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Suntory Yamazaki 1984


So we weren’t being exactly accurate when we stated that the US is limited to the 12 and 18 year old expressions of Yamazaki. There was actually one more available here and that was the 1984. But for most the purchase price ($600) was so high that it might as well not have been available here. The allocation to the US was also limited to only 300 bottles.

The Yamazaki 1984 was bottled to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Yamazaki brand. 1984 was the year that new stills were installed at Yamazaki with the intent of producing single malt whisky – as opposed to just blends. As with most Yamazaki’s the 1984 is a combination of American, European and Japanese (Mizunara) oak but there is a higher dosage of Japanese oak aged whisky.

Yamazaki 1984
Bottle #2645
48% ABV

Color: Burnt orange/copper

Nose: Loads of fragrant wood, sandal wood, old furniture, oily, musty, licorice, cloves, cinnamon, fresh baked spice cake, hints of cherry, red fruits.

Mouth: Oily mouth feel, cinnamon, Mizunara influence is clearly present, dark baking spices, sandalwood, hazelnuts, red berries, hints of mint, caramel, very luscious.

Finish: Clean, fades on the fragrant wood notes.

This is a very luxurious, well composed and exactingly calculated whisky as I would expect from a Yamazaki (that is not a single cask). I think a big tip of the hat has to go to the blender(s) that created this amazingly well balanced and full flavored whisky.


Filed under Yamazaki

Suntory Yamazaki 2012 Limited Cask Collection

Just a quick note that Suntory’s Yamazaki Limited Cask Collection for this year will soon be released. The three expressions are: Sherry Cask, Puncheon and Bourbon Barrel. These NAS whiskies come in at 48% ABV and are priced between 8,180 and 8,380 Yen or about $105 given our current crappy exchange rate. They will be available for sale at Sake Brutus on September 25.

The Sherry Cask usually gets all the love (arguably as it should) but from the 2011 series I really really liked the Bourbon Barrel.

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A Tour of Yamazaki and an Extended Stay in the Tasting Bar

The pilgrimage to Suntory’s Yamazaki distillery came to completion on February 23, 2011.  Already keyed up from the recent Suntory week, I can’t deny I experienced a bit of giddiness as I saw the distillery buildings set into the hillside as my train pulled into Oyamazaki station.  A mercifully brief walk down inexplicably familiar alleys and I stood on one side of the JR railway tracks, my goal in the form of a critical mass of stills housed in windowless buildings on the other.  And there I stood as trains passing trains bedeviled my approach.  And then the trains were off toward wherever they were bound, the chimes stopped, the gates raised, and I walked the approach to the visitor’s center and signed up for the 11:00 AM tour (free).

A brief stroll across the Yamazaki compound brought me to the shop/tasting bar/tour-assembly area and I spent my spare time wandering around the shelves of samples of Suntory’s past expressions.  While in no way shaped like a hexagon, the myriad combination of whisky expressions ordered on shelf after shelf brought to mind a sliver of Borges’ Library of Babel featuring whisky instead of books.  A youthful stewardess of the tasting bar dissuaded me from laying into samples before the tour, and I thank her for this.  The tour lasted approximately one hour.  Geared toward persons having no understanding of the whisky-making process, it was nonetheless enjoyable for the veterans in attendance.  Also, I was kept busy translating as the tour was in Japanese and I didn’t want to employ one of those naff, pre-recorded devices that regurgitates a stock, English statement at different stations throughout the tour.  So instead I got to listen to our guide enthusiastically regurgitate stock, Japanese statements at different stations.  And that made all the difference.  After an initial homage to the forefathers of Yamazaki back in 1923, spoken before a few statues in the pleasant, brisk-but-sunny outdoors, we made our way into an elevator and on to the mash tuns.  Big and tun-like, they were behind glass and, presumably, mashing away.

The distillery room was where things got a bit more exciting.  The proximity of the stills and the palpable heat, not to mention (which is exactly what I am doing) the ability to see the spirits mid-distillation, brought with it the inherent sense of awe attached to witnessing machinations on a grand scale.  The warmth and sound of new spirits served as a right of passage before entering the barrel cellar, which was, curiously enough, upstairs.

Cool and home to an atmosphere infused with a palpable aroma of whisky from every angle, I stole breaths of the angel’s share before those angels could get at it.  I would have been happy to linger for quite some time, reading the years off of differing barrels, plotting a way to spirit one away, but time and tide wait for no tour guide and I strode out into the sunlight and a bucolic expression of pre-spirit state Yamazaki, a.k.a, the local water.  It was at this time that I remembered that the distillery is set into a hillside and that it really didn’t matter where you put the cellar since every quadrant was sealed and temperature-controlled.  Next stop, after a brief stroll down Yamazaki lane (I doubt its actually called that),  was a whisky tasting hall, were everyone was explained the attributes of whisky sodas.

Whisky sodas using Yamazaki 10, Yamazaki 12, and Hakushu 10 were served to all attendees with chocolate and snacks.  I am not a big fan of whisky sodas in general because I tend to find it a waste of whisky in that the details of the spirit’s flavor are obscured.  Also, I don’t drink a lot of soda.  Still, these weren’t bad and they came with great big, rough-hewn blocks of ice, which I find ascetically pleasing in the extreme.  It also turned out you could simply as for the aforementioned whiskies straight and they were happy to comply.  They wrapped up the tour with a great pitch by our affable and informational guide on a spiel about whisky as a great gift-alternative to chocolate for White day (Valentines day is bifurcated in Japan, White day being the day the girls receive gifts) and recommended the Yamazaki 12 as ideal for your lady-friend.  Fun stuff, and frankly, I’d love to get whisky on Valentine’s Day, so I really couldn’t argue with the marketing plan.  The tour officially over, we were released into the gift center/whisky store.  I have a weak spot for sub-700 ml bottles and they had plenty of items to tickle my fancy, including mini-bottle & signature glass combinations.  What can I say, I like cute stuff.  After making a sizable deposit in the Bank of Yamazaki, really more a currency conversion from paper to liquid form, I descended upon the tasting room, its bottle-lined shelves, and a staff bereft of excuses not to start pouring me whisky.  Indeed, now were they positively inclined to serve up any request and chat amiably about Suntory and a broad selection of whiskies available for sampling.

And I was ready to get tasting in earnest.  A flight of five whiskies struck me as a great, noon-time line-up and I chose the following: Yamazaki Puncheon, Yamazaki Bourbon, Yamazaki Sherry, Hakushu 25, and Hakushu 8 (cask strength).

Yamazaki Puncheon Cask: A thin and floral sweetness, bright, clear, light gold like its color, the nose delivered vanilla marshmallow and oak as well.  Decent presence, malts, heat, fruit and slight verdant notes with more candied vanilla, wood, and a remainder of grains and sugars.  Quite friendly.

Yamazaki Bourbon Cask: Solid gold sans the dancers.  The bourbon char and liquid sugars veiled a muted heat.  I thought it really smelled like a bourbon because, well, it did.  Indeed, had it not been for a changed-aspect of the vanilla revealing the single malt pedigree, it could have passed for an unusually delicate bourbon.  Warmth and char and a center-of-the-tongue numbness combined with the bourbon-infused malts above the palate in a delicate fashion.

Yamazaki Sherry Cask:  This has been expounded upon ad nauseum (see prior review) but I couldn’t resist.  And sometimes the same whiskies simply taste different based on a myriad of factors (air, state of mind, drinks immediately prior imbibed) so what the hell.  It was a dark and stormy night.  Not really, it was just afternoon and beautiful out, but it was a dark and stormy amber, that scion of the sherry cask.  Rich and troubling in a welcome way.  Pebbles in running water, soon-burnt sugar.  A taste of slightly dark sweets, chewy and warm spices, and a mid-back palate pervasive sherry with malts concealed inside but peering through like light through quickly passing clouds.  Mid-dark sugars and something different in every sip.  Chimeric and dangerously intriguing.

It was around this point in time that I started thinking I really should have eaten something for breakfast, which I usually don’t, or at least some snacks en route, but it didn’t happen.  I also felt like I wouldn’t mind sitting there all day, an opium addict-like embrace of a fugue of increasingly peaceful bliss.  And I felt like talking to strangers.

Hakushu 25:  A touch of amber in gold, luster.  A deep roast/char nose spoke of smoldering fires at a distance rendered faint by wooded hillsides.  Sugar, salt, smoke, and perhaps a molecule of lime found their place in the nose.  Smoke and a smooth char, a slight nuttiness on the heals of subtle sugars stretched taught and resilient take over the palate.  A lot of goodness here, but I couldn’t get my head around it at the time.  Needing further analysis, I decided to return to this one in a more intimate milieu at a later date and moved on.

Hakushu 8 Cask Strength:  I was a bit excited about this because it is not available for purchase, it was young, and it was cask strength… all fun in my book.  Gold with a touch of rose, but that might have been the brick floor.  A respectable heat rode that Hakushu wood-and-water note.  Very exciting, I thought to myself in Eddie Izzard’s Welsh send-up of Pavlov.  Pepper and sugar.  The surprisingly smooth start lead to round, muted sugars and wood before focusing on a delicate but unwavering maltiness as heat increased and edged off in turn.  Coating, satisfying, with residual sugar and grains and maybe a little something smoky.

By way of wrapping things up, I though I would give the Yamazaki Puncheon one more go.  Bring things full circle, as it were.  And I was delighted in a floral-notes-lavender-and-curved-sugars sort of way.  Its thick liquid but quixotically delicate nature were really working now.  A lush haven of higher flavors that cleaved a path like a paladin through the evil wasteland of my palate.  Colored sugars, saplings, and aspects of spring took root in a bold fashion amongst the detritus of prior tastings.  Invigorating.  And then I noticed a book on the counter encircling the tasting bar.  And then I peered through the contents of the book and read of while simultaneously spying a cluster of whisky expressions not available for sale.  At cask strength.  So much for calling it an early day.  I would have rolled up the sleeves but that would have been considerably lame-looking since I was already wearing a short-sleeved shirt.  You get the idea.  My next order consisted of the following: New Pot, Yamazaki Mizunara, and Hakushu Smokey.

New Pot, 58 percent:  No, this was not some fresh crop of wacky-tabacky, and yes, it was fresh-from-the-still-to-a-bottle whisky.  It was clear, as expected, but almost oddly so, in the way that a diamond enhances light. The raw malty character and mild nuttiness gently edged elbows with a fundamental, lingering sugar.  (At this point a concentrated effort on implementing handwriting protocols was called upon for posterity’s sake.  My handwriting is cryptic at the best of times.)

Yamazaki Mizunara, 50 percent:  Dark, peppered wood, clean, creek-bed-fresh waters.  Slightly smokey and lush with checked sugars coating essential grains, this was a Yamazaki that satisfied in a dense and sultry manner.

Hakushu Smokey, 50 percent: An eponymously appropriate smokey lushness in a measured fashion developed a spiced bite.  Perhaps a transmuted take on a signature Hakushu wood-and-pepper?  On the palate the precise smoke never overpowered and touched down briefly upon char before showing a re-interpretation of Hakushu.  Much of what I liked about their essential form with a glaze of umber smoke, a patina of roasted wood and sugars.  I wish this came in a bottle that I could exchange money for.

On a side note, it was at this time that I was appreciating the inherent caloric content of whisky.  I needed food, for longevity and munchie purposes, but I still had a source of necessary energy.  Which got me to thinking of energy expenditure in light of the recent tour.  Not even addressing the energy involved in harvesting, transporting, and properly combining barley and water, energies went into the mash tones and its mashy content.  The subsequent distillation process involved a goodly amount of heat-energy.  While the whisky sitting around in barrels didn’t involve a whole lot of energy (if you ignore the moving of the barrels, the monitoring of the barrels, and the stabilizing of the temperature  (and that quite a caveat)), the energy involved in the making and maintaining of the barrels from arbor-form to deconstructed-and-reconstructed-barrel form is no small matter.  And then of course the bottle-making energies and the putting-it-in-the-bottle energies.  All of that grand, difficult-to-quantify but fundamentally-quantifiable mass of energy found a unity, a raison d’être in keeping me powered enough to taste, revel, and scribble a few note.  And it just felt unseemly, almost unjust to use that energy for anything not in the chain of whisky-appreciation.  So I set in for another flight.  A final flight.  One flight to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.  So it was Hibiki three ways, Chita, and Hakushu Peated.

Hibiki Smokey, 58 percent: A smokey and wet heat seeped through wholesome, solid char on top (and throughout) of a well-rounded melange of grains and a peaty, high note.  Hibiki Sherry, 49 percent: Sherried in color to a warm, red amber.  A delicate interplay of sherry wine notes from start to finish.  Warm, darker sugars surrounded a slightly more intense but still Hibiki-balanced expression.

Hibiki Mizunara, 52 percent.  24 carat with a touch of something rosy.  Thick mizunara wood-notes brought out sugars, cake, and warm bread before the pepper-and-spice made the scene.  Reddening notes, a con-flux of berries and raw wood gradually muted by age developed into an elder armistice of sweets and darker pleasures.

Chita:  This is Suntory’s single grain whisky.  The nose was a subtle combination of sugar and leaves in full bloom (or whatever it is called when leaves are not young, not old, but green and turgent).  An easy light flavor that stuck to the taste buds.  Mid-sugars and still a bit of something green was followed by a light spice.  Fun.

Hakushu Peated:  Hakushu and peat, a well-forged union of Islay and the Japanese Isles. (Unfortunately, that’s all my notes say about this one, followed by the laudatory and underlined comment concerning the tour and all the whiskies tried reading “Round Fun”.  No proof statement, no details. A little slack, please, it was a slightly longer than expected haul.  I am certain I will get back to this eventually.)

And so it was that three tour groups made their way through Yamazaki’s temple of tasting, the bar staff changed once, and I wandered off in search of a train and some much-needed non-liquid sustenance. –Nate


Filed under Distilleries, Yamazaki, Yamazaki

Suntory Yamazaki Sherry Cask

Besides being an utterly crappy Steve Perry song, sherry, at least casks that used to store sherry, are sometimes used to age whisky.  And Suntory has taken dead aim at this flavor profile by releasing a sherry cask Yamazaki.  What makes Suntory’s sherry cask expression unique is that they purposefully condition the wood/casks with their own sherry.  Then once the casks have been seasoned properly, the sherry contents are dumped out (as it is not drinkable) and then whisky is put in to age and absorb the flavors.  Many folks thought very highly of this expression so we had to pick up a bottle and give it a try.

Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2010 Bottling
48%ABV 8,433円/~$98

Nate’s Impressions:

A rich and belligerent red with a nose that wastes no time asserting itself.  Red wine and ropey-sweet (that is a good thing).  No need to set the sherry out for visitors, this will do the job.  Breathe in and feel the salt, the fruit, the lush water and the darkening sugars.  And they all drown you in a plumb jam where you’ll stay buried.  Through temptation and war.  Rich, sharp, and charred. Intensely coating.  Then rise to the wine and wood.  Sugars and berries, dense and assertive, will play and hang about.  Sherry has commandeered the flavor profile and shown it a grand time.  Not timid in the least and not for the rabbit-hole-averse. Don’t make it your first dram, wait and savor the potential.  Then revel and delight  at the re-awakening of your taste buds.  Yum.  This isn’t a whisky that held hands with a barrel, it gave its body and heart to that barrel, and the result was nothing less than intense.  And, as I mentioned, yummy.

Chris’ Impressions:

Color:  Dark copper and brown, might be mistaken for some cola

Nose:  A rich full nose, unmistakably heavy sweet sherry, dark fruit bouquet: plums, raisins, black cherries, caramel – reminiscent of Japanese custard pudding, wax coating, candles?, earthy, sasparilla soda

Palate:  Initially very smooth, no rough edges and elegantly reveals sweet sherry, black cherries, some cola notes, brown sugar, oaky bite, drying, back to the clean sherry with malty doughiness, dark spices, dusty, fungal/earthy tones, a touch of sulpher right at the end

Comments: This expression is definitely for those with a sherry tooth – ’cause that is exactly what you are going to get.  It is very well put together and nothing sticks out of place.  It is a little sweet and over the top sherry for my personal tastes, so I would really enjoy one dram of this but not much more in one session.


Filed under Whisky Impressions, Yamazaki

The Suntory Way

Today marks the start of a week of postings related to Suntory. Many in the US are familiar with Suntory’s Yamazaki and Hibiki whiskies as they are the only Japanese whiskies currently on the market and easily accessible in the US. But how much do we really know about Suntory and the whisky they produce?

We are lucky enough to have Neyah White, Yamazaki’s West Coast Brand Ambassador, provide some insight into Japanese whisky and Suntory’s whisky-making methodology. Possessing a prodigious amount of knowledge concerning all things distilled, Neyah has produced from his trove of personal experience some insight into Suntory’s philosophy and the role and development of whisky in Japan.

The major difference between Japanese Whisky and Western Producers is not one of style, goals or ingredients. The difference is in intention and approach. Whisky in the West began as imported alchemy (middle ages), became an agricultural product (1600’s to 1700’s) then became a branded market (1860’s and invention of the column still and blending) and finally reached artisanship. This history is deeply ingrained in modern producers and shows itself in the decisions that are made at every step of production. The practicality of the farmer-distillers of the 18th century shows up again and again in the decisions made by modern producers.

Japan discovered whisky at the end of the 19th century which means they don’t carry that baggage of history. When they fell in love with whisky it was already a fully developed culinary endeavor. Consequently, when they started producing, they had fewer emotional ties and traditions constraining innovation. They easily adapted whisky to their lifestyle where alcohol is always accompanied by food. This means whisky being served at lower abv so as not to over-power delicate Japanese cuisine, which in turn means that the whiskies must be very purposefully blended so they can stand to be stretched with water. Lacking the hundreds of neighboring distillers with their many hundreds of flavor profiles to trade Japanese distillers have to produce their own component whiskies to achieve the layers that make their whiskies, both blended and single malts, dense enough to serve the native palate.

At Suntory, this means each distillery utilizes many tools to achieve a variety of flavors. Multiple still sizes and shapes, different firing methods, different condenser styles, multiple peating levels, 2 different yeasts, a huge array of barrel sizes and wood types and finally, the option of bamboo charcoal filtering (Hibiki). I have been to quite a few Scottish and American distilleries and have never seen anything like it. Glenmorangie and Bruichladdich may be as freewheeling with their barrels, but the base spirit doesn’t vary. Four Roses may play with yeast and mash-bill, but the wood doesn’t change. Only the Japanese go this far to ensure they have the tools to make whisky this complicated.

To be completely honest, this effort is lost on most Western drinkers. I, like most Americans, like to drink with my throat and belly. I grew up throwing back shots, swallowing before I could taste anything, then savoring the afterburn. While I’d like to think I have matured and savor my drink, I am still quite hasty when compared to my Japanese friends. They taste with their noses as much as with their mouths (maybe why Japanese whisky is doing so well in France?) So why does Suntory bother with the US when they could easily sell it all in their more appreciative homeland? Because they feel a responsibility. Their founders’ mission was to create a Japanese whisky for the Japanese people and clearly, that has been achieved. The focus now is to honor that by proving Japanese Whisky to be a category in it’s own right and worthy of standing on it’s own.

My job, as I see it, is not to tell people that the whisky is good. Rather, I want to provide a perspective and context so the taster understands not just how it was made, but why it was made that way.


Filed under Imbibed Musings

Japanese Whisky Tasting

I don’t talk about it too much here but we do monthly whisky tastings at various locations in San Francisco.  The tastings are very informal and are meant to be more of a social dialogue versus a lecture or class.  After the first round of tasting, the event is basically self serve.  This some times results in the destruction of those attendees who’s self control escapes them.

For some time I had the idea of doing a Japanese whisky tasting.  Many people still do not know much about Japanese whisky and this issue is compounded by the fact that there isn’t a large amount of Japanese whiskies to be had in the US.  As fortune would have it, I was introduced to the west coast Yamazaki Ambassador, Neyah White, through one of our whisky buddies Evan.  After exchanging some emails we were able to hammer out a convenient date and location to have the tasting – which happened to be yesterday.

Neyah was generous enough to provide 6 different expressions.  This included 3 component whiskies that are not bottled or available for sale here.  The other 3 were expressions that we can purchase here:  Yamazaki 12, Yamazaki 18 and the Hibiki 12.  It was explained that the 3 component whiskies were all distilled at a similar time however, each one went into a different type of cask:  new American Oak, Mizunara (Japanese Oak) and Spanish Oak.  These are the components of both the Yamazaki 12 and 18 expressions.  The difference between the two, besides the age, is the ratio of each component whisky used.  It was a great learning experience to be able to taste the deconstructed ingredients of the recipes for the two standard releases.  After Neyah walked us through the 3 component whiskies we were free to sample the 3 distillery bottlings.

I, personally, am partial to the Yamazaki 12 as I like the fresh, spring crispness to it over the more sherry influenced Yamazaki 18.  The Hibiki 12 is also a great whisky, especially at the price point.  It is a blend of malts from Suntory’s Yamazaki, Hakushu and Chita (grain) distilleries.  What makes it unique though is the use of whisky that was aged partially in ume shu (plumb wine) casks.  It adds an interesting sweetness to the bouquet of flavors.  You should get out there and try these expressions if you haven’t yet.

In addition to these great whiskies, I brought along a couple of bottles that I had been stock piling at home.  What’s the point in having interesting/good whisky if you can’t share and drink it with others?  I brought with me a couple of other Suntory expressions:  Yamazaki 10 and a Hakushu 12.  Additionally, there was Nikka Pure Malt Black, Nikka Yoichi 10 Single Cask, Final Vintage of Hanyu 10 and Chichibu Newborn Double Matured.

We all learned a lot – and drank a lot – last night.  But more importantly a good time was had by all.  A huge thank you to Neyah for taking the time to join us!


Filed under Tastings

A Visit to Suntory’s Hakushu Distillery Part II

Part I can be found here.

OK – I admit my first post on my visit to Hakushu was not exactly the epitome of well written verse. In fact, it was crap. My excuse is this: I sit in front of a computer all day and read and write. To add to the perilous state of affairs of my creativity, I am trained to write very simply with as few adjectives as possible. Translation: extremely dry, boring and well…boring. With this said, I will sound the alert for my missing creativity and attempt to write something that is halfway interesting for this second post on Suntory’s Hakushu distillery.

The whisky museum was an educational experience. I am simply intrigued by history in general, but adding whisky to the mix made it even better. Once I finished at the museum I decided to do the guided tour of the distillery. Unfortunately for me my Japanese is not up to par for the guided tour, so I was the lone foreigner rocking the radio and headset for the English translation of the tour. We reserved spots for the tour earlier online so when we signed up we were given two pretty cool Hakushu tumblers – not bad schwag if you ask me!

The first part of the tour took us to the fermenting room. At the time the outside temperature was about 31C. Then I stepped into the fermenting room and it felt like the temperature went up about 5 degrees. The heat combined with the overwhelming smell of fermenting malt made the room pretty uncomfortable. There were at least 10 large fermentation tubs in the room and each one had an approximately 72,000 liter capacity. I was not expecting the distillery to have this kind of capacity.

After several tortuous minutes in the fermenting room we were allowed to proceed into the much cooler distillation room with its copper pot stills. We were separated from the stills by a pane of glass, so I didn’t get the opportunity to get too close to them. The first row of stills is for the first distillation and the row of stills immediately across was for the second distillation. Some of the first distillation stills are significantly larger than their counterparts. After listening to the more rudimentary details of distilling from the tour guide we were lead outside into a waiting shuttle.

We all piled into the shuttle and were taken to a location where the distillery could showcase their cask charring skills. The tour guide admitted that it was only for show and that the actual charring is done inside one of the facilities. But what is not entertaining about a man with in essence a flame thrower lighting the inside of barrels on fire. The heat was pretty intense, even though I was more than 15 feet away. The other members of the tour oohed and awed as the barrel crackled and then was instantly put out by one quick splash of water from a ladle. I guess it did add some excitement to the tour for those that really weren’t interested in whisky…the handful of 10-12 year old kids in the tour come to mind.

After the pyrotechnic show we hopped back onto the shuttle and were taken to one of the storage facilities. This is one of the buildings that is used to store and age the barrels full of whisky. As soon as I entered the building I was slammed in the face with the strong scent of aging spirit. Apparently the angels like to let their share rest awhile before consuming it. I have a bottle of Hakushu 12 and the smell of the building instantly took me back to that bottle. After I got past the strong scent of alcohol I started to notice the sheer size of the facility. The place was huge! The best way I can describe it is by referencing the scene in the Matrix where Neo declares that he needs guns…lots of guns. However this time instead of guns he needed casks…lots of casks. The tour guide later mentioned that Hakushu has the storage capacity to fill up the Tokyo Dome. That is a lot of whisky!

After walking through a couple rows of aging barrels we all hopped back onto the shuttle and back to the gift shop/bar area. It was time to finally drink some whisky. Unfortunately for me, the latest craze in Japan is the highball – whisky and soda water. I despise this drink and believe that it is a complete and utter waste of single malt whisky. I sat at the table staring at the bastardization of a perfectly good Hakushu 10 while feigning to be happy about it when the tour guide walked by. I didn’t touch it, instead I walked back to the bartender and asked her for a Hakushu 10 straight. To my delight she was more than happy to oblige. I sipped down the 10 rather quickly because there was more work to be done in greener pastures. Next door was the more formal Hakushu tasting bar with a full range of the Hakushu and the Yamazaki line up. I quietly snuck out and made my way to the first bar stool I could find.

Once I sat down I was presented with a fairly formidable list of whiskies to choose from. It was like a dim sum menu – just check the box next to the whiskies you want and they will bring them all out to you. The pours were only 15mL, but that works better when you are trying more than a couple expressions. I wanted to check them all, but that wasn’t a realistic option. So I tried to narrow down the selection as best I could. I ended up ordering: Hakushu Smokey, Hakushu Sherry, Hakushu Bourbon, Hakushu 25, Yamazaki Mizunara (Japanese Oak) and Chita Single Grain. These were all new to me so it was great to get the opportunity to try them. Unfortunately for me I only had 30 minutes to get through them all as the sampling bar was closing. So I did my best to take my time and really taste each one while at the same time pushing forward to make sure that I got through all of them. I will give more details on each of the whiskies in a later post.

After stumbling out of the tasting bar I was assaulted by an ungodly amount of very cool but at the same time fairly useless souvenirs – other than the actual bottles of whisky. However since it is a custom to pick up small gifts for people when you go somewhere, I fell in line with the crowd and loaded up on some cask shaped chopstick holders and Hakushu key chains. After running the gauntlet of Japanese capitalism at it’s best I walked back through the peaceful forest back to the car and headed home.

The visit to Hakushu was a real eye opener for me. I was overwhelmed with the serenity and peacefulness of the mountains and forest on the one hand and then huge industrial and technological marvel of the distillery facilities. It was also interesting to see the differences between this large more commercial distillery and a smaller more quaint one. Hint: another Japanese distillery far north of Hakushu- look for that article to follow shortly.


Fermentation Room

Fermentation Tubs





Charring Barrels


Tasting Bar


Different Expressions



Gift Shop

Display Casks

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Filed under Distilleries, Hakushu

A Visit to Suntory’s Hakushu Distillery Part I

Entrance Sign

I tried to write everything that I experienced at Hakushu into one post, but I felt like it was dragging and I started to skip things.  So instead of trying to brain dump all into one post, I decided to break this little adventure up into sections.

I am very lucky to have a lovely wife that is from Japan – well let me back that up a little bit; I am extremely lucky to have my lovely wife. And it is nice that I get to travel to Japan from time to time. Fortunately for me part of her family is originally from Yamanashi Prefecture (山梨県), if you don’t know where that is think Mt. Fuji and there you have it. Specifically they are from Kofu (甲府) the capital of Yamanashi. But now there is another reason for you to know about Yamanashi…it is also home of Suntory’s Hakushu (白州)distillery.

We decided to make a last minute drive to Kofu on a Wednesday morning. This is a pretty decent drive, about 3 hours with the standstill traffic that we hit going through Tokyo. It was a particularly bad time to travel in Japan as it was the Obon holiday and everyone was traveling.  We finally did reach Kofu at about 1pm and Hakushu was still another painfully long 40 minute drive.   It was going to be a close one as we would probably arrive around 2pm and I assumed the distillery would close at about 4:30-5pm.  Was there going to be enough time to get a tour in, walk around the grounds, hit the gift shop and most importantly do some tasting???  “Red mist” is a racing term for when you have a temporary lapse in judgment when trying to pass another car, I had the whisky equivalent.   So once we hit Kofu, I unceremoniously dropped the kids and inlaws off with the local family; probably with less grace and couth than was expected and required.  Dispensing with formal greetings, I hurried back into the car and my wife and I made a B line to Hakushu.  I knew I was going to pay for this less than stellar showing of courtesy later, but I was deep into a serious case of the whisky mist – I can worry about it later!



With little complication (we only got lost once) we made it to Hakushu Distillery.  At first glance, I was amazed by the scenery. It was a natural green forest situated amongst the soaring mountains of the Southern Alps of Japan. It was a very tranquil and peaceful place. A small creek runs down the hill under the foot bridge that is at the start of the path leading up to the distillery.

After wondering up the winding path we reached a clearing and immediately spotted the almost iconic walkway linked twin roofs. I had always thought it housed a component of the distillery that actually produces whisky – in actuality it houses the whisky museum. we took a quick stroll through the museum which detailed the history of the Suntory company as well as the history of the Hakushu Distillery. Founded in 1973, it is Suntory’s second distillery – the original being Yamazaki (山崎)in southern Japan (I hope to make it there soon). Yamazaki is widely regarded as Japan’s first true whisky distillery, founded in 1924.  It is very interesting to see the difference of accounts regarding the establishment of Yamazaki.  No mention of Taketsuru Masataka (竹鶴 政孝) was in the narrative of the founding of Yamazaki.  Taketsuru Masataka is the founder of Nikka Whisky (ニッカ ウイスキー) and has a long an interesting history with whisky.  The museum also proudly displayed the numerous international awards that different Suntory expressions have won throughout the years.

After going through the museum I joined up for the guided tour of the distillery.  I will go through the details of the tour in my next post.  Below are some additional pictures from the distillery grounds before I went on the tour.  Enjoy and thanks for your patience!  Here is Part II.


Parking Lot




Old Bottle

Hibiki 30




Museum Entrance

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Article No. 2 for Drink Me Magazine

Another short contribution to Drink Me Magazine:


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Chichibu Single Malt Newborn Heavily Peated Review #Whisky


Distillery:  Chichibu

Distilled June-July 2009

Cask In: July 2009

Bottled: November 2009 (Yes that makes it about 4 months old!!!)

Chichibu Single Malt Newborn Heavily Peated Label

Alcohol: 61.4% (Screamin!)

Chichibu Single Malt Newborn Heavily Peated

I found this bottle while perusing through a Japanese liquor website.   Heavily peated and only 4 months old – I had to try it.  The price wasn’t bad either (~$55).  I fully expected it to taste like new make and not have a whole lot of flavor at all.  It is still very one dimensional, but I was truly surprised how much flavor it had.  “Had” is the operative word…as you can see from the picture there isn’t much left at all.  I do like it enough that I am ordering another bottle of it.  Along with a bottle of the Double Matured Newborn.

Color – Amber orange

Nose:  Peat with a capital P! You definitely get huge wafts of sweet peat when you first nose it and it hides the high alcohol content well.  After awhile it opens up with a little maltiness.

Palate: A stiff jab of peat with that 61.4% alcohol following right up after.  It does fade rather quickly though.  You can tell it is a youngin’ and that it needs more time – but only 4 months old?  Really?  A hint of nutmeg/spice.  It is not all that complex, straight forward peat as advertised.  More of a nasal and back of the tongue alcohol feeling.

Finish:  Short and fades fast.

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Filed under Chichibu, Whisky Impressions