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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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…
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…
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!
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!
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:
Nose – 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?