Sometime last year, I received an e-mail in my inbox that resembled so many e-mails I get nowadays, that read — and I’m paraphrasing here — “We have a kind of booze you don’t have — want some?”
Unless the liquor in question is some lame-ass bubblegum vodka or a candy-colored liqueur that gives me hives from just looking at the press photo, I usually reply, “Well, okay.” As I did in this instance. Several days later, a bottle of Yamazaki 12-year-old single malt Japanese whisky arrived, along with a plastic ice-ball mold that I promptly lost at the back of my freezer somewhere. I tasted the whisky, thought, “Mmm, not bad, kinda pleasant, s’okay,” and mostly forgot about it. Nothing against the whisky, you understand, it’s an absolutely pleasant sipper, but nothing about it yelled, “Drink Me Now!”
Until early this year, when at a whisk(e)y event here in Seattle, someone poured me a taste of the 12-year-old’s elder cousin, and I came away thinking “Well, damn…okay, ummm…wow. Now THAT’S a whisky to think about.”
As I did, until this weekend, when my story on Asian whisky came out in the San Francisco Chronicle.
I’m a relative newcomer to much of the single-malt category — more on that soon — but the realm of Japanese whisky had always kind of appealed to me. Once I started digging — thanks in large part to people like Stan Vadrna, who introduced me to Nikka whiskies in December, and to Andrew Friedman, who just collects whisk(e)y that nobody else seems to have, as well as Gardner Dunn, who earned a medal for “best presentation while hungover” the painful morning after my Yamazaki 18 introduction — I realized this is a part of the whisky world I really need to get comfortable with.
And with good reason. Not only are spirits such as Yamazaki 18, Hibiki 12 and Yoishi “From the Barrel” kind of startlingly good, there’s some really interesting things taking place with malted barley in Asian distilleries. I’d read of Jim Murray’s interest in Amrut, a whisky made in Bangalore, but it wasn’t until talking to Amrut’s U.S. importer that I realized how fucking serious a whisky this was: single malts, in bottle- and cask-strength, one peated and the another not, with another bottling, “Fusion,” representing a more-than-figurative link between India and Europe. These whiskies finally entered the U.S. last month; unlike the Japanese whiskies, which seem to be appearing in the U.S. very cautiously, one expression at a time, the Indian whiskies are coming (mostly) all at once, with five expressions in the initial release, and god knows what else to come. I’m pretty excited about it, and I haven’t even tasted them yet — hopefully they’ll expedite the West Coast release and I’ll actually be able to find a bottle around here at some point.
Anyway. Please read my article, if you’re so inclined, and if you haven’t tasted the Yamazaki 18-year-old, or the Hibiki 12-year-old — which, by the way, finished for two years in re-charred plum-liqueur casks? Holy shit! — then do so. And, uh, that’s it.