What is one to do when six bottles of Japanese whisky are begging to be tasted? Call in the troops, call up the pastry chef, and call the event a mini-fundraiser for the local Council on Aging. All that was left was to drink.
I knew the six bottles had contrasting flavors, age statements, price points and more. The six tasters were all women with an equally varied experience with whisky – Japanese or otherwise. Perfect set up all around.
My goal was to pair the whiskies with desserts that would complement and not contrast all the while relaxing on a cool summer evening overlooking the beach.
Each of the ladies received a handout which gave a brief history of Japanese whisky, websites, books to read and general whisky definitions; a whisky wheel to help with descriptions of the nose, palate, and finish; as well as a review of each whisky posted on distiller.com. (I still have a bit of my workshop presenter in me! I can’t help but share information.)
After a welcome non-alcoholic cocktail and appetizers, the six were gathered and the serious business of tasting began.
The first two whiskies: The Chita by Suntory vs Nikka Coffey Grain. Both are grain whiskies. The Chita is not yet available in the USA but I am told it is coming! The dessert was a shortbread cookie with a matcha glazed leaf shape shortbread.
The group tasted and talked and nibbled and tasted and came up with the following descriptions:
- The Chita: buttery, light caramel, banana fruity, woody and sweet.
- Nikka Coffey Grain: sweet and smoky, soft milk chocolate, smoker after the shortbread cookie.
The Mars and the Hakushu are very different whiskies, which is why they were in the middle of the tasting. The Mars is a blend and the Hakushu has more peat than any of the other whiskies tasted during the evening. These two outliers were paired with almond bites topped with a swath of dark chocolate ganache. YUM!
- Mars Iwai: does not jump out at you, cinnamon, spicy but mild, smooth.
- Hakushu 12 YO: tart and tasty, fruity and jammy, earthy and yeasty, sweet peat.
The final pairing brought on the big names from Suntory Yamazaki, both a tad harder to find and both only going up in price. I believe I spent $300 on the 18 YO….good thing I love it! The desserts paired with these two whiskies included a sour cream coffee cake with peaches, dark chocolate and raspberry cupcakes and strawberries dipped in white chocolate. Just like the whiskies….something for everyone.
- Yamazaki 12 YO: fruity to caramel, sweet nutty toffee, balanced and smooth.
- Yamazaki 18 YO: deep smoke, cinnamon, cherry pie, leather, licorice, very strong.
The tasting results were interesting, not everyone was partial to the Japanese whiskies overall. The scores were all over the place. The method used was:
1 = never buy this 2 = buy this for me, maybe 3 = definitely buy me a bottle, honey 4 = honey, please buy me two bottles of this and I will hide one.
The final results, from highest overall score to lowest:
- Hakushu 12 YO = 3.6
- Yamazaki 18 YO = 3.6
- Yamazaki 12 YO = 3.3
- The Chita = 2.8
- Nikka Coffey Grain = 2.1
- Mars Iwai = 1.5
The tasters were not told the price points nor my favorites until after we finished and on to gobbling up more desserts. Oddly enough though, this is how I would have ranked the whiskies with maybe an edge to the Yamazaki 18 YO.
At the end of the day, every palate and preference is different. Enjoy the whiskies that call to you. I raise a glass to tasting good whisky for a good cause and with good friends!