The world has fallen in love with Japanese whisky. It’s ok, I feel it too. Much of this love, has been given to the country’s first commercial distillery and flagship of the Suntory portfolio, The Yamazaki. After winning multiple awards including “Best Japanese Single Malt” and “World Whisky of the Year”, demand for The Yamazaki single malt whisky has exploded. It has become so popular that all of their expressions are nearly impossible to find. If they are found, they are almost always marked up at a substantial premium.
But there is another distillery in the Suntory family that, while overshadowed by its popular relative, is slowly making a name for itself. That distillery is The Hakushu. The Hakushu (hOck-ushu) has finally claimed the “Best Japanese Single Malt” at the most recent 2016 World Whisky Awards with its own 25 Year Old variant. Its introductory 12 Year Old took the title for “Best Japanese Single Malt 12 Years and Under”. People are starting to notice The Hakushu and it’s about time.
Awards are nice in that they can instantly boost a distillery’s sales (and in this case it all goes to the same parent company, Suntory) but enough with that. Let’s get into this whisky. Mainly, what does it taste like and how does it differ from The Yamazaki? When I think of Old World Japan, I like to envision a mystical forest filled with exotic trees adorned with white orchids and violet sumire flowers. A river churns nearby. It’s remarkable clarity reveals the fragile sand and stone beneath it. It’s movement is patient, unfazed by the hustle of human life for in this serene locale it does not exist. If it does exist, it does not bother the nature around it. It too is patient. An ancient temple rests in the near distance. Its habitants are brewing Lapsang Soughing tea, its exotic, smoky aromas fill the air.
All of this, as poetic or ridiculous as it may seem, is present in The Hakushu 12 Year Old. It is exactly what I would want from a Japanese single malt. It is light, it is pure, it is floral, it is mystical, it is all things that it should be. Freshly cut oak, ripe apple and pear, elegant flowers, all whisked together with an unmistakable peat smoke. The smoke is not of the thick, medicinal variety found in the majority of Islay scotch whiskies. It is more of a gunpowder green, fresh pine aroma that works exceptionally well with the whisky’s character. Every aroma and flavor is subtle, perfectly balanced really. Nothing is overpowering, not even the peat smoke as it can often be. Give this one time. It has been living for 12 years before it filled your glass and just a few drops of water (perhaps 6 drops per oz) will really bring it to life. A beautiful whisky worth every penny.
When I first tasted this one, it was in sequence with The Yamazaki 12 Year Old and the Hibiki 17 Year Old blend. This one stood out as the most unique and for that reason, the most memorable. It may not have the broad appeal that The Yamazaki has and it may not be as complex as the Hibiki blend but for me, it is exactly what I want.