Earlier this month, Mayfair bar Sexy Fish opened all 358 bottles in its Japanese whisky collection, from gorgeous everyday expressions to some of the world’s rarest bottlings. We hear from bars director Xavier Landais on how and why he undertook such an epic task, and what it’s like to taste such an incredible array of whiskies…
Japanese whisky is having more than just a moment. Earlier this year, a Yamazaki 50-year-old single malt bottling set a new auction world record, fetching almost £210,000 in Hong Kong. It’s become much harder for drinkers to get their mitts on even the most accessible expressions, especially after a 2015 decision from Nikka to discontinue all its age statement whiskies in most markets. With all this demand, we were intrigued by news that fancy London bar Sexy Fish had opened its entire stock of Japanese whisky bottlings – all 358 of them.
With some of these bottlings experiencing exceptional demand on the secondary market, hitting those lofty auction prices and stirring up all kinds of demand, why open the whole lot? Here, Xavier Landais, bars director at Caprice Holdings (parent of Sexy Fish), explains how a passion for truly understanding the Japanese whisky category and a desire to counter that investment culture informed the decision…
“Together with Tristan Stephenson of Fluid Movement, Colin Dunn, whisky brand ambassador from Diageo, and Sexy Fish bar manager Jerome Allaguillemette, I decided to taste all of the whiskies at Sexy Fish over the course of nine sessions, split by distillery. As it stands, we are on session five, and have gained an understanding of which ones might not be the best fit. Luckily we have only decided to delist two so far!
“We decided to carry out this tasting for several reasons. The first is, we have the second-largest collection in the world at Sexy Fish, over 358 whiskies, but we wanted to be assured that ours was the best. In order to be able to confidently promote these to our customers – both beginners and connoisseurs alike – we had no option but to try them all and create an understandable menu with tasting notes that appeal to our guests.
“Secondly, we consider ourselves to be pretty good when it comes to Japanese whiskies, however trying all the whiskies from a single distillery really opened up our understanding of the liquids and caused us to think of them differently. For example, trying all 16 Nikka Myiagykio highlighted a certain style, while all Yoichis were individually so different, we could truly envisage how much skill and indeed fun must go into the creations from that distillery. By becoming empathetic to the people behind the bottles, we are creating a new-style of menu which removes the stigma and pomp of Japanese whisky, providing a genuine taste education on a sector which has been historically shrouded in secrecy and withheld for the elite.
“Thirdly, opening every bottle on the back bar is a bold statement I was personally keen to make. Japanese whisky as an investment has become so popular that some limited editions never make it to any bars. We actually have some collectors who come specifically to our bar to try whiskies they have at home but can’t open. By opening all of the bottles, we are actively encouraging our visitors to make adventurous and unusual decisions, far from the norm they would usually choose. This enables our guests to further their learning in this field and showcases Sexy Fish as a pioneering bar where anyone and everyone can enjoy Japanese whiskies of varying rarity.
“We also use Japanese whisky in cocktails. On our current menu, which launched in March, there are three cocktails that use it but we also have a full page of classic whisky cocktails, such as an Old Fashioned, a Manhattan, a Whisky Sour and four whisky flights. This is also a technique to make Japanese whisky more approachable and encourage our guests to embrace the variety within the sector.
“We chose Colin Dunn and Tristan Stephenson to join us as they are two of the most respected whisky experts globally and we really wanted tasting notes from all of us that we agreed on as a group. Our tasting notes will be universal, to the point, easy to understand but definitely not boring. All in all our goal is to make what is ultimately a very large and overwhelming collection more approachable and fun, emboldening and inspiring people to visit us for a unique taste of something really special.”
What do you think about the decision to open alllllll the whiskies? Has the appetite for Japanese whisky investment made it more difficult to enjoy the category? Do you have a favourite Japanese whisky expression? Let us know if the comments below!