Six Japanese Whiskies/Six Drinkers Review

Japanese lineup

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.

japanese table set up

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.

japanese cookiesshortbread

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!

japanese cookies2

  • 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.

japanese desserts

  • 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:

  1. Hakushu 12 YO = 3.6
  2. Yamazaki 18 YO = 3.6
  3. Yamazaki 12 YO = 3.3
  4. The Chita = 2.8
  5. Nikka Coffey Grain = 2.1
  6. 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.

japanese 18 with linda

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Tipple at the Dentist

 

Lagavulin3bottles
Three’s a charm!

 

June is a significant month in many ways – the year is half over, weddings abound, winter is clearly in hindsight for us Northeasterners; and for me especially it is time to visit the dentist and have a whisky tasting. Yup. OK, so it is actually the end of July and I am behind in posting this blog. Another casualty of summer distractions.

Dr. Paul and I have been scheduling my appointment at the end of the day for about seven years now. Doesn’t everyone drink with their dentist at the end of their appointment?

 

Dr.Paul
Dr. Paul

 

 

Over the years with Dr. Paul I have expounded my everlasting love for Lagavulin 16 YO, but for some odd reason we have never shared a dram. With that in mind I brought three different Lagavulin expressions to taste. The intent was to bring the full Lagavulin experience to him. As I was packing the bottles, I realized that I have NEVER tasted three Lagavulins together. This ramped up my interest.

Dr. Paul brought a few familiar bottles, just in case – Highland Park 18 YO, Hakushu 12 YO, and the Irish Glendalough.  The Hakushu was the only one I secretly thought worth sampling along with the Lagavulins. My peat and smoke preference was rearing its spoiled head.

 

bottles with cups
Dentistry glassware

 

The Lagavulins were cracked and the first pour, the 200th Anniversary 8 YO, was offered…in dentistry rinsing cups no less…one must make the best of available “glassware”. My plan was to say nothing and let Dr. Paul give his opinion without any slant from me.  He said there was a sweetness and no burn and that he didn’t get a lot of peat until the finish.  He commented that he would drink this one straight up.

I mentioned that this time I was going to take a few notes when he commented on each whisky. He jumped up to rinse his mouth, which he never did during our tastings before, because he said he wanted to give a clean opinion of each whisky.

The 16 YO was next. Besides noting the deeper color, his expression completely changed after the first sip. I knew he was hooked. He immediately said it was smoother, with some caramel and rounded out edges. He went on, “You want to sip this to get the after taste where the smoke adds to the taste. The 16 is proportioned better than the 8. I definitely like this. I’ll buy it.” He quickly copied down the name and year.  His perfect scenario was to buy a bottle and enjoy it while sitting in his library with a good book.

The third taste was the 1991/2007 Distillers Edition double matured Lagavulin. Richer in color still, due to the maturation in Pedro Ximenez casks, Dr. Paul only found a subtle difference in this whisky compared to the 16 YO. He remarked that it didn’t overpower and he admitted that five years ago he wouldn’t have been able to appreciate the nuances of any of the three expressions. I felt a tingle of pride knowing I had a hand in bringing him not only over to the Islay side but to an awareness of tasting and appreciating the differences in whiskies in general.

The Hakushu 12 YO was poured to see how it stood up to the Lagavulins. It didn’t stand out but it managed to stand alongside them.  That surprised me. Some of the delicate smoke of the Hakushu was lost but it still presented itself overall well. (More on the Hakushu on my upcoming blog about six Japanese whiskies poured for a local fundraiser.)

While we were finishing the Hakushu, Tommy, I assume a patient, came in and handed some cash to Dr. Paul. Tommy joked that it was his bookie money. We offered him a “glass”. Tommy first read all the labels, stated that he was a Jameson guy, and went right for the Glendalough, poured and drank it right down with a big thanks to follow. Then off he went. Not quite our usual ending of the tasting day.

I came away thinking the Lagavulin 8 YO a disappointment after the 16 YO and the Distillers Edition. Actually, how could this have been a 200th Anniversary special bottling? It is drinkable, but lacking and not up to Lagavulin standards.

 

Lagavulinglass
Now that’s a glass!

 

The 16 YO shines brightly for me again and again. My comfortable shoes, the sunset over the ocean, all the warm and fuzzy things in life – constant and consistent. The Distillers Edition provides a campfire smoke that sets it apart from the 16, not better, not lacking, simply well worth a good pour.

I raise a glass to quiet moments sharing a few special drams…even if it is with a dentist. See you in December Dr. Paul!