Hakushu was one of my first gateways in to the world of Japanese whisky. Located in the forested town of Toribara on the slopes of Mount Kaikomagatake, Hakushu is a distillery which exhibits true terroir with its whisky - Crisp, fresh and full of green fruit and vegetal notes are common descriptors and, as such, you can’t fail to be whisked away to what is one of the most beautiful distilling locations on the planet. However, Japanese whisky is now hotter than hot, and interest and speculation have put incredible pressure on supplies.
Hakushu and sister distillery Yamazaki both used to produce an entry level 10 year old. These were dropped in favour of two NAS offerings. Both are commonly available and relatively affordable. Older Hakushu and Yamazaki in the form of the 12 and 18 year olds are still available, however they are produced on an incrediby tight allocation, and the prices of these whiskies has risen to many times what I was used to seeing a mere 5 years ago. Still, you have to admire Suntory for continuing to try to sate demand with new products and continued, albeit small allocations, whilst they regenerate their older stock - rival Nikka, removed the entirety of their the aged range for both Yoichi and Miyagikyo in 2015, replacing both lines with single NAS bottles, a real scorched earth reaction to the explosion of interest in Japanse whisky. Word on the street is that supplies will start to improve in the next three years, as all of Japan's distillers try to make an impact at the 2020 Japan Olympics.
Nose: Fresh, but undefined citrus and stone fruits (peach maybe?). Quite mineral with herbal notes of pine and freshly cut grass. Delicate and with the Hakushu smoke very much in the background.
Taste: Refreshing but somewhat thin mouthfeel which starts to emphasise the more peaty aspects of Hakushu. Sooty lemons with a slightly salty tang. Pine again, this time with mint or menthol. All playing around with both vanilla and honey. The younger notes of this whisky are the ones which get the most emphasis initially, though a little time resting in the glass will bring forward more of the older notes such as tropical fruits and peppery wood spicing. The peating is delicate and floral rather than being overwhelming and bitter.
Finish: Medium length, fresh and sharp with a sustained salt-like tang.
On the one hand this is both available and relatively affordable, which for Japanese whisky in 2017 is sadly unusual. On the other, this Hakushu doesn't offer the depth, complexity or indeed balance of its 12 year old sibling. There's nothing wrong here and no faults as it were, it's all just a little uninspiring and, arguably not as strong an entry as the Yamazaki Distiller's Reserve which offers much more of an evocative experience in terms of highlighting the DNA of the liquid. This said, as an introduction to Japanese whisky you could certainly do worse than this. Don’t be afraid to give it a go in a highball (with soda) or as a Mizuwari (with water).