Let’s switch gears from wine to whisky today. How much do you know about Japanese whisky?
Japanese whiskys have quickly grown in size and scale over the past couple of decades, becoming big enough to rival the old dudes in Europe and the U.S. Whiskey connoisseurs haven’t always been excited to branch out to a whole new continent, but they’ve continued buying from Japan because the whisky has a rich sharpness and spice that can’t be found elsewhere. Leading the charge from Japan is Suntory, a brand with three distilleries in the Chita Peninsula, Yamazaki and the Japanese Alps.
Suntory’s Toki whisky is their best-seller with a very reasonable price tag (around $40) and flavor that works on its own or in cocktails. The name, Toki, translates to “time,” and denotes the Toki’s blend of variously-aged whiskys from each of Suntory’s three distilleries. Tasters have noted the Toki’s accessible lightness (making it excellent as an introduction to whisky/whiskeys) and flavors of oak, honey and vanilla.From the Suntory website: In 1923, Shinjiro Torii envisioned a whisky filled with the essence of Japanese nature and hand-crafted by artisans through a patient process of enhancing the work of nature.
He dreamt of creating subtle, refined, yet complex whisky that would suit the delicate palate of the Japanese and enhance their dining experience. Though initially inspired by traditional Scottish whisky, Torii envisioned a Japanese approach by choosing a terrain and climate completely different from those of Scotland. Torii chose the region of Yamazaki, on the outskirts of Kyoto as the birthplace of Japanese whisky.
Shinjiro Torii was born in the Meiji Period, when Western culture and civilization suddenly flowed into Japan. Ending his schooling at age thirteen, Torii entered into an apprenticeship at a pharmaceutical wholesaler in Osaka that carried Western liquors. There he engaged in stylish Western pursuits and mastered techniques of mixing, then developed a discriminating palate and nose. He mastered techniques of mixing and blending through his teenage apprenticeships. In the year 1899, Shinjiro Torii went independent, renting a modest house where generations of pursuit of a dream all started.
After WW2: Suntory cultivated the growth of Japan’s whisky culture by opening Torys bars throughout the country. At Torys bars, Suntory revolutionized the way to drink whisky by introducing “Highball.”
A word about Hibiki: Hibiki® was launched in 1989 to commemorate Suntory’s 90th anniversary and has ever since been embraced as the paragon of The Art of Japanese Whisky, the very product of Japanese nature and her people. Hibiki® Whisky is not only Japan’s most highly awarded blended whisky, but among the most prestigious and honored whiskies in the world.
Fast forward to 2016: Third-generation master blender Shingo Torii continues the pursuit of his family legacy to challenge what a Japanese whisky could be.
I am not going to tell you I am an expert on Japanese whisky. But I can tell you that you are in for a great taste treat and experience. I prefer mine on the rocks. And one other note, there is a worldwide shortage of whisky!