This controversial and somewhat mysterious whisky is supposedly Chichibu distillate, purchased by Akkeshi, who shipped it to Scotland to be matured in a 1969 ex-Glenrothes cask (cask 1 of 2). Rumors are abound that cask 2 is another old Glenrothes cask or ancient Bowmore. Strangely enough, the bottle (and box) says “Japanese Single Cask Vatted Malt Whisky”. From what I understand, vatted malts are combining different matured single malts from one or more distilleries (in a large vat, thus vatted) to bottle. So how is it single cask? Unless they blended the single malts before putting it into the old Glenrothes cask? The timeline is so complicated, even the Grandfather Paradox is easier to understand. However, word on the street is that they had to use “vat” because the juice was teaspooned with Hanyu. Was it teaspooned at Chichibu? At Akkeshi? In Scotland? After “vatting”? On a boat off the coast of Hong Kong? Perhaps a teaspoon of precious, or bad, Hanyu was added to the Chichibu distillate which was then poured into two casks with this bottling being one of those two casks? That makes some sense.
Another funny thing is the name too. The Japanese name of 荒川 means the Ara river near Tokyo (“川” means river, or stream depending on which Asian language), but the English name is Araside and not Ara River. According to some people (IG: @alohawhisky), Araside is supposed to mean the other side of the Ara river, pointing towards Scotland, signifying the trip to Scotland from Japan. I’ve also heard its a play on phonetics where “ara side” sounds like “other side”. I don’t hear it, but I have neither a Japanese nor Scottish accent in my head.
Being a duty free release, I’ve seen this sold at DFS in airports, so far Singapore and Los Angeles, and always sold besides the similarly packaged Eigashima which I do not see at Japanese bars for some reason. If I am reading between the lines correctly, or reading the tea leaves as my fellow expat faculty like to say, this product is indirectly flashing a Compass Box screaming eagle middle finger to the Japanese whisky industry. There are essentially no rules and in a sense, it can be interpreted as “why respect the laws and regulations pertaining to English scotch when they do not benefit Japanese whisky distillers?” Kavalan “gave in” but American bourbon went Manifest Destiny. Probably the differences in cultural thinking due to common law and civil law environments. So pseudo-controversial!
Nose: sweet, pure fruit juice mostly apples, no smoke, no wood.
Palate: wood, then old tofu, and then tobacco at the end. Backend is pure wood. Every flavor is quite distinguishable, but not a diversity of flavors nor are they impactful.
Finish: moderate length, spice in the form of smoke follows. Now my tongue is a little numb, strong finish.
Very interesting dram, but I couldn’t note any evidence of an ex-Glenrothes cask, not saying that I could… For some reason, this reminds me of Ichiro’s Malt Colored Joker, but loads weaker on all tasting aspects. One interesting thing I noticed is although the pedigree looks outstanding: Chichibu, Glenrothes, Duncan Taylor, not many credible tasters say it’s good. I have to agree, it’s not good, but not horrible. Had at The Mash Tun, Meguro, Tokyo, Japan.