‘We choose rare Japanese malt whiskies, finest malt whiskies from the rest of the world and fuse this unique blend with the highest quality pure spring water from Japan’.
There’s no escaping the origins of this whisky which is only underlined by the processes we have to follow here at Malt. For any article creation, an appropriate category must be selected. The initial thought with ‘product of Japan’¹ emblazoned on the label, is to simply drop this into the land of Nikka and Suntory; job done and move on. Yet we have the literature, and despite the use of rare Japanese whiskies, a worldwide approach has been adopted to create this blended malt whisky. The name itself can be broken into Kami (god) and iki (breath), suggesting that a unforeseen force has been applied.
As a result, we now have a new category entitled worldwide blend to underline the international aspect of the Kamiki whisky. This is a chameleon of a whisky. Everything from the presentation to the Nikka inspired bottle shape, assists in creating that sense of a Japanese whisky. The actual contents have been finished in Yoshino Sugi casks for just 3 months, otherwise known as Japanese cedarwood, or Cryptomeria Japonica if you want to be more specific.
Cedarwood has a very Japanese legacy, being indigenous to the country, and has been used by craftsmen for centuries. From mere fences, boats, panelling to more tactile objects, it lends itself to a variety of uses. Historically, there are feudal legends surrounding this mere tree. In simple terms, it forms part of the Cupressaceae tree family, or you’ll know it better as the conifer. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is now reporting the species as soon to be threatened. While the majority of the trees are grown on plantations nowadays, it is the more ancient clusters that are in danger, and like so many things in our world today, being lost to time.
Visitors for Japan will have unknowingly been astounded by this wood as it forms an integral part of many temples, or even at mealtimes as chopsticks. In terms of drink usage, the casks used in this whisky are I believe 2nd fill with the initial host being potentially sake barrels. As the tree grows tall and straight, it is a perfect contender for cask creation as it has very few knots unlike the more famous and challenging mizunara wood. But if I was to sum up the impact of Sugi, it would be forceful, which underlines the short duration of the finish applied here. This soft wood works quickly and is pungent. Traditional craftsman have developed a method called Shou Sugi Ban to fireproof and seal the wood by charring it until it turns black, then cooling the wood and finishing it with a natural oil. Whilst practical it also creates a wonderful visual and tactile spectacle almost like alligator skin. So, caution must be utilised when adopting Sigu for maturation.
Exclusive wood characteristics and Japanese qualities such as green tea and sandalwood are widely appreciated and sought after. Distinctive in nature and often the signature of a Japanese whisky. Imagine if you will, the devious potential if you could source whisky from anywhere in the world and then apply an immediate finish that in the words of the Vapors, I think I’m turning Japanese, I really think so…, bottle it as a product of Japan and set it out into the world. That’s the danger and the reality we’re faced with as consumers, despite any good intensions.
Responsible for this creation is Yoshino Spirits, that also produce the Umiki Japanese Whisky that we reviewed recently. This world blend is available from Master of Malt for £62.26 and Amazon also have it available for the same price. Shared Pour did have this available for $89.99 although they do have the Kamiki Maltage Intense Wood for $94.99 or the Kamiki Sakura Tree & Cedar Cask Finish also for $94.99.
Kamiki Whisky – review
On the nose: freshly sawn wood, lemongrass, melon and wood spices. Some green tea, vanilla custard and mustard seeds. Decaying banana skin, an unpleasant reflux aspect that I struggle to shake off. Time in the glass allows this to breath and open up more from the initial dominating characteristics. Spices begin to enter the realm, water reveals some Kiwi fruit and apples. There’s also Fenugreek leaves and Pimientos de Padrón.
In the mouth: ginger, sawdust, a well-faded lemon, some bitter lemon as well and yep, sandalwood. Green mango, grapefruit linger before a battle with those wood spices once again. Mustard seeds reappear on the finish. A splash of water brings out musty wood, blood orange, Fenugreek and rosewood.
Well, this has an abundant wood influence all over it. In my mind, I compared this whisky to the recent Bushmills 2008 Muscatel Cask edition, which I recently tried. This Bushmills had 4 years in the finishing wine cask – I thought that had gone just a touch too far in my opinion, but that’s 48 months! In comparison or just 6.25% in duration terms, this whisky has been transformed and forged into a different beast. I’m a bit bamboozled by it in all honesty. There is an almost over-exuberance to say hey I’m Japanese, look at me! Something that seems rife within the Japanese blended malt genre.
In trying too hard, the wood overemphasises the dynamic. I do wonder what value this whisky would have as a mixer and base component to another creation? As such, and noting the improvement with a patient approach and drop of water, this concept lands on average in our scoring system.
¹ This article was written prior to the sudden announcement by the JLSMA (Japanese Spirits & Liqueurs Makers Association) this month. In effect, any whisky labelled as being Japanese must be produced and bottled in Japan. So, a huge and welcome change.
Second image and whisky kindly provided by Kamiki. There are also commission links within this article if you want to check out this release or others in the series while supporting Malt.