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The Hakushu 12 had pear, butter & scotch aromas. Lee Anne paired this with a toffee biscuit, apple slices, ham, and some creamy St. Andre cheese to pull it all together. Delish. I'll take a toffee biscuit every day for breakfast!
Next we tried the Hibiki 12 with scallops, umeboshi, turnips, radishes and almonds. Hibiki translates to "harmony," and in this case refers to the many different parts of this intricate whisky blend that play together like a perfectly in-tune orchestra. And like a good orchestra the comprehensive blend displayed much complexity, in part due to the 35 different whiskies in the blend, the 3 different base grains, and the 5 different types of aging casks. One of the casks used to age a part of the Hibiki 12 were formerly plum wine casks. Lee Anne pulled this plum wine note out of the Hibiki's character and paired a dish that included umeboshi (sometimes called simply "ume"), a traditional Japanese "pickle" made from unripe plums packed in salt.
*a bit more on the orchestra analogy: One of the whisky makers took the stage and spoke about how he is like a musician who plays his note. The blenders are like conductors who assemble all the separate notes into a great symphony. The analogy went deeper too; when Suntory was founded in 1923 the founder's vision was that the whisky would be akin to fine art, much like music and fine paintings. In keeping with this spirit, Suntory donates 1/3 of their profits to art and culture to ensure the sustainability of art. Their bottles and websites all sing the phrase "The Art of Japanese Whisky." This analogy can be spun another way: different orchestras can impress upon the same score their own interpretation of the music. This happens to whisky too-- once it is in barrel, the seasons (Japanese culture recognizes 24 distinct seasons), the weather, the humidity-- all these things make an impression on what is in the barrel and it will smell and taste slightly different than any other barrel. This vintage/barrel variation is partly what keeps the wine world interesting from year to year, and the same holds true with artisan spirits. Achieving a harmony between what you can produce and what nature doles out is also a a large part of "music" making-- be it sound or Hibiki 12. Along the same lines, the ancient Greeks had this concept that astronomy dictated music scales and forms-- that planets and stars vibrated in harmony with one another and that those same principles applied to vibrating strings or drum heads. Pretty interesting stuff, and when the Suntory distiller began talking about tasting the impression of the seasons in the barrels, and how the whisky is actually an extension of the moment and place in Japan, it reminded me of Ancient Greece and their "harmony of the spheres" music philosophy. Maybe this is the whisky talking, but after a few sips you start to think about these things!
Next up we tried the Yamazaki 12 with lamb, anchovy, dried fig vinaigrette, frissee, and tarragon. This whisky had complex aromatics that revolved around fruits: plums, fresh cut apricots, figs-- it was a very pretty nose. To me, this tasted a bit like orange peel and had some tart maltiness to it. There had been some sherry casks used to age this whisky, and Lee Anne poached the lamb in sherry vinegar to enhance this note. The dried fig vinaigrette went great with the fruit aromas and I loved the way the tarragon interacted with the tart orange peel flavor and the sour maltiness. This was a daring pairing, and it was neat to have such a rich gamey meat paired with such pretty whisky. To me, it reminded me of the American classic lamb-mint combination. Having the stone fruit & zesty whisky with the heavy meat seemed to cut the gameiness a bit, like the mint does in traditional American cooking.
This was the real crowd pleaser- we must have been an audience of sweet tooths! The Yamazaki 18 had butterscotch, compote, marmalade and apple aromas. It tasted tart & caramely with a hint of smokiness. Lee Anne made a crazy awesome bay leaf infused custard. The bay leaf component gave the dessert this very earthy element that made it great for whisky pairing. The dessert also came with fruit compote and candied kamquat. I really wish I had gotten two of these-- it was an awesome dessert and an amazing pairing.
Hakushu "Sherry Cask" 12
Suntory surprised us with this special sip of mystery whisky at the end. We tasted it blind at first; it was hot, sweet & smokey, with an almost animalistic aroma. The neat thing about this one: it evaporated literally as soon as it hit the tongue-- such a wild sensation! Reminded me of this. This whisky came from their Hakushu distillery, opened 50 years after the original Suntory distillery.
The lucky tasters gathered around this tiny kitchen where Lee Anne cooked and Suntory displayed photos from Japan.
This was so cool: a hand carved ice sphere, cut to order!
It's the handiwork of Suntory rep Gardner Dunn who whipped out a knife and carved a huge block of pure ice into the sphere you see on the left. He said his ice spheres are inspired by all of the amazing ice carving that is naturally a part of Japanese bartending.