Picture the scene; I am in Japan on business, have half a day to fill between meetings and travel so decide to head to the Hakushu distillery as it is both easy to get to, and had tour availability. Then after the official tour ends you are encouraged to go to their tasting bar to buy some whiskies that are not available commercially either at all or any more.
What do you do?
I got way too excited and ordered eight drams, a Hakushu highball and a bottle of water (#responsibledrinking) and must say the prices were decent for what I was dramming on, I got a measure of each of the below, plus the highball and water for what equated to around £55, which is not an inconsiderable sum, sure, but when you factor in rarity and excitability I think you’ll agree that was surprisingly good value.
Saying that, it was probably a good thing it was a cash bar and that I had kept my ‘spare’ Yen in a rucksack safely stashed in a locker in the Hakushu Whisky Museum otherwise I would have burned through a hell of a lot of cash here… I literally used every Yen I had on me, coins included, but was glad my bag was in the other building otherwise my train may well have been leaving without me.
As it is one of my favourite Whiskies and has such a special place in my heart per this Instagram post where I stated:
“Not too many people know the trigger point where I went from ‘someone who drinks whisky’ to ‘a whisky drinker’ – important difference is for one whisky is their primary drink and for the other whisky is one of many, and not their go to. Anyway, was ten years ago today… in #Tokyo, where I am right now, and was this dram, the Hibiki 17 Year Old… it became the first bottle in my collection and has still not been opened. Others of the same whisky have come and gone but I genuinely forgot about the first until we were moving house 18 months ago. Now I’m enjoying this fine drop again in the place that started it all. Here’s to never knowing what comes of small, seemingly insignificant events“.
So when I had the chance to try the component parts of the blend, how could I refuse? Serious. How? Here goes, the notes on what I consider to be the most unrepeatable Japanese whisky tasting I will ever do…
Hibiki 17 YO Mizunara Component
I expected big things from this one and it did not let me down. A big, thick nose full of dark berries, grapefruit and so very soft spices. There is a softness here too but it takes time to come forward. A dusty oak note present too. What a nose!!!
The palate was all about an oaky, spicy flavour bomb, with fleshy stone fruits emerging but never really given prominence from the spice. That is simply incredible. So juicy and saliva-inducing. With my first sip I’m already gutted I’ll likely never try this mighty fine dram again.
Hibiki 17 Year Old Grain Component
The nose is both buttery and spicy like a good aged grain should be. Hibiscus notes and a floral twinge here and there. Slight honeycomb notes permeate through too.
Hibiki 17 Year Old Sherry Component
A calm, quiet nose compared to the Hakushu Sherry cask sample, still a meaty, sulphury note present though. Lovely. Spicy yet soft this one is way tamed than expected.
The palate is like sweet berry compote. Very smooth and well integrated. A joy to taste. So juicy those fruits, wrapped in the sulphury note makes this a multi-dimensional masterpiece.
Water tames it, making it a creamy, silky smooth dram, but it still lacks a punch. Impressive.
Hibiki 17 Year Old Smoky Component
The palate is sweet, rounded, smoky and has some spice to it. Gorgeous and not overpowering at all. Perfect smoky whisky that I wish they’d bottle! It has everything you’d want. Depth. Flavour. Contrasting notes and even a little fresh fruit in there too.
Hakushu 12 YO Sherry Cask component
The nose was deep, dark, thick and fruity with a lovely sulphur note and hints of smoke. What a treat. Strong too in the high 50%s.
In a word; scrumptious. Sweeter than the palate but powerful. Smooth yet strong. Juicy yet dry. A true juxtaposition in a glass. Tobacco, dark berry fruits, sulphur and bacon. All wonderful notes and a wonderful experience.
Hakushu 25 Year Old
Really soft, smooth but with a pronounced smoky note I had not expected at all. Really nice palate with a strong bacon note. Not one for vegetarians. The complex tropic fruits work so well with the smoke it is quite incredible. Perfectly balanced. No wonder you can barely find the stuff!
Yamazaki 25 Year Old
The nose again here is about berries and prominent sherry wine notes. Delicate but with some bite during the odd sniff. Old penny sweets and synthetic fruit notes present too.
The palate is rich, heavy sherry influence here too. Super soft but thinner than expected and probably not as brilliant as I had hoped. Lovely but the Hakushu 25 smashes this out of the park.
All in all this was an amazing whisky tasting, bordering on ridiculous – I even had some of the Japanese tourists taking photos and high-giving me when I came back from the bar with eight very premium drams and a highball to their one token dram to pass the time before their bus arrived. It was something quite special and an afternoon I will not forget in a hurry.