Hey Japanese whisky fans, if you’re frustrated by your inability to find Suntory and Nikka products, there’s a new option on the market to consider, called Shinobu. Formally billed as The Shinobu Blended Whisky Mizunara Oak, Shinobu is made by the eponymous distillery in Niigata Prefecture, about 200 miles north of Tokyo.
Shinobu isn’t distilled at this location, though — at least not all of it is — and much of it may not even be from Japan. (Laws in Japan allow for labeling of multi-country blends as “Japanese whisky,” and the practice is commonplace.) What we do know is that Shinobu is a blend of 50% malt whisky and 50% grain whisky. The initial spirits have been aged in both sherry and bourbon casks, and then the entire blend is finished in Japanese Mizunara oak (per the label). There’s no age statement on the bottle, but the distillery notes no coloring is added — and from the ultra-light hue, that’s not a surprise.
For the curious:
The Japanese concept of “Shinobu” meaning endurance, perseverance, and patience is of constant inspiration to the whisky makers of The Shinobu Distillery in Niigata. Where pristine streams fed by pure mountain snow reach the Sea of Japan. Shinobu Japanese Whisky requires just this patience and self-control for the master distiller to age each barrel for the right amount of time before meticulously blended to perfect flavor. Finished in Japanese white Mizunura Oak, each bottle of Shinobu Blended and Shinobu Pure Malt Whisky carry on the history and tradition of endurance and perseverance of the Japanese Warrior class.
And so, on to the tasting.
The whisky offers a nose that’s surprisingly sunny, with lemon peel and freshly milled grain notes, clearly filtered through a reasonable amount of time in sherry barrel. There’s plenty of bready malt character here, giving the nose a soft but youthful demeanor. On the palate, said malt is initially quite heavy, with a strong edge of sherry-driven citrus character. It isn’t long, though, until a surprising chocolate character starts to take over, growing stronger as the finish builds. This lingering cocoa/vanilla note is entirely unexpected and unusual, making for a quite satisfying finish.
Shinobu takes its time to get going, and its simplistic beginnings don’t exactly give you any indication of where the whisky will end up. I’m not any more thrilled about the obfuscation of the whisky’s origins than you are, but I do have to say that, in the end, what’s in the bottle (whatever it is) offers a journey worth experiencing at least once.
86 proof. Not to be confused with Shinobi.