Category Archives: Japanese Whisky

Review: Hibiki 17 Years Old and 21 Years Old

hibiki 21 525x742 Review: Hibiki 17 Years Old and 21 Years Old

Great news for lovers of Japanese whiskies. Suntory has just launched two older Hibiki expressions, 17 Years Old and 21 Years Old, to join its 12 year old bottling that arrived on our shores way back in 2009. We got fresh looks as the first shipments hit the U.S.

Hibiki 17 Years Old – Nicely balanced between supple grain notes and dessert-like characteristics on the nose, including sherried nuts, honeycomb, and nougat. The body plays up both sides of this equation nicely. The cereal side is well-aged, mellow, and slightly racy, while the oak-driven side offers deep almond and hazelnut notes and a lightly sweet, whipped cream finish that ties it all together like a nice ice cream sundae. Could be a touch punchier, but overall it’s a great way to end an evening. 86 proof. A- / $150

Hibiki 21 Years Old – Elevated. Almost cognac-like on the nose, with austerity and grace, but also clear sweetness. The palate starts out a bit hot — surprising given the relatively gentle alcohol level here — with a cinnamon-like burn and more of those roasted cereal notes. Give it a little time in glass and some honey character emerges along with soothing brown sugar notes. The finish is where Hibiki 21 really kicks in, with some red fruits, sherry, red peppers, and a bit of chewy marshmallow to top it all off. Exemplary. 86 proof. A / $250

suntory.com

Review: Nikka Miyagikyo 10 Years Old

10year 525x700 Review: Nikka Miyagikyo 10 Years Old

Finding any sort of Japanese whisky in the middle of Kentucky seems to be a very complex chore at the least, nearly impossible at best. Limited to a scant few offerings — Hibiki, Yamazaki, and the yearly arrival of Hakushu — the choices within the Commonwealth are muted amongst a frothy sea of bourbon enthusiasts (though this may change with the Suntory acquisition of Beam, we shall see). When wanting something different beyond the traditional quartet of Bourbon, Scotch, Irish, or Canadian, the shelves offer limited options. So when a friend offers to bring back something from Japan for your shelf, it provides extra incentive for their safe (and early) return home.

The nose on Nikka’s Miyagikyo 10 Year Old expression is light and pleasant, with traces of floral and smoke elements that linger, hanging about for almost too long. It’s almost better to let it breathe a bit in the glass before beginning the whole experience. Tasting reveals mild citrus and spice with some traces of oak and pepper, a medium body that keeps the citrus lingering in the finish along with the oak.

Unlike some of the older siblings in the Nikka stable, this really doesn’t contain some of the heavy malt tones usually synonymous with the brand. On the plus side, this mild inconsistency may prove useful as an accessible entry point to the Nikka line and to Japanese whisky as a whole. Those desiring more complexity may elect to upgrade to the 12 or 15 year if the option presents itself. 80 bucks is an investment, but if Japanese whisky is your (new) game, expect to pay that and more stateside.

90 proof.

B+ / $80 / nikka.com

Review: 5 Whiskies from Japan’s Nikka Distillery

Nikka Coffey Grain 750ml 300 389x1200 Review: 5 Whiskies from Japans Nikka Distillery

An old part of the Asahi empire, Nikka (est. 1934) suddenly finds itself part of the new guard of Japanese whiskys positively flooding into the U.S. Nikka makes a massive number of whiskys in a wide variety of styles and ages. What we present here is but a small selection of Nikka’s world, reflecting the most common Nikka expressions you’ll find in our shores today.

Thoughts follow.

Nikka Miyagikyo Single Malt 12 Years Old – A classic single malt (100% malted barley from Nikka’s newer distillery) with tons to love. The nose is pretty and modern, offering well-integrated grain, oak, and nougat elements. The subtle smokiness starts to develop primarily on the palate, which offers crisp citrus notes, butterscotch, and some floral notes. Beautiful integration here, on a creamy, sexy body. Vanilla custard sticks with you for ages after a few sips. Feels far more accomplished than its 12 years of age would dictate. 90 proof. A / $120

Nikka Yoichi Single Malt 15 Years Old – Single malt, older distillery than Miyagikyo, which explains how this 15 year old whisky can be priced the same as its little brother. Quite a different spirit, the Yoichi brings a bit more smokiness, and a more rustic composition, with a racier nose and a considerably bigger smoke profile. The body offers big citrus notes, applesauce, cloves, and a chewiness driven by the barbecue-like smokiness. A fun and flavorful whisky, but it pales next to the refinement of the Miyagikyo. 90 proof. B+ / $130

Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt 17 Years Old – I’m an avowed fan of the Taketsuru 12 Years Old, a pure malt (a blend of single malts from multiple distilleries), so this 17 year old expression sounds delightful right off the bat. The smoke-and-sweetness of this malt’s nose remind me of the Yoichi 15, but the body is a different animal. Here, that rusticness has faded away to reveal a satin body, mouth-filling with thick caramel, vanilla custard, and just wisps of smoke. There’s an almost lemon candy-like character around the edges that’s hard to pin down… but is quite delicious. 86 proof. A- / $150

Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt 21 Years Old – Lots of grain on this older expression of Taketsuru, which is surprising. The nose initially feels hot, heavy with old wood character. The body is equally laden with heavy woodiness, a tannic and tough spirit that just feels “too old” — almost sour at times with past-its-prime cherry, burnt cocoa beans, and charcoal notes. Not at all my favorite of this lineup. 86 proof. B- / $180

Nikka Coffey Grain Whisky – This is a huge departure from the above, a grain whisky (corn, barley, wheat) made in a continuous still instead of a pot still. It’s what blended whisky is blended with, but this is a 100% grain whisky, with no single malt added. Sharp on the nose, with lemon notes, vanilla, and strong menthol character. The body is surprisingly easygoing, a fruity whiskey with notes of hazelnuts, coffee bean, sea salt, and modest smokiness. There’s a lot going on here, that menthol character bringing it all into (for the most part) balance. Worth exploring, and it’s a bargain compared to the rest of the Nikka stable. 90 proof. B+ / $70

nikka.com

Review: Suntory The Yamazaki 25 Year Single Malt Whisky

yamazaki 25 525x786 Review: Suntory The Yamazaki 25 Year Single Malt Whisky

For relaxing times, make it Suntory time… 25 years old. Yamazaki is the top-selling single malt in Japan and has made huge inroads Stateside in recent years, with no small thanks to Lost in Translation, which did for the whisky what Sideways did for Pinot Noir.

Lately, Yamazaki (and pretty much all Japanese whisky) has been expanding its portfolio as it creeps toward the higher end. The latest offering: this 25 year old single malt.

Yamazaki 25 is an extremely dark spirit — a color that would be surprising for any malt, really, almost a weak-coffee brown. The nose is immediately huge, with raisin and Port wine notes and a coffee character that makes me think of Spanish brandy. This follows into the palate, where dried figs, raisins, and Spanish brandy’s more savory coffee notes are prominent. There’s also sherry at work here, but the character is more of orange peel than sherry’s more traditional, juicy wine notes. The finish is dark and brooding, slightly perfumed but quickly veering into overly wooded astringency that sticks with you for a while.

This is a very intriguing spirit from Yamazaki, but it’s one which is is wholly unlike the other whiskies in the series. If you color yourself a fan of the 12 or 18 year old expressions, best to give the 25 a sample before you shell out for a full bottle. I’m of the mind that this is one whisky that’s a bit past its prime.

86 proof.

B / $1600 / suntory.com

Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2013

WhiskyFest 2013 is now in the books, and my what an embarrassment of riches this show was. While I heard grousing about the show not having as many hits as usual (most of the independent Scotch bottlers like Samaroli were absent), I managed to find a ton of them. Driven this year perhaps by a ruthless attempt to avoid lesser products (one industry bigwig, with all seriousness, suggested I give Johnnie Walker Red Label a try), it didn’t take much doing to suss out some really great whiskeys being poured. Who can complain when Julian Van Winkle is pouring his best stuff, after all?

It was quite the global event this year, with numerous whiskeys from Japan, Canada, and Ireland on tap that you don’t normally see at shows. And more and more craft distillers, like Masterson’s and Smooth Ambler, are taking to shows to give people a taste of something new.

Anyway, as usual it was a great evening with old friends and new ones – both of the whiskey and the human variety. Thoughts follow.

American Whiskey / Bourbon
Smooth Ambler Old Scout Ten / A- / some menthol, caramel with a dusty finish
Masterson’s 12 Year Wheat / A- / big wood, cherries, a fun whisky
Masterson’s 10 Year Barley / C- / funky mint and rubber notes, unripe banana, not at all to my liking tonight
Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit / A- / lovely sweetness without being saccharine, tried just to say hi to Jimmy and Eddie Russell, both pouring
Jack Daniel’s Sinatra Select / A- / a new limited edition from JD, the same spirit but aged in barrels that have been “grooved” with extra cuts to expose more wood surface; as expected, this is like JD, but woodier; not bad at all
Pappy Van Winkle 15 Years Old / A / still maturing, with a little burn
Pappy Van Winkle 20 Years Old / A+ / Pappy at its best, raisins, wood, big body… just perfect
Pappy Van Winkle 23 Years Old / A / you can finally see the age on this spirit at 23, where the balance is just starting to turn toward too much wood

Scotch Whisky
Glen Grant The Major’s Reserve / B / chewy barley and rubber bands
The Balvenie Single Barrel 12 Years Old / A- / cake, nuts, smoke, malt
Bruichladdich Cuvee 382 La Berenice / A+ / best spirit at the show, aged in American oak for 21 years, then finished in Chateau Yquem barrels; liquid gold, sweet and savory in perfect balance
Bruichladdich Black Art 3 22 Years Old / B+ / always a funky expression, bristly and huge this year, with a smoky, old-world character
Bruichladdich Octomore 5.1 / A- / is Octomore losing its ability to shock me? This struck me as plenty peaty but not overdone, with evergreen and charcoal notes
Buchanan’s Red Seal / A- / Buchanan’s first WhiskyFest; a peaty blend with some citrus and sweetness, good balance
Cutty Sark Prohibition Edition / B+ / a new release from Cutty; very mild, surprisingly malty, with fresh grain and wood notes
Glenfarclas Family Cask 1973 / A / hearty sherry character, drinking beautifully
Glenfarclas Family Cask 1983 / B / dusty with lots of wood; couldn’t be more different than the ‘73
Compass Box Great King Street Artist’s Blend / B / overcooked, unthrilling
Compass Box Delilah’s 20th Anniversary Limited Edition / B+ / bottled as a tribute to a famed Chicago area bar, matured partly in new oak barrels (rare for Scotch); bourbon-like character, peppery with lots of wood, caramel notes

Irish Whiskey
Jameson’s Rarest Vintage Reserve / A / always a standout, this beautiful bottling (~26 years old) features lovely spicy notes beneath a sweet core
Midleton Barry Crockett Edition / A- / a vatting of 7 to 22 year old spirits; more rustic than the Jameson, chewy grain notes, still fun

Canadian Whisky
Wiser’s 18 Years Old / A- / mellow, well developed, sultry finish
Lot No. 40 / B- / a 100% rye bottling, a powerhouse of rubber, pungent basil and cherry notes

Japanese Whiskey
Hakushu Heavily Peated / B+ / not at all “heavy” in my mind, good balance with citrus notes
Nikka Taketsuru 17 Years Old / B+ / ample cereal notes
Nikka Taketsuru 12 Years Old / A / great balance of grain and honey, a standout

Brandy
Gran Duque De Alba XO 18 Years Old / A- / Spanish brandy; big coffee and licorice notes; intriguing and powerful
Gran Duque De Alba Oro 25 Years Old / B+ / a little overblown, same character as the XO, but just too much, too hoary

Review: Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt 12 Years Old

Nikka Taketsuru 12 years old 97x300 Review: Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt 12 Years OldJapanese whisky fans have long been anticipating the arrival of Nikka, a company which operates two separate distilleries in the north of Japan, one (Yoichi) in Hokkaido and one (Miyagikyo) in Sendai, northern Honshu. Thanks to Anchor Distilling, two of Nikka’s malts are making it to the U.S. We finally got to taste the first, Taketsuru Pure Malt, after a sample experience at WhiskyFest last year.

Taketsuru is a vatting (not a blended whisky) of 12 year old malts from both the Yoichi and Miyagikyo distilleries.

This is a quite round and mouth-filling whisky, big and bold with lots of character. Malty grain is the major component — lots of fresh, apple-infused barley, and a body that reminds me of sweetened breakfast cereal. Less Froot Loops and more Corn Pops, perhaps. The finish is slightly honeyed, with very mild smoke, somewhat in the vein of a Highland malt. Lovely balance with a good balance of sugar and grain on the finish. An excellent everyday malt if the price works for you.

80 proof.

A- / $64 / nikka.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2012

Another sold-out show this year for WhiskyFest San Francisco, and yet it didn’t feel overly crowded. I missed out on some of the whispered highlights by arriving late, when the rarities were all gone. (John Hansell has some coverage, which I hope to catch up with in coming months.) Otherwise, good times all around. While the absence of a few standbys – Buffalo Trace’s Antique Collection, Compass Box – was grumbled about, I don’t think you can raise a complaint about the quality of spirits on tap.

Brief notes follow (made more difficult by the fact that my pen simply would not write on the glossy brochure provided this year). I made sure to sample some more widely available whiskeys I hadn’t tried in years (Elijah Craig 12, Balvenie 12), for comparative purposes.

Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2012

Scotch

Gordon & MacPhail Glenburgie 21 Years Old / B+ / huge nose, lots of grain, chew finish
Gordon & MacPhail Glenlivet 21 Years Old / A / apple pie, with both the crust and cinnamon/spice notes
Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseur’s Choice Clynelish 1993 / A- / unique, lots of malt, big body
Gordon & MacPhail Benromach Organic / B+ / heavy on the grassiness
Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseur’s Choice Tormore 1996 15 Years Old / B+ / big banana notes, apple character
Balvenie DoubleWood 12 Years Old / A- / tasted as a comparative to the new 17 year old DoubleWood; a perfect everyday Scotch
Oban 18 Years Old / A- / wonderful peat/sweet balance
Old Pulteney 17 Years Old / A- / drinking well, very rich
Old Pulteney 30 Years Old / B+ / showing more grain character, oddly
Chieftain’s Glenturret 21 Year Old Cask Strength / A / brisk
GlenDronach 18 Years Old Allardice / B+ / raisin notes
GlenDronach 21 Years Old Parliament / B+ / similar, with a toffee character; bitter edge
BenRiach 1995 Pedro Ximinez Cask #2045 / A- / lots of peat at work
Bruichladdich Black Art 3 / A / cherry, nougat, lots of depth; very different than other Black Art bottling
Samaroli Glenlivet 1977 / A / absolutely gorgeous, wood and nougat in balance
Samaroli Caol Ila 1980 / B+
Samaroli Linkwood 1983 / A / peat, sweet, great combo
Samaroli Glenburgie 1989 / A-
Samaroli Bunnahabhain 1990 / A / dusky earthiness
Glen Grant The Major’s Reserve / C / an ultra-young Scotch, lots of brash, cooked cereal notes
Glen Grant 16 Years Old / B / basic, simple

United States

St. George Spirits Barrel Strength Bourbon / A / 62.5 percent abv, distilled in 2005; burly and big, delicious
Lost Spirits Leviathan 1 Cast 7 / B+ / fire and brimstone
Lost Spirits Paradiso / A- / a brutally peated version of Leviathan, with a hint of absinthe in the finish; entire stock has been sold to Germany
Redemption Rye / A / lovely mix of spice and wood (3 years old)
Redemption Rye 14 Years Old (private barrel) / B+ / from private stock; the wood punches out the rye
Koval Organic 47th Ward / B / cereal finish
Koval Organic Raksi Dark Millet / B+ / smoldering and chewy
Hudson Baby Bourbon / A- / lots of wood, drinking well despite a corniness
Elijah Craig 12 Years Old Small Batch Bourbon / A- / lots of wood, but drinking nicely
Four Roses Yellow Label / B- / very hot and tight
Four Roses Single Barrel / A
Four Roses Small Batch / A-

Other World Whiskies

Sullivan’s Cove Small Batch Single Cask / B- / aged in ex-Beam barrels; lots of heat, tight
Sullivan’s Cove Small Batch Double Cask / B / lots of grain, big field notes
Canadian Club Sherry Cask / A- / very sweet, pretty
Nikka Taketsuru 12 Years Old / A / two offerings from Japan, coming soon to the U.S.; a vatted malt; quite sweet
Nikka Yoichi 15 Years Old / A / more smoke here, very rich, outstanding

Cognac

HINE Homage / B+ / a blend of 1984, 86, and 87 spirit; good balance
HINE H / B+ / traditional, lots of sugary notes
HINE Antique / A / lush, powerful, a great old Cognac
Frapin Cognac VS / B+
Frapin Cognac Chateau de Fontpinot XO / A-
Frapin Cognac VIP XO / A
Frapin Cognac Extra / A-

Review: The Hakushu Japanese Whisky 12 Years Old

The Japanese whisky magnates at Suntory have released their third product to the American market: The Hakushu, a whisky distilled and aged “at the foot of the Southern Japan Alps.” Available in ages from 10 to 25 years, only the 12 year old has made it into even remotely wide availability.

This single malt whisky is unusual among Japanese whiskys in that it is peated, as a matter of house style instead of as a “special edition” bottling. In fact, the “heavily peated” special version of Hakushu is highly prized by collectors.

This version, however, goes pretty easy on the peat — it’s the barley is peated in Scotland, then shipped to Japan afterward — making itself known but never overdoing things. The warm, fireside-like smokiness of the spirit is nicely balanced with big honey and caramel notes. I’m reminded of Highland Scotch whiskys, which have that nice balance of both sweet and savory.

I’ve tried this whisky previously at a tasting event and wasn’t impressed. The smoke was showing too strongly at the time — an unfortunate by-product of the way events like this work — but here I’m finding it quite the charmer.

86 proof.

A- / $57 / suntory.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

hakushu whisky japan Review: The Hakushu Japanese Whisky 12 Years Old

Tasting Report: The Single Malt & Scotch Whisky Extravaganza 2011

The Single Malt & Scotch Whisky Extravaganza is the smallest of the whisky shows, but that doesn’t mean it has something to prove. With fewer crowds and more thoughtful selections — no white dog here, folks — you can find quality whisky (overwhelmingly Scotch) at every table in the room.

This year the Extravaganza seemed smaller than in 2010, but all the big guns were still in the house. I sampled many of the same whiskys as last year, curious to see how consistent my notes would be. Here’s my 2010 writeup. Compare for yourself.

Tasting Report: Single Malt & Scotch Whisky Extravaganza 2011

Aberlour 18 Year Old / B / not much going on

Ardmore 30 Year Old / A- / sample almost too small to taste, but seemed quite delicious

The Balvenie 14 Year Old Caribbean Cask / A- / some say it’s too sweet; I find it pretty delightful, with a clear rum character to it

The Balvenie 15 Year Old Single Barrel / A- / sherry and cherry notes, a solid everyday dram

The Balvenie 21 Year Old PortWood / A / great age on this, apple notes

Bushmills 1608 Irish Whiskey / A-

The Classic Cask – 35 Year Old Rare Scotch Whisky / A+ / a clear favorite from 2010 and again a truly lovely one today; drinks like a cognac with rich chocolate notes

The Classic Cask – Ben Nevis 1997 12 Years Old / B / very young

The Classic Cask – Tomatin 1994 16 Years Old / B+ / getting there; still lots of grain character

The Classic Cask – Bunnahabhain 1997 Peated 13 Years Old / B+

The Classic Malts Caol Ila Distillers Edition / B+

The Classic Malts Glen Spey 21 Years Old / A / lovely vanilla notes

The Classic Malts Oban Distillers Edition 1995 / B+

The Classic Malts Oban 18 Years Old / B-

Dewar’s Signature Edition / A- / mild, citrus-infused

Douglas Laing The Premier Barrel – Highland Park 1996 13 Years Old / A

Douglas Laing Big Peat – Islay Vatted Malt / A- / great balance for such a  peat bomb; some sweetness here (a blend of Ardbeg, Bowmore, Caol Ila, and Port Ellen)

Douglas Laing Double Barrel 10 Years Old – Highland Park + Bowmore / A- / nice combo, again good balance

Glefiddich 21 Years Old / A- / on the mild side

The Glenlivet Nadurra / B+

The Glenlivet 21 Years Old / B / marsala tasting, funky – hard to believe this is from the same distillery as the 25 Year Old

The Glenlivet 25 Years Old / A / still an amazing whisky

Glenmorangie Extremely Rare 18 Year Old / B+ / finish seems off

Glenmorangie Signet / A- / a little more wood influence here

Glenmorangie Nectar D’Or Sauternes Cask 12 Years Old / A / much better this go-round; not much Sauternes intensity but the sweetness is stronger than I’ve encountered before

The Glenrothes Vintage 1994 / B+ / quite smooth, sugary

The Glenrothes Vintage 1998 / B+ / much like the 1994, a touch more youthful

Highland Park 12 Years Old / A- / an old standby, like the interplay of sweet and smoke

Laphroaig Triple Wood / B+

Longmorn 16 Years Old / A / a dark horse; where has this been hiding? nice body, great balance

The Macallan Sherry Oak 18 Years Old / A-

Michael Collins 10 Year Old Single malt / C+ / off

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society – 50.42 / B / 18 year old Bladnoch; big grain elements

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society – 125.48 / B / 12 year old Glenmorangie; mild

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society – 27.90 / A- / 10 year old Springbank

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society – 127.9 / B+ / 9 year old Port Charlotte; overpowering with smoke

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society – 71.33 / A- / Glenburgie (age unclear)

Suntory Yamazaki 18 Years Old / A / perfectly balanced Japanese whisky

Suntory Hakushu 12 Years old / B+ / the newest Japanese whisky to land on our soils, shows light peat, evergreen notes; aged at altitude

Usquaebach Old -Rare Superior Blended Scotch Whisky / B+ / touch of wood; easygoing

Usquaebach 15 Years Old Blended Scotch Whisky / B / bit over-wooded

Review: Japanese Cocktails (Book)

I love the idea of Japanese Cocktails, the look of it, and the author Yuri Kato, who has obviously toiled for some long months to come up with a succinct list of Japanese-inspired cocktails that you won’t find in any other cocktail recipe guide.

And therein lies the problem with Japanese Cocktails: Unless you have access to some rare and obscure ingredients, you’re going to spend a lot more time dreaming about these drinks than you will making them.

Every page seems to demand something off the beaten path: Umeboshi? Shichimi Togarashi spice? Kabosu juice? I don’t even know what some of these things are, much less where to buy them.

But really, that’s OK. Many of the 60 or so recipes in the book at least lend themselves to substitution — if you don’t have sweet potato shochu you can always sub in whatever rice soju you can find; non-peated Scotch can sub in for rare Japanese whiskies — and even if you can’t they might inspire you to make something new. Don’t have yuzu juice? Try subbing in another fruit flavor and see what happens.

More coffee table book than indispensable bartending guide, Japanese Cocktails is a great gift for the cocktail enthusiast who thinks he’s seen it all.

B+ / $10 / [BUY IT HERE]

Japanese Cocktails book Review: Japanese Cocktails (Book)

Review: Hibiki 12 Year Old Whiskey

Yamazaki isn’t the only whiskey Japanese distillery Suntory makes, but for ages it’s been the only one it has sold overseas. Now Suntory is expanding the distribution of another of its products: Hibiki 12 Year Old Whiskey.

This is a very easygoing, blended whiskey, pale gold in color and with a light, blonde-wood character that comes through strongly. Freshly brewed tea, a common characteristic in Japanese whiskeys, is huge on the palate, and the spirit eventually fades out with waves of grain, a light astringency, and some flowery notes. Very nice — though to be honest it reminds me a lot of 12-year Yamazaki, maybe with a touch more wood to it.

86 proof.

B+ / $45 / suntory.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

hibiki 12 year old1 Review: Hibiki 12 Year Old Whiskey

Review: Suntory The Yamazaki 1984 Single Malt Whisky

With just 300 bottles coming to the U.S. this fall, odds are good you are not going to be drinking any of Suntory’s Yamazaki 1984 vintage whiskey — the first vintage-dated whiskey the company has released in the U.S.

tiny yamazaki 300x230 Review: Suntory The Yamazaki 1984 Single Malt WhiskyAnd that’s a shame, because based on what is the teeny-tiniest sample of a whiskey I’ve ever received (see photo for evidence; that’s a 50ml bottle next to the little Yamazaki) it’s a very fine whiskey.

Cinnamon notes are prominent on the nose and the body, with a minty finish that really just hints at the wood — Japanese oak — in which it is aged. At 96 proof, it’s surprisingly easygoing and needs no water. Unfortunately a few sips were all I had to explore this whiskey, and it all went away far too quickly to form any more detailed notes.

Still, one thing is evident: This is good stuff. Try it, Mr. Moneybags!

A- / $600 / suntory.com

yamazaki 1984 whiskey Review: Suntory The Yamazaki 1984 Single Malt Whisky

Three Words: Japanese Ice Balls.

We’ve covered ice before, but it’s never looked like this.

Check it out: With these unique molds, you can make enormous, completely spherical balls of ice, pattered after the hand-carved ice balls that apprentice bartenders in Japan are forced to create.

With these special ice trays, you don’t need a chisel to create the orbs. Just fill up the bottom part of the mold with water, put the top half of the mold on it, then use a thin stream of water to fill the mold the rest of the way. That’s a tricky proposition, actually — and water gets all over the place during the fill process — but after all the work to get these things made (and, another challenge, out of the mold) the results are quite striking.

You probably won’t make these ice balls every day, but if you’re trying to make a special impression with a cocktail, it’s worth the effort.

The price, alas, is a little nutty for a couple of little pieces of plastic: 16 bucks gets you a set of two (enough for four ice balls).

japanese ice balls Three Words: Japanese Ice Balls.

Review: Suntory The Yamazaki 18 Year Single Malt Whisky

I’m quite the fan of Suntory’s 12 year old Yamazaki Japanese whisky, and finally got the chance to compare the 12 year to the 18 year version of The Yamazaki, side by side.

Everything you like about the 12 year — honey and citrus galore — is present in the 18, but amped up into a darker, more powerful concoction. It’s a smokier whisky than the 12, but very full bodied with candied fruits, banana, and strong bitter orange character. The finish is on the bitter side, which is the only flaw in this otherwise compelling whisky, which is, on the whole, perfect for, erm… relaxing times.

86 proof (same as the 12 year).

A- / $140 / suntory.com/yamazaki/ [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

suntory yamazaki 18 year Review: Suntory The Yamazaki 18 Year Single Malt Whisky

Review: Suntory The Yamazaki 12 Year Single Malt Whisky

“For relaxing times, make it Suntory time.”

 

 

With those words, Bill Murray (in Lost in Translation) immortalized Suntory whiskey, a brand that few had heard in the U.S. and even fewer had actually tasted. Japanese single malt whisky? When it comes to alcohol, wasn’t Japan all about beer, plum wine, and sake?

In truth, Yamazaki has been distilling whisky near Kyoto since 1923. There are actual about 10 whisky distilleries in Japan, but Yamazaki was the first. Japanese whisky is made in a variety of styles, and production methods vary widely (unlike, say, in Scotland, which is very similar from distillery to distillery).

The flavor of Yamazaki 12 year, at 86 proof, is powerful. Many compare Japanese single malts to Scotch, but I find this one much more like a good, strong Irish whisky: It’s got that indescribably taste of malt but lacks the smokiness of Scotch. The Yamazaki is very bold, and with the first whiff the aroma of fresh fruit — apples and berries, some banana — washes over you. It’s got a nice sweetness to it, honey-like, almost with a candied orange character. There’s some pleasant heat to the finish but it’s mellowed by wood, though it can end up the slightest bit thin.

It’s fine on its own, better with a splash of water, and good on the rocks, too. (In Japan, whisky is mainly drunk with lots of water and lots of ice.)

If you’re a fan of either Scotch or Irish whisky, give Suntory a try. Try it blind against your favorites of those ilks and look for the differences. You’ll find them quite intriguing, I’m sure.

A- / $35 / suntory.com/yamazaki/

suntory yamazaki 12 year Review: Suntory The Yamazaki 12 Year Single Malt Whisky