Japanese Whisky: Yamazaki, Hakushu & Hibiki
Over the last several years Japanese whisky manufacturers have seen a tremendous period of growth thanks to an unquenchable thirst for the exotic spirit. The Japanese incarnation of whisky has far more in common with scotch (whisky) than it does its sweeter, oaky counterparts (whiskey). Being far less familiar with Japanese whisky, the Cigar Brief staff decided to do some side by side sampling of 3 uniquely different Japanese whiskies to get a better idea as to what all the excitement’s about. First up, we sampled the most widely known and readily available of the three, the Yamazaki 12 yr.
Yamazaki: The Yamazaki 12 yr could easily be considered the Macallan of Japanese Whisky. Yamazaki is the number one selling whisky in Japan and has essentially become the baseline by which most consumers outside of Japan expect Japanese whisky to taste like. The nose of the Yamazaki has a very mild peat aroma layered with subtle hints of vanilla and honey. The profile was a bit more difficult to place thanks to the spirits extremely mild and evenly balanced profile of sweet woods and viscous sugars. Both the Yamazaki 12yr and 18yr are aged in casks of three different kinds of oaks: American, Spanish and Japanese, creating a complex and unique signature. The finish was moderately long and extremely clean with only a slight lingering sweetness that made this the richest and roundest of the three whiskies.
Hakushu: Next, we focused our attention on the Hakushu 12 yr. Unlike its brethren, the Hakushu sports a green tinted bottle very similar to a Glenlivet or Laphroaig. Interestingly enough, they also shared a somewhat similar profile. The nose is predominately peat with a mild smokiness that helps to distinguish itself from the other two whiskies. On the pallet, the Hakushu delivers a faint, albeit noticeable pear note that is quickly enveloped by the advancing peat finish. The Hakusu crescendos with a long, slightly smoky peat profile that lingers. Of the three whiskies sampled, it was the Hakushu that best played the role of a Scottish doppelganger.
Hibiki: Finally, we sampled the Hibiki, a 12 year old Japanese whisky with a rich amber hue. According to Suntory Whisky, “Hibiki, meaning resonance in Japanese, speaks to the soul and emotions of the most discerning whisky lover”. The nose was relatively sweet with a very mild peat aroma. Surprisingly, the Hibiki was far less sweet on the pallet than on the nose. Utilizing a very rare Japanese oak, called Mizunara, the whisky has a unique character showcasing subtle sweet notes reminiscent of a sherry casked whiskey. The finish was long, with a mild peat note leaving the last impression. Overall, the Hibiki 12yr was soft, mellow and probably the crowd favorite of the three.
Well there you have it. A healthy cross-section of what the Japanese whisky market has to offer. All in all, the Japanese whiskies are all of very high quality and each very good in their own right. If you tend to like the less peaty and sweeter libations, stick with the Hibiki or Yamazaki. However, if peat is what you love and you’re looking for something a bit more exotic, then the Hakushu is for you!