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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Single Malt Report: The Hakushu 12 year old Japanese Single Malt

(Please see a more positive recent review HERE!)

Distillery: Hakushu
ProducerSuntory Whisky
Age: 12 years
Maturation: mainly Bourbon Hogsheads
Country: Japan
Alcohol by Volume: 43.5%

The next stop on our Whisky World Tour is Japan.  Five months ago, I posted a report on The Yamazaki 12 year, which I recommend -- both the whisky and the report.  :)   Like Yamazaki, Hakushu is a Suntory distillery.

From their official website:

Half a century after the Yamazaki distillery was founded, Keizo Saji inherited his father's vision, and in his quest for innovation, constructed Suntory's second distillery in 1973.

Built amidst the deepest forests of Mt. Kaikomagatake in the Japanese Southern Alps, the Hakushu distillery is without question one of the highest in the world. The majestic forest that surrounds the distillery shelters some six thousand varieties of plants-almost twice the number found in Western Europe.

The malt whiskies born here are simultaneously blessed with a very particular microclimate, luxurious forests, and water offering a rare softness and purity, only made possible by filtration of rain and snow through thousand-year-old granite rocks.

Now, without all of that romantic marketing flourish, I can add that the high altitude and cool temperatures require extended maturation times, unlike the whiskies from India.  The Hakushu distillery was actually assembled in two parts, the first in the '70s.  Upon the second section's completion in 1981, Hakushu was then the largest malt distillery in the world.  When the whisky market depression hit Japan at the end of the decade, the older half (Hakushu West) was closed.  Hakushu East is what remains to this day, pushing out 3 million liters a year, most of which goes to Suntory's blends.

(I would be remiss if I didn't encourage you to go to Chris Bunting's amazing Japanese whisky site http://nonjatta.blogspot.com/.)

For years Yamazaki was the only Japanese single malt available in The States.  But last year, to the excitement of malt fans, Hakushu 12 came to our shores.

I tried out Yamazaki 12 at a restaurant before purchasing it, discovering that it went great with everything from sushi to chocolate cake.  A couple months later I bought a bottle.  A couple months later it was gone.  I was so enthused that I was going to buy a bottle of Hakushu 12 blind.  Luckily, cooler brain cells prevailed.

Before I continue with my tasting notes, here's a big disclaimer.  I may have tried a faulty sample.  Jim Murray, Serge, and the K&L Davids love this whisky, but their notes seem to be for a completely different product than the one I tried.  They found Hakushu 12 to be fresh and sweet.  What I drank was a bit different...

Color -- Light gold
Nose -- Mostly farts, sulphuric, gas leak. Then mild peat, grassy, a little bourbon oak. After a long while a hint of brown sugar and band-aids appear.
Texture -- Smooth and silky
Palate -- Wood smoke, salty, vegetal peat, cinnamon
Finish -- Moderate, salty, crisp

WITH WATER (around 34% ABV)
Nose -- Cheese and flatulence. Beef-like. Much less peat.
Palate -- Creamier. Slightly sweeter. Almost no peat.
Finish -- Short. A little bitter.

OVERALL: Think a watered-down Laphroaig 10 meets Glenfiddich 12 infused with a kitchen gas leak.

It's that gassy element (along with the cheese) that makes me think something went awry with my sample.  Sulphur notes aren't irregular with sherry cask matured whiskies, though there's debate about the positives and negatives in that element.  But Hakushu is mainly matured in ex-bourbon hogsheads, which shouldn't provide anything sulphuric.  And definitely nothing like a gas leak.

Yet, I've purchased many samples from my source and never have had one go weird like this.  I tested my palate before this tasting with sip and sniff of a good go-to, and found that my nose and tastebuds were sharp.  So I'm a bit perplexed.

Aside from all the gas and fart talk, it's a fair, light, mild whisky.  I believe that's its true nature.  I wish the peat held up a little stronger after a few drops of water.  And overall it's a little too sleepy for my palate.  THOUGH, I wouldn't mind giving it another spin someday......just in case.

Availability - Most liquor specialists
Pricing - Reasonable at $45-$60
Rating - 72 (This is the old rating. See the rating update HERE)

Next week we'll hit the final stretch of our Whisky World Tour: something very international and something very Diageo...