Japanese Whisky in the Press – Honestly, who throws a shoe….

Every now and again I troll the pages of Google looking for news about Japanese whisky. One of those occasions was this evening when I came across an article in the almost famous/infamous Huffington post.
Now apparently the article was written, at least in part, with commentary from Suntory brand ambassador and again I assume ambassador to the US, Neyah White.
Talk about perpetuating nonsense. Well, not all of it, but certainly some sterotypical artistic marketing license is used to be sure.
So, please let me quote some of the most annoying, lets say cloying to add a term often used in tasting notes, stereotypes and misdirection’s(from reality) to highlight.
“Hibiki 12, which White described as “the most Japanese” of the product line,” Huh, seriously, the whole product line from Suntory!!. It is at best a good blend and like all blends compromises on a heavily defined set of tasting values, a la single malt, in favor of appealing to as many easy going palates as possible. Yes I know that many single malt drinkers rate it highly, but as far as I can tell only those who have a limited option of Japanese whisky to buy/try in their home market.
Furthermore, “is a blended whisky that ends up taking on many of the best characteristics of both of the single malts in one glass”. This tastes nothing like a Yamazaki single malt or a Hakusuhu single malt, which are very singular in their focus and profile indeed. As Suntory blends are more ‘grainy’ than many a Nikka blend, there is as much or more influence from grain whisky from Suntory’s Chita grain distillery than there is from the Yama and Hak malts in the blend.
Moving on, “As White explained, “In Japan, you just don’t drink without eating. It isn’t done.” This means that whisky-drinking occasions in Japan tend to last longer, but it also means that the whisky has to be able to complement a wide variety of foods. White compares the flavor profile of Suntory’s whiskies to a bento box, “as you go around to each compartment, you hit all the flavor receptors on your tongue.” It’s this flexibility in the whiskies that often causes people to describe them as “light” and “easy to drink.” They simply taste good with everything else.
That one deserves a double huh. Maybe he has never been to a bar in Japan. Or maybe, he thinks a bowl of nuts or other nibbles is a wide variety of foods. Maybe Mr White has never tasted a single cask Japanese whisky. The type of whisky that one would spend 20 minutes just nosing and even a newbie wouldn’t consider combining food with. No, in Japan there is a very sophisticated whisky market and there has been for at least 30 years. What was true in the early days of Suntory, when the average Japanese palate was only coming to terms with whisky as a beverage has not held true for years. Yes, there is a big market for highballs as a refreshing alternative to beer, but this has no relation to the Suntory single malts and blends that have been released or being released in the States.
Next cab off the rank, and I believe this one is from the journalist writing up the story, “Our favorite of the line is definitely the Yamazaki 12. It has the robust butteriness of our favorite bourbons, the gentle smokiness of an easy-drinking Scotch and just a hint of the bright astringency of our favorite Irish whiskies” Gotta love that the gentle smokiness???? Maybe she was thinking of Hakushu. Have the feeling though the author has never tried a Japanese whisky in her life…..

In summary, after at least a half a dozen years of Japanese whisky appreciation at the more sophisticated end of the market in many countries around the world, it would seem the main stream press continues to portrait Japanese whisky as a quant, novel curiosity and they still can’t be bothered to scratch any further that skin deep. It also seems that at least one of Suntory’s brand ambassadors is happy to oblige.

P.s For readers who miss the reference in the title of this post, it comes from one of the Austin Powers movie and denotes something that is quite silly. I would also like to point out that the post was not meant to be a singular dig at only one media article/outlet, but reflects my opinion on just about every story on Japanese whisky I read online from the regular press.

6 thoughts on “Japanese Whisky in the Press – Honestly, who throws a shoe….

  1. Yet another example of the condescending, patronising rubbish that pretends to be journalism. Give me a break!
    And comparing Japanese whisky with Bourbon, Scotch & Irish is just a way to try to “legitimise” Japanese whisky – as if it needs it!
    We all know that the great variety of Japanese whiskies needs no comparison with anything else.
    And in terms of the quality you get for the money there is no comparison.
    It’s just as well, Brian, that we have serious information available, like your website.

  2. There is quite a bit of whisky journalism in recent times written by people that appear to have never really picked up a glass so to speak. This is not a personal dig but you really have to put yourself behind something before you suggest things to readers. Again, no dig specifically to the maker, but I’ve recently had a new batch of Hibiki 12, it is completely different to the past in my opinion, lacks all the qualities that are described above by the ambassador. Certainly no very distinctive single malt traits “best characteristics” from Yama/Hak, instead distinctly grainy, so I find it hard when I hear/see very high ratings. Don’t get me wrong it is a very decent blend in its class – but I find it hard to digest when its classed as “the most Japanese of the line-up”. I can understand where many drinkers would settle for “the most Japanese of the line-up” when they are limited to say Hibiki, and a few other low budget Japanese blends.

    • Hi Clint,
      I know where you’re coming from.
      Just exactly what constitutes “the most Japanese of the lineup”?
      In comparison to what?
      Silly me, I thought the entire Suntory range was Japanese!
      I guess a mizunara aged whisky would qualify, but I doubt there’s any in Hibiki 12.
      Brand ambassadors are just paid spin merchants.
      Some of these people would be better off describing bottled water because they clearly know nothing about whisky!

      • Thanks for the comments. As always, my opinion is my opinion and it is always a benefit to the blog to hear/read the perspective of my peers. Cheers!

  3. The only way they could get away with saying “The most Japanese” without appearing completely foolish, is if one of the whiskies was aged or finished in Japanese Oak (Mizunara,etc.) – Then I would get it…because I’ve had Mizunara-aged whiskies in the past that brought memories of Japanese temples/shrines and sandalwood? incense, etc….but considering they said that about Hibiki 12, it is just a load of nonsense.

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