Whisky from the East

March has arrived and with it, thoughts of longer days, warmer temperatures, and of course, St. Paddy’s Day.  This holy day of drinking brings Irish traditions and drinks to mind, whether it be a pint of Guinness or a glass of Bushmills.  Whisky and whiskey are the native sons of Ireland and Scotland alike, and proudly so.  But it’s not only the British Isles that produces fine whiskies.

On the contrary, I learned last week that another chain of islands – one located thousands of miles from peaty Islay and robust Speyside – holds a fine number of whiskies in places named Honshū and Hokkaidō.  This is understandably confusing: when you think of drinking in Asia, you think of rice wine and saké, not whisky.  And I’m sure our kilt-wearing friends would consider it heresy to use the words Japanese and whisky in the same sentence.  Yet to my surprise, Japanese whisky, both single malt and blended, is unexpectedly complex and pleasantly smooth.

Although I had tasted one or two Japanese whiskies before, I never considered it more than a passing fad or clever sales gimmick.  Certainly whisky produced in Asia would be simple and lacking variety, much like Japanese beer; Sapporo and Kirin are tasty with a sushi roll to be sure, but that’s about it.

Thankfully, my misperception was recently corrected by a generous gift: a bottle of Hibiki 12 year blend and a bottle of Suntory Yamazaki 18 year single malt.  I immediately opened both bottles: each was full-bodied, with dark and fruity notes.  Most notably, absent was the smoke and peat of their Scottish counterparts, a significant difference from my usual pours of Talisker and Laphroaig.  And though smoky, peaty flavors are two favorite characteristics, the two Japanese bottles proved an enjoyable alternative.

These two bottles opened my eyes to a whole new range of whisky flavors, to new possibilities when choosing a bottle.  Although I still prefer the taste and aroma of Scottish single malts, Japanese whisky now holds a special place in my bar, perhaps because of its unlikely and surprising tastiness.  Or perhaps because the bottles were a gift from a beautiful woman – my wife – and recommended by a new friend with wit and wisdom.

Published in: on March 3, 2011 at 11:14 pm  Comments (3)  
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  1. Yo THF!

    So glad to hear that you enjoyed the Japanese whiskies. About 15 minutes ago, I had a wee dram of the Yamazaki 12 with my blogging partners, The Wookie and Limpd. I have had it on several occasions, and it never disappoints! Enjoy the whiskies, and should you ever tire of them, feel free to ship them to NJ. We will welcome them with open arms and provide them with a happy home.


  2. I’m thrilled that you liked not one, but both whiskies. Whew!

    Credit for the recommendation goes to G-LO – thanks again! I’ll definitely hit you up the next time I’m pressed for a gift idea.

    • Anytime Mrs. Hip Flask! It’s good to feel like I actually know something every once in a while. 🙂

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