Tag Archives: suntory

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 Yamazaki 1984

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So we weren’t being exactly accurate when we stated that the US is limited to the 12 and 18 year old expressions of Yamazaki. There was actually one more available here and that was the 1984. But for most the purchase price ($600) was so high that it might as well not have been available here. The allocation to the US was also limited to only 300 bottles.

The Yamazaki 1984 was bottled to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Yamazaki brand. 1984 was the year that new stills were installed at Yamazaki with the intent of producing single malt whisky – as opposed to just blends. As with most Yamazaki’s the 1984 is a combination of American, European and Japanese (Mizunara) oak but there is a higher dosage of Japanese oak aged whisky.

Yamazaki 1984
Bottle #2645
48% ABV

Color: Burnt orange/copper

Nose: Loads of fragrant wood, sandal wood, old furniture, oily, musty, licorice, cloves, cinnamon, fresh baked spice cake, hints of cherry, red fruits.

Mouth: Oily mouth feel, cinnamon, Mizunara influence is clearly present, dark baking spices, sandalwood, hazelnuts, red berries, hints of mint, caramel, very luscious.

Finish: Clean, fades on the fragrant wood notes.

This is a very luxurious, well composed and exactingly calculated whisky as I would expect from a Yamazaki (that is not a single cask). I think a big tip of the hat has to go to the blender(s) that created this amazingly well balanced and full flavored whisky.

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Suntory Yamazaki 2012 Limited Cask Collection

Just a quick note that Suntory’s Yamazaki Limited Cask Collection for this year will soon be released. The three expressions are: Sherry Cask, Puncheon and Bourbon Barrel. These NAS whiskies come in at 48% ABV and are priced between 8,180 and 8,380 Yen or about $105 given our current crappy exchange rate. They will be available for sale at Sake Brutus on September 25.

The Sherry Cask usually gets all the love (arguably as it should) but from the 2011 series I really really liked the Bourbon Barrel.

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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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Taste Yamazaki 1984 At Cost

As mentioned before, K&L Wines has tastings at Martin’s West in Redwood City every Tuesday (tonight!).  You can get a pour of great, often limited, expressions of whisky at cost.  This week it is the recently awarded “World’s Best Single Malt Whisky” by Whisky Magazine Suntory Yamazaki 1984.  This is a spendy bottle to say the least checking in at ~$600/bottle.  So this is your chance to give it a try at ~$20/pour.  More specifics are here.

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A Tour of Yamazaki and an Extended Stay in the Tasting Bar

The pilgrimage to Suntory’s Yamazaki distillery came to completion on February 23, 2011.  Already keyed up from the recent Suntory week, I can’t deny I experienced a bit of giddiness as I saw the distillery buildings set into the hillside as my train pulled into Oyamazaki station.  A mercifully brief walk down inexplicably familiar alleys and I stood on one side of the JR railway tracks, my goal in the form of a critical mass of stills housed in windowless buildings on the other.  And there I stood as trains passing trains bedeviled my approach.  And then the trains were off toward wherever they were bound, the chimes stopped, the gates raised, and I walked the approach to the visitor’s center and signed up for the 11:00 AM tour (free).

A brief stroll across the Yamazaki compound brought me to the shop/tasting bar/tour-assembly area and I spent my spare time wandering around the shelves of samples of Suntory’s past expressions.  While in no way shaped like a hexagon, the myriad combination of whisky expressions ordered on shelf after shelf brought to mind a sliver of Borges’ Library of Babel featuring whisky instead of books.  A youthful stewardess of the tasting bar dissuaded me from laying into samples before the tour, and I thank her for this.  The tour lasted approximately one hour.  Geared toward persons having no understanding of the whisky-making process, it was nonetheless enjoyable for the veterans in attendance.  Also, I was kept busy translating as the tour was in Japanese and I didn’t want to employ one of those naff, pre-recorded devices that regurgitates a stock, English statement at different stations throughout the tour.  So instead I got to listen to our guide enthusiastically regurgitate stock, Japanese statements at different stations.  And that made all the difference.  After an initial homage to the forefathers of Yamazaki back in 1923, spoken before a few statues in the pleasant, brisk-but-sunny outdoors, we made our way into an elevator and on to the mash tuns.  Big and tun-like, they were behind glass and, presumably, mashing away.

The distillery room was where things got a bit more exciting.  The proximity of the stills and the palpable heat, not to mention (which is exactly what I am doing) the ability to see the spirits mid-distillation, brought with it the inherent sense of awe attached to witnessing machinations on a grand scale.  The warmth and sound of new spirits served as a right of passage before entering the barrel cellar, which was, curiously enough, upstairs.

Cool and home to an atmosphere infused with a palpable aroma of whisky from every angle, I stole breaths of the angel’s share before those angels could get at it.  I would have been happy to linger for quite some time, reading the years off of differing barrels, plotting a way to spirit one away, but time and tide wait for no tour guide and I strode out into the sunlight and a bucolic expression of pre-spirit state Yamazaki, a.k.a, the local water.  It was at this time that I remembered that the distillery is set into a hillside and that it really didn’t matter where you put the cellar since every quadrant was sealed and temperature-controlled.  Next stop, after a brief stroll down Yamazaki lane (I doubt its actually called that),  was a whisky tasting hall, were everyone was explained the attributes of whisky sodas.

Whisky sodas using Yamazaki 10, Yamazaki 12, and Hakushu 10 were served to all attendees with chocolate and snacks.  I am not a big fan of whisky sodas in general because I tend to find it a waste of whisky in that the details of the spirit’s flavor are obscured.  Also, I don’t drink a lot of soda.  Still, these weren’t bad and they came with great big, rough-hewn blocks of ice, which I find ascetically pleasing in the extreme.  It also turned out you could simply as for the aforementioned whiskies straight and they were happy to comply.  They wrapped up the tour with a great pitch by our affable and informational guide on a spiel about whisky as a great gift-alternative to chocolate for White day (Valentines day is bifurcated in Japan, White day being the day the girls receive gifts) and recommended the Yamazaki 12 as ideal for your lady-friend.  Fun stuff, and frankly, I’d love to get whisky on Valentine’s Day, so I really couldn’t argue with the marketing plan.  The tour officially over, we were released into the gift center/whisky store.  I have a weak spot for sub-700 ml bottles and they had plenty of items to tickle my fancy, including mini-bottle & signature glass combinations.  What can I say, I like cute stuff.  After making a sizable deposit in the Bank of Yamazaki, really more a currency conversion from paper to liquid form, I descended upon the tasting room, its bottle-lined shelves, and a staff bereft of excuses not to start pouring me whisky.  Indeed, now were they positively inclined to serve up any request and chat amiably about Suntory and a broad selection of whiskies available for sampling.

And I was ready to get tasting in earnest.  A flight of five whiskies struck me as a great, noon-time line-up and I chose the following: Yamazaki Puncheon, Yamazaki Bourbon, Yamazaki Sherry, Hakushu 25, and Hakushu 8 (cask strength).

Yamazaki Puncheon Cask: A thin and floral sweetness, bright, clear, light gold like its color, the nose delivered vanilla marshmallow and oak as well.  Decent presence, malts, heat, fruit and slight verdant notes with more candied vanilla, wood, and a remainder of grains and sugars.  Quite friendly.

Yamazaki Bourbon Cask: Solid gold sans the dancers.  The bourbon char and liquid sugars veiled a muted heat.  I thought it really smelled like a bourbon because, well, it did.  Indeed, had it not been for a changed-aspect of the vanilla revealing the single malt pedigree, it could have passed for an unusually delicate bourbon.  Warmth and char and a center-of-the-tongue numbness combined with the bourbon-infused malts above the palate in a delicate fashion.

Yamazaki Sherry Cask:  This has been expounded upon ad nauseum (see prior review) but I couldn’t resist.  And sometimes the same whiskies simply taste different based on a myriad of factors (air, state of mind, drinks immediately prior imbibed) so what the hell.  It was a dark and stormy night.  Not really, it was just afternoon and beautiful out, but it was a dark and stormy amber, that scion of the sherry cask.  Rich and troubling in a welcome way.  Pebbles in running water, soon-burnt sugar.  A taste of slightly dark sweets, chewy and warm spices, and a mid-back palate pervasive sherry with malts concealed inside but peering through like light through quickly passing clouds.  Mid-dark sugars and something different in every sip.  Chimeric and dangerously intriguing.

It was around this point in time that I started thinking I really should have eaten something for breakfast, which I usually don’t, or at least some snacks en route, but it didn’t happen.  I also felt like I wouldn’t mind sitting there all day, an opium addict-like embrace of a fugue of increasingly peaceful bliss.  And I felt like talking to strangers.

Hakushu 25:  A touch of amber in gold, luster.  A deep roast/char nose spoke of smoldering fires at a distance rendered faint by wooded hillsides.  Sugar, salt, smoke, and perhaps a molecule of lime found their place in the nose.  Smoke and a smooth char, a slight nuttiness on the heals of subtle sugars stretched taught and resilient take over the palate.  A lot of goodness here, but I couldn’t get my head around it at the time.  Needing further analysis, I decided to return to this one in a more intimate milieu at a later date and moved on.

Hakushu 8 Cask Strength:  I was a bit excited about this because it is not available for purchase, it was young, and it was cask strength… all fun in my book.  Gold with a touch of rose, but that might have been the brick floor.  A respectable heat rode that Hakushu wood-and-water note.  Very exciting, I thought to myself in Eddie Izzard’s Welsh send-up of Pavlov.  Pepper and sugar.  The surprisingly smooth start lead to round, muted sugars and wood before focusing on a delicate but unwavering maltiness as heat increased and edged off in turn.  Coating, satisfying, with residual sugar and grains and maybe a little something smoky.

By way of wrapping things up, I though I would give the Yamazaki Puncheon one more go.  Bring things full circle, as it were.  And I was delighted in a floral-notes-lavender-and-curved-sugars sort of way.  Its thick liquid but quixotically delicate nature were really working now.  A lush haven of higher flavors that cleaved a path like a paladin through the evil wasteland of my palate.  Colored sugars, saplings, and aspects of spring took root in a bold fashion amongst the detritus of prior tastings.  Invigorating.  And then I noticed a book on the counter encircling the tasting bar.  And then I peered through the contents of the book and read of while simultaneously spying a cluster of whisky expressions not available for sale.  At cask strength.  So much for calling it an early day.  I would have rolled up the sleeves but that would have been considerably lame-looking since I was already wearing a short-sleeved shirt.  You get the idea.  My next order consisted of the following: New Pot, Yamazaki Mizunara, and Hakushu Smokey.

New Pot, 58 percent:  No, this was not some fresh crop of wacky-tabacky, and yes, it was fresh-from-the-still-to-a-bottle whisky.  It was clear, as expected, but almost oddly so, in the way that a diamond enhances light. The raw malty character and mild nuttiness gently edged elbows with a fundamental, lingering sugar.  (At this point a concentrated effort on implementing handwriting protocols was called upon for posterity’s sake.  My handwriting is cryptic at the best of times.)

Yamazaki Mizunara, 50 percent:  Dark, peppered wood, clean, creek-bed-fresh waters.  Slightly smokey and lush with checked sugars coating essential grains, this was a Yamazaki that satisfied in a dense and sultry manner.

Hakushu Smokey, 50 percent: An eponymously appropriate smokey lushness in a measured fashion developed a spiced bite.  Perhaps a transmuted take on a signature Hakushu wood-and-pepper?  On the palate the precise smoke never overpowered and touched down briefly upon char before showing a re-interpretation of Hakushu.  Much of what I liked about their essential form with a glaze of umber smoke, a patina of roasted wood and sugars.  I wish this came in a bottle that I could exchange money for.

On a side note, it was at this time that I was appreciating the inherent caloric content of whisky.  I needed food, for longevity and munchie purposes, but I still had a source of necessary energy.  Which got me to thinking of energy expenditure in light of the recent tour.  Not even addressing the energy involved in harvesting, transporting, and properly combining barley and water, energies went into the mash tones and its mashy content.  The subsequent distillation process involved a goodly amount of heat-energy.  While the whisky sitting around in barrels didn’t involve a whole lot of energy (if you ignore the moving of the barrels, the monitoring of the barrels, and the stabilizing of the temperature  (and that quite a caveat)), the energy involved in the making and maintaining of the barrels from arbor-form to deconstructed-and-reconstructed-barrel form is no small matter.  And then of course the bottle-making energies and the putting-it-in-the-bottle energies.  All of that grand, difficult-to-quantify but fundamentally-quantifiable mass of energy found a unity, a raison d’être in keeping me powered enough to taste, revel, and scribble a few note.  And it just felt unseemly, almost unjust to use that energy for anything not in the chain of whisky-appreciation.  So I set in for another flight.  A final flight.  One flight to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.  So it was Hibiki three ways, Chita, and Hakushu Peated.

Hibiki Smokey, 58 percent: A smokey and wet heat seeped through wholesome, solid char on top (and throughout) of a well-rounded melange of grains and a peaty, high note.  Hibiki Sherry, 49 percent: Sherried in color to a warm, red amber.  A delicate interplay of sherry wine notes from start to finish.  Warm, darker sugars surrounded a slightly more intense but still Hibiki-balanced expression.

Hibiki Mizunara, 52 percent.  24 carat with a touch of something rosy.  Thick mizunara wood-notes brought out sugars, cake, and warm bread before the pepper-and-spice made the scene.  Reddening notes, a con-flux of berries and raw wood gradually muted by age developed into an elder armistice of sweets and darker pleasures.

Chita:  This is Suntory’s single grain whisky.  The nose was a subtle combination of sugar and leaves in full bloom (or whatever it is called when leaves are not young, not old, but green and turgent).  An easy light flavor that stuck to the taste buds.  Mid-sugars and still a bit of something green was followed by a light spice.  Fun.

Hakushu Peated:  Hakushu and peat, a well-forged union of Islay and the Japanese Isles. (Unfortunately, that’s all my notes say about this one, followed by the laudatory and underlined comment concerning the tour and all the whiskies tried reading “Round Fun”.  No proof statement, no details. A little slack, please, it was a slightly longer than expected haul.  I am certain I will get back to this eventually.)

And so it was that three tour groups made their way through Yamazaki’s temple of tasting, the bar staff changed once, and I wandered off in search of a train and some much-needed non-liquid sustenance. –Nate

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