From the archive: This post was published on our original site, MyCityLife back on 30 May 2014
With the décor of the heritage-listed building reminiscent of a welcoming and luxurious study, you immediately feel at home. Surrounded by polished cedar, button tufted leather couches and seats with a large marble framed fireplace facing a display cabinet running the full length of the opposite wall. This aesthetic perfectly complemented the indulgent experience of exploring the intriguing world of Japanese whiskys.
Guiding us along this sensory delight was Dan Woolley, an incredibly knowledgeable whisky ambassador with over 25 years of experience with this amazingly versatile spirit. With each dram, Dan explained the background of the Suntory brand and their philosophy on the art of whisky production, along with tasting notes for each of the six whiskies showcased. Insights on maturation lengths inside each type of cask and how the master distiller controls these variables to affect the product under your nose and on your palate helped each individual reach deeper flavour profiles and understanding.
With paired examples of the three Suntory Whiskey lines showcased during the evening, we reached many different notes inspired by the Japanese gastronomic palate, with each matched to sashimi. With his warm charismatic way of presenting each example, Dan encouraged questions to get the most out of the evening. With this vast knowledge at our disposal, it was an evening of education and enlightenment that only an evening of whisky can attain.
The evening started with examples from the Yamazaki distillery, the oldest of the Japanese distilleries, founded in 1923 in the Minaseno region just outside Kyoto. The waters from the Katsura, Uji and Kizu rivers converge here to supply the distillery with an amazingly pure water source famed for its traditional use in the fine art of Japanese tea ceremonies. We were introduced to both the Distillers Reserve non-age statement and the 12-year-old varieties matched with seared tuna sashimi served with three sauces. Both of these offered up a complex and intriguing nose helped by maturation in a combination of Bordeaux wine, sherry and Japanese Mizunara casks. Both display similar noses of dried and tropical fruits with floral overtones from the Mizunara cask maturation with the 12 year old also showing a hint of citrus and earthier tones that continue over the palate. The Distillers reserve being slightly younger, and aged to a flavour profile rather than an age profile, shows slightly less spice and more fresh fruit on the palate with a vanilla finish.
Our second destination was the Hakushu distillery nestled deep in the Mt. Kaikomagatake forest, where its high altitude in the southern alps of Japan accesses pure snow and granite-filtered waters. Again we were treated to both the Distiller’s Reserve non-aged statement and 12-year-old examples from this distillery, with the later served both neat and incorporated into ‘The Forest Cocktail’ where it was paired with spiced honey and a twist of lemon rind over an oversized ice cube offering an amazingly refreshing alternative way of enjoying a dram. Neat, the 12-year-old displayed a lighter character than the Yamazaki with freshness in plenty from barley malt to fresh hay and back to citrus on the nose and incorporating floral smoke on the palate finishing with a sweet and spicy character. The Distiller’s Reserve, being the younger of the pairing, was fresher again with lots of uplifting smells from pine, grass and mint with some melon-like sweetness. The palate closely follows these initial hints while also expanding to include citrus and smoke as it tapers off. Accompanying these lively fresh examples was a smoked trout potato salad which when paired with the whiskey had a beautiful effect as the whisky managed to cut through the creamy oily dish.
The final pair on offer for the evening was the Hibiki, a blend of aged malts from Suntory’s Yamazaki and Hakushu malt distilleries mixed with their Chita grain whisky. The 12 and 17-year-old examples are both blended and aged in a variety of casks by the master distiller before being finished in Umeshu plum liqueur casks. This final step in our journey showcased what is possible to be achieved with a blended whisky with the 12-year-old nose being quite busy releasing stewed apples along with vanilla, oranges, nuts, spice, honey and hints of the plum maturation. The palate was incredibly smooth as the oak, sherry and fresh grain make themselves known along with spice and citrus continue to evolve into a very balanced and harmonious finish. The 17-year-old is much of the same impressive poise though with the extra age has developed smoky and toasted wood fragrances with the apple of the younger giving way to nutmeg with cinnamon and zest finish to the nose with far more toffee, chocolate and dark cherry on the palate again with the finish graceful and long. Scallop sashimi was harmonious with the poise and balance of these two expressions of Japanese whisky.
Dan Woolley will be returning next month for another master class. The focus for this event will be the Scottish distillery Bruichladdich. Accompanying the amazing selection on offer from this famous distillery will be a locally sourced cured meat tasting menu with a signature whiskey inspired salami especially designed for the event. Lovers of peat will not want to miss this.