Yamazaki, Hakushu & Hibiki with Mike Miyamoto
Hello 2016! After a somewhat lengthy hiatus over summer (or winter, for my northern hemisphere friends), we’re back in business. And what better way to kick-off the new year than with a House of Suntory event held at Sydney’s Grain Bar.
Suntory’s Global Brand Ambassador – Mike Miyamoto – happened to be in town, so we were all in for an extra treat. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Mike on a few occasions now and never tire of hearing him speak about all things Suntory. He’s reserved and softly spoken, but so full of knowledge and information that there’s always something new to learn; just one of the many aspects I love about his tastings.
The ever-refreshing Hibiki highballs (whisky, ice and soda water, served tall) were offered on arrival, whilst guests mingled over a selection of canapés before taking their seats for an intimate walk-through of the range.
First up this evening was the Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve, their entry level expression. On the nose I found it to have a ripe berry sweetness, hints of cedar boxes, rose water and spicy fragrant oak. The palate was somewhat true to the nose, being dry, tannic and oaky but with a background of sweet stone-fruit and berries.
It’s sibling, the Hakushu Distiller’s Reserve was up next and what a polar opposite it is. Immediately fresh on the nose, green pine needles, ripe pears, light and delicate. It’s super clean, crisp and dry on the palate with stone-fruit notes, vanilla and a touch of dry smoke up the back.
An age stated version in the form of the Hakushu 12 year old followed. It carries a similar profile to the Distiller’s Reserve, but with less of those crisp notes and quite a bit more depth. Sweet green tea, hints of bubble-gum and fresh mint were present, with some melon notes, oak and more dry smoke on the palate.
The Hibiki Japanese Harmony expression was up next; a blend of more than 12 different malt and grain whiskies produced by Suntory at their Yamazaki, Hakushu and Chita facilities. On the topic of blending – this is one particular aspect about Suntory that I always find fascinating. I just mentioned that Suntory only have their three distilleries – Yamazaki, Hakushu and Chita (their grain distillery) – to select from. So how does Hibiki contain more than 12 different malt and grain whiskies when they only have three distilleries? I’m glad you asked!
See, all three distilleries have pretty incredible setups. Yamazaki has seven different types of still all under the one roof. They have two completely different types of washback and mature in five different cask types and sizes. So if we do some simple maths (7 x 2 x 5), theoretically Yamazaki alone can produce 70 different styles of whisky. Hakushu and Chita have similar setups as well, so between the three distilleries Suntory have well over 100 different malt and grain whiskies to play with when it comes time to blend. And they know how to blend!
I found the Hibiki Japanese Harmony had a sweet depth to it, sweet grains, creamy vanilla custard with peaches and raspberry – both on the nose and on the palate. It’s like your grandmother’s trifle in a glass. The Hibiki 17 year old followed and whilst the lineage was evident, it’s so much more complex. It’s less grain-forward with more of a stone-fruit sweetness on the nose. Sweet, chewy and comforting on the palate with toffee, caramelised sugars and more stone fruit. Pretty darn great I have to say.
When Grain Bar aren’t hosting a whisky event, they’re firmly positioning themselves as one of Sydney’s go-to venues for whisky fans, with a pretty serious back-bar of more than 200 whiskies. I’m told that a further shipment of some 40-odd bottles has recently arrived, so if you’re looking for something out of the ordinary, be sure to check-in over the coming months.
For those with a bit of cash to splash, the fabled 2016 Yamazaki Sherry Cask was also available by the dram on the night, with plenty of guests seizing the opportunity to try this whisky unicorn. Whilst I didn’t try it on the night, the comments from those who did were unanimous. Everyone seemed to love it. The bottle pictured here was opened fresh on the night, but a mere four days later a few images surfaced on Instagram and this thing was nearly drained. So if you’re contemplating going there to try it, get your skates on!
We rounded out the evening with a Lost in Translation cocktail (Hibiki Japanese Harmony, Crème Yvette and Punt e Mes), that reminded me of a sweeter, richer Sazerac and some vanilla and green tea cronuts (made in-house). Dessert is served!
Having the chance to hear from the distillers and ambassadors of these whisky powerhouses always gives me a new sense of appreciation of what’s in the bottle, so a sincere thanks goes out to both Beam Suntory Australia and Icon International for the generous invitation.