Management

Nantou distillery receives the sherry and bourbon casks whole so that the cask maintains its inherent quality. Nantou distillery uses ex-bourbon casks up to 3 times. As for Sherry casks, there is no fixed numerical limit. Craftsmen will keep utilising the sherry cask until they deem it to be too exhausted to provide flavour. According to the tour guide, the sherry casks usually provides stronger flavours in Nantou’s climate, therefore using refill would give a more balanced dram.

 

3rd and 4th fill Bourbon casks are usually used for seasoning with wines or liqueurs. This is extraordinarily creative, because a 3rd or 4th fill cask may not provide as much cask influence, but they can act as a sponge to soak up the previous liquid. This means that such a seasoned cask would deliver the flavours of the previous content without over-oaking the product. These seasoned casks are used for the various Omar whisky finishes.

Warehouse

Most of Nantou distillery’s warehouses are racked for easy access to the individual cask. Amongst the racked warehouses, Nantou distillery also has a specially designed warehouse with space for future tasting events. This warehouse has an architecture heavily influenced by the sherry bodegas in Spain. The casks stacked up to three high and is a mimic of the solera system in a sherry bodega. Though the ceiling is lower, the arcs near the ceiling are similar to Bodegas in Spain. As a comparison, these are some pictures of the bodegas I visited in Jerez de la Frontera. On the left is Bodega Diez Merito, on the right is Bodega Fundador.

 

Distillery Expansion

Omar is looking to expand its production capacity by adding 3 more pairs of wash and spirit stills! The distillery is also undergoing renovation to accommodate larger tour crowds. In addition, Omar is continuing to experiment with new and different finishes! It is an exciting time ahead for Omar whisky and Nantou distillery is a must go on your Taiwan trip!

 

Special thanks to Nantou Distillery, Chairman Chung, and Ben for this enjoyable experience!

Visit to Yamazaki Distillery Part Three

In Part One, we brought you some history of Yamazaki through its museum. Part Two consisted of the actual distillery tour.  In Part Three, let us bring you back to the museum to see the different whiskies made by Suntory.

All the whiskies ever produced by Suntory (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

The impressive display above caught our eyes as soon as we walked in. It showcased all the major whiskies produced by Suntory over the years. We couldn’t get a good shot of this display even with our wide angle lens, so we settled for a paranoma instead.

Old Whiskies of Suntory

Quiet little corners are often the best places to seek for treasures. We found a treasure cove behind some pillars and discovered the various old whiskies from Suntory!

Akadama Port Wine – The Sponsor of Yamazaki Distillery

The Akadama Port Wine imported by Kotobukiya (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

Torii-san imported the Akadama Port Wine by the name of Kotobukiya back in the 1920s. This Spanish port wine was popular among the Japanese.  The profits from the wine went towards the founding of the Yamazaki Distillery. In a way, we can say that Akadama Port Wine was one of the sponsors of Yamazaki Distillery.

Shirofuda White Label – The first ever Whisky produced by Suntory

Shirofuda White Label (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

This was the first whisky made by Suntory. It was a failure because it did not capture the hearts of the local community, but it was the reason why Suntory became better.

Old Whiskies from Suntory (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

 

Suntory Old Whisky (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

These are some of their really old whiskies made at Yamazaki Distillery. Rare aniques on their own, they are made more special by the roles that they had played in making Suntory and Yamazaki Distillery the way they are today.

Tory – the popular post-war whisky (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

Tory Blended Whisky was a special whisky that played a huge role after World War 2. Produced by Suntory, it was the number one favourite whisky for many of the Japanese population – both men and women – after the war. It was so well received that bars named “Torys” popped up all over Japan.

The Birth of Yamazaki 12 Years Old

Story of the Yamazaki (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

This section is the most crowded as visitors clicked their cameras and crowded around the display. The birth of the Yamazaki 12 Years Old generated a lot of interest for all visitors alike.

Birth of the Yamazaki (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

One of the Yamazaki 12 years was prominently displayed in the museum, with a simple write up of how it came about. There was also a flavour profile for some popular Yamazaki produced by Suntory.

Flavour Profile of the Yamazaki (Credit: WhiskyGeeks)

The Mizunara Cask

For us geeks, the Mizunara cask generated more interest as we were keen to see the difference between this and other casks such as the Sherry and the Bourbon.

The Mizunara Cask (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

During WW2, mizunara was used due to scarcity of sherry and bourbon. The challenges to use the mizunara were tremendous. Leakage, astingent woodliness that created bad whisky were all part of the reasons, but Suntory eventually figured the best way to use the mizunara as a second or third refill for a distinctive Japanese flavour of sandalwood and Japanese incense.

The Whisky Library

We head down to the highly anticipated whisky library after we have settled our curiousity for old whiskies and the mizunara cask of Yamazaki.

The Whisky Library at Yamazaki (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

This is the famed Yamazaki Library. There are about two rows of such shelfing with tons of whiskies sitting on them. It was impressive at first look, but it became disappointing when we noticed many repeated whiskies. Nonetheless, we did find something of interest.

Auchentoshan Whisky (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

 

Laphroaig Whisky (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

 

Macallan Whisky (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

There are Scotch whiskies in the library. We are not surprised given the history of Yamazaki. Torii-san had started the distillery based on knowledge from Scotland.

Other interesting finds include new make spirits and a selection of young Yamazaki.

New Make Spirits (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

 

A selection of 4 YO, 8 YO and 12 YO Yamazaki (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

The End of the Tour

We ended the tour with a drink at the bar, but it was nothing fancy. We left the distillery shortly afterwards to head back to Toyko. It was an interesting tour, even if we felt a lack in enthusiasm in their whole presentation. Our opinions shouldn’t stop you from visiting the distillery though. It is a personal experience for everyone!

Like what you have just read?

Join WhiskyGeeks.sg as a member for FREE and receive our curated articles and videos in your mailbox every month!





[recaptcha]

 

Visit to the Yamazaki Distillery Part Two

We left off in Part One where we were recalled to the meeting point of the distillery tour. We were given English audio guides as our tour will be in most part Japanese. The audio guides also come in other languages – Chinese, French, German and other major European languages.

Yamazaki Distillery Tour Starting Point (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

We were invited to explore the space within the starting point of the tour after gathering our audio guide. We managed to take a picture of the space before it was crowded and that’s what it looks like from the picture above! Nice, clean space with artful designs set to give visitors the maximum comfort.

Mini Casks at the Starting Point (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

 

Samples of whisky from Yamazaki Whisky Library (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

There are also miniatures casks on display as well as sample spirits from Yamazaki very own whisky library. More about the whisky library later. For now, let’s go explore the facilities!

The Distillery Tour Starts

The actual production house is of course, away from the main visitor centre but once we got there, the amazing aroma of malt drifted through the air and into our nose…making all of us go “mmm”…

Station 1: Mashing House and Fermentation Room

Credits: WhiskyGeeks

The first station was the mash house where malted barley is produced for fermentation. Malt whisky is made from selected two-rowed barley and water. The selected barley is germinated and dried to produce malt, before it is finely grounded and mix with water in a mash tun. The enzymes in the malt will break down the starch contents into sugar. Once that is completed, the mixture is filtered to obtain clear, unclouded liquid called wort.

The temperature in the mash house was high due to the ongoing mashing. The smell of malted barley was rather heavenly though, and we would not have left the station quite as quickly as the tour guide wanted us to if not for the heat.

The Mash Tun (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

Once the filtered wort is collected, it is transferred to the washbacks, and yeast is added to the wort, starting the fermentation process. The yeast converts the sugars in the wort into alcohol and carbon dioxide while generating “wash”, the distinctive flavours that define whisky.

Temperature in the fermentation room was just as high, if not higher. The sweet smell of sugar was distinctive here, and many of us agreed that it kinda smell like fresh bread due to the yeast in the room.

The wooden washbacks (Credit: WhiskyGeeks)

Station 2: Distillation

Next, we walked on to the distillation room, or what they called the Still House.

The Still House (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

Distillating the alcohol “wash” generated by fermentation is an art on its own. The shape and size of the stills plays an important role in the characteristics of the final “new make” spirit. This character of the “new make” spirit will then influence the way it takes to the casks during maturation.

Yamazaki Still Pots (Credit: WhiskyGeeks)

You can see from the picture above that the stills are of different shapes and sizes. The difference in the tilt of the angle, the size and the shape produces different kind of new spirits. The distillation process happens twice to produce a high alcohol content “new make” spirit.

Distillation in Process (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

At Suntory, they make use of different stills to produce different flavours of “new make” spirit. As you can see above, the new make are labelled for easy identification.

Collecting the alcohol (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

This is how the “new make: spirit is collected. The clear liquid shown here has a high alcohol concentration. If it makes the cut as a premium “new make”, it will make its way into a cask for maturation into whisky.

Station 3: Cooperage

Coopering is part of the whisky making process. Being equally important when compared to the spirit itself, it certainly deserves a station of its own.

The Cooperage Process (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

Coopering refers the the making of a cask and how each step of the cooperage experts will influence the eventual cask that they make. The casks used by Suntory are all hand-made, which makes the process even more challenging. We are sorry that the picture is rather blur as the bright light on top of the signage at the darken warehouse had made it difficult to take a good, clear photo.

The different casks on display (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

These are some of the casks that were on display. The tour included education on the different names of the casks such as butts, and hogheads. We will write another article on the different names of the casks soon!

Station 4: Warehouse

This was the defining moment of the distillery tour! Casks upon casks of maturing whisky stood before our eyes, and we got to say that it was just pure delight to walk in and smell that lovely, familiar aroma of wood and whisky.

The Yamazaki Warehouse (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

Just look at that! Rows and rows of maturing whiskies…Our hearts were so full at that moment we though it could burst. Here’s an upclose picture for you.

Close-up look at the casks (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

Notice the different years on the cask? The years tells you when the new make spirit was distilled and poured into the cask. There are plenty of casks with different years, from 1970s, to 1980s and the 2000s. None of them, however, were as exciting as the very FIRST cask ever filled at the Yamazaki Distillery!

The first ever cask by Yamazaki (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

Remember the replica we shown you at the extrance? The picture on top shows you the real deal. The real No. 0001 cask made and filled in 1923. All of us were so excited that we were told to tone down so as not to disturb the harmony of the maturing whiskies. It was a tough fight to just take this picture because of the excitement generated!

End of the Tour but not end of the story

We ended the tour with a tasting session. We will not be a spoil sport and revealed what you will taste at the session. To find out, go for the tour when you head for Japan next time!

Like what you have just read?

Join WhiskyGeeks.sg as a member for FREE and receive our curated articles and videos in your mailbox every month!





[recaptcha]

 

Visit to the Yamazaki Distillery Part One

Yamazaki Signboard (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

The Walk to Yamazaki Distillery

Geek Choc and Geek Flora visited the Yamazaki Distillery in early June this year for a tour of its facilities. The above picture was the first thing that greeted us when we reached the outer visitor post of the Yamazaki Distillery area after a relatively long walk from the train station of Yamazaki. Simple and clean, it is typical of Japanese Zen, but the distinct Yamazaki brand is stamped all over it.

After changing our tickets for the appropriate visitor passes, we walked past a beautiful forested area filled with tall trees, blooming flowers and a giant pot still!

Giant Pot Still outside of Yamazaki (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

The Yamazaki Distillery

This greeted us when we reached the distillery after a 5 minutes walk.

Yamazaki Distillery Visitors Centre (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

The simple yet imposing building stood majestically against the backdrop of forest, flowers and small streams. The simplicity of the building built up our curiousity, making us want to explore it immediately. Some of the other visitors we met along the way echoed the same sentiments and rushed through the doors. We lingered a little at the doors, taking some memorable pictures such as this.

Replica of Yamazaki first 9 casks from 1923 (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

These casks are a replica of 9 actual casks that were made when the distillery first opened in 1923. You can see the year as well as the cask number on them. Impressive as it is, the real ones are even more impressive! You will get to see it later in the warehouse in Part 2 of this series.

The Yamazaki Museum

Moving through the distillery doors, we were greeted with more majesty.

The imposing staircases of Yamazaki Visitors Centre (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

This staircase is part of the museum of Yamazaki, where we get a look into the history of Yamazaki as well as the different whiskies that were made over the year. If you take a closer look at the picture, you can see the original name of the company that founder Shinjiro Torii-san owned. The name Kotobukiya was later changed to Suntory, where it remains till today. From this staircase, we turned left to go into the museum as we still have some time before our tour would start.

The museum is a large, sprawling area where visitors can wander at their own pace without someone to hurry them along. There are lots of artefacts lying around, with information about almost everything that is Yamazaki and Suntory.

History of Yamazaki (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

Here are the small wordings on this board. “I want to make a Japanese whisky that fits for the delicate palate of the Japanese people.” The Suntory founder, Shinjiro Torii, followed his passion and built Japan’s first malt whisky distillery, ‘Yamazaki Distillery’. His passion and challenge have been continually passed down to the master craftsmen.”

History of Yamazaki

The old Yamazaki Distillery (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

There is also a picture of how Yamazaki Distillery used to look like in 1923, a rather imposing building back in its own days.

Moving deeper into the museum, we read about the history of Yamazaki, the choice of the Yamazaki site, and the history of the family. As the history is already told in a previous post, we will showcase some of the pictures we found instead.

Shinjiro Torii – Founder of Yamazaki Distillery (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

 

The second President and Master Blender of Yamazaki, Keizo Saji, the son of founder Torii-san (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

 

The Story of the 3 Generations (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

 

Old Map of Yamazaki Distillery (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

We were recalled to the meeting point of the distillery tour at this point, so let’s head over for the distillery tour in Part 2, where we bring you the secrets of Yamazaki.

Like what you have just read?

Join WhiskyGeeks.sg as a member for FREE and receive our curated articles and videos in your mailbox every month!





[recaptcha]