Japan Jaunt – Hakushu 43%

After two blends and a Nikka single malt from Miyagikyo distillery, the last in our “Japanese Jaunt” was a single malt from Suntory’s Hakushu distillery.

It was certainly not my 1st experience with Hakushu… Once upon a time the 18 year old was a favourite until it became highly elusive. Then our original tasting group sampled the NAS avatar.… followed by the Whisky Ladies… leaving only our Bombay Malt & Cigar gents to sample… which happened one fine evening in March 2018.

Hakushu NAS 43%

  • Nose – Plunged into a wet forest, light peat, crisp apples, pine needles, fresh bark, aniseed, a bit of spice, pistachios, green sap, very fresh and sweet
  • Palate – Hugs the tongue, very soft and a great mouthfeel, citrus spice, bitter almond with a light spice chaser and a puff of smoke
  • Finish – Bitter sweet finish with more of the aniseed coming to the fore
  • Water – Like the Miyagikyo, absolutely no temptation to add

Overall it was pronounced “very nice” until the topic of its price was raised. Which sparked a debate about whether Japanese whiskies are truly worth the hype.

Whether you think yes or no, the bottom line is our evening was filled with finely crafted whiskies with a range of characters and it was a most enjoyable exploration.

Here’s what the folks at Suntory have to say about their Hakushu distillery:

Straight from the untouched forests, soft and crisp waters and mountains of the Southern Japanese Alps, it is no wonder that Hakushu is a “green and fresh” whisky.Created by the dream for a new type of whisky of Keizo Saji, the second master brender, the unique taste made in distinct

Four seasons in high altitude is praised by the most curious whisky connoisseurs and lovers of gastronomy. Its crisp and vibrant feel, unique in a single malt whisky, enlivens and liberates your senses.

What else did we taste in our “Japan Jaunt“?

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Japan Jaunt – Hibiki “Masters Select” 43%

Our Bombay Malt and Cigar gents began as staunchly preferring Scottish Single Malts. And while one could explore for years and years and still be scratching the surface of Scottish expressions, it is nice to veer in a different direction too.

Hence our host’s theme of Japanese whiskies. He admitted that he’s a bit “late” to the Japanese craze and somewhat aghast at the prices for such drams. However curiosity plus a few duty free stops lead to acquiring a quartet of two blends and two single malts, covering a range from Japan’s two most popular whisky companies – Suntory and Nikka.

1st up was Hibiki from Suntory – a blend of their single malts Yamazaki and Hakushu together with their grain Chita. What did the gents think?

Hibiki Japanese Harmony “Master’s Select” NAS 43%

  • Nose – Malty coffee caramel, oranges, elder flower, opens to forest green
  • Palate – Dances along the surface, lightly piquant, different elements, bitter almond
  • Finish – Bitter
  • Water – Rounds out

We set it aside and revisited after finishing our sampling of all four whiskies. What did we find?

  • Soft sweet and slightly salty
  • Fairly innocuous

Overall we pronounced it a “happy” drinking whisky. Not complex, but it doesn’t need to be. A perfect “starter” whisky for those who are new to the world of whisky and curious to try something from Japan. Translation – what we would serve at parties if just happened to have an open bottle and not be terribly upset if it is emptied by the end of the evening.

I’ve had several trysts with Hibiki – its earlier 12 and 17 year incarnations, part of a blind tasting with our original club when the NAS expression 1st launched years ago plus a rather nice chocolate pairing with the Whisky Ladies. Which means this particular expression has graced all three Mumbai based whisky tasting clubs.

I once even attempted to create my own version of Hibiki bringing together a few drops of an older Yamazaki with the Hakushu 18 year and Chita 12 year. While not disastrous, I’m clearly no master blender!

And what else did we sample in our Japanese jaunt?

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Highland Park Einar 40%

Einar is part of Highland Park’s warrior series – created for duty free with a figure from Orkney’s Viking history.

Highland Park Einar 40%

  • Nose – Peat?? Sweet but not overly sweet, grain, fairly reticent with soft vanilla, hint of smoke
  • Palate – Soft peaty, very accessible, lures you in
  • Finish – Increasing peat then dissipates
  • Water – Adding water makes it taste less like water, with a spicier palate

Overall it was easy to drink, enough sweet and light peat to be Highland Park, but for us, it clearly fell into the category of Duty Free No Age Statement (NAS) palate or, to use our newly coined term, was quite NASPy.

Here is what the folks over at Highland Park have to say:

The joint Earl of Orkney from 1014, EINAR was a bold and ruthless warrior and ruler, renowned for venturing on long and daring voyages and clearly distinguishable by his mighty axe.

Matured in Sherry seasoned American and European oak casks, the warm flavours of zesty dried orange peel and vanilla pods sweetly unfold in each dram of EINAR.

And Highland Park’s tasting notes:

  • Appearance: Rich golden, clear and bright
  • Nose: Pineapple, spicy, wood smoke, dried peel and golden syrup
  • Palate: Initially smoky and vanilla, citrus peel develops 
  • Finish: Vanilla sweetness and lingering smokiness

Curious about other Highland Park whiskies sampled?

I sampled it initially from a freshly opened bottle in a social context in August, then later with friends in September 2017 from a mini sample taken from the same bottle.

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Auchentoshan Heartwood 43%

What to do when you discover a common thread in standard duty-free offerings? Coin a new term! In our case, none were “nasty” merely “NASpy.” Confused? Read on….

Auchentoshan is known for its lighter whiskies, triple distilled in the Lowlands. Their Heartwood combines ex-bourbon and ex-sherry Olorosso casks.

Auchentoshan Heartland 43%

  • Nose – Fermented fruit, pear, light honey, melon, pine, warm vanilla, a slight piquant (not spice), pear tart, fresh fruit basket, custard which settled into a soft caramel with basil
  • Palate – Light on the palate, there like a whisky rinse
  • Finish – Bitter light burn with wood

Overall quite fruity – particularly pear – sweet, light and a dash of other elements. In short, we found it not unpleasant though entirely innocuous.

Between this and the Highland Park Einar we sampled next, we coined a category of whisky where one could say “You know, it just simply is rather NASPy.” Referring to a generic travel retail breed of No Age Statement palates that aren’t awful but are certainly not awesome either… in other words something that may be acceptable for parties but not a whisky we would deliberately buy.

Here is what the folks over at Auchentoshan have to say on the bottle note:

Released for travel retail, the Auchentoshan Heartwood is made with triple distilled single malt Scotch whisky which has been matured in both Oloroso Sherry casks and bourbon casks, resulting in a very well balanced expression from the Lowland distillery.

No other tasting notes… so for your amusement, I suggest you check out what the Whisky Wafflers have to say about Auchentoshan’s Heatwood.

I sampled it initially from a freshly opened bottle in a social context in August, then later from a mini sample with friends in September 2017.

Curious about other Auchentoshan whiskies sampled?

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Worthy Whiskies – Mortlach 49%

Our Whisky Ladies September 2017 Sunday Sundowner began with a Mortlach. Til date, most Mortlach’s I’ve sampled were independent bottles such as the Scotch Malt Whisky Society’s 76.131 “Totally Tastylicious” or two Gordon & MacPhail offerings – the 15 year  and 37 year. All of these were simply superb!

However this was my very first official bottling – picked up by one of our Whisky Ladies from Duty  Free. What did we find?

Mortlach NAS 49%

  • Nose – Restrained, very sweet and fruity with some floral elements like lavender and herbs, reminds one of early summer, some honey, wildflower and yet you need to work at it to catch all the nuances, the range of aromas do not come easily
  • Palate – Surprising after such a subtle nose, it initially hits with alcohol on the palate, then continues in the fruity vein with apricot. The next sip was quite woody on the edge of being harsh. Further sips did not reveal anything significant.
  • Finish – A smokey finish with spice and again apricots
  • Water – Helps mellow it down – bringing out honey raisins on the nose and, after it settles down, reduces the punchy brashness of the palate, revealing a spicy bitter dimension

This is one that absolutely smell sweeter and more nuanced than it tastes. It also falls into the category of NAS fare (since dubbed “NASPy“) which has nothing specifically very wrong, but also limited distinguishing features to make you stand up and pay attention.

If I was to be perfectly honest – it disappointed.

Simply as it is quite different than earlier Mortlach’s sampled which truly did live up to labels like “Totally Tastylicious” or the full-bodied, meaty and multi-layered Gordon & MacPhails.

So what do the Mortlach folks have to say on the box about this whisky?

A clear amber colour introduces complex aromas of ripe red apple and berry fruit underpinned by a supply savouriness. Which all evolves as a rich ice cream sweetness, with creamy vanilla on the intense palate fresh blueberries and black cherries soon meet sweet, smooth honey. Then savoury spices and late wood. The finish is long and richly rounded.

This Mortlach was opened in September 2017 fresh for the Ladies to sample and was last spotted at an airport sporting a $120 price tag for a 50cl bottle. More than a tad high for what it delivered…

What else did we sample in our Whisky Ladies “Worthy Whiskies” Sunday Sundowner?

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Bowmore Travel Trilogy – Gold Reef 43%

Next up in our Bowmore travel trilogy was another NAS – Gold Reef.

This particular bottle was acquired on my partner‘s trip to Beirut, Lebanon on behalf of our host – a fellow theatre actor. Since last year we have impatiently waited for an opportunity to bring our trilogy together…

And what did the Whisky Ladies think?

Bowmore Gold Reef 43%

  • Nose – Treacle, apple, summery caramel, toasted coconut, marzipan, with tropical fruits. As it opened, particularly after sipping, a delicious maple syrup joined some peat with sweet vanilla and hint of spice
  • Palate – Peat, citrus, heat, bitter chocolate, a bit of dry wood
  • Finish – The heat opens up revealing honey sweet, cinnamon then after a few more sips settles into a bitter finish

We found it very inviting on the nose, the palate was such a contrast – in a good way. The finish remains.

Here is what the Bowmore folks have to say about this whisky:

“Inspired By The Sun’s Reflection On Islay’s Coral Seabed.”

Further out to sea and deep beneath the waves lies Gold Reef. Named for the way the glow of the sun’s rays reflect off the coral seabed, this same old catches the eye inside every bottle of Gold Reef. Predominately matured in 1st fill ex-bourbon casks, it rewards with notes of smooth vanilla, citrus fruits and sea salt.

  • Nose: Vanilla, coconut milk, delicious baked peach, oranges and lemons
  • Taste: Tangy peat, pineapple, juicy mango and kiwi fruit tempered by sea salt and olive oil
  • Finish: The long, honeyed, zesty finish

Not so sure about the kiwi fruit or olive oil but certainly the balance is more or less what we found!

Our Bowmore ‘travel trilogy‘ evening included:

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Bowmore Travel Trilogy – Black Rock 40% Revisited

1st in our Bowmore travel trilogy was an NAS whisky we sampled a few months earlier – Black Rock.

The original bottle helped inspire the Bowmore Travel Trilogy theme… as one of our ladies happened to acquire it at the same time I picked up the White Sands. However when another whisky lady picked up the very same one, it gave us an opportunity to try it in one of our “Contributor’s Choice” evenings a little earlier and revisit it side-by-side with two other Bowmores – what fun!

Bowmore Black Rock 40%

And what did the Whisky Ladies think the 2nd time around?

  • Nose – Smoked fruit, dried prunes, sun-dried currents and cranberries, burnt orange, roasted almond, a puff of smoke
  • Palate – Sweet spice, smooth peat, bit of cloves, that hint of smoke carried through
  • Finish – Cinnamon sweet, there but barely

Overall a simple straight forward whisky. We found the nose more exciting than the palate. Easy to drink though some found it a little sweet.

How did this contrast with our earlier tasting experience?

  • Nose – Initially sour curd, warm and wintry, intense and then closed, light peat, then strong sour cherry, raisins spice toasted nuts
  • Palate – Well… clearly into 40% territory here… however once we got past the ‘watered down’ dimension enjoyed the smoky, cherry and other tight dried berries, sweet dry spices
  • Finish – Much fainter than expected – just a touch of sweetness, smoke and spice

Here is what the Bowmore folks have to say about this whisky:

“Inspired by the Black Rock of Islay.”
  • Nose – Smoke infused with raisins, pepper, warm cocoa beans and burnt orange
  • Taste – Rich sherry and peat smoke followed by blackcurrant treacle toffee and cinnamon spice
  • Finish – Beautifully balanced peat smoke and sea salt

Our Bowmore ‘travel trilogy’ evening included:

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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:

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Glenlivet Master Distiller’s Reserve 40%

Last in our original Mumbai whisky tasting group‘s October session was a no age statement Glenlivet.

Glenlivet is a global leader in single malt. They know scale. They know what the masses want. You will find Glenlivet practically everywhere. And generally at fairly reasonable prices too.

We sampled it blind, from a new bottle… and here is what we found…

glenlivet

Glenlivet Master Distiller’s Select 40%

  • Nose – Bit organic, sour curd, sour fruits, sweet and ‘green’
  • Palate – At first a burn, bit bitter, again that sense of being ‘green’, quite smooth with no depth
  • Finish – Medium with a hint of cinnamon

We found it quite light, again expected it would be 40% and while there was nothing specifically ‘wrong’ there was nothing that stood out as fabulously ‘right’ either.

The sense of being ‘green’ or young was clear and overall quite smooth. If anything, it was nice yet, well, rather bland.

Created for travel retail, it certainly wouldn’t be for anyone on a quest for something ‘different’ however it is sufficiently light and simple, you won’t realize when your glass is empty.

Here is what the folks over at Glenlivet have to say:

  • Colour – Bright, exuberant gold
  • Nose – Ripe pear, fudge
  • Palate – Fruit, pear, spice
  • Finish – Marzipan, fresh hazelnuts

The distillery shares it is triple cask matured in first fill American and ex-sherry oak.

What all did we try in our October session?

Other Glenlivet sampling sessions:

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Mixing things up – Connemara, Glengoyne, Glenlivet

After more than five years, our original Mumbai whisky tasting group has become known for pushing the boundaries with a focus on discovering new and different whiskies.

We’ve had home-made experiments with aging, phenomenal food pairings, independent bottlers, country specific themes, unique blends and more!

Which meant it was high time to revisit slightly different avatars of well known whiskies, completely blind to avoid the influence of advertising and pre-conceived notions.

glenlivet-connemara-glengoyne

What did we try?

No strangers to these brands, we’ve even previously had a session focused on Glenlivet, a couple of Glengoynes over the years and most have separately sampled Connemara.

What made it interesting is the order…

Traditionally, we would start with the lightest (Glenlivet) then sherry (Glengoyne) and close with a peated whisky (Connemara).

Here we did the exact opposite – peat, sherry, light! With some interesting results.

*Tasting notes coming soon

Related tasting sessions:

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