A Taste of Japan – York Whisky Tasting
After our successful member’s-only Dalmore tasting earlier this month, we didn’t waste any time before gathering for our next event. We were delighted to welcome the European Brand Ambassador for Suntory, Tatsuya Minagawa, to the shop to present a selection of drams from the company’s Japanese whisky portfolio. Tatsuya is a Japanese native who has lived in Speyside for around 10 years now, and was formerly the Bar and Whisky Manager at the famous Highlander Inn in Craigellachie. Bringing with him a wealth of knowledge of both the Scottish and Japanese whisky industries, we knew we were in for a treat. We asked W Club member and TWS-York regular, Simon Waites, to share his thoughts on the evening in the first of our ‘member’s-eye-view’ tasting reports.
“I was fully intending to stay in on Friday 18th May as I thought it was best after the previous weekend’s energy sapping Stag do. An early morning message from the The Whisky Shop York’s manager, John Pitts, detailing that night’s in-store tasting of Suntory whiskies with their European brand ambassador, Tatsuya Minagawa, laid waste to that idea. How could I refuse knowing the whiskies to be sampled were going to be Yamazaki 12 & 18 year olds, Hakushu 12 year old Hibiki 12 &17 year olds and a mystery whisky. Some of these I have sampled previously at whisky festivals but my memory was hazy as there are always too many to remember at such events, which is not a bad thing per se, just bad for my memory. Upon arrival I immediately got to chat with Tatsuya and we got to discussing whisky collections briefly and whether bottles should be opened or remain closed for investment. I would be no good at investing in whisky as I would be too curious at the content I was nurturing. By this point everybody had arrived so Tatsuya introduced himself and soon got to asking who had tried any of Suntory’s whiskies before. There were a high number of yeses although most had not tried at least one or two of the whiskies on show before. I felt his was a positive thing as quite often I think whiskies outside the big Scottish brands and indeed from outside Scotland can get over looked. We were then given some history behind the company’s founder and lots of other interesting information about the brand. Anticipation was high as we moved on to the whiskies:
This is a blended whisky that gets rave reviews and rightly so. One or two mentioned that they could smell plum jam when the whisky was nosed, at this point Tatsuya told us that Hibiki 12 contained a proportion of whisky that is finished in plum liqueur barrels which is quite unique
(I think!). We also found out that it was bamboo charcoal filtered, which fans of a famous charcoal filtered brand will know adds mellowness to a whisky. This mellowness does not inhibit the flavour of Hibiki in any way. To sum it up, I think this could be my new favourite 12 year old blended whisky.
I was looking forward to this whisky as I knew it was peated and I am a peated whisky fan. I was yet to try a peated Japanese whisky and this does not disappoint. The smoke was very subtle so those of you looking for Ardbeg levels of peating will not find them here. For me though, the subtle smoke combined with fresh, grassy and citrus notes makes this a great summer whisky, perhaps a great accompaniment to a barbecue. This whisky is a winner.
It had been a long time since I had tried this so I was pleased to be getting reacquainted with it. Tatsuya told us he thought it had tinned pineapple and cinnamon on the nose, at which point we discussed how we attribute smells to what we know or have experienced. As I was exposed to a lot of tinned pineapple as a child I knew where he was coming from! Tatsuya mentioned how Japanese chop sticks are made from cedar wood and if you were to chew on a chop stick it would taste like Yamazaki. The Japanese Oak used for a proportion of the barrels that Yamazaki 12yo is matured in makes for an interesting flavour profile which definitely elevates this whisky onto my wish list.
Mystery whisky – Chita 12 year old single grain 50% ABV
This whisky was blind tasted and upon nosing it I was fairly convinced it was grain whisky. I have tasted several excellent grain whiskies so am never put off by this. We were told it was matured in American oak which gave it that classic honey & vanilla flavour profile. Upon tasting there was mixed opinion and it sparked a lot of discussion. Something like this is not for everyone but it is interesting to taste the main grain component that goes into the Hibiki blends on it’s own. I liked it but, sadly,
it is not available in the UK.
This has got an amazing nose and all the comments from the attendees reflected this. There is layer upon layer of complexity with people talking about everything from bananas to Dundee cake. I quickly moved on to tasting this and found the palate delivered just as much. Anyone who thinks blends can’t deliver like a single malt really needs to be trying this. At this point Tatsuya asked us all to name a different flavour we found in the whisky and even with the full house of tasters there was no problem with this task! Apparently there are thirty different whiskies in this blend which all seem to compliment each other perfectly.
Unfortunately this was the last whisky to be sampled, but thankfully it was a fitting finale. I had been hoping to try this for a long time and was really pleased it was in the line up. Tatsuya mentioned that he thought it had cherries and chocolate on the nose, to which most agreed. It reminded me a little of some of the richer Glenfarclas offerings although this comparison may be a little unfair on both parties. The extra years that this has spent in the barrel over the 12 year old adds extra depth and character as you would hope for. Very, very good.
All whiskies finished now and Tatsuya teased us with the knowledge that a new product would potentially be available at the end of the year, I will be looking forward to finding out what this could be. Sadly it was time to go and Tatsuya received a generous round of applause which was well deserved as he had been an excellent host. These tastings are great for someone who hasn’t tried any whisk(e)y and equally great for someone who has tried a hundred. I always learn something and the informal nature lends itself to a nice friendly, open atmosphere. Roll on the next tasting at the end of June!”
Our thanks to Simon for his thoughts. As he mentions, our next event in York will be at the end of June – Friday 29th, to be exact. We’ll be joined by the newly-appointed UK Brand Ambassador for BenRiach & Glendronach, Stewart Buchanan, who’ll be introducing us to a varied selection of both brands. Tickets are available now for the reduced price of £15 (£20 to non-members) and can be bought online from yorkwhisky.bigcartel.com or by contacting the store on 01904 640 300. However, we’re once again offering a free ticket to one lucky W Club member in exchange for a small review to be featured on this site. If you’re interested, pop an email to the York store manager, John, at firstname.lastname@example.org.