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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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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Suntory Chita Single Grain Whisky 43%

I was in Tokyo for a few days in July 2014 for work – just enough time to both fall in love with the place and hunt down some interesting whiskies.

My quest was to discover whiskies less available outside Japan – and there was oodles of choice!

Alas I was restricted in quantity – my next stop was Shanghai before Kuala Lumpur and then finally home to Bombay. The solution was to pick up a few sample sized 180 – 200 ml options and not restrict myself to the impossible choice of just one.

While my initial thought was to stay away from Suntory, given its international success and pre-eminent status producing whisky in Japan, it was hard to miss! So I avoided the more accessible Yamazaki and Hakushu distilleries and decided to give Chita a chance…

When you think of Japanese blends, one that immediately comes to mind is  Hibiki… And one of the key elements in Hibiki is whisky from Suntory’s Chita Distillery in Port Nagoya, Aichi prefecture, an area better known for its production of sake.

I wasn’t sure what to expect of a single element of Hibiki however was sufficiently intrigued, it made the final ‘cut’ for accompanying me across multiple borders.

After sampling it in this month’s whisky tasting session, I’m so pleased it did.

Simple packaging for a superb whisky

Simple packaging for a superb dram (Whisky Lady)

Chita Single Grain Whisky 43%
  • Colour – Pale straw
  • Nose – Fruit basket, lemony, spray of perfume or a refreshing cologne, sweet honey, hint of peat… like a fresh meadow bursting with the scent of flowers
  • Taste – A delight – smooth, subtle, honey, a bit dry on the tongue, a tinge of tumeric, light spice, in short it seemed bright, likely young but utterly superb
  • Finish – Short happy finish
  • Water? – One sacrificed to try however would not recommend adding even one drop! It is perfection exactly as is!
Impressions:
  • Everyone found it exquisite – very delicate, yet still rounded with lots of subtle nuances
  • As it was so light, it gave the impression of youth with a dash of sophistication
  • A bright splash of perfume! None could recall having a whisky with quite this pronounced a perfume…
  • Once the region was identified as Japan, one thought of Hibiki – and he was spot on!

While not stated on the bottle in English, the Chita Single Grain Whisky is known to be matured for 12 years. Given its delicate character, one can be forgiven for initially thinking ‘youth’ however in truth it is deceptively mature with womanly charms.

After our tasting, I began to think of the geishas of yore – trained in the arts not only of seduction but learned in all matters be it art, literature, dance, games, conversation… every detail refined with tremendous discipline behind its beauty and grace.

Chita

Simply Chita (Whisky Lady)

We tasted it together with Ichiro’s Malt Chichibu 2009 French Oak CaskNikka Taketsuru Pure Malt 17 YearIchiro’s Malt – possibly Houou-uhi.

Final verdict? While I’m generally not known for enjoying ‘ladylike’ whiskies, this is such a unique approach I would love to have a full bottle gracing my whisky cabinet.

Check out what others are saying about Chita:

PS Singapore Airport has a NAS Chita expression from August 2016

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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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