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Japanese Whisky The New Masters Of The Craft?

24/12/2020
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I Love whisky! If you are in a similar boat then this article is made for you (you should like Japan and snow for this one too).

There are lots of good options out there, but I believe the mastery of the craft bears a Japanese flag! crazy, right? Unexpected maybe?

I realise how that sounds & that the crown belongs to Scotland perhaps, but allow me to plead my case.  I’m no expert, and there could be an argument that I’ve drunk so much of the stuff it’s affecting ordinary function of my cortex, but never the less hear me out for now and see what you think.

Many would argue that it is not even true whisky if it doesn’t hail from Scotland, and I hear ya, tradition is what it is however, I would argue that the student has become the master with regards to the widely popular whisky options coming from Japan more and more. If my taste buds are of any merit the crown has shifted to somewhere halfway between Scotland and Japan. I have no complaints more variety!

To initiate my Whisky passion, specific events had to fall in place. Including spending a winter in Niseko and being able to grab a bottle of Hibiki 17 from a rapidly diminishing supply line just in time for the return trip to Australia (years before the price of Hibiki 17 quadrupled 3x over). When you find a winner such as Hibiki’s range you tend to want to branch out and see what else you can find, so with a smile on my face I obliged.

On a more recent whisky finding expedition to the land of the Samurai, the Shinkansen and the Robot, I discovered some new top of the podium Whisky’s! I’m truly pleased to promote a handful of these beauties that I hadn’t yet come across;

  • Yoichi 12 year old
  • Yamazaki 21 year old
  • Nikka whisky from the barrel
  • White Oak Single Malt

All perfect in their own way with their own subtle differences to dissect with your taste buds 🙂

The above range in price but I wouldn’t say a single one was better than the other although I do tend toward the Yoichi for a smooth and delicious whisky that has a truly impressive range.

The budget conscious whisky drinker would be well advised toward the Nikka or the White oak.

We asked Tin-Jung Shea from well known Sydney establishments Yakitori Yurippi, Tachinomi YP and Nakano Darling – what he thought of our selections and for his own personal favourite; here’s what he had to say

A little bit about Nikka’s Yoichi Distillery. The Founder Masataka Taketsuru (who help establish one of Suntory’s first whisky distilleries), studied the art of Whisky making in Scotland. When he returned to Japan, he chose Hokkaido as the place to establish his own distillery, with geography, climate and latitude similar to that of Scotland. He did this with the mind to create a product that was true to Scotch. As such the Yoichi 12 has a more traditional peaty, sweet flavor with a little bit of sharpness.

From the same brand, we have the Nikka from the Barrel – a cask Arec strength 51.4% ABV with a very noticeable golden appearance. Nicely balanced whisky and a perfect nightcap.

Yamazaki 12 year old is one of the only bottles of the Suntory’s which you can still get your hands on, without spending an arm and a leg. Albeit they are selling for over $300 now ($100 a couple years ago). It’s an award winning whisky which tends towards the Japanese palate with little peat. It is smooth and creamy and is the whisky I’ve drunk the most of. Akashi Single Malt Whisky is from an up and coming White Oak Distillery. These bottles are great bang for buck and is probably one of the whisky’s I recommend to customers the most. Again this whisky has a Japanese soul, light, fresh and clean.

Honourable Mentions: Chita – Readily available sub $100 at local liquor shops. A sweet fruity whisky with a zesty finish!

Tin From Yakitori Yurippi, Tachinomi YP & Nakano Darling

Tin is a master of his own craft & we are thrilled to have him share his thoughts, get out and try some of the above or stop By one of Tins 3 truly incredible Sydney Establishments to try them out for yourself. Check them out:

Yurippi and Nakano Darling

While in Japan there are 3 main goals with interchangeable levels of importance as the day goes on;

  • Snowboard or Ski on some of the best runs known to planet earth
  • Eat delicious food as much as you possibly can.
  • Drink enough whisky to forget about how much pain your muscles are in from the mountain that day. possibly include some Onsen time with regards to the sore body scenario.

As stated above Hibiki ranges became all but unobtainable over the years, an unpleasant and harsh reality but the plan was ‘hey maybe I can get them straight from the source?’. My attention turned to Whisky Retailers which was a hilarious experience because you can acquire it almost anywhere you can imagine; petrol station, subway, in one instance I found a liquor section between childrens toys and on the other side adult toys in a big multi level department store, That was a bit of an eye opener but certainly not the strangest part of the trip.

The main target of my purchasing spree were the works of the master craftsman over at Hibiki and in particular the 17-year-old variety is the one that tugs at the heartstrings, but Alas the Demand far outweighs the supply, unlucky. Nothing but empty shelves in sight, Bars were well stocked of course which was fantastic and helped me discover some new varieties, but the main goal to stock up on the favourites was falling apart before my eyes. Whisky Woe’s. No Hibiki for me.

Or so I thought…

A loophole was discovered in the whisky system, One that I was more than happy to take advantage of. My Whisky Woes would be over soon. ’17YO Hibiki mini’s’ to the rescue! & loads of them too 🙂 50 ml’s of fun sized excellence waiting to be consumed, and consumed they would become! it was an interesting find and I purchased as many as I possibly could, it seemed surprising that there were an abundance of the miniatures but the full size bottle was nowhere to be seen. Considering this purchase would mean it looked like I raided an in flight liquor cart or a hotel mini bar Which I considered as extra incentive to complete the acquisition. I got my whisky and I was smiling ear to ear. 32 tiny portions of them! that worked out to be 1600ml of Hibiki 17 @$10AUD a piece (x32 = $320) this compares to the Full Price of a 700ml Bottle of 17YO in Australia at $2000!!!! (at the time). So, more than twice the amount of Hibiki’s liquid gold in convenient portions for much less than half the usual cost.

Winner!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The whisky procurement exercise was saved in the most perfectly Japanese way, tiny portions of the prized liquid in abundance. Just as Japan would have intended!

What I learnt on that trip has certified in my mind the sheer excellence and rapid growth in the Japanese whisky sector and I could not be happier! we highly recommend trying out the range from Yoichi as soon as you can.

Have a great day and an even better Whisky, once you get off the mountain of course.

Alec took his slabs of wood worldwide for years. He floated around enjoying basic day to day creature comforts like salt, beers and nasi goreng, amidst chasing snow for as many days of the year as possible. Then he got a day job... But the dream lives on, Today he loves nothing more than snowboarding, writing for Genki and just being the #1 snow hound this world has ever seen.

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