©All Photos Courtesy of Suntory Yamazaki Distillery
THE STORY BEHIND THE BEST WHISKY IN THE WORLD
Yamazaki’s Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013 beat over 1,000 challengers to be seize the title of best whisky in the world. Respected whisky critic Jim Murray, founder of the Whisky Bible, described the Yamazaki 2013 as an amber nectar as ‘near indescribable genius.’ He said the whisky had a ‘nose of exquisite boldness’ and a finish of ‘light, teasing spice’. So impressed with it he gave it 97.5 out of 100. The Whisky Bible describes the winning Yamazaki whisky as “rich and fruity,” with a nose of “exquisite boldness” and finish of “light, teasing spice.” 18,000 bottles were made making it available in only a few specialist shops throughout the U.K. for $160 US at the time of release. It is yet unclear why but unfortunately for domestic connoisseurs, all the bottles were exported with most going to Europe. Perhaps the bold amber traits appeal less to Japanese palates – in a similar vein as to why they prefer the light freshness of lager to the more complex and richer taste of amber ale.
The Japanese have a reputation for being relentless in their pursuit of authenticity and perfection which usually yields an improvement on the original. From televisions to automobiles, history is rife with examples that iillustrate this point. In the case of whiskies, rather than merely trying to replicate textbook examples of Scottish whiskies, domestic producers have worked diligently to develop their own distinctive styles from the materials of the place of origin. The French concept of terroir applies perfectly to these whiskies. Terroir is often defined by a sense of place and denotes the special characteristics that geography, geology and climate paint onto the wine or whisky’s flavors, aromas, texture and colors.
Shinji Fukuyo is just the fourth Chief Blender for Suntory since they started making whisky in 1923. It is his responsibility to carry forward the vision begun by Shinjiro Torii, the founder of Suntory built Japan’s first malt whisky distillery in the Vale of Yamazaki. The distillery’s location on the outskirts of Japan’s ancient capital of Kyoto provides exceptional water, a diversity of climate and high humidity—three key environmental conditions required for the production and maturation of whisky.
He has been promoting special tastings to launch the latest two releases from Suntory. These bottlings are what Shinji describes as being the ‘next generation’ of Suntory whisky – Yamazaki and Hakushu Distiller’s Reserve. Both the Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve and the Hakushu are bottled without an age identity. Shinji explains his goal in creating whisky is maturity and not age which he feels is key to his product. Explained another way – he aims to bottle when the whiskey is mature rather than when it hits a predetermined age. By coaxing concentration and tempering abundance his team strive to capture the essence of of Yamasaki and Hakushu
Other whiskies available under the Yamasaki label have been aged in 3 distinct cask types including on made of Japanese Oak called Mizunara. Shinji has said that Mizunara smells of temples – those aromas of incense, spices and aromatic smokiness.
Generally speaking, Japanese whiskies tend to posses an abundance of fruit with soft textural edges and pristine balance. This trifecta of characteristics allows these whiskies to pair very well with food. Suntory claims that winning the crown is a result of its meticulous use of climate, water and special oak casks combined with a keen sense of the Japanese palate.
It may be surprising to hear but Suntory is the proud owner of two rather special malt distilleries in Japan – Yamazaki and Hakushu. For Suntory it all began for in 1923 at the base of a mountain flowing with pure Yamazaki spring water. Japan’s first and oldest distillery is based near Kyoto in an area believed to be the origins of the purest water in Japan.
The ancient name for the area – Minaseno – means “the field where water originates”. It is here that three rivers converge and provide some of Japan’s softest water to Yamazaki Distillery. It is this water’s considerable characteristics that ultimately define the unique and appealing style of Yamazaki whiskies. Like with sake and beer, the texture of the final product is shaped by the personality of the water itself.
“beautifully crafted, smooth and consistent ”
In constrast to Yamazaki, Hakushu Whiskies tend to be lighter and crisper in a style that once again can be attributed to the terroir of the water of Southern Alps of Japan. Each Distillery employs a rigorous process of selecting the casks for the whiskies. Casks are inspected by hand (and nose) and then washed, shaved and cleaned to ensure they are perfect.
WHERE TO TASTE WHISKY IN NISEKO
The best place to enjoy single-malt whisky in Niseko is…. ONE NISEKO CIGAR BAR which is inside the ONE NISEKO HOTEL designed by renowned architect Kengo Kuma. The Cigar Bar to stocks various whiskies available from the local Yoichi distillery. Or drink a glass of Hokkaido wine, or perhaps a cocktail. For cigar lovers, there’s a choice from The Cigar Bar’s wide selection of fine brands from around the world.
HOURS: 5 p.m. – 11 p.m. (last order 10.30 p.m.)
WHERE TO TASTE WHISKY TOKYO
An authentic Shinjuku whisky experience is Shot Bar Zoetrope, a tiny spot but probably Tokyo’s most famous whisky bar. Named to various lists of the world’s best bars it transports guests into the complimentary worlds of whisky and cinema. Movies screen constantly in the dramatically lit space designed by a top art director in the Japanese film industry. The bar features more than 300 bottles of whisky. New releases from rising craft distilleries stand alongside the all time greats of the world of whiskey. Although difficult to find Zoetrope is it is the ultimate for setting and selection. 7-10-14 Nishi-Shinjuku TOKYO
WHERE TO TASTE WHISKY AT THE SOURCE
HOW TO DRINK SINGLE-MALT WHISKY
Enjoy the complex bouquet of fragrant malt and oak straight-up. Older vintages like the 18-year-old and 25-year-old offer a silky-smooth mouthfeel making them ideal to enjoy straight. Whether sitting at the bar aprés ski, post-dinner or simply as a nightcap that wraps up a perfect day single malt whisky is the “noble” spirit of choice. To help tame the occasional “fire” try pairing it with a side glass of mineral water. A chaser helps to refresh and reset the rich, complex taste making every sip a brand new experience. For food pairing try serving with dried figs or dates, chocolate, or even cheese.
ON THE ROCKS
On the rocks refers to pouring whisky over ice. As the ice melts it blends into the whisky to release and reveal the delicate yet complex flavors accumulated through years of cask aging. The size of the ice will determine the rate of melting and is therefore an important consideration for the connoisseur. Top whisky bars tend to favor a large single spherical ice cube for both the slow-melting control it offers and the large surface area. It also happens to offer the most beautiful aesthetic.
Chilled whisky takes on a rounder, smoother palate than room temperature whisky. Savor the bronze tone. Inhale the delicate aromas. Taste the sweet richness and let its multi-layered tapestry of flavors effortlessly unfold.
MIXED WITH CLUB SODA
Malt whisky mixed with club soda may be a less popular way of drinking whisky, but Yamazaki and club soda make pair well together. When mixed with club soda, its rich and mellow character assumes a refreshingly light tone with an unexpected burst of oaky sweetness. Mixing Yamazaki with club soda offers an alternative textural experience without compromising the whisky’s refined taste.
MIXED WITH WATER AND ICE
In Japan “mizuwari” refers to mixing whisky with both ice and water. It’s another great way to enjoy the elegant taste of single malt and can be paired successfully to sushi and other Japanese dishes. Begin with a ratio of one part whisky and either two or three parts water over ice.
“Twice up” refers to a mizuwari that’s one part whisky and one part water without ice. It cuts in half the alcoholic content bring it to about 20% by volume allowing its rich layers of aromas to shine.
SUNTORY WHISKY TASTING NOTES
|DISTILLERY SOURCE||TYPE||STYLE||NOSE||TASTE||OTHER NOTES||FINISH||PROOF|
|BORDEAUX RED||Fruity nose with red fruits and a hint of peach, honey and sandalwood.||Strawberry & candied fruits dominate. Quite light and delicate.||Multiple layers of complexity.||Sweet finish became more prominent with water added.||45°|
|YAMAZAKI||RESERVE CASK||SHERRY||Full of earthy aromas, very woody, just a small amount of dried fruit & bitter chocolate.||Mouth drying, sappy, dry wood and a hint of ash. Sweet-sour pattern akin to Christmas cake.||Add water, it becomes softer and creamier.||Long, dry and hot.||62°|
|Plums, dark cherries, oranges along with incense and vanilla sugar. Spicy nose almost reminiscent of a rye whisky.||Soft spices of fennel, grilled peaches and oak.||Add water, palate becomes fruity & creamy. Texture is brilliant.||Spicy yet gentle.||58°|
|YAMAZAKI||DISTILLER'S RESERVE||Oak dominated nose hints of strawberries. Tropical incense.||Red summer berries sprayed with spices & woody notes.||This seriously develops and resonates on the palate.||Lengthy finish with vanilla and sweet spice dancing aross the tongue.||43°|
|HAKUSHU||RESERVE CASK||LIGHTLY PEATED||Fresh grass, green apple, kiwi & grape with a hint of smokiness.||Light palate filled with green apples and honey texture.||At just 2ppm the smoke element was very subtle but added an extra complexity.||Subtle, delicate and soft with exceptional balance.|
|HAKUSHU||RESERVE CASK||HEAVILY PEATED||The smoke aroma unfolds revealing spruce tips & pine.||Faint touch of sweet frames dry smoke and peat. A clever balance exists between these two elements.||Evolves into citrus and green fruit as it opens.||Revealing melon, kiwi, lemon & mint touched with smoke.|
|HAKUSHU||RESERVE CASK||AGED 18-19 YEARS||Rich vanilla here backed by a citrus trilogy of mikan, lemon and grapefruit.||Big, bold, bright tropical fruits. Quite a rich texture to this.||Old American Oak Casks used here.||Fiery and sweet with a touch of peppermint.|
|HAKUSHU||DISTILLER'S RESERVE||Herbaceous nuances of mint, cucumber, pine, &, spearmint.||Everything coming up green backed by vanilla and yuzu essence.||Relaxed palate slowly drives forward.||Sensitive finish refreshes as its story unfolds.||43°|
|YAMAZAKI||1979 29 YEAR OLD||MIZUNARA|
|Gigantic aromas of cut wood, dried fruit, lanolin, some dried plums.||Rich, mouth coating and super creamy. Like being trapped in a shoe shop with dried fruit everywhere.||Akin to biting into aged Christmas cake.||Multitude of dried fruit & spice endlessly revealing themselves.||55°|
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