Since we’ve been indulging ourselves in a lot of aged strong beers recently, including the Tamamura Honten Takashi Ichiro and Takashi Ichiro Pete!?, we figured we may as well keep it going. Today we’ve got the very limited Tamamura Honten Isseki Sancho release and a barrel-aged beer from last year, the Tamamura Honten The Far East.
Tamamura Honten Isseki Sancho (玉村本店・一石三鳥)
Package: 330mL bottle
Misc: IBU – 83
Pour – Cola black, some carbonation but not much
Aroma – Lots of vanilla and cherry, also some chocolate, slight hint of alcohol
Flavor – Very smooth, lots of plum and cherry, also very oaky, caramel sweet on the finish, just a touch of whiskey, roasted chocolate, a bit sweet as it warms up
Tamamura Honten have been on a roll in terms of releasing barrel-aged beers, and we just looked at their Takashi Ichiro whiskey barrel-aged Takashi Ichiro releases a little while ago. While both of those were way too strong on the whiskey for my tastes, it also suffered from the fact that the original Takashi Imperial Stout isn’t a top-class beer to begin with.
I haven’t actually tried the base beer for this one, because they don’t brew it very often. It was originally brewed in 2009 as a collaboration with Dieu du Ciel, who are based in Montreal and routinely are cited as one of the best breweries in the world. The original beer, called Isseki Nicho (一石二鳥), which means to kill two birds with one stone (literally the kanji are one stone two birds), was based on the same Takashi Imperial Stout but this time brewed with saison yeast. Again, I haven’t tried it, but the result was supposed to be a nicely balanced hoppy strong dark saison (they called it an imperial dark saison).
The barrel-aged version is also aged in the Ichiro’s Malt whiskey barrels that Tamamura Honten normally uses. However, unlike the Takashi Ichiro series, which were aged for over a year and a half, this beer was only aged for 2 months. Let’s see how it all plays out.
Is this the Dieu du Ciel touch? The Tamamura Honten Isseki Sancho is, in my mind, the best Tamamura Honten barrel-aged beer by far. It really benefits from the short whiskey barrel aging period, and really has a lot going on, with the whiskey just another solid contributor. The oak and the plum really stand out, but there’s also plenty of roast caramel and chocolate to it. It’s very smooth, and there’s just a hint of whiskey that is noticeable but doesn’t dominate the beer to the exclusion of the other elements, as happens in most of their other barrel-aged beers. It does get a little bit sweet as it warms up, but it still keeps all of its flavor elements well.
So this is by far the best of their barrel-aged beers – the whiskey is a nice accent, but the original plum and roast and caramel are really present. A very soft but flavorful beer, I really really liked this one. Unfortunately, production was very limited at 720 bottles, and I was lucky to be able to get one at Shinshu Osakemura, which was only selling 1 to each customer at 810 yen. It was worth dropping by to pick one up, as this is a fantastic beer.
Naming note – the original name was Isseki Nicho, with the “Nicho” referring to Tamamura Honten and Dieu du Ciel as the two collaborators. This time around, as they’ve added Chichibu into the mix with the whiskey barrels, they modified the name to Isseki Sancho.
Tamamura Honten The Far East
Package: 330mL bottle
Pour – Very cloud, grapefruit-juice ruby amber, almost no carbonation, lots of sediment
Aroma – Whiskey aroma is quite strong, candy and sugar, a bit dirty
Flavor – Some malts but mostly caramel, finish is whiskey, sweet
You’ll notice that The Far East is described as a whiskey barrel aged Imperial House IPA, which is a bit odd if you’re familiar with their House IPA. That’s because their House IPA itself is an imperial IPA clocking in at 8%. With this version they actually made an imperial version of that beer, which would make it a triple IPA at 11%, and then aged that in Ichiro’s Malt barrels for 17 months. The final output is a hefty 13% or so!
The Tamamura Honten The Far East is definitely not quite the same as the House IPA with some whiskey there. The House IPA is mostly defined by its bitterness, without a whole lot of focus on malts or even citrus. The high-alcohol whiskey version, on the other hand, doesn’t have any of that bitterness, although it should be noted that this has been aged over a year, which would kill off the hops. I should note that I didn’t mean to age this beer necessarily, but somehow it’s just been sitting in the pantry, so here we are. Anyway, it’s very different beer, with caramel replacing the bitterness overall, the malts coming out more in the beginning (without the bitter hops to steal their thunder), and then with whiskey and sweetness taking over the finish. Overall though, it does blend well with the whiskey to prevent the beer from becoming too alcohol-y. The sweetness is probably something that gets to be a bit too much, but the whiskey doesn’t quite become as overbearing as it did with the Takashi Ichiro series. The whiskey barrel aging timespans are not so different, so perhaps it does have to do with the initial bitterness of the Imperial House IPA that allowed it to not be quite so whiskey-heavy as the Takashi Ichiro beers.
This beer was actually released in February of 2015, but somehow we just got around to reviewing it now. Reviewing my notes it hasn’t changed so much in the year or so since I first tasted it, so it appears to have survived my home cellaring OK. I bought this one direct from Tamamura Honten, which ended up costing me over 1100 yen per bottle including shipping, so you probably could have bought it for cheaper direct from a store. Of course, it’s long gone, but hopefully they release it again soon.
So these two Tamamura Honten whiskey barrel-aged beers are both a big success, with the Isseki Sancho being outright a fantastic beer. The Far East doesn’t quite reach those heights, but is nonetheless an interesting one. Neither are available now, but if they do release them again it’s definitely worth picking one up.