Whisky, the Eastern edition

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.

5 Responses to Whisky, the Eastern edition

  1. Shank says:

    Hey Paul,

    I recently got a bottle of 12yr Yamazaki and have been waiting to open it. And Amrut, woha,, I am so deligted that a single malt from my city is making a mark around the gloge.

    Cheers
    Shank

  2. Robert says:

    Good article. I’ve not seen Japanese whiskey on the market here (Charleston SC) yet. Do you know whether they have mostly a West Coast distribution?

  3. And while you’re on the subject of Asian whiskeys I should add a little plug for Taiwan.

    A Taiwanese whiskey recently beat out several Scottish whiskeys in some kind of St. Andrew’s day celebration, or maybe it was Burns Night – whatever they do in Scotland anyway.

    I believe the name is Kavalan.

    It’s only a three year old whiskey, and naturally horribly overpriced in the wake of all the publicity – around US$60 a bottle if you can even find it. Still, perhaps the sign of more good things to come from Asia?

    I’m a big fan of Japanese whiskeys by the way. I haven’t tried nearly enough of course.

    With your Yamazaki 12 yo I’d suggest doing a Mizuwari – basically whiskey and water, but cold, concentrated, and well mixed.

    Make it like this: Get a glass and fill with cracked ice. Stir/swizzle until glass frosts. Pour out the melted water. Add a good measure of whiskey and stir/swizzle some more. Possibly top with a little chilled water and give a final stir/swizzle.

    Drinks nicely this way. I don’t think it’s supposed to be a super-complex sipping whiskey. I think it’s designed more as the basis for a nice iced drink, as above.

  4. Kevin Gray says:

    Loved the article, Paul. I’m with you on the Yamazaki 18. It’s a serious whisky. The 12 yo is certainly acceptable, but doesn’t quite stand up to the Hibiki 12 yo.

    Have you sampled the Yamazaki 1984? That stuff damn near changed my life. Delicious, and a great representation of what Japanese oak can do to a whisky.

    I’ve yet to try Amrut, but can’t wait to do so.

  5. The Yamazaki 12y/o is a solid whisky (I almost called it a scotch), but you’re right, it’s nothing to write home about. It’s inoffensive, and a reasonable introduction to Japanese whisky (indeed, I guess it IS a lot of people’s introduction to Japanese whisky.

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