While the northeast is apparently getting hit with a good winter storm, as my various feeds would indicate, we in southern California are suffering ourselves. It was only 47 when I went for my morning run. Weather that cold demands a light windbreaker. I almost questioned my choice to wear shorts! Fortunately, after a few minutes I warmed up and it was a non-issue. That’s pretty much the same thing, right?
I guess not.
Despite that, for my long-acclimated self, it’s been a bit cold. No, not northeast cold or northern Europe cold, but the kind that makes me wonder if I should swap the hoodie for a heavier coat. That’s the kind of weather that makes me think it’s peated whiskey time.
I thought of some of the Islays on my shelf, but nothing quite grabbed me. After looking around, I found what I’d been waiting to try for some time: Haukushu Heavily Peated. Hakushu is owned by Suntory (who are more familiar in the US as the owners of the Yamazaki distillery) and is located west-northwest of Tokyo, or a little southeast of Nagoya. We got Hakushu relatively recently in the US, but it seems to not have caught much of a reputation locally. It’s a shame; Japanese whiskies are some of the very best in the world and really stand shoulder to shoulder with the best the world has to offer. They’re a little bit different but generally I find them to be highly enjoyable.
Suntory has periodically released special editions of their whiskies which are released in Japan and sometimes Europe, but never see the light of day here. You may have seen photos of the Yamazaki Sherry Cask edition in the past; there’s also a Bourbon, Puncheon and Mizunara edition of Yamazaki every year. All four of those are going to be reviewed in the coming weeks. Hakushu has seen some as well – there’s a Hakushu Bourbon barrel release, and the whisky-sphere had occasional photos of Hakushu Sherry Cask floating around, but that sold out almost instantly last week.
Today though, we’re looking at release of Hakushu that isn’t as impossible to get if you’re not bashful about ordering from the UK. This is, of course, Hakushu Heavily Peated, and it’s the perfect thing for cooler days.
The name evokes something that has a full-on, aggressive punch to it; sort of a Japanese Octomore or a really punchy Lagavulin Cask Strength. I admit, I’d set it aside as the ultra-peated whiskies tend to be a special mood for me even though I enjoy them.
The nose on Hakushu is immediately full of nice, dense, but clean peat. It’s really easygoing in an uncommon way despite its density. Whereas I find some Islays can have a rubbery quality when heavily peated, this reminds me of the peating on some of the older Macallans I’ve reviewed – it has an almost pine forest quality to it: rich, lush and green, but not acrid or sharp at all. That said, it is definitely at the forefront of the nose. There’s a light sweetness that underpins the peat and some maltiness, with a real sense of very fresh barley. Way in the background is some light grassiness just to provide some balance.
The palate comes in a little surprisingly thin, and leads with a flash of wood and some barley, as well as malt sweetness. I was expecting a peat bomb, but it’s much more balanced. There’s a real sense of malt sugars on the palate, and it provides a fantastic balance to the lush, rich peat. Nothing is even slightly off to my palate. There’s some slight white pepper and gentle spiciness that builds late in the palate, and it’s a great dimension.
The finish dries a bit from the sweetness, and the maltiness is still there. A faint hint of caramel and white pepper dance around the peat. It’s a really satisfying, lasting finish that hangs around and resolves to malty sweetness.
From the name, I’d expected something that was brutally big and overpowering. Instead, it’s an incredibly well balanced whiskey that brings a phenomenal mix of sweetness and peat. I struggle to think of a reasonably priced peated whiskey that has such a fantastic balance of elements.
Unfortunately, from what I’ve heard from the K&L Davids in the past, importing whisky from Japan is a nightmare. This is a shame – I know it prevented Nikka from dipping its toes in the American market for a long time, and they also have some great whisky. However, not having Hakushu Heavily Peated in the United States is a real shame. If any buyers or local importers or brand representatives for Suntory happen to see this, please, consider this a request to bring this to the American market. It’s a fantastic, world-class whisky and unique among the Japanese malts that would be available to us.
Until then, we’ll have to order from abroad. But let’s hope that’s not a long time.
At a glance:
Hakushu Heavily Peated (48% ABV)
Nose: Nice, dense but clean peat – has a very easygoing way about it. Not too edgy and raw. Light sweetness underneath it, some good maltiness – a real sense of fresh barley. A touch grassy.
Palate: A little thin on the palate, leading initially with wood and some barley; a little malt sweetness. The peat that was so abundant on the nose plays a more balanced role with malt sugars; it’s firmly present but doesn’t blast everything out of proportion. A little white pepper and gentle spice builds slowly.
Finish: Dries up and is a little less sweet, but still has a reasonable malty presence, a faintly caramel touch, some white pepper, and some light peat. Very nicely lasting, satisfying and goes a bit malty-sweet towards the end.
Comment: Despite the name, this isn’t a huge peat bomb that floods your palate. Yes, the peat is present but it’s not by any means overwhelming.
More reviews of this excellent whisky can be found at the LAWS database.