Hello out there whiskey freaks, my fellow Seven Grand Whisky hooligans and I have just returned from Japan where we visited the Suntory distilleries of Hakushu, Yamazaki, countless whisky bars, Ramen joints, and any other trouble we could muster up. But this piece is about whisky, Japanese Whisky to be specific, so we will forgo the delicious Ramen and other mischievous activities to hone in on our true passion. We went to Japan, in typical cocky bartender fashion, thinking we knew a great deal about Japanese Whiskey, we had all done our homework – read all the books, checked out all the relevant blogs and tasted anything we could get our hands on and yet we still found our selves at a loss for words at the depth and complexity that is Japanese Single Malt Whiskey. Bottom line we didn’t know shit about Japanese Whiskey and continued to be reminded of this point time and again as we tasted our way through the malts of the distilleries currently producing and most of the closed distilleries as well.
By far the most rewarding part of our trip was the distillery tours of Yamazaki and Hakushu. These are two of the greats when it comes to Japanese Single Malt Whisky. Each distillery has at least six pairs of Copper Pot Stills of different sizes and shapes and use up to five different types casks, which allow them to produce a staggering 100 different styles of malt between the two distilleries. These malts are combined in different proportions to make up the various bottlings in the Suntory line up. The stand out malts from the two distilleries were the Hakushu 18 year and the Yamazaki Mizunara Cask. The Hakushu 18yr is deeply complex with lovely hints of sherry and the typical fresh piney note, which Hakushu is known for. The Yamazaki Mizunara Cask is a truly special whisky; each year less than 200 of these casks can be made from the Japanese Mizunara Oak. This hard to work, loose grained and Leaky Oak imparts an incense and sandalwood like characteristic to the Whisky, which is simply magical. Among the other Japanese malts the whiskies from the closed distilleries of Hanyu and Karuizawa were among the best we had the pleasure to taste.
Beyond amazing whisky the most impressive aspect of the trip was the hospitality of the Japanese people. At each bar we went to the level of care and respect for the customer and the drinks was elevated to a higher level. We could all learn a thing or two from the Japanese in the hospitality department. I could go on and on but I’ll save you some time and just tell you to go to Japan, drink the Whisky, eat the Ramen, meet the people, and enjoy yourself – you will not be disappointed.
Brett Winfield / Seven Grand San Diego / GM