By Father John Rayls
“From Suntory’s mountain distillery, nestled deep in the forests of Mt. Kaikomagatake, Hakushu is the herbal and gently smoky single malt. Straight from the untouched forests, mountains, and pure waters of the Southern Japanese Alps, it is no wonder that Hakushu is a “green and fresh” whisky, praised by the most curious whisky connoisseurs and lovers of gastronomy. Its crisp and vibrant feel, unique in a single malt, enlivens and liberates your senses.”
A form of this statement appears on every bottle of Hakushu and furthers the idea that this is a very special whisky. It comes from the second Suntory distillery, which was built in 1973 in a remote location at the foot of the southern Japanese Alps. That setting has led it to be called “The Forest Distillery.”
Hakushu’s mountain water source is reputed to provide unusually pure and very soft water, filtered through the ancient granite in and around the area. The Hakushu site is twice the elevation of the highest of the Scottish distilleries (over 700 m/2,300 feet). The original facility was expanded in 1981, and at that time it became the largest distillery in the world. It might still be able to lay claim to that title were the older wing (Hakushu West) not mothballed.
Although Japanese whisky is derived from Scotch, the combination of elements you see at Hakushu explain the noticeably different results. The Japanese are, in case you’ve been living Mars for the last several months, the reigning whisky kings of the world.
The Hakushu (Hack-shoo) 12 year old is an excellent whisky, and I highly recommend it. And that is coming from an admitted bourbon and rye guy!
The single malt is aged in sherry butts, ex-bourbon casks and hogsheads (rebuilt, larger bourbon) casks. The appearance is of golden straw. The nose is somewhat fruity (think apples and mint), and you should definitely get some light smoke with some floral notes.
This whisky is often referred to as “the peated” single malt Japanese whisky, although it blends both peated and unpeated malts. The taste will remind you of honey with wild flowers and light green apple. The legs are long and beautiful to behold, although you get a thinner sensation in the mouth.
The finish is medium short, but this is where you find its smokiness. It’s nothing like what some of the Scots bring to the table, but it’s a nice close to a well rounded experience.
The Japanese often mix their whisky with at least water, soda or ice. However, you may want to put that notion aside and go neat. It’s that good.
You can grab a bottle here in the States for around $75. I’m not someone who believes that because it costs more it will automatically be better, and this is definitely above my normal price range, but I really enjoyed it.
* Editor’s Note: The Hakushu 12 Year Old should not be confused with the NAS Hakushu Single Malt, typically available only in Japan.