Obaba: "After a thousand years of darkness, he will come, clad in blue and surrounded by fields of gold to restore mankind's connection of the Earth that was destroyed."
So, you've heard that Japanese whiskies are having their moment? Are they ever! And it's not just the product of strange Bill Murray movies - this is the product of true shokunin. Suffice it to say that I had my doubts, but after tasting Hakushu's bourbon barrel expression it's clear that the Japanese are as dedicated to perfecting this trade as any. It is rare that you will find a whisky this drinkable or complex.
The first word that comes to mind when you nose this whisky is purity. It's neat, and clean, and exceptionally green, as though you were wandering trance-like through a forest full of huge, tropical flowers, sun-ripened apples, and bright, glowing mist. Everything is luscious and swollen except the smoke; there's just that subtle hint of smokiness (not peatiness, but a fine green-wood smoke) that's characteristic of Hakushu's malt. When I say whisky is a reflection of terroir, of place, this whisky will absolutely make a believer of you.
Maybe my nose is not as sophisticated as Master of Malt's with this one ("lemon drizzle cake and black forest honey??" you can be as esoteric as you like), but what come at me strongest are freshly-sliced Granny Smith apples, banana peels, and buttery sweet, bourbon-soaked oak planks fashioned into a boardwalk suspended over the vapors of a crashing mountain stream (not to be outdone!). ;-)
Can we taste it now? My mouth is positively watering. Here we go!
Hmmmm... surprisingly smoke-forward, which burns up into a sort of brooding white peppery cloud and then almost completely fades away by the time the other flavors are finished. Charred barrel with the smoked malt? Oh yes. Underneath that smoke is a sort of lemon zest - that doesn't last long. But what does take its sweet time is that Granny Smith apple flesh - the flesh mind you, the pulp, with no tang of the skin. Granny Smith applesauce? Sure, with some spices sprinkled on top :-)
Where's the bourbon? Wait for it... wait for it. THERE it is. In fact, the whole ensemble of flavors kind of packages itself into that last, bourbony moment, almost like shoving all of your spent Christmas wrapping into a small, simple paper bag. There's that signature buttery biscuit, but it's almost like you dropped the biscuit into grapefruit juice or something - a notable tang. May not be the most complex finish, but man, the first two parts were IN-CRE-DI-BLE.
I say, let this whisky take you on a journey. Admit that you've always found Japan to be a fanciful and far-off place and just let the Spirit of the Forest be your guide (pun fully intended). Close your eyes and the spirit will even speak to you, revealing mysteries of the natural world that will leave you full of humility and awe. They do that sort of thing, you know, at least in Studio Ghibli movies.
Best enjoyed to the soundtrack of Joe Hisaishi. If you haven't clicked that link above, pour yourself a dram already, because now's the time. Make sure you've got plenty of volume and some hi-fi stuff to play it through. This whisky is positively the best thing to come out of Japan since Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind :-) Hard to find, but even harder to beat. Let your imagination run wild.
Tasting is a synesthetic experience. In this blog, every whisky gets a song - one that describes, suits, and evokes. I review any whisky that suits my fancy, and some that don't. I don't give scores. You'll know whether it's a winner or loser when we peel back its mysteries and start putting pen to paper.