Suntory is one of the premier single malt distillers in Japan. Established in 1973 at the foot of the Japan Alps, Hakushu is the second distillery built by Keizo Saji. The site was chosen for it’s unique microclimate and natural granite filtered water source from the pristine Ojira River. The sweeping majestic forest is an impressive setting for this distillery.
Hakushu imports it’s malted barley from Scotland, grinds the malt onsite then puts it in a mash tun with hot water from the local river. Since the distillery is at a very high elevation (700 meters) the whisky ages more slowly with less wood influence on the dram. For comparison Scotland’s highest distilleries are at an elevation of 355 meters.
Hakushu 12 is aged in sherry butts, ex-bourbon casks and hogshead barrels which are larger ex-bourbon barrels that have been reconstructed to hold 230L rather than 180L. You may have heard of Hakushu referred to as the “Peated Japanese Single Malt.” but that statement is a bit misleading. The three principle components that make up the Hakushu 12 year is unpeated malt aged in hogshead barrels, unpeated malt aged in sherry butts and peated (25ppm) malt aged in ex-bourbon casks.
Nose: sweet green leaves, floral notes, syrup, vanilla, honey
Mouth: honey, hint of flowers, vanilla, bittersweet, green leaves
Finish: a bit harsh, syrup, lingering phenol, delicate smokiness
Verdict: To be honest I was somewhat underwhelmed by this whisky, but it is intriguing nevertheless. There is definitely a sense that Hakushu 12 is meant to be drank in the cool of a lush green forest. Maybe I’ve completely bought into their marketing ploy, but I really think that you can taste the terroir in the dram. While I love the smell of the forest, I don’t necessarily like the taste of leaves and I tasted a hint of that in this spirit. The finish is also a bit harsh for a 12 year and I was expecting something a bit more refined. Nevertheless, the Hakushu 12 is a great Japanese starter whisky and a worthy alternative to the famed Yamazaki line. I would love to try the 18 or 25, but those expressions are not available in New York yet.
Where to Buy
Beacon Wines & Spirits – 2120 Broadway New York, NY 10023
Astor Wines & Spirits – 399 Lafayette St New York, NY 10003
Park Avenue Liquor Shop – 292 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10017
Where to Sip
– 37 W. 26th St. New York, NY 10010
On the Rocks – 696 10th Ave New York, NY 10019