Today we have a couple of rarities from Tamamura Honten – two whiskey barrel-aged versions of their Takashi Imperial Stout! Barrel-aged beers are not common at all in Japan so we’re excited to try the Takashi Ichiro and Takashi Ichiro Pete!? barrel-aged imperial stouts.
Tamamura Honten Takashi Ichiro
Package: 330mL bottle
Pour – Black, thick, not much carbonation
Aroma – Whiskey is strong, but also lots of plum, chocolate
Flavor – Initially quite sweet, then some licorice, alcohol burn, finish is has slight chocolate but mostly whiskey, whiskey aftertaste really lingers, sweetness amplifies as it warms up
As I mentioned above, barrel-aged beers are very very rare in Japan. In fact, besides Tamamura Honten, the only ones I can think of are Swan Lake occasionally releasing a barrel-aged version of their imperial stout (which costs like 2000 yen per bottle or something insane like that, I’ve never tried it) and Hitachino Nest with a barrel-aged version of their Espresso Stout (I tried this one once, and it was quite mild). Tamamura Honten, though, have embraced it, and in the past they’ve released barrel-aged versions of their House IPA and Masaji W-IBA. In fact, in addition to this Takashi barrel-aged release they also just released a barrel-aged version of their Isseki Nicho dark saison collaboration with Dieu du Ciel, called Isseki Sancho this time around.
With their barrel-aging, they always use barrels from Chichibu Distillery, which having been founded in 2004 is relatively young but has already received lots of positive buzz and accolades (and is quite pricey). I’m not much of a whiskey drinker so I can’t speak to the quality of the whiskey, but the Ichiro’s Malt Chichibu that was the original inhabitant of the Takashi Ichiro barrels is a very well-regarded whiskey. Descriptors like vanilla, fruit, nuts, and oak seemed to be used commonly with it, so let’s see if we can find that in the beer.
The base beer is the Takashi Imperial Stout, which, while is a pretty enjoyable beer, is probably more of a strong black IPA than a classic imperial stout. In terms of the brewing notes, the Takashi Imperial Stout was brewed in 2013 and then aged in whiskey barrels for a year and a half, and then another year in bottles. So clearly, this is not an easy beer to produce, and it’s good to see a brewer in Japan trying to do things like this.
The Takashi Ichiro is, as you would expect at 11.5% ABC, quite a potent brew. The whiskey fingerprints are all over this one, with it being pretty prominent in both the aroma and the flavor. Naturally given all of the aging the hops haven’t really held up, so we don’t see the hoppiness that we did with the original Takashi Imperial Stout. However, we do see that with the aging we get more of the plum/licorice coming out, which initially provides a nice foil to the whiskey. However, it really begins to become very very sweet as it warms up, and this gives the alcohol a bit of an even harsher tone.
Ultimately, what makes this beer not as good as it could be is perhaps something that was also observed in the base Takashi Imperial Stout – it doesn’t have a ton of roast and chocolate character for an imperial stout. The barrel-aged version here also doesn’t have much going in that direction, and I think that would have really provided a nice balance. I know it would be hard for any brewer to live up to it, but if you compare it the Smoking Wood from The Bruery, the Takashi Ichiro really comes across as raw and immature. The Smoking Wood really gets a good balance of the chocolate, smoke, licorice, and bourbon, with all elements being strong but none of them overpowering. The Takashi Ichiro, on the other hand, is quite punchy but really lets the whiskey and the sweetness get out of hand. There’s no shame in losing out The Bruery, and as personally as I enjoy barrel-aged beers I still like this beer, but I feel like they can do much better. They’d have to start with coaxing a bit more complexity and balance out of their base imperial stout though, so it’ll be interesting to see where they take it from here.
Tamamura Honten Takashi Ichiro Pete!?
Package: 330mL bottle
Pour – Similar pour, black, thick, not much foam
Aroma – Peaty smokiness (bacon) overwhelms all
Flavor – Initially sweet and malty, then peat takes over in a big way, finish is long with peat still strong, very slight licorice and chocolate, aftertaste is all peat and sugar, gets sweeter as it warms up
The Pete!? part of the name, of course, refers to their peated whiskey, the Ichiro’s Malt Chichibu Peated. The Pete!? version of the Takashi Imperial Stout was barrel-aged for 23 months (compared with 18 for the non-peated Takashi Ichiro), and then bottle-aged for another 6 months before release.
The Takashi Ichiro Pete!? is similar to the Takashi Ichiro in that the barrel-aged parts of it really dominate to the point of edging out any other characteristics. In general these kinds of peaty big beers are not so common so it was certainly interesting from that perspective, but again, it could have used a bit more complexity here. Peat and sugar are kind of the main offerings here, and it’s hard for anything else to really get a word in. Again, this has in some ways a lot to do with the original Takashi Imperial Stout, which doesn’t emphasize the chocolate and roast aspects, and also doesn’t do a whole lot for those complex licorice/plum/cherry flavors that you get in some imperial stouts. Too aggressive, as they would say on RateBeer.
Overall though, simply because peat barrel-aged beers are more rare (and I like smoked beers), I thought this was better than the Takashi Ichiro. Both beers were marked by a certain immaturity though, and it would be difficult for them to hold up next to similar beers made by a brewery like The Bruery. It should be noted, though, that they are basically the only brewer in Japan doing this kind of stuff at the moment, so even though these beers aren’t super well-executed and definitely not cheap (over 1000 yen each at Deguchiya!), it’s still worth it to support them. They’re going in the right direction, and as long as they keep putting out these kinds of beers and take the time and care they’re putting into it, regardless of result I’ll be first in line to give them a try.