The Tasting Panel magazine

August 2017

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august 2017  /  the tasting panel  /  105 august 2017  /  the tasting panel  /  105 SUNTORY WHISKY SINGLE MALT & BLENDED JAPANESE WHISKY, 43% ALC./VOL. ©2017 BEAM SUNTORY IMPORT CO., CHICAGO, IL. HIBIKI® BLENDED JAPANESE WHISKY, 43% ALC./VOL. ©2017 BEAM SUNTORY IMPORT CO., CHICAGO, IL. And so it was. But by the end of the presentation, it hardly mattered. From Scotland to Japan Mundell is a tall, strapping, obstreperous Scot. He's gregarious and boisterous. He lives in Southern California and has very much adopted the lifestyle. He regularly swims between the Manhattan Beach and Hermosa Beach piers. "I came to America, fell in love with an American woman and am raising three American kids," he says, "and I've studied you. I've studied you for a decade now, and I'm comfortable." In many ways, Mundell's adaption to life in America is proving useful now as he adjusts to working for Beam Suntory on their Japanese whisky portfolio that includes Yamazaki, Hibiki, Hakushu and Toki from Suntory. Further, you can see Mundell's adap- tation as a metaphor that illuminates the approach Suntory has taken in making its Hibiki Japanese Harmony whisky, which the guests were about to taste. "The samples in front of you don't exist in a bar, restaurant or liquor store," he began. "The samples were given to me by the blenders, and they are designed to tell the story of Hibiki." That story begins in the 1920s, when Shinjiro Torii set out to build Japan's first distillery. Using some tricks of the trade from Scotland, he began distilling single malt whisky. Alas, their first effort was a spectacu- lar failure. "We tend to talk about the intense style of peated Scotch," Mundell said, and that's what that first effort was: intense, peated, and…unpopular. "But the defining characteristic of Japanese whisky is its diversity." Those initial challenges did not stop Torii. "But in our company," said Mundell," we talk about yatte Minahare, which means to follow your nature, to have the tenacity and the bravery to go beyond what's happened." That's when the Japanese approach emerged. Instead of a single distillery making a single type of malt whisky, Torii diversified. He eventually cre- ated several different expressions of single malt, all at the same facility, and blended them to achieve the complexity and subtlety that the Japanese palate was yearning for. Back in the tasting, guests had six glasses in front of them, all containing whisky of varying shades from pale yellow to gold to amber. The first, Chita grain whisky, is the backbone and foundation of Hibiki Japanese Harmony and made at Suntory's Chita Distillery. The second through fourth glasses held Yamazaki whisky that had been aged in American oak, Spanish oak and Japanese Mizunara oak, respectively. The citrusy, vanilla notes of the American oak are balanced by the spicy, dried-fruit flavors of the Spanish, and they are both moderated and enhanced by the Mizunara, with its notes of sandalwood and coconut. The fifth glass held liquid from Suntory's Hakashu distillery, which blends peated and non-peated malts. Hakashu has the potential to produce 56 unique whiskies by varying its use of grains, distillates and casks, and the Hakushu's smoke also contributes to the orchestrated taste of the final product. Together, these components and a few others become the heady Hibiki Japanese Harmony. "This is an incredibly soft and gentle and approachable whisky," Mundell said, encouraging participants to taste the liquid in the sixth glass, the one containing the end result of all the blending, Japanese Harmony. "For people who have been drinking whisky their whole life, there is a depth of flavor and complexity achieved through blending that I believe is unlike any other style of whisky." From seasoned vets to whisky newcomers, there's a wealth of flavor, nuance and heritage to explore in the glass with House of Suntory. House of Suntory Brand Ambassador Johnnie Mundell offered a handful of guests attending the seminar a sneak peak of Japanese whisky tasting 101. The Highball is the preferred cocktail for drinking Japanese whiskies. The diversity of Japanese whisky is apparent from the glass.

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