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Japanese whisky question

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I don't know much about whisky/scotch/whiskey. Mostly just what I read. I have only tried maybe half a dozen sips in my life. I always think it smells great but tastes too harsh. I cannot tell you if any of those sips were of anything anyone would consider "good", but I know they weren't rot gut. Anyway, that's to let you know I am very new to this item.

Tonight I had a sip and it was the first time I thought I could really drink the whole (tiny) glass. It was called The Hakushu Single Malt Whisky Sherry Cask 2012. It was served neat in a little snifter-looking glass, but smaller and taller. I've read several threads here about water opening it up and wanted to try that, but it wasn't my drink and I was also afraid to order my own with ice in case that was a definite no go or something.

I walked around the bar afterwards looking at all the bottles and saw many I've seen discussed here. What I am wondering is, given that this is the first one I liked straight away, what other styles might I like? Does anyone who loves whisk(e)y know how this one would compare to the various styles of Scotch?

I guess what I"m saying is, since this was essentially my first whisky, I don't know if it was peaty, smokey, fresh, iodine-y, dry....etc., etc. So I don't know what else I might try, if that makes sense.

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  1. What you had was a Japanese single malt whisky. Japanese single malts are in the style of Scotch. Regular Hakushu is lightly peated (peat produces the smoky flavor of Scotch) but they also make a heavily peated version. The Hakushu you had was aged in a cask that formerly held sherry, which can impart a sweet sherry flavor and often has dried fruit and pie-spice type notes. There is a lot of variety among whiskies, even of the same type, and I haven't had the specific Hakushu you tried so I can comment directly on it.

    If you liked it, and I gather you are in Japan, I would try additional Hakushus, including one of the heavily peated ones. You could also try Yamazaki or Nikka Yoichi malts. You may also like some Scotch that is in a similar style. I would start with Highland Park and Springbank, both of which are also somewhat peated (though not heavily so) and often aged in sherry casks.

    The best on-line resource for Japanese Whisky is www.nonjatta.com

    Have fun!

    3 Replies
    1. re: sku

      Many thanks, sku!

      There was a set of 3 Hakushus and one (18 year old?) was clearly a lot peatier. While I can't say I know whisky, I grew up with peat fires so I know from peat! The smell was unmistakable. But I didn't like it as much as the sherry cask one. I really appreciate your references to Scotch as I just wouldn't know how to move from one to the other yet. This is truly my first step!

      And thanks for the link. I see there is a whisky event down the street from me today so perhaps I'll check it out. I think I'll try to track down a bottle of what I had last night, too.

      After I asked the bartender to show me the bottle, a man at the bar asked for a glass of it. I wasn't close enough to hear how he ordered, but the bar tender served it in a rocks glass with a lot of ice - like 4 cubes. Is that how it's done? I usually see just one giant (here in Japan often spherical) ice chunk. Also, if you use ice, how to you stop the dilution? Do you remove the ice or do you just have to drink it up fast when it gets to where you like it? That seems like less fun.

      My husband gave me the last bit and I added a little drop of water from my water glass and I thought it was nice. If you order it with water, how do you control how much is added? Do they do it for you and you just trust the bartender or do they give you water to add yourself?

      Sorry for all the questions!

      1. re: tokyopix

        Most connoisseurs drink whisky neat or with a little bit of room temperature water to best pick up all of the flavors. How much water you add is a matter of personal preference. I always taste it neat first and then, if I want water, I add just a drop, then taste ,then another, etc.

        Most whisky lovers also avoid ice since it tends to dull flavors, but you should drink it the way you like it. Many people start drinking whisky on the rocks and then move toward drinking it neat.

        In Japan, from what I understand, it is very common to drink whisky highballs or with lots of ice and water. If you like this, you shouldn't be shy about drinking it that way, but for maximum flavor, I go neat or with just a little bit of water.

        Here's a video I did on how I most enjoy drinking whisky: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=frKWrW...

        1. re: sku

          hahaha, sku! I think I know already how you're going to make the perfect Scotch and soda!

          I think I liked it best with just the little bit of water, so I'll try neat and then add a few drops as you suggest.

          Since I don't know whisky I also don't know Japanese whisky trends, but I was surprised to see that big rocks glass filled with ice! The gentleman who ordered it then pulled out a black velvet bag from which he withdrew a beautiful wooden case which he opened to reveal.....cigars!! The bane of my existence her in Japan. You can smoke them practically anywhere. I've been chased from enjoyable meals/drinks/entertainment over and over by that toxic plume! But I know going to a bar that specializes in whisky is just asking to be assaulted by cigars. Sigh...

    2. Since this single-malt had a sherry cask treatment, you may want to try some of the single-malts from Scotland that have had the same. A number of the single-malts from the Spey Valley region of Scotland are aged in sherry casks, which gives them a smooth taste. Macallan is likely the best know brand of that type. You could try a dram of that and see if it is similar to the Hakushu.

      You are welcome to try the single-malts from Islay, an island off the west coast of Scotland, but I think you will find they have a much more aggressive/smokey/peaty taste than the Hakushu or the single-malts from the Spey Valley.

      You might also try Blackbush, an Irish whiskey made by Bushmills. It is aged in Sherry casks and is very drinkable by itself or with a bit of water.

      4 Replies
      1. re: DavidT

        There is a fellow called Ralfy (www.ralfy.com) who posts a number of his whisky tastings on youtube. He has reviewed a number of Japanese whiskies,although I don't know if he has reviewed Hankushu. Here is his review of a Japanese whisky called Nikka:

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j0Yuge...

        1. re: DavidT

          DavidT - many thanks for the link and esp the Scotch and Irish whiskey suggestions. For the Macallan suggestion, any particular one (like years aged, etc.) or is there only one?

          Oh, I really liked that link. He seems approachable and friendly. "happy dramming"! :)

          1. re: tokyopix

            Macallan comes in several ages. Try the 12 year and see what you think.

            1. re: DavidT

              Thanks, DavidT and thanks all for your answers. I know whisky is a HUGE topic and I appreciate you helping out a true newbie!

      2. Glenmorangie has a sherry, a madeira and a port wood finish Scotch (they now call them something else) that you should try. For relatively light peat Islay malts you might try Bowmore. Some of Jamesons Irish whisleys are aged in sherry barrels- I tend to think of Irish whiskey as Scotch light. Basically, though, you should just experiment and not only with single malts - there are some nice blended scotches out there too (avoid the obvious ripoffs like JW blue label).

        7 Replies
        1. re: kagemusha49

          Many thanks. Just a question, how do you know an obvious ripoff? Just do some google research and avoid things with a bad rep?

          1. re: tokyopix

            Well - a clue is a price that is out of sight. Another clue is selectively marketing the brand to Asians. Johnny Walker blue label meets this criterion as does Louis XIII cognac. Both fine tipples but no better than competitors at 1/10 the price.

            1. re: kagemusha49

              This is so funny b/c the bar I was in had a separate room devoted to Louis XIII!!

              What about Johnny Walker Black label? I inherited a bottle of that when someone moved. Okay or just use for mixing?

              1. re: tokyopix

                Johnny Walker Black is a very, very good blended Scotch. It is easily drinkable neat or with a bit of water. It does have a bit of a smokey/peaty taste.

                1. re: DavidT

                  I agree - Johnny Walker Black (and the new smokier Double Black) are good blended scotches and they are available at normal (rather than stratospheric) prices.

                  1. re: kagemusha49

                    Perfect, thanks DavidT and kagemusha. I'll look forward to giving it a try.

          2. re: kagemusha49

            I avoided single malts for years before I tried Glenmorangie. I lost track on how much I spent on single malts were either too malty or too peatey or too grassy or too smokey. But the Glenmorangie had a level of complexity and richness that really won me over. And it didn't hurt that I love madeira.

          3. One thing you will find as you explore spirits is that each one "opens up" with varying amounts of water.

            When I drink for pleasure, I tend to like more water than many people do. I usually order it neat, and a glass of ice and water on the side.

            For work I taste spirits at exceptionally high proofs, but in tiny amounts, as a spirits judge, and a distiller, my palate has become used to tasting things at high strength, but I don't enjoy them as much.

            1 Reply
            1. re: JMF

              That's how I'll order, JMF. That sounds like the best way to customize. I used my straw as a pipette and that worked well. Many thanks!

            2. maker's 64

              3 Replies
              1. re: latindancer

                Oops....jumped the gun here.

                Meant to say I'm a big Maker's 46 fan....I drink my bourbon neat....to me, even a drop of water or ice changes the taste.
                Several weeks ago, when out with colleagues, I ordered the Hakushu. Neat, of course. It was truly delicious and you describe it perfectly.

                1. re: latindancer

                  It was really nice. I'm going to try to track down a bottle for home this week.

                  1. re: tokyopix

                    A lovely gift for yourself :).