Suntory Hakushu 12
Yes the craze is still on folks!
That aside there is a lot to love with Japanese whisky, while they follow a lot of the Scottish tradition in their production methods, it’s the little differences that the magic is created. The market is dominated by two big players, Nikka and Suntory, who follow a similar structure, both produce grain and malt whiskies and release them as single and blended malts under different labels.
Unlike Scotland where there is a network of exchange and brokerage of single malts between companies or distilleries for blending purposes, the Japanese do everything in house. They use various yeast strains, fermentation regimens and the still houses contain a variety of still shapes and sizes to create different profiles of whisky. In their warehouses they go beyond the bourbon and sherry barrels everyone uses, sources state that some producers also use, plum wine casks, mizunara oak and other wood types that might be verboten by the SWA. This process creates an unprecedented palate of flavor to work with when assembling their products.
Suntory’s Hakushu is the less hyped, less in demand younger brother to Yamazaki, it just doesn’t seem to get the love and recognition of that whisky. The 12 year old is still relatively affordable in most markets. I think the boom causes some backlash towards Japanese whiskies because with these elevated prices/come elevated expectations that probably cannot be met.
Nose: Pears and ripe peaches, fresh cut flowers, it’s almost like good mead (I know some will say there’s no such thing), pine needles, grassy and lightly vegetal, but fresh like walking in the forest in spring. The peat on the nose is present, light and very well integrated it’s got this sweetness like marshmallows.
Palate: Porridge, malty, round and nectar, the bitterness kicks and then it’s all grassy. The peat is present but it’s like smoking conifers and juniper. The influence of the bourbon casks is present, oak and some vanilla, good honey and citronella.
Finish is medium length and drying, the sweetness and citrus is almost like old school barbershop aftershave and that discreet peat is lurking there. Sadly the texture is a bit thin and affects the length of the finish a bit.
Beyond the big flavors that hit first, there are lots of secondary notes and delicate touches. Some might find these too “crafted” or precise that is a complaint heard of Japanese whisky, it requires pause to appreciate these nuances and the work to achieve this result. I like this kind of profile, it’s perhaps not completely unique but worth seeking out.