Diwali Drams – Hakushu NAS 43%

First up in the Whisky LadiesDiwali Drams” evening was the once elusive Hakushu… part of Suntory’s trio of distilleries:

Of the Suntory stable of whiskies, the Hakushu 18 year was an early favourite of mine… however as the price tag rose and availability plummeted, my attentions wandered in other directions. Since then Hakushu launched this NAS and one can sometimes also find the Hakushu 12 year – including at another Diwali party in Mumbai!

But on to the Whisky Ladies experience…

Hakushu NAS 40% – Distiller’s Reserve

  • Nose – Apples, pears, peach schnapps, honey, very refreshing with a ‘happy whisky’ character, settled into a delicious apple sauce, then basil, then shifted to caramel apple
  • Palate – Light peat, fennel and aniseed, again that cooked apple with a dash of cinnamon, toasted pine nuts, light tingle of citrus orange peel. Interestingly, all the fresh green fruits dancing on the nose initially could not be discerned on the palate… as it opened up further, the green apple just kept returning, with a hint of green tea
  • Finish – Light yet long finish, with a peak of pepper becoming sweetly spicy at the end

To be honest, there was a mix of responses… Some found it eminently drinkable but a bit “flat”… Some enjoyed the apple and light peat whereas for others… Let’s just say that they remained a bit indifferent. 

However, even those who were initially not terribly impressed, found that as they kept sipping, it somehow subtly wooed one over, one sip at a time.

Overall we concluded it has a nice interplay between hint of peat, lovely freshness on the nose and very light on the palate. Nothing to challenge you, but nothing to distress you either. Quite the opposite, it is quite a decent dram if you set aside any expectations in line with its exquisite age-statement avatars of old.

Those who are curious to compare tasting experiences, another Mumbai tasting group sampled the Hakushu NAS 43% in January 2017 as the start of an “East to West” themed evening.

This whisky was purchased from Frankfurt airport for around £45, tasted from a closed bottle in October 2017, Mumbai.

Whiskies sampled in our Diwali Drams evening included:

PS – By the end of the evening a Yamazaki also entered the fray… so in truth, we had three sets of “competitions” going… with a tremendous range of preferences – as it should be!

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Whisky Ladies Diwali Drams from Japan + Bhutan

Gathering bedecked in their colourful finery, the Whisky Ladies came together to enjoy some interesting Diwali Drams… specifically from Japan and Bhutan.

And while we didn’t gamble at cards, we did pit together different whiskies to see which prevailed!

What all did we sample as part of our Diwali celebrations?

Whisky Ladies Drams (Photo: Nikoulina Berg)

Just click on the whisky links above to read more about what we discovered…

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A perfect partner… Suntory’s Toki 43%

After our rather interesting evening exploring Rampur from India, Royal Lochnagar 12 year and the remarkable aged grain Girvan 28 year…. we had an opportunity to pick anything from our hosts floor to ceiling whisky cupboard…

My eye spied Suntory’s Toki… like Hibiki,Toki is made from Yamazaki, Hakushu and Chita.

Suntory’s Toki 43%

  • Nose – Cheese, lemon miringue pie, light peaches or crisp apples, simple
  • Palate – Exceedingly smooth, very drinkable, think custard, hint of ginger, light citrus, fresh and clean
  • Finish – Short, sweet, a little spicy, simple yet pleasing

Our immediate reaction is this would pair well with a cheese and fruit platter – think a nice range of old cheddar and applies. Or desert – something light not heavy. Or even an arugula salad with blue cheese and caramel walnuts.

I brought the glass with us for the dinner… our desert was a baked lagan nu custard. And the Toki paired with it? perfection! Just the right interplay between the different elements and an ideal way to close the evening.

Here’s what the folks at Suntory have to say:

  • Color – clear gold
  • Nose – basil, green apple, honey
  • Palate – grapefruit, green grapes, peppermint, thyme
  • Finish – subtly sweet and spicy finish with a hint of vanilla oak,
    white pepper and ginger

Also from our evening:

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Whisky Archives – Cracking open the cabinet…

Another from the tasting archives… this time from Sept 2011. Rediscovering these notes brought a flood memories of my previous Mumbai flat… that had a fabulous cabinet in which all my whisky was stashed… now replaced in our current home by a larger storage space waaaaay up high in our kitchen pantry.

We broke with tradition and merrily abandoned all pretense of blind tastings… instead settled down for a sampling of various bottles. It became a  popularity contest between different regions and geographies as small pegs of multiple whiskies were sniffed, swirled, swallowed, savoured and yes – much discussed!

Samplings from earlier sessions - all quaffed at one occasion!

Speyside‘s dominated the evening with:

  • Aberlour’s cask strength Abu’nadh batch 32 (sampled earlier) and batch 31 were compared. Batch 31 was a clear winner and a hit of the evening! Bold yet with an extraordinary warm finish… with layers to discover and enjoy.
  • Aberlour 10 year held its own with slight smokiness and butter, however was overshadowed by it’s cask strength cousin.
  • Cragganmore 12 year was softer on the palate and a nice contrast to the Abelours
  • Glenrothes 12 year (also sampled earlier) gained appreciation for its smooth fruity aroma, sherry note and oak, medium slightly spicy finish.

Islay‘s were represented by a few familiar friends:

  • Bunnahabhain 12 year 40% is a regular favourite with several folks
  • Caol Ila is also well-known and after the last drop of one bottle was polished off, another was opened… Need one say more?
  • Lagavulin 16 year was also a familiar friend but neglected with all the other options…

Highland

  • Dalwhinnie from the highest distillery in Scotland was a delightful gentler ‘everyday’ favourite

Japan

  • Suntory’s Hakushu 18 year…. In a class of its own with hints of forest, moss, nuanced, with a divine finish – simply exquisite. It remains one of my favourites!

Canada

  • Crown Royal from Gimli, Manitoba (my home province) certainly added a different element with rye, however alas outclassed by single malt companions

Naturally what’s expressed here is only one interpretation based on snippets of conversation and personal bias. Would love to hear others opinions on any of these whiskies…

Slainthe!

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Has the Japanese whisky ‘bubble’ burst? Hakushu 43%

Once upon a time, the Hakushu 18 year was a favourite – an excellent example of exquisite balance with complexity and a touch of smoke to make it interesting. Then the price rose to ridiculous levels and availability went from challenging to near impossible.

With our original group, we taste blind, so our experience is influenced only by our reactions not any other element… hence we had no clue we were about to experience a Hakushu NAS avatar picked up in Japan.

Here is what we found:

  • hakushuNose – Quite vibrant, fresh, clean, light citrusy lemon, lots of perfumes, tropical fruits, very sweet… as it opened started to take on a musky quality, then quite woodsy – particularly pine – like walking through a temperate forest, coriander seeds… a bit mossy
  • Palate – As the 1st whisky of the evening, the initial sip was bitter, then became sugar sweet, light and dry, cereals, with a nice gentle spice, dry currents, slight resin, while it lacked body, it sat nicely mid palate
  • Finish – Short and sweet with a hint of nuts
  • Water – While not needed, helped open it up slightly to reveal dry coconut, and the slightly nutty element shifted to nutty biscuits

Overall we found this an exceedingly ‘friendly’ whisky, absolutely no harshness, very smooth. Light, uncomplicated, enjoyable in its way.

Speculation ran against it being Scottish and Japan was mentioned but it didn’t quite fit the profile of familiar offerings. We found it quite ‘youthful’ and possibly matured in white oak barrels.

And the reveal… Hakushu?!? Where was the light dancing peat? The complexity?

Conversations turned to aged Hakushu vs its current re-incarnation… disappointment over the NAS Chita vs the beautiful Chita 12 year, Yoichi‘s of yore not coming close to their NAS avatar

Has the Japanese whisky ‘bubble’ burst? Has the price surpassed quality? While still ‘well constructed’ where is the ‘soul’ that tipped the whisky from being ordinary to extraordinary?

Sigh…

Just to compare, what do the folks over at Suntory have to say about this Hakushu?

Fresh with citric notes.

  • Colour – Light gold
  • Nose – Peppermint, melon, cucumber
  • Palate – Yuzu, grapefruit, lemon thyme
  • Finish – Refreshing, subtle smoke

Can’t argue with most except the smoke… clearly it was too subtle for us!

Other whiskies sampled that evening include:

For more related updates and activities, check out:

East to West – Hakushu, PJ Bold, Puni Alba + Clynelish

I love the forethought and creativity that goes into some of our whisky tasting sessions…

Our January 2017 host’s theme was a journey from East to West… following a geographic progression from Japan to India to Italy and finally Scotland.

hakushu-paul-john-puni-clynelish

It was a fabulously curated collection that shifted in styles and threw in surprises too! Each was sampled completely blind before the reveal.

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Hakushu 18 year – revisiting a favourite

After packing for an impromptu trip to Amsterdam, I decided to treat myself by revisiting one of my favourite Japanese whiskies – the Hakushu 18 year.

The choice

Years ago Suntory came to Mumbai to explore the Indian market. My friend and I were introduced to their range and even from the first sip, the Hakushu whiskies stood out for me as far more exceptional than their better known Yamazaki cousins.

Since I picked up my first bottle in Singapore, the price has steadily risen. On my last trip to Tokyo, my quest was for lesser known Japanese whiskies, so I skipped re-stocking this favourite yet found even there it was inching into to the more expensive category.

There are just a few drams remaining in my last bottle and I’ve jealously guarded them… storing it now for several years.

Hakushu 18 year

Hakushu 18 year

The tasting notes

So… after such a long time, has my memory of this delightful whisky faded? Has the whisky itself stood the test of time despite its storage?

  • Nose: Vanilla sweet, fresh grass with just the lightest tickle of peat, it then warms into a deeper note of cherries, almost floral
  • Taste: More spice than I remembered, a delightful burn that reveals multiple elements – a hint of leather and smoke, perhaps plum too?
  • Finish: Even though the bottle was opened more than a year ago… the finish lingered… no harshness, a touch of smoke, a drop of honey, slightly nutty oaky elements emerged after a minute

Conclusion

My memories were of an exquisite nuanced whisky… one that had multiple elements and needed time to distill and describe the different notes and flavours. The fresh grass nose was more subdued than I remembered however it is no surprise to have dulled after being stored in an open bottle for so long.

Also, when I first tried the Hakushu 18, it was before I sampled Irish potstill whiskies. Sampling now, I’m reminded of Yellow Spot or Redbreast – both superb whiskies.

So is it still a favourite? Well… it would certainly remain in my recommended list however may not be a priority to replace when the last drop of this bottle is gone… more because of its current price point than preference.

Any other opinions? (aside from castigating me for storing whisky for so long!)

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