Suntory whisky launch

Six new expressions for Australia

Until now, Suntory products have been fairly thin on the ground in Australia. Sure you’ve been able to track down the odd bottle of Yamazaki 12 year old, or maybe even a Hibiki (if you know where to look), but as far as official imports go, they’ve been fairly non-existent.

With the recent rise in popularity of whisky – and Japanese whisky specifically – Suntory Australia have started to officially import six expressions, which can now be found in most major liquor stores right throughout the country. For details on the range and pricing, see this recent post.

With that decision came a product launch and on a recent Monday night they hosted a rather decadent soiree in Sydney, which unfolded a bit like this.

Suntory whisky launch, Sydney, Australia

As a general rule, I don’t like Mondays. However, when they involve whisky, and in particular, a rather lavish evening of whisky, excellent food and great company, they all of a sudden become a whole lot better. Such was a recent Monday when Suntory Australia officially launched six of their bottlings in to the Australian market, in Sydney, at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

Gallery

Upon entry, guests were treated to a highball (whisky + soda water) of Hibiki 12 year old and Perrier sparkling water, served simple and tall in a Champagne flute.

Hibiki 12 Highball

I’ve had whisky + soda before, but never in this ratio. I can’t say I’ve ever really contemplated diluting a quality whisky to this extent, but it was actually really refreshing. I don’t think it’ll replace a good G&T in summer, but I’ll certainly start to alternate my choice of libation on those warmer days!

Crowds

Guests mingled in the main foyer area of the gallery around six illuminated plinths, each housing one of the six Suntory expressions now available locally.

Yamazaki 12

If Suntory were hoping to achieve the whole museum display piece look, then as far as I’m concerned, they nailed it. People stopped and stared, read the placards and took photos. Some seemed to admire them as genuine display pieces (and why wouldn’t you? The faceted Hibiki bottle is a work of art).

Hibiki 17

Although it was mere metres away, I must admit that I was enjoying myself so much that I completely failed to notice the tasting room setup toward the back, right up until we were politely ushered in.

Tasting

As someone who really appreciates detail, the setup of this space was incredibly visually pleasing. Everything was perfectly aligned, miniature maples adorned the waist-height tables, the glasses were all etched – logos facing forward – and were all adorned with perfectly sized watch-glasses.

Glasses

It seemed rather fitting that in a setup of such precision and craftsmanship we were trying Japanese whiskies, created with much the same attention to detail.

Following a brief introduction, Suntory’s Global Brand Ambassador, Hiroyoshi (Mike) Miyamoto, took us through a tasting of the three core expressions in front of us – Yamazaki, Hakushu and Hibiki – all of the 12 year old variety.

Mike

Unfortunately, some of the crowd got a bit restless at times, but I suppose that’s to be expected for a group of 150-200. In any case, I absorbed plenty of new info and will write up my thoughts on these three core 12 year old separately.

Trio

The tasting marked the end of the evening’s formalities. Guests were invited to the adjacent space (which usually holds the Gallery’s main restaurant) to be greeted by whisky and matched canapés, expertly prepared by the Restaurant’s chefs. Think grilled short rib with truffle béarnaise, parmesan and herb gnocchi and seared scallop with passion fruit and vierge dressing – these were seriously tasty.

Canapes

A nightcap wasn’t hard to come by, with three stations spaced around the room, each serving a duo of Yamazaki, Hakushu or Hibiki. Guests were invited to try them neat or on the rock (yes, singular).

Drinks pouring

I say ‘rock’, as each station was equipped with a flawlessly clear block of ice. My initial reaction was that they were for display only (and probably made of plastic). But oh no, they were the real deal and they were being hand-carved and served. I know, I know, it’s a bit crazy to get excited over ice, but these were rather impressive.

Drinks rocks

A DJ kept the beats coming at an ambient level (kudos for not trying to deafen us all on a Monday) and drinks and canapés were still freely flowing as I said my farewells to friends, old and new. A very fitting local introduction for a quality whisky brand steeped in history – just like the rest of the objects within the walls of gallery.

Set

My thoughts on Suntory’s core range will follow in a new post shortly.

News for Australian Suntory whisky fans

New Yamazaki, Hakushu and Hibiki expressions headed our way

While I haven’t had as much exposure to Japanese whisky as I’d like, the expressions I’ve tried have all left me with the desire to explore more. So when I recently heard that Suntory Australia would be increasing the range of whiskies they import, I was pretty excited.

Taken from their official press release:

“We see Japanese whisky as being a particular growth area, as it is ideally suited for the Australian market… Suntory Whisky has a refined flavour that holds appeal with both whisky connoisseurs and those just starting to enjoy whisky” 

What we can look forward to

Previously, the Suntory range in Australia was pretty much limited to Yamazaki 12 year old. If you looked hard enough, you could probably track down an entry level Hakushu or Hibiki, but you’d pay a pretty penny for them.

Australian fans can now look forward to seeing the following expressions a whole lot more:

  • Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve
  • Yamazaki 12 year old
  • Hakushu Distiller’s Reserve
  • Hakushu 12 year old
  • Hibiki 12 year old
  • Hibiki 17 year old

SuntoryWhile the 12 year old expressions and Hibiki 17 have been around for a while in many overseas markets, apparently this is the first time the Distiller’s Reserve offerings have been made available outside the Japanese market.

They were recently launched in the UK as well (and received some fairly high praise), so I’m really looking forward to seeing what they’re like when they land here.

Where, when and how much?

Smaller quantities of the above will start finding their way behind the counter of your favourite bar around April. We should also start to see these expressions in select independent retailers from May onwards.

As for the price? Expect to pay around the AU$80 mark for the Distiller’s Reserve expressions, AU$110 for the 12 year olds and around the AU$160 mark for Hibiki 17 year old.

Nikka whisky tasting

A round of Nikka nightcaps at Shirt Bar in Sydney

A stroll from Sydney’s Wynyard Station in a small laneway separating Kent Street and Sussex Street, you’ll find a cosy coffee by day/drinks by night establishment called Shirt Bar. Oh I left one thing out, they also sell shirts – lots of them!

Shirt bar

According to their site, they’re all about three of the things they love ‘tailored shirts, freshly roasted coffee and great whisky’. Walk through the doors and it’s not hard to see this represented in the eclectic styling of the warm and friendly fit-out.

Shirt Bar - Menu

Anyone who knows me knows how much I enjoy a nicely tailored shirt and a good coffee. But on a miserable, rainy Wednesday evening, it was Shirt Bar’s third love that saw me perched at a table up the back with some like-minded company. See, they don’t just enjoy and serve great whisky, but they’ve gone one step further and have set up their own appreciation group aptly called Scotch Club.

Pouring

I always keep an eye out for drinks and whisky tastings in Sydney and I’d read a bit about Scotch Club. I’m on their mailing list and I’ve read some great reviews of their events by fellow whisky fans Martin and The Baron – but their events always happened to fall on a weeknight when priorities clashed, so I’d never actually been along to one.

This was about to change though. My first Scotch Club was all about some of the whiskies that come out of Japan’s Nikka distilleries, Miyagikyo and Yoichi. To take us through four of their whiskies, our host for the evening was their Australian brand ambassador, Taka.

Taka

I must admit I haven’t had a whole lot of exposure to Japanese whisky, so I was really looking forward to this tasting. Here’s what we got to taste.

Miyagikyo 12 year old

Miyagiko 12

First up was a single malt from the Miyagikyo distillery, which you’ll find in northern Honshu, near Sendai. Built in 1969, the Miyagikyo distillery produces a lighter style of whisky thanks to its steam-fired bell-shaped stills, which require a longer and gentler distilling process. Interestingly (for a whisky nerd like me), the stills also have an ascending lyne arm, ensuring only the lightest spirit is collected.

This was indeed noticeable when nosing and tasting. On the nose, I got some citrus, apple cider notes, pear and a touch of sweetness and spice. I also got a note that I couldn’t quite put my finger on, but I jotted down ‘oddly meaty’ – whatever that means!

Fairly thin and light on the palate (surprising for a 45% ABV), reminded me very much of a Lowland style Scotch whisky. Soft sweetness, slight sourness, pears and quite a dry white wine-like finish.

Yoichi 15 year old

Yoichi 15

The next single malt came from the second distillery in Nikka’s portfolio, Yoichi.

In contrast to Miyagikyo, at Yoichi, they have a much faster and more intense distilling process, using direct coal-fired straight column stills fitted with descending lyne arms. Their water source is an interesting one too – using naturally peated water collected from an underground aquifer that lies beneath the distillery itself. All of these factors contribute toward producing a much heavier style of whisky.

On the nose I got a hint of sweet smoke, salted caramel notes and something a bit raisin-y. Much heavier on the palate than the Miyagikyo (they’re both bottled at 45% ABV) with some salty/saline notes, seaweed, light smoke and a bit of spice on the finish.

Taketsuru 12 year old

Taketsuru

The Taketsuru Pure Malt 12 year old is a blend of both Yoichi and Miyagikyo single malt whiskies (so there’s no grain in this one – similar idea to the Johnnie Walker Green Label).

Bottled at 40% ABV, this was the lightest of them all. I got some green apples and pears on the nose, vanilla notes and touch of spice. Reminded me a little bit of The Glenlivet 12 year old. Very smooth on the first sip, light sweetness, some gentle sour apple notes, maybe a touch of nuttiness, then bang – nothing. This has got to be the shortest finishing whisky I’ve ever come across. I think apple juice probably has a longer finish then this.

That’s not to say it’s a bad whisky (because its not), but I personally didn’t find it overly satisfying. I can see this being a great introductory whisky for a first-timer.

Nikka from the barrel

Nikka

The last whisky of the evening was also a blend of single malts from Yoichi and Miyagikyo, but this time there’s some aged grain spirit in there too – specifically, a grain spirit produced at Miyagikyo using imported corn from the US! The components are then married together and left to sit for a few months before being bottled.

Lovely and rich on the nose, sweet fruits, creamy, hints of spice and some faint bourbon notes. Big and juicy on the palate (it’s bottled at 51.4% ABV), caramel sweetness and some vanilla finish with pleasing spice notes.

I had only ever heard good things about Nikka from the barrel and it’s not hard to see why – it’s a mighty fine blend indeed.

Some final thoughts

Group

I should also mention that the tasting was accompanied by some quality food – individual servings of sushi, plus generously-sized charcuterie and cheese share plates.

As for the venue, Shirt Bar really is quite a cosy spot. The eclectic styling, interesting furnishings and odd bits of bar and tailoring paraphernalia make it an enjoyable spot to just sit back, relax and enjoy a few drinks, and that’s what the crowd seemed to do. Whatever your reason for being there, it looked like everyone was enjoying themselves.

The pours were a bit on the light side and I probably didn’t get to taste enough of each whisky to develop a proper opinion. But one thing I did get out of the evening was a real interest in exploring the world of Japanese whisky a whole lot more.

Whilst it’s a much younger industry (compared to the Scotch whisky industry), it’s still rich with history and great stories that make some of these whiskies truly fascinating.