The Tasting Panel magazine

April 2010

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Page 45 of 116

SPECIAL REPORT: WHisk(e)y A Yen for Whisky T sUntORy IS THE OTHER SINGLE MALT story and photo by Richard Carleton Hacker At Craftsteak’s well-stocked bar at MGM Grand in Las Vegas, David McIntyre, Vice President Food & Beverage for The Signature at MGM Grand, pours a wee dram of Yamazaki 12 Year Old Single Malt, with a bottle of the SFWSC Double Gold–winning 18 Year Old nearby. alk about a dichotomy. Mention “pagoda” and most people think of Japan’s classic architectural tradition of a four-sided, gracefully curving peak. But readers of this magazine also know that pagodas are found atop many Scottish distilleries, reminders of a Victorian-era solution for drawing smoke up from the kilns. On the other hand, the phrase “single malt whisky” invariably brings Scotland to mind, not Japan; and yet, Japan is the second largest producer of single malt whiskies in the world. With roots dating back to 1899, Suntory is an avowed leader in this field, having created Yamazaki, the oldest distillery in Japan and, today, that country’s best-selling single malt. In 1923 Suntory founder Shinjiro Toii built his distillery in the Yamazaki Valley, strategically located between two major cities, Kyoto and Osaka. It is here that some of the finest single malts are made, using in the distillation process the same crystal waters that are employed in Japan’s ritualistic tea ceremonies. The volcanic soil and the use of three different types of oak barrels for aging—American, Spanish and Japanese Mizunara from the island of Hokkaido—gives Suntory whiskies a distinctive character, yet one that is remarkably similar to Scottish single malts. The Yamazaki 12 Year Old is plump with raisins and cherries, while the slightly lighter-tasting Yamazaki 18 Year Old is laced with green wheat and honey, and lingers on the palate long after the last sip. Small wonder it was a Double Gold Medal winner at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition and is found at the bar of the four-star Hotel Nikko, where the competition is held. Suntory’s newest U.S. offering, Hibiki 12 Year Old, is a blended whisky launched in 1970 to honor Suntory’s second distillery, Hakushu. It began arriving on our shores last fall and also got a Double Gold in San Francisco. Over 30 single malts, including whiskies from Yamazaki and Hakushu, plus grain whisky from Chita, are bamboo charcoal–filtered, aged in white oak and finished in Umeshu casks formerly used for Japanese plum liqueur. Honeyed, spicy and mellow, this is a blend to be savored straight. Just don’t call it scotch. april 2010 / the tasting panel / 45

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