Tag Archives: Hakushu

More Releases of Suntory and Nikka for the US Market!

The Japanese whisky companies that already have a presence here in the US (Suntory and Nikka) have been very busy over the summer.  In fact, it looks like a mini-arms race broke out.  Both Suntory and Nikka appear poised to increase and diversify their existing line up.  Currently Suntory offers the Yamazaki 12 and 18, Hakushu 12 and Hibiki 12.  Nikka recently entered the US market with Yoichi 15 and Taketsuru 12.

Yamazaki 25

Suntory is going big with a new release for the Yamazaki line and for the Hakushu line.  Contrary to the current trend of younger whiskies and non-age statement expression, Suntory is releasing the venerable Yamazaki 25.  This release has earned some very distinguished awards over the years including the 2012 Best Single Malt Whisky at the World Whiskies Awards.  The Yamazaki 25 will come in at 43% ABV.  As for pricing we don’t have those details yet but if it is anywhere near the pricing in Japan (~$900) it is going to be a luxury bottle.

Hakushu

Suntory also decided to go big with their new Hakushu release – big peat that is.  The new release will be the Hakushu Heavily Peated.  This has been an annual release in Japan of 3000 bottles that has tended to sell out very quickly.  Suntory is bringing the Heavily Peated in at a lower ABV though.  In Japan the release has always been at 48% ABV but the label for the US version indicates that it will be released here at 43% ABV.  The pricing should be closer to the $100 mark as that is roughly what it sells for retail across the pond.

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Nikka is introducing the US to its other single malt distillery, Miyagikyo.  This distillery is located in the northern part of Japan’s main island Honshu, in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture.  This is still south of Nikka’s Yoichi distillery which is on the northern island of Hokkaido.  The Miyagikyo expression will be 12 years old and bottled at 45% ABV.

Taketsuru 17

Nikka is also supplementing its pure malt line with the Taketsuru 17 and the 21.  Taketsuru is a pure malt in that it is a vatting of two single malt whisky distilleries:  Yoichi and Miyagikyo (Sorry Scotch Whisky Association – can’t prohibit a Japanese whisky company from using the term pure malt).  Both Taketsuru expressions will be bottled at 43% ABV.

Taketsuru 21

Unfortunately the details of when all of these expressions will be released are unknown to us at this time.  But we imagine that they will try to have them ready to roll out or start to announce them in the fall – whisky season here.  As we get more information on release dates and pricing we will update.  Keep it up Suntory and Nikka! Get these new expression into the market and keep more of them coming in!

*Photos from TTB Applications*

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2013 Hakushu Sherry Cask

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Suntory’s annual Yamazaki Sherry Cask has been a whisky fan favorite and 2012 saw the inaugural release of the Hakushu Sherry Cask (Hakushu new-make aged entirely in carefully selected sherry casks). It sold out rather quickly even for a limited release of 3,000 bottles and there was no clear indication that there would be subsequent releases like the Yamazaki. Fortunately, Suntory just announced that it is indeed releasing a 2013 Hakushu Sherry Cask. The release date across Japan is set for February 5th. Like before, the 2013 release will be limited to 3,000 bottles and will come in at 48%ABV with a sticker price of 9,000 yen.

The demand for Hakushu has increased significantly. According to Suntory, sales were up 307% during the months of January through November 2012 from the prior year. With that, I imagine this release will not be on the shelves very long – if at all.

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Suntory Hakushu Sherry Cask

We thoroughly enjoyed the Yamazaki Sherry Cask bottling last tear, as did many others. Now we finally get the combination we have been waiting for: Hakushu + sherry casks! Hakushu tends to be on the lighter more refreshing spectrum so it will be interesting to see how it will hold up against the bold robust sherry casks. This is a somewhat “limited” release of 4,300 bottles and like the Yamazaki release this is also bottled at 48%ABV. The Hakushu Sherry Cask is scheduled to be available for purchase from Sake Brutus on February 28 for 8,560円. However, there may be other shops releasing it earlier. We will update this post as we get more info.

Image taken from the Sake Brutus website

**UPDATE ** Official Suntory Press Release

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US Release of Suntory Hakushu

As you probably noticed it has been rather quiet around here lately.  This silence has been primarily due to a whole lot of work – leaving very little time to work on getting tasting impressions and posts out.  However, don’t be fooled into thinking that booze hasn’t been consumed.  It has, actually a lot has, but more for utilitarian purposes.

So it was with much joy that I was able to attend a tasting this afternoon hosted by Suntory’s Mike Miyamoto and Neyah White to sample some of the soon to be released (end of October) Hakushu 12.  That’s right, finally another Japanese whisky expression will be released in the US.  The Hakushu distillery flavor profile is one of my favorite and the 12 just sings with fresh forest crispness.  We posted our impressions of the Hakushu 12 here.

You also really get a sense of the distilleries location in the whisky.  Every time I drink Hakushu 12 it brings me back to the storage warehouse at the distillery.  You can read a little more about the distillery here in Part 1 and Part 2 of my visit there.

Hakushu is completely different than its Yamazaki brother.  I think this bodes well for whatever your opinion is of Yamazaki.  If you like the Yamazaki releases, you will be treated to an additional and different whisky in Hakushu.  If you aren’t a big fan of Yamazaki, maybe Hakushu will be more to your liking.  Either way I highly recommend that you seek out a bottle/dram of Hakushu and give it a try.  – Chris

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Suntory Hakushu Distillery Hogshead 1996

Another one from the line up of our Japanese whisky tasting that we had in April.  Suntory’s Hakushu Distillery puts out some solid expressions that I really like so this one had a lot to live up to.

Hakushu Hogshead 1996 ~$120
Distilled 1996, Bottled 2008 at 62%ABV
Bottle 607/100

Color:  Bright golden yellow

Nose:  Honey sweetness, floral and bright, the alcohol makes its presence known, pears, coconut, oily, fresh pine needles

Palate:  Oily, buttery, big oak and malt presence, alcohol is overpowering.  With some water – powdered sugar, more ripe sweet golden apples, after letting it sit for awhile: strong oak spice, honey comb and oak char

Finish:  Long and spicey

Comments:  Very vibrant, fresh and powerful but pretty one dimensional.  I had higher hopes for this one but it just fell short for me.  Not a bad whisky but something missing.  And at $120/bottle there really shouldn’t be anything missing in my opinion.  – Chris  

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Whisky Tasting – Japanese Malts

April 21st marked the third Thursday of the month and that meant it was whisky tasting time again! In March we celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with some Irish malts. In April we decided to go in another direction with some Japanese malts. There wasn’t any particular reason for why we went with Japanese whiskies other than we didn’t have the self-control to leave these whiskies’ flavors a mystery to us. The whiskies we decided to pour were available here in the US only via check in baggage. Nate brought these bottles back in February and we couldn’t wait any longer to open them.

We were lucky to have a good turn out of enthusiastic whisky folks to enjoy the whisky with. We decided to start off the evening by doing a quick comparison between Japanese whisky and Scotch whisky: a Singleton of Glendullan 12 and Yamazaki 12.  It wasn’t the most scientific and there were probably better whiskies to use to compare, but hell it was what we had available to us.

After that we moved into the more serious whisky.  We started with the Suntory Hibiki 50.5.  Hibiki is a blended whisky – a mix of malt and grain – and as the name indicates it is bottled at 50.5% ABV.  The Hibiki 12 is probably familiar to those in the US but this particular Hibiki was aged for 17 years.  After the Hibiki we dove into the first single malt of the evening, a single cask Hakushu, distilled in 1996 and bottled in 2008 at 62%ABV.  Hakushu is Suntory’s other distillery located in Yamanashi Prefecture.  The last expression of the evening was one of Ichiro Akuto’s Card Series:  3 of Hearts.  The Card Series bottlings are whiskies that were originally distilled in the now closed Hanyu distillery.  This particular expression was first aged in a Hogshead and finished in a port pipe and ultimately bottled at 61.2%ABV.  It was a great whisky to finish on!

…or at least we thought.  For those that stuck around and got really comfortable in their seats, an additional two Japanese whiskies made their appearances.  White Oak/Eigashima is one of Japan’s lesser known distilleries.  The majority of their distilling efforts are spent on shochu and sake, but they do release a couple of expressions.  We decided to try their Akashi 5 and 12 year old whiskies.  Definitely different, bordering on funky was my impressions.  Of course this was after a couple of hours on sipping on the three previously mentioned whiskies.

Overall it appeared that everyone had a good time (which is the most important thing) and enjoyed some different whiskies.  We will post up more detailed tasting impressions of the whiskies shortly.  Till next tasting! – Chris      

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Tasting Two Hakushu

In the US we have been acclimated to Suntory’s Yamazaki line up: the 12 year and the 18 year.  We have also been teased with the easily embraceable Hibiki 12.  Unfortunately, a significant portion of Suntory’s malt repertoire is missing from the US:  Hakushu.  But the goodness of the Yamazaki and Hibiki lines only make us want more, so just like the grabbing hands we’re gonna grab all we can.  Suntory – bring – us – Hakushu – NOW!

But as things stand, pleas aside, malts from Suntory’s Hakushu distillery are not available (outside of carry-on) in the USA.  We are, however, holding out hope that one day we will be able to purchase Hakushu here as it is one of our preferred distilleries, period.  (And now the fawning will start in earnest.)

Hakushu 12:
43%ABV 5,680円/~$65

A whisky like this does something important for the seasoned patron of well-crafted spirits: it reminds me that something can be easy to enjoy yet retain a touch of mystery.  The color, a pleasant golden hue, while not unique, fills the glass in a pretty manner all the same.  And in this case, filling the glass is a sound investment.  The malty sweetness of the nose is easy to appreciate.  And while a respectable tendril of smoke is never far away, the curious, slightly spicy fruit notes, citrus and apple at the same crisp moment, intrigues.  A pleasing development ensues with a decent sip (and that is in addition the pleasing development of finally getting a bit of something on route to the bloodstream).  Complex and competing flavors get busy.  A variety of fruit, a unity of malt, and a decent haze of subtle-smoke play their parts.  A spicy nuttiness (as in actual nuts, not silliness) sticks around with a gummy taffy flavored with something as elusive as it is satisfying.  A novel and comforting whisky that persuades you to recalibrate your taste buds.  Yummy.

Hakushu Distillery Only Release:
43%ABV

The bottle and the box alone are worth it.  Admittedly, I have a thing for slightly smaller, non-standard bottles.  But they didn’t scrimp on the cork stopper, so enjoy it.  A slightly darker hue than its 12 year relation, the nose reveals the family connection.  A rounded apple-and-zest scent is there with bright spices and a bit of coconut, perhaps.  An interesting oily tinge and that ineffable Hakushu note.  Chewy malts deliver, a smooth and subtly smokey body result in a spicy, grain finish.  And still the mysteriously satisfying fruit-I-don’t-have-a-name-for haunts me.  A solid variation on a theme.

These lively whiskies represent the distinct heritage of Hakushu.  I would be delighted to try some Hakushu that underwent a little off-the-beaten-path barrel experimentation, say, finished in a Bordeaux.  I would love to get my hands on a cask strength release.  Who knows what the future holds.  And if the future doesn’t hold any of these pipet dreams, I would be delighted if I could drink Hakushu when I want, whenever I want.  – Nate

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Japanese Whisky Tasting

I don’t talk about it too much here but we do monthly whisky tastings at various locations in San Francisco.  The tastings are very informal and are meant to be more of a social dialogue versus a lecture or class.  After the first round of tasting, the event is basically self serve.  This some times results in the destruction of those attendees who’s self control escapes them.

For some time I had the idea of doing a Japanese whisky tasting.  Many people still do not know much about Japanese whisky and this issue is compounded by the fact that there isn’t a large amount of Japanese whiskies to be had in the US.  As fortune would have it, I was introduced to the west coast Yamazaki Ambassador, Neyah White, through one of our whisky buddies Evan.  After exchanging some emails we were able to hammer out a convenient date and location to have the tasting – which happened to be yesterday.

Neyah was generous enough to provide 6 different expressions.  This included 3 component whiskies that are not bottled or available for sale here.  The other 3 were expressions that we can purchase here:  Yamazaki 12, Yamazaki 18 and the Hibiki 12.  It was explained that the 3 component whiskies were all distilled at a similar time however, each one went into a different type of cask:  new American Oak, Mizunara (Japanese Oak) and Spanish Oak.  These are the components of both the Yamazaki 12 and 18 expressions.  The difference between the two, besides the age, is the ratio of each component whisky used.  It was a great learning experience to be able to taste the deconstructed ingredients of the recipes for the two standard releases.  After Neyah walked us through the 3 component whiskies we were free to sample the 3 distillery bottlings.

I, personally, am partial to the Yamazaki 12 as I like the fresh, spring crispness to it over the more sherry influenced Yamazaki 18.  The Hibiki 12 is also a great whisky, especially at the price point.  It is a blend of malts from Suntory’s Yamazaki, Hakushu and Chita (grain) distilleries.  What makes it unique though is the use of whisky that was aged partially in ume shu (plumb wine) casks.  It adds an interesting sweetness to the bouquet of flavors.  You should get out there and try these expressions if you haven’t yet.

In addition to these great whiskies, I brought along a couple of bottles that I had been stock piling at home.  What’s the point in having interesting/good whisky if you can’t share and drink it with others?  I brought with me a couple of other Suntory expressions:  Yamazaki 10 and a Hakushu 12.  Additionally, there was Nikka Pure Malt Black, Nikka Yoichi 10 Single Cask, Final Vintage of Hanyu 10 and Chichibu Newborn Double Matured.

We all learned a lot – and drank a lot – last night.  But more importantly a good time was had by all.  A huge thank you to Neyah for taking the time to join us!

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A Visit to Suntory’s Hakushu Distillery Part II

Part I can be found here.

OK – I admit my first post on my visit to Hakushu was not exactly the epitome of well written verse. In fact, it was crap. My excuse is this: I sit in front of a computer all day and read and write. To add to the perilous state of affairs of my creativity, I am trained to write very simply with as few adjectives as possible. Translation: extremely dry, boring and well…boring. With this said, I will sound the alert for my missing creativity and attempt to write something that is halfway interesting for this second post on Suntory’s Hakushu distillery.

The whisky museum was an educational experience. I am simply intrigued by history in general, but adding whisky to the mix made it even better. Once I finished at the museum I decided to do the guided tour of the distillery. Unfortunately for me my Japanese is not up to par for the guided tour, so I was the lone foreigner rocking the radio and headset for the English translation of the tour. We reserved spots for the tour earlier online so when we signed up we were given two pretty cool Hakushu tumblers – not bad schwag if you ask me!

The first part of the tour took us to the fermenting room. At the time the outside temperature was about 31C. Then I stepped into the fermenting room and it felt like the temperature went up about 5 degrees. The heat combined with the overwhelming smell of fermenting malt made the room pretty uncomfortable. There were at least 10 large fermentation tubs in the room and each one had an approximately 72,000 liter capacity. I was not expecting the distillery to have this kind of capacity.

After several tortuous minutes in the fermenting room we were allowed to proceed into the much cooler distillation room with its copper pot stills. We were separated from the stills by a pane of glass, so I didn’t get the opportunity to get too close to them. The first row of stills is for the first distillation and the row of stills immediately across was for the second distillation. Some of the first distillation stills are significantly larger than their counterparts. After listening to the more rudimentary details of distilling from the tour guide we were lead outside into a waiting shuttle.

We all piled into the shuttle and were taken to a location where the distillery could showcase their cask charring skills. The tour guide admitted that it was only for show and that the actual charring is done inside one of the facilities. But what is not entertaining about a man with in essence a flame thrower lighting the inside of barrels on fire. The heat was pretty intense, even though I was more than 15 feet away. The other members of the tour oohed and awed as the barrel crackled and then was instantly put out by one quick splash of water from a ladle. I guess it did add some excitement to the tour for those that really weren’t interested in whisky…the handful of 10-12 year old kids in the tour come to mind.

After the pyrotechnic show we hopped back onto the shuttle and were taken to one of the storage facilities. This is one of the buildings that is used to store and age the barrels full of whisky. As soon as I entered the building I was slammed in the face with the strong scent of aging spirit. Apparently the angels like to let their share rest awhile before consuming it. I have a bottle of Hakushu 12 and the smell of the building instantly took me back to that bottle. After I got past the strong scent of alcohol I started to notice the sheer size of the facility. The place was huge! The best way I can describe it is by referencing the scene in the Matrix where Neo declares that he needs guns…lots of guns. However this time instead of guns he needed casks…lots of casks. The tour guide later mentioned that Hakushu has the storage capacity to fill up the Tokyo Dome. That is a lot of whisky!

After walking through a couple rows of aging barrels we all hopped back onto the shuttle and back to the gift shop/bar area. It was time to finally drink some whisky. Unfortunately for me, the latest craze in Japan is the highball – whisky and soda water. I despise this drink and believe that it is a complete and utter waste of single malt whisky. I sat at the table staring at the bastardization of a perfectly good Hakushu 10 while feigning to be happy about it when the tour guide walked by. I didn’t touch it, instead I walked back to the bartender and asked her for a Hakushu 10 straight. To my delight she was more than happy to oblige. I sipped down the 10 rather quickly because there was more work to be done in greener pastures. Next door was the more formal Hakushu tasting bar with a full range of the Hakushu and the Yamazaki line up. I quietly snuck out and made my way to the first bar stool I could find.

Once I sat down I was presented with a fairly formidable list of whiskies to choose from. It was like a dim sum menu – just check the box next to the whiskies you want and they will bring them all out to you. The pours were only 15mL, but that works better when you are trying more than a couple expressions. I wanted to check them all, but that wasn’t a realistic option. So I tried to narrow down the selection as best I could. I ended up ordering: Hakushu Smokey, Hakushu Sherry, Hakushu Bourbon, Hakushu 25, Yamazaki Mizunara (Japanese Oak) and Chita Single Grain. These were all new to me so it was great to get the opportunity to try them. Unfortunately for me I only had 30 minutes to get through them all as the sampling bar was closing. So I did my best to take my time and really taste each one while at the same time pushing forward to make sure that I got through all of them. I will give more details on each of the whiskies in a later post.

After stumbling out of the tasting bar I was assaulted by an ungodly amount of very cool but at the same time fairly useless souvenirs – other than the actual bottles of whisky. However since it is a custom to pick up small gifts for people when you go somewhere, I fell in line with the crowd and loaded up on some cask shaped chopstick holders and Hakushu key chains. After running the gauntlet of Japanese capitalism at it’s best I walked back through the peaceful forest back to the car and headed home.

The visit to Hakushu was a real eye opener for me. I was overwhelmed with the serenity and peacefulness of the mountains and forest on the one hand and then huge industrial and technological marvel of the distillery facilities. It was also interesting to see the differences between this large more commercial distillery and a smaller more quaint one. Hint: another Japanese distillery far north of Hakushu- look for that article to follow shortly.

Hardware

Fermentation Room

Fermentation Tubs

Stills

Stills

Casks

Aging

Charring Barrels

Torching!

Tasting Bar

Yamazakis

Different Expressions

Hakushu

Sampling

Gift Shop

Display Casks

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A Visit to Suntory’s Hakushu Distillery Part I

Entrance Sign

I tried to write everything that I experienced at Hakushu into one post, but I felt like it was dragging and I started to skip things.  So instead of trying to brain dump all into one post, I decided to break this little adventure up into sections.

I am very lucky to have a lovely wife that is from Japan – well let me back that up a little bit; I am extremely lucky to have my lovely wife. And it is nice that I get to travel to Japan from time to time. Fortunately for me part of her family is originally from Yamanashi Prefecture (山梨県), if you don’t know where that is think Mt. Fuji and there you have it. Specifically they are from Kofu (甲府) the capital of Yamanashi. But now there is another reason for you to know about Yamanashi…it is also home of Suntory’s Hakushu (白州)distillery.

We decided to make a last minute drive to Kofu on a Wednesday morning. This is a pretty decent drive, about 3 hours with the standstill traffic that we hit going through Tokyo. It was a particularly bad time to travel in Japan as it was the Obon holiday and everyone was traveling.  We finally did reach Kofu at about 1pm and Hakushu was still another painfully long 40 minute drive.   It was going to be a close one as we would probably arrive around 2pm and I assumed the distillery would close at about 4:30-5pm.  Was there going to be enough time to get a tour in, walk around the grounds, hit the gift shop and most importantly do some tasting???  “Red mist” is a racing term for when you have a temporary lapse in judgment when trying to pass another car, I had the whisky equivalent.   So once we hit Kofu, I unceremoniously dropped the kids and inlaws off with the local family; probably with less grace and couth than was expected and required.  Dispensing with formal greetings, I hurried back into the car and my wife and I made a B line to Hakushu.  I knew I was going to pay for this less than stellar showing of courtesy later, but I was deep into a serious case of the whisky mist – I can worry about it later!

Creek

Path

With little complication (we only got lost once) we made it to Hakushu Distillery.  At first glance, I was amazed by the scenery. It was a natural green forest situated amongst the soaring mountains of the Southern Alps of Japan. It was a very tranquil and peaceful place. A small creek runs down the hill under the foot bridge that is at the start of the path leading up to the distillery.

After wondering up the winding path we reached a clearing and immediately spotted the almost iconic walkway linked twin roofs. I had always thought it housed a component of the distillery that actually produces whisky – in actuality it houses the whisky museum. we took a quick stroll through the museum which detailed the history of the Suntory company as well as the history of the Hakushu Distillery. Founded in 1973, it is Suntory’s second distillery – the original being Yamazaki (山崎)in southern Japan (I hope to make it there soon). Yamazaki is widely regarded as Japan’s first true whisky distillery, founded in 1924.  It is very interesting to see the difference of accounts regarding the establishment of Yamazaki.  No mention of Taketsuru Masataka (竹鶴 政孝) was in the narrative of the founding of Yamazaki.  Taketsuru Masataka is the founder of Nikka Whisky (ニッカ ウイスキー) and has a long an interesting history with whisky.  The museum also proudly displayed the numerous international awards that different Suntory expressions have won throughout the years.

After going through the museum I joined up for the guided tour of the distillery.  I will go through the details of the tour in my next post.  Below are some additional pictures from the distillery grounds before I went on the tour.  Enjoy and thanks for your patience!  Here is Part II.

Scenery

Parking Lot

Gate

Path

Rooftop

Old Bottle

Hibiki 30

Bottles

Awards

Roof

Museum Entrance

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