Sapanese whiskies: Well worth trying
By Paul Adams Translated by Anna Yang
With Taiwan's King Car distillery continuing to make headlines with its Kavalan range of whiskies, it's easy to forget that the rest of Asia also has a lot to offer in whisky terms. Japan in particular has been turning out consistently good drams for decades and, with its level of experience and wide range of styles, it's well worth taking a look. Two companies--Suntory and Nikka--dominate the Japanese scene and it's no surprise that their respective stables of distillers deliver many of the country's top-rated bottlings.
First up is Suntory Hakushu 18 year old single malt. Around NT$3,500 per bottle, it's not a drink to be taken lightly, although you can get it for closer to NT$3,000 if you shop around. And the price tag is well-deserved. The Hakushu 18 arguably exemplifies the unique Japanese whisky character better than any other--a notion often attributed to the location and distilling process involved. Hakushu is found in the southern Japanese Alps, granting it access to pristine, filtered spring water. The distillery uses its own yeasts and a technique favouring natural materials and processes, resulting in a light, yet complex and balanced, whisky.
The nose and palate are loaded with sweet, citrus notes and some hints of fresh baking and spice. The finish complements this perfectly with some mild smokiness in the background and a strong hit of cinnamon. It's frankly difficult to imagine any whiskey connoisseur not enjoying this and it's accessible, even to novices.
For something a little more affordable, yet no less worthy, check out Miyagikyo Single Malt from Nikka's distillery near Sendai. A No-Age Statement bottle, this NT$2,000 dram has a similarly-light Japanese character but is given an added depth by its use of sherry casks for maturation.
The resulting experience is, if anything, more complex than the Hakushu. After a first impression leaning heavily towards the floral and citrusy end of the scale, you soon encounter wood smoke, dark spice and even faint expressions of chocolate. The finish is significantly smokier, too, although in a way that compliments rather than overpowers the lighter, tangy elements. It's not as stereotypically Japanese, but more rounded with perhaps a wider appeal.