There’s a booming demand for Japanese whiskey at the moment, and for good reason. The blending of traditional Scottish methods with Japanese production methods and materials creates an interesting, delicate, and often delicious flavor profile. The Shin is a newer entrant into the market, but you’d never know it from the slick branding and the age statement on their spirits.
The Shin Group is a Japanese whiskey distribution company. Founded in 2012, the company states that it is their intent to focus on uniquely Japanese alcohol products. They don’t actually own any distilleries or manufacturing plants — instead, they partner with distilleries to create brands and market their products.
The word “shin” translates as “integrity” in Japanese, and is one of the core principles of the samurai.
Japan has some of the loosest regulations in the world when it comes to attribution and labeling of spirits. To the point, in fact, where a spirit doesn’t actually have to be distilled in Japan to be called a Japanese whisky… which is something I think this bottle is trying to exploit.
According to the manufacturer, this spirit comes from a blend of different malt whiskies. Precisely where those source spirits originate is not disclosed, so they could be from local distilleries or even imported from as far away as the United States. There’s really no way to tell.
As a malt whisky, the source grains used for the spirit should be 100% malted barley. The raw barley is soaked and allowed to germinate, a process through which the starch in the seeds is broken down and made more digestible by yeast. Once properly sprouted, the seeds are heated to stop the process, ground, cooked, and fermented to make a mildly alcoholic beer. This is then distilled to concentrate the whiskey before being aged or shipped.
In this case, once the whisky arrives at the Shinobu Distillery, it is blended and then placed into mizunara oak casks. The mizunara oak (whose name translates to “water oak” for its porous and leaky nature) is a traditional local Japanese oak that produces unique flavors when used to age whisky.
How long this spirit stays in the cask is unknown, but raises further questions. This is marketed as a 10-year whisky… but the Shin Group that makes it has only been around since 2012. Which means the first “homemade” run of this would only start to be available in 2022, if at all. Based on that info, it is likely that the sourced malt whisky is already 10 years old when it reaches the Shinobu Distillery, and the spirit only stays in these unique barrels for a short period of time.
Typically speaking, Japanese whisky seems to be moving away from the traditional Scottish and American style of bottles. Shorter bottles with a more geometric design seem to be common for the flagship products — which explains why this bottle looks very similar to the Nikka Whisky From the Barrel.
The majority of this bottle is square in construction, with sides bowed slightly outwards. The walls are even and straight, with a relatively sharp shoulder that tapers quickly to a very short neck. The bottle is capped off with a plastic screw-on cap that is finished to look like metal.
The bottle comes in a box, much like the Scottish spirits do. Both the box and the label on the front of the bottle share a common theme, with a black background and the image of a samurai helmet and face mask emblazoned on it. The brand information, as well as a border around the label, are in a metallic gold ink.
The aroma coming off the glass is consistent with other good Japanese whisky, in that it is on the lighter and more floral side of the spectrum. There’s some honey and melon in there, along with a bit of sourdough bread. But there’s also a rich oaky wood note that gives it some depth, probably from those mizunara oak casks.
Taking a sip, the flavor delivers on the promises of the aroma. There’s a good medium body weight to the spirit when it first hits your tongue, and the very first flavors I get are the rich caramel and vanilla tones from that oak. Nowhere near as strong or powerful as an American bourbon, naturally, but contributing some of the same components. Following right behind is some honey sweetness, baking spices, and a bit of light floral flavors with more of that sweet melon.
Most surprisingly of all, there’s a bit of a spicy kick to the finish. I think it’s some combination of the alcohol content and the flavors, but it’s very similar to the black pepper spice you get from a rye whiskey.
Ice tends to be a bit of a problem with Scottish style whisky. The lighter flavors and sweeter tones tend to get cancelled out by the dilution and the added cold, unable to weather the storm quite as well as its bolder American counterparts. That’s the case here as well… but, surprisingly, that might not necessarily be a bad thing.
What’s left after the sweeter and lighter notes have dissipated are the stronger, deeper, richer notes from the oak barrels. Again, those flavors aren’t nearly as saturated or “punched in” as with an American bourbon, but they are making a solid showing here. The caramel and vanilla, with a little bit of baking spices and just a hint of honey, remains behind and still goes strong.
This is a pretty good bottle of whisky. There’s some cool flavors in here, and the experience is great. Absolutely, solidly worth the money you paid for it.
This is what a bottle of Japanese whisky at this price point should taste like. But what’s going to keep this in the three star range instead of letting it move any further up the rankings is the availability of things like Nikka’s Whisky from the Barrel — which is actually distilled by Nikka, in Japan, has better packaging, and a better flavor to boot. All for about $5 cheaper.
I’m also a little bummed about the provenance of this spirit. Part of the allure of Japanese whisky is tasting things that were actually distilled in Japan. Here, we really don’t know where this spirit came from — but they are darn sure milking that Japanese connection for all it’s worth in the branding and marketing.
|The Shin 10 Year Japanese Malt Whisky|
Produced By: The ShinOwned By: Shin Group
Production Location: Japan
Classification: Blended Whiskey
Aging: 10 Years
Proof: 48% ABV
Price: $79.99 / 750 ml
Overall Rating: 3/5
A Japanese whisky that might not be from Japan. But for this flavor, I might be able to forgive those sins.