I have no idea if I like Japanese whiskey. Let’s find out!
Tonight I have the three that the neighborhood liquor store has that are under $100/bottle. They actually have five in that latter category, including one at $325. I think I’ll be picking up a Talisker 25 year before I venture in that direction. Unlike the last time I did a glibtasting, these three are visually distinct, even if two are from the same company. For modifers/palate cleansers I have a good local cheddar, a decent semi-local chocolate and bread and fantastic local butter. Distilled water is available if I need to open any of these up, but looking at the proof I doubt that will be necessary. As with last time, I’ve got JW Black as a control and to check for palate fatigue.
Suntory “Toki” Pale straw color. Not much nose. There is some toasted wood and spice, but it’s faint. It smells sweeter than I was expecting from the color and country. It tastes sweeter too. Definitely whiskey, definitely subtle. Going to try some cheese and see if that lends me any more insights. It’s a good pairing, and returning to the whiskey bring all sorts of new happenings to the forefront. If you’re going to drink this, definitely have a little protein or fat to help spread the flavor. It doesn’t have any direct analogue in my drinking experience, but it’s closest to a Speyside with a lot more of the sweet extractables from wood. I don’t know what they cask this in, but it’s responsible for most of the flavor. A good drink. It’s not particularly aggressive or challenging, but I don’t know that it is trying to be. If you ever wanted to dispel the stereotype of the Japanese being polite, reserved, non-confrontational and indirect, this is NOT the drink to go about doing it.
Mars “Iwai Tradition” Gorgeous mahogany color. I tend to really like beers that are this color. The color is so nice I keep catching myself thinking “I’m going to like this” and having to stop and reset my mind as to not prejudice the tasting – Right On Mars marketing department! This nose is more typical of bourbon, definitely less sweet but much more present than the Toki. Tasting it is surprising. It’s very smooth and clean, and seems to roll over the tongue without fully making contact. I get the impression that this is very light bodied, but body isn’t really anything one normally experiences with whiskey. The char that gives the color is very present in the mouth, with an ashy residual. Again, eating a bit of cheese really brings this to life. Eating it on a clean mouth this was like “Baby’s first bourbon,” but a bit of fat and we’re in Scotch land. When I first tasted this, I was impressed but thought it wasn’t really my thing. Now I know it can be great in the proper context. Again, this is its own beast, but closer to a Highland style with food, bourbon without.
Suntory “Hibiki” Color is amber. Nose is much more prominent than the others. There’s a lot going on with this one. Lots of esters, less sweetness. Much more interesting. Let’s see if this is worth the premium. Oh. Oh that’s good. This one is already open straight out of the glass. It starts off with bright notes like an Irish, then mellows to a very smooth long finish. Cheese brings out the toasted flavors, but the transformation is much less than the earlier two. I hate to say it because of the price differential, but the Hibiki is obviously superior to the first ones. I also can’t tie it as readily to another style for a comparison. But it’s excellent.
So, did I learn anything about Japanese whiskey? Do I have a better idea of what “Japanese Whiskey” is as a category? Nope, not in the least. I might have drawn some sort of conclusion after the Toki and the Mars, but the Hibiki was just too different. Maybe after trying a few dozen more examples I could tell you what this is all about, but until then I’ll just have to say these were all good whiskey. The natural followup question, is are these good enough to knock out any regulars in my current collection? The answer to that is unfortunately no. While I would never turn one of these down if offered (especially the Hibiki) there are tipple I like better at their prices (again, especially the Hibiki). I really am going to shell out for the Talisker 25 before an equally priced Nihonjin after this. But I’m glad I tried these, I can always earn more money.