A Wee Dram of Hokkaido

I’ve alluded, once or twice, to my growing interest in Japanese whisky, and talked about the bottles that I absolutely, positively, did not buy out of state and certainly did not bring back to Pennsylvania, because that would be wrong. I have, it seems, taken it to a new level: friends have started not bringing me whisky directly from Japan.

First, you may recall, there was the bottle of the Yamazaki 12-year that I totally did not buy at Gomer’s in Kansas City. Then, last month, I absolutely did not buy a bottle of the Yamazaki 18 in New Jersey. By not buying those two bottles of whisky, I had not bought all of the Japanese whiskies one can potentially buy in the US.

But now a friend – a wonderful friend – has done something wonderful for me. She has not brought me a bottle of Nikka’s Yoichi 15-year whisky. Through the magic of Photoshop, here is a computer simulation of what the bottles of Japanese whisky that I don’t own might look like:

Yoichi

Since I have tried all these whiskies before, while travelling, and not just now with my friends, I can tell you a bit about them. The least expensive, the Yamazaki 12 (cost: $40 - $50), is actually my favorite of the three. It’s smooth like silk, with just a hint of peatiness and not at all aggressive. It’s perfect for drinking as an oyawari, mixing the whiskey with a little bit of hot water, almost like alcoholic tea. It opens up nicely in water, and is a perfect every-day sort of drink.

The Yamazaki 18 (price: $80 - $120, depending on where you are) continues the essentially sweet flavor profile of the 12, but adds to it a weightiness, a thicker mouthfeel, and loads of a deep peaty taste. Even though I personally prefer the 12, I’m bound to tell you that among my friends I’m the only one who thinks that way: everyone else found the 18 more sophisticated and tasty.

The Nikka Yoichi 15 (cost: $100, plus airfare to and from Tokyo) is a horse of a different color. Suntory is renowned for making very Japanese whiskies: they pair well with food, and play nice with everything else at the table. Nikka, I had heard, made much more Scotch-style whiskies, in that they want to be consumed by themselves. The Yoichi 15 matches this description. It’s distinctive, a bit rough, and not at all a shrinking violet. The nose is all iodine and seaweed, and it scratches peat and sea salt down your throat like a tea clipper sailing from Hong Kong. This is not something you would drink with dinner, but rather something to be sipped while sinking into a deep leather chair.

So, is Japanese whisky worth going out of your way to get? It depends on your interests. It is, to be sure, very good. It is also (even if you factor out airfare), quite expensive. But I would venture to say that no scotch aficionado’s liquor cabinet is complete without at least one of these honorable drams on their shelf.

For those Tea Leaves readers who should chance to visit Japan in the future, please drop me a line before you go. I’d love to have you not bring me a bottle.