I was intrigued when Tei-An sent me an invitation to a Japanese whisky tasting. I had tasted Scotch, Canadian, and Irish whiskies and Bourbon. Each had its own separate character. Given the isolated development of Japanese food culture–although it now has taken the world by storm and, in the case of our area, it looks as though most of north Dallas has been zoned ‘sushi’–I expected something just as unique out of the country’s distillers. I was to be proven wrong!
Japanese whisky is a dead ringer for Scotch, and that is not a bad thing. It turns out that a young engineer Masataka_Taketsuru studied whisky making in Scotland and was hired by the founder of what became Suntory (the owner of the Yamazaki brand) to head up the founding of a distillery in Japan. He made his whiskies to be as much like Scotch as possible, which he regarded as the epitome of great whisky.
At Tei-An, Yamazaki Ambassador Neyah White started us with the Yamazaki 12 Year Old Single Malt. It is aged in three types of oak (sherry casks and two types of American oak). The American oak gives it a rough, raw character. The nose had hints of orange and molasses. Next we went to the Yamazaki 18 Year Old Single Malt. I managed to catch the waiters before they loaded this with ice and drank it neat (although others added ice or water). As expected this was an altogether more tightly wound mouth feel. The nose was totally different from the 12-year old having notes of iodine and seaweed. But these notes were subtle expressions in a very complex whole. This would be my choice to sit and quaff all night to a Kurosawa movie.
We finished with a Yamazaki 12 Year Old Blended Whisky called Hibiki. Jason Kosmas, bartender at the forthcoming Marquee Grill and Bar, said that this is the one that he would use for cocktails.
During the event, Tei-An served some succulent morsels of chicken and edamame beans. I had none, as I have never found a food that enhanced the taste of Scotch whisky (although I agree that whisky can contribute mightily to a sauce). However, according to Neyah, Yamazaki goes with food and I look forward to hearing exactly what.
These examples illustrate the quality renaissance that Japanese whiskey has undergone in recent years. Whisky Magazine the “journal of record” on these things reports Japanese whiskies on more than one occasion beat Scotch whiskies in blind taste offs.