Man, they love this whisky in Japan, especially served in a tall highball.
And I don’t blame them – Suntory Japanese Whisky is f*cking delicious!
Called “Kakubin” in Japan, which roughly translates to “tortoise bottle,” Suntory Whisky is bottled at 80 proof. The bottle I used for this tasting was purchased at a 7-11 near Tokyo Station. Apparently, the Japanese use the same proofing-scale as America. And here’s a hitchhiker’s tip: Japanese 7-11s are the best places to look for American-friendly ATM machines.
The neck band has the words (in English) “None Genuine Without this Signature” above the autograph of Shinjiro Torii – the founder of Suntory Whisky. I think that’s interesting because it is very close to the “Non Genuine Without My Signature” that appears above Jim Beam’s mark on every bottle of White Label. I would bet that has to do with Torii’s respect for American Bourbon-makers or even an attempt to replicate Bourbon’s appeal.
The nose is very mild. Malt and corn, vanilla, maple syrup and herbs.
The tongue it is very mild as well. Very faint smoke, orange, lemon peel.
The finish is faint, with salty caramel after-tones.
At around $10-$13 American, this is a great deal for domestic market in Japan. Which makes sense, given it has been the No. 1-selling whisky for decades. There’s a reason for that, as Shinjiro was very attuned to Japanese palate. He created this whisky in the 1930s to serve an introduction to whisky for the everyday Japanese person.
While it is okay neat or on the rocks, it undergoes a remarkable transformation in a highball. All the citrusy lemon and lime flavors come right to the top. It’s crisp. It’s refreshing. It’s delicious.
In fact, Suntory highballs are such a big hit in Japan that there are Suntory Highball bars. As well as offering bottles from the Suntory Whisky stable, these small urban bars offer highball dispensing machines in place of beer taps. It’s really something to see.
I love soda-water highballs. They’re underutilized.
I have gathered quite a few bottles in my home and I often have people to visit that don’t drink whisky. Highballs are a great way to share my love of grains with the uninitiated.
Take Johnnie Walker Red, for example. Not exactly a neat-sipper. But splash some soda water in there, and you have a gateway to Scotland and a discuss peat-reek with a newcomer without overpowering cola flavor — having to shell out for a dram of Bowmore they may not even enjoy.
Drinking in Japan showed me I’m not the only one who feels that way about the highball.