WHISKY REVIEWS, NEWS, HISTORY & FOLKLORE
The Hakushu Story
Hakushu is a Japanese whisky distillery that was established in 1973 by Suntory Holdings Ltd. Keizo Saji, son of Suntory founder Shinjiro Torii, set out to open a new distillery to keep up with an increase in demand for Japanese whisky. A location was identified some 120km from Tokyo, in the town of Hakushu which stands at an altitude of around 700 metres, making it one of the highest distilleries in the world. At the time it was constructed, Hakushu was also one of the largest, with a total of 24 stills in operation.
Hakushu was inspired by the “salaryman” boom of the 1960s and ’70s. In Japan, a salaryman is a stereotypical white-collar worker who shows excessive loyalty and devotion to the corporation for whom he works. They work long hours, wear identical suits and spend the rest of their time, or a significant part of it, in bars, discussing work with colleagues whilst sipping whisky. The culture led to the first great peak in whisky consumption in Japan and even today, it’s an image the spirit struggles to shake off – just like Scotch has fought to lose its own reputation as the drink of stuffy old men.
The continuing rise of Japanese whisky led to the expansion of Hakushu in the 1980s. A second plant was established in order to increase production but as tends to happen, the bubble burst. Several tax changes throughout the decade removed the protections the spirit had once enjoyed and Japanese whisky was left to compete with imported Scotch that was often better and cheaper. Rather than expanding the capacity of Hakushu, the new Hakushu East Distillery replaced it.
Despite the relatively recent emergence of Japanese whisky as a globally popular product, the original Hakushu remains mothballed and with the new site capable of producing 3 million litres annually, that doesn’t look like changing any time soon.
The Hakushu Distiller’s Reserve debuted in 2014. It features spirit distilled from both lightly peated and heavily peated malt and comes bottled at 43%.
*Sample purchased from Drinks by the Dram at Master of Malt
Smell: Light, fruity and delicate. Grapefruit, watermelon. Oranges and mango. Lemon and pineapple. Then there’s a wee bit of toffee and some malt. Fresh mint. Lemongrass. Biscuit and pencil shavings. Runny honey. There’s a wee wisp of smoke but nothing overly dramatic. A bit like distant cigarette smoke.
Taste: Fruity, honeyed arrival. Toffee biscuits and some subtle, woody spice mid-palate. Wee bit of juicy oak with some black pepper. Peach and apricot. Watermelon and mango. Wee bit of smoke on the finish but really not getting a heavily peated vibe from it.
Thoughts: It shows the structure and balance you expect from Japanese whisky but I think the description of heavily peated malt had me looking for something that wasn’t there. There’s a little bit of peat but it’s very subtle to my senses. A touch of oiliness on the palate works in its favour and contrasts nicely with the delicacy of the nose but the overall effect didn’t quite win me over. It just felt a bit safe. This is something I’ve found with a few Japanese whiskies and it might simply be a clash between my preferences and the Japanese style but the dram feels too polished, too precise. It’s so far removed from the romantic notion of the joyful alchemy that takes place when cask and spirit react with one another and instead, feels, sort of, man-made. Now, I know all whisky is man-made but my favourites often have a sort of elemental rawness that really appeals to me and the Japanese style seems to favour the smoothing out of such creases. It’s pleasant enough to sip on but there was no flare and no fireworks. If you like other Japanese drams this might hit the spot for you but I’ll be giving it a miss.
Price: £70. I’m glad I tried it but for me, there just wasn’t enough there to warrant paying that kind of money.
For more on Hakushu visit https://www.suntory.com/factory/hakushu/
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