G’day guys. And here I am with some Japanese whisky. I could only talk about it repeatedly for so long before I finally got up off my backside and bought some for the blog.
Like a lot of the top-shelf liquors doing the rounds on social media, serving as status symbols as portrayals of success and fortune, Japanese whisky has fast become a familiarity on the shelves. Although few of us are seldom fortunate to drink the majority of these malts habitually, as they are almost exclusively top-shelf liquors. Though I mention, I have had the pleasure of trying a single glass of Yamazaki Single Malt, something I was able to do at a pub of mine that possessed a bottle so I did not have to. This was going back two years ago now, so any exact details I’d have noticed then would be forgotten by now, but I do remember that it was smooth. A staple of a great whisky. As to be expected, from whiskies on average retailing north of one hundred dollars Australian. A continuation surely of the exhibition of Japanese class and sophistication that won it the Bond film You Only Live Twice, so set in Japan. Where Sean Connery got to indulge in all those classic Bond follies; shoot-outs, punch-ups, cool cars, cocktails, and in this case, a helicopter dogfight. Those who haven’t already seen it, JB Hi-Fi sells it on Blu-Ray, something for you to look into. Surely then, these whiskies are confined to the executive classes. This, I intended to find out. And in so doing found this, Suntory whisky. Retailing at a more, mildly wallet-friendly sixty dollars.
So, Japan. Probably the most highly developed country in Asia. They produce basically half if not more of all the cars on our roads, our cameras, our T.V.s, our fridges, our PlayStations, our power tools, I could continue until the cows come home. They pump out tons of reliable consumer products on a daily basis. But for all their Stark/Wakandan-style tech, they still rank tradition as high priority in their society. As for the existence of Japanese whisky, the market began when, in eighteen-ninety-nine, a pharmaceutical wholesaler Shinjiro Torii began importing western liquors from a shop, Torii Shōten in Osaka. Eventually in the year nineteen-oh-seven they created the label, Akadama port wine, based off the Portuguese wine he had great financial success importing. The store became Kotobukiya in nineteen-twenty-one to expand its business. Based on this, he later turned to making Japanese whisky for his own country. In the year nineteen-twenty-four Torii created the Yamazaki distillery, the nation’s first commercial distillery. And five years later, Suntory whisky was launched. The Suntory Shirofuda (White Label in English) was the first single malt whisky in Japan. It was clear by this point the progression of Japanese whisky was well underway, but it was soon halted by the second world war. After the end of the war in nineteen-forty-six, Kotobukiya released Torys whisky. The whisky sold well in post-war Japan. And then finally in nineteen-sixty-three, the Kotobukiya company came to be known by the name it’s known by today, Suntory, after their first single malt. Fast-forward fifty one years to twenty-fourteen, and the Suntory company purchased the American bourbon producer Beam Incorporated for the sum of sixteen million dollars. Becoming the Beam Suntory company. Making the now Beam Suntory company the world’s third largest producer of spirits, Beam already being an owner of a plethora of spirits producers. Suntory likewise. Which left the company now owning producers of beers, bourbons, Irish whiskeys, rye whiskey, Scotch, gins, brandys, liqueurs, as well as several producers of soft drinks and juices.
So, this bottle I’ve bought absentmindedly from my local liquor store, just so happens to come from the label that also owns a great deal of other drinks I’ve drunk over the years. So you could get away with saying the label is successful. What about today’s bottle? This bottle, a step upward from the baseline Suntory Kakubin, the premium version. Bottled at forty-three percent, Premium blended Kakubin (in English, the square bottle) has been distilled since nineteen-thirty-seven, and at present is the most popular whisky drunk in Japan. The whisky is blended with batches of Yamazaki and Hakashu, both well-known top-shelf Japanese whiskies. Then oaked in wine and sherry barrels. Showing inventiveness right off the bat. The bottle, as advertised, is square and rectangular, displaying a hexagonal, honeycomb-like pattern in the glass. The whisky inside, a somewhat darker bronzy pearlescent brown. The label and cap seal are both a matte dark blue, with a glossy gold trimming the lines of the labels, the crest and the lettering. Surprisingly, all but one bizarrely discreet word on the entire bottle are all written in English. I move to open it. The nose of whisky, beforehand, especially of countries other than Scotland, is open to interpretation. The nose could be a brash malty scent, it could be a carpeting horticultural pungence of peat. Kakubin Premium, surprisingly, is neither. Expecting one or the other, I inhaled the nose into my sinuses upon opening, to the unexpected arrival of what could have easily have been bourbon. A spicy, sweet, boisterous nose of red wine, cayenne, a hint of habanero, American oak, and rye. The nose, intriguing. Enough to stir a healthy curiosity of the taste within. Poured over ice, the nose converts to a nose more uniform of whisky. A more mild scent of horticultural notes of fresh earth and spice. I’m looking forward to tasting this. A sip, and the tastebuds are treated to many savoury, and fruity flavors. The sort of typical old familiar spice on the tip of the tongue of whisky, bathed in the fruity washes of red wine like Merlot, sherry, some thin veneer of strawberry, boiled lollies, and an undertone of sourdough. And an exit of peat.
To summarise: Imitation, it seems, continues to be the most sincere form of flattery. Where the torch of the pedigree of Scotch whisky was passed on to the minds of Japanese innovation, this, and many whiskies were created. The island nation of Japan – The Toyota Hilux, Kawasaki motorbikes, Honda outboard motors, Shimano fishing reels, Ryobi power tools, and now this; Suntory whisky. Cheers