Japan has always been a special place for me. I grew up watching simple and fun anime such as Dragon Ball and Rurouni Kenshin in my pre-teen years before transitioning to more serious anime like Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood and Gundam during my teen years. Eventually, I enjoyed more mature and darker shows like Attack on Titan and the Fate anime. Of course, I cannot forget other influential mediums Studio Ghibli, Final Fantasy and the Metal Gear series!
I did not have the fortune of visiting Japan until 2014. Up until then, my yearning for Japan had to and could only be sated by anime, Japanese food, Anthony Bourdain and video games. When I finally set foot in Japan, the people, the environment and the food did not disappoint. Finally, being in Japan made my eyes go absolutely wide. It still does.
I’ve been visiting at least once a year ever since. Just as Tony said, Japan is endlessly interesting. Despite the number of times I’ve been there, I don’t think I will ever scratch the surface, whether starting from their Shinto way of life to their outstanding food to, of course, their amazing booze. Japan is endlessly mesmerizing, intimidating and beautiful. It is so mysterious that whatever answer you may find, something you will realize later, is never the answer. I will spend my entire life trying to understand the delicious, fascinating and captivating haven that is Japan.
This leads me to write about this Hampden. Whether it be cocktails or spirits or sake, one cannot deny that Japan is a haven for quality drinks. I have always wondered how some specialist Japanese bars got private bottlings; this unique ability has enabled today’s bottle to remain one of the most interesting one in my collection. The story of my acquiring this bottle has to do with me being able to peel away a very thin layer of Japan’s mystery. Arigato, Manabu-san.
I was given this bottle when I went to Kyoto for the first time at the end of April 2019. My main reason was to visit Rum and Whisky Kyoto, an 8-to-10 seater bar owned by Manabu Sadamoto. I brought him a bottle of a newly-released and sourced “premium” Philippine rum as a means to help grow his collection. He has no employees, so he can’t travel much. After a lot of drinks and a lot of geeky rum talk, he gave me this bottle as I asked for my bill. I had only expected to leave his bar with a lighter wallet and more fond memories. I unintentionally traded for the Hampden, I suppose.
Manabu-san enlightened me on the details of this rum, and a bit on how Japanese bars get private bottlings. This 18-year 55% ABV Hampden is a single cask bottled for Bar Finch, Kariya. Distilled year 2000 and bottled 2018. This is not to be confused with another well-known bar in Nagoya proper called Bar Finch. The light text under the graphic in the label says “Shimoda Masakatsu.” He is the artist responsible for the label. He says that there are a number of small bars in Japan who buy casks via brokers. The bar sells most bottles to other bars across Japan, and few bottles make their way to retail.
Bar Finch Kariya Hampden 18 – review
Color: Muscovado sugar syrup
On the nose: A rough yet savory and lingering greeting of different forms of pineapple, maraschino cherries and tobacco scents. The pineapple scents remind me of pineapple juice, pineapple syrup and a hollowed-out pineapple. The rough greeting felt like a baby grabbing my nostrils. The succeeding breaths were greeted by more gentle scents of Kyoho grapes and Japanese muscat grapes, followed by demerara sugar syrup, rotting bananas with hints of dried shrimp paste, varnish, and bitter oak at the end.
In the mouth: Less fruity and savory, but with more dimension. Similar to the nose, with an initial but shortened greeting of pineapples and cherries. It was immediately followed by long, more and alternating pleasant notes of bananas, nutmeg, cacao, orange peel oils, espresso, and Taiwanese pineapple cakes. All these flavors give off a succulent feeling to it.
This rum is simply kampeki: a gift that keeps on giving. From giving off very savory, fruity and floral yet funky scents to being a multi-dimensional, fruity and spicy funk bomb, this is the oldest and one of the few continental-aged Hampden I’ve tried. Now I want to try more!
This spirit is easily one of the best I’ve ever tried. Comparing this to the Hanyus and Stitzel Wellers I’ve tried would be like comparing the LOTR Ride of the Rohirim to the portal scene in End Game. Both are excellent, but both are of different genres. I am only giving this a 9/10 because I do not yet know what a perfect dram would be like to me. I know there are still more to try and more to learn.