Japanese Whisky (October 2022)

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Suntory Toki Japanese Whisky

Japan produces a broad range of amazing whiskies, all with their own distinct flavour profiles. However, the problem that many consumers in North America encounter is two-fold; availability and price. Specific brands can be hard to come by, especially if you live outside a major city, and once you do find the brand you’re looking for, the price tag can make some buyers very protective over how much whisky they pour and for whom. This is why, for this month’s box, Rising Sun, we recommend Suntory Toki Japanese Whisky. Not only does this widely available whisky have over 100 years of history behind its distillation, it possess a eclectic profile which is well suited for use in many different cocktails, with a light, smoky body featuring notes of green apple, honey, basil, grapefruit and thyme. Best of all, it comes in at a price which does not break the bank. This beautiful whisky works perfectly with all the recipes found in this month’s box, but if you have a favourite Japanese whisky brand, we encourage you to experiment and see where these new flavour combinations take you.

Thanksgiving in Japan

At Crafty Cocktails, one of our favourite times during Thanksgiving comes after the meal, when one can loosen their belt, sit down in a warm armchair, relax, and enjoy a nice glass of whisky. While the Japanese don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, they do indeed make some of the most delicious whisky in the world and we have, more than once, passed over bourbon or scotch, opting for this amazing spirit as our holiday after-meal sipper. And once you’ve tasted this delicious, easy-drinking cocktail, you will understand why the Japanese varietal tickles our Thanksgiving fancy, as it perfectly compliments both holiday-inspired ingredients such as Levels of Grandeur Sweet Potato syrup and thyme leaf, as well as unique Japanese elements like Matcha Ninja Sparkling Ube, goji berry and Choya 23 Ume liqueur. A thirst for Japanese whisky after a massive turkey dinner is a bit eccentric, we know, but this cocktail should help explain why we feel so darn good about it.

Kappa Martini

Complexity and elegance in simplicity, the Japanese are well-known for this approach to food and drink, where a simple set of ingredients combine to create an incredible world of flavour, colour, and texture. To be sure, top-notch ingredients are essential, but not more so than attention to detail and execution, as many Japanese bartenders and chefs spend years practicing their art, repeating, over and over, simple steps of preparation which, over time, leads to a preternatural understanding of how the drink or dish works on the most basic level. This refined martini recipe is inspired by this approach to the culinary arts, as simple ingredients work together in perfect harmony; a slight briny hint from the furikake tincture blends seamlessly with the touch of smoke from the whisky, while fruity notes from the cucumber, Midori and sake concentrate keep things light and interesting. However, these ingredients are best served by an attentive mixologist, one who sees beauty in the most minute of details. Take your time with this one, it is well worth the effort.

Shin-Shoga Sour

With such strong flavours in Japanese cooking, it is important to have something which helps to cleanse the palette and give your tastebuds a bit of a reset, so as to better experience the new and exciting flavours present in the next dish. This is why pickled ginger, gari, or amazu shoga is commonly served with sushi, as the fresh, spicy ginger, combined with a slight acidic taste, helps alleviate some of the more rich and salty flavours often found in nigiri, sashimi and maki. In this distinct iteration of a classic sour, the refreshing bite of pickled ginger is amplified by other light and delicate ingredients like Kinsip Hibisicus/Rose bitters and sudachi juice, yet the cocktail retains an airy, frothy feel. Balanced against the malty sweetness of rice syrup and a lingering smoke of Japanese whisky, and a touch of crumbly salt from the salted panko crust, this beautifully unique sour is the perfect cocktail to reset your palette before going on to try other drinks which may possess more aggressive flavour profiles.

Why Japanese Whisky?

In comparison to the long histories of whisky production in places like Scotland and Ireland, the Japanese style of this complex spirit is relatively young, as commercial distilling in Japan did not begin until 1924. However, in relatively short order, this varietal of whisky has become one of the most sought after in the world, with consumers and industry professionals alike praising and ardently pursuing the unique whiskies exported from this singular island chain.  

              In true Japanese fashion, the ability to take the techniques and knowledge from other parts of the world and refine them down to their most perfect and quintessential form is utterly apparent when you taste this variety of whisky. In fact, the Japanese even have a term for this, wakon yosai (和魂洋才), which translates to ‘Japanese spirit with Western learning’. The attributes that make up the defining features of all the worlds other varietals of whisky are present in the Japanese style. However, no one style outstrips the other, as they all exist in perfect harmony, making for a unparallel whisky drinking experience.

              When one first tastes a Japanese whisky, the most evident analogy is to compare it to Scotch whiskey, as there is a distinct peaty smoke quality in both. Indeed, the very first Japanese producers, such as Masataka Taketsuru, studied whisky distillation in Scotland and implemented their methods and techniques. Indeed, many Japanese distilleries still smoke their malt blend with peat moss, a hallmark of the Scotch style, imported directly from Scotland, but are incorporated into the brew with a more delicate hand, resulting in a background of smoky flavour that does not overwhelm the whisky itself.

              The modern approach, however, tends to focus more on balancing the smoke flavour against elements typical of other whisky styles, the sweetness and complex aroma of bourbon or the light, fruity profile of an Irish whiskey. Japanese producers use many techniques to achieve this, incorporating techniques from all over the world into their process, such as the types of stills used, the wood with which the aging barrels are made, and the blending/finishing processes employed. This results in whisky which exhibits the perfect combination of styles and flavours which can seem overwhelming in other whisky types.

              This balance is perfect for creating craft cocktails, as mixologists can choose which flavour profile to compliment or contrast, rather than trying to work around one specific characteristic. It is just as easy to highlight the smoky component of Japanese whisky with a particular set of ingredients as it is to subtly bring out beautifully fruit-forward profiles. This quality is on full display in this month’s Crafty Cocktails box Rising Sun, as you’ll find three delicious recipes which showcase the multi-faceted character of this complex spirit.

              The smoky side is complimented by ingredients like house made Furikake tincture, thyme leaf Kinsip Hibiscus/Rose bitters, panko/black salt crumble and pickled ginger, while sweeter notes are highlighted by Levels of Grandeur sweet potato syrup, sake concentrate, Matcha Ninja Ube Sparkling Matcha and rice syrup. Fruity elements are emphasized by unique ingredients like yuzu pearls, goji berries, sudachi juice and Choya 23 Ume Liqueur. With such a bountiful collection of exceptional ingredients, you’re bound to find something new and exciting to add to your cocktail repertoire.

              This box was designed not only to bring awareness to the various expressions of flavour Japanese whisky can take, but also how these flavours exist in perfect harmony. The recipes found here showcase this amazing varietal’s ability to be extremely complex, yet incredibly balanced. With a patient hand and an attentive mind, you’ll soon realize why Japanese whisky holds a special place in the heart of many cocktail enthusiasts. Kanpai!

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