Hakushu is another distillery owned by Suntory, and as of a couple of years ago its regular 12 yo expression is available in the US. This particular expression, the Heavily Peated (a bit of a misnomer, as you will see below) is not, though I think I may have read rumours that it may be soon. If so, that’s very good news, for I like this one very much and it would be nice to not have to rely on the kindness of friends passing through Japan or elsewhere in the world where it is available to get the occasional bottle.
I know very little about Hakushu and so will spare you a preamble that might give a different impression (you can find out a little about it on Nonjatta). I’ve only had three of their expressions–this one, the 12 yo and the Bourbon Barrel–and like them all very much. There are older versions (18 and 25 years old) available internationally but the prices are somewhat forbidding. Earlier this year (or maybe it was late last year) a sherry cask was released but it sold out in about three minutes (I am exaggerating but only very slightly). Oh well, perhaps one of these decades we’ll get the full range of Japanese whisky in the US.
Hakushu Heavily Peated,
2012 Release (48%; from my own bottle)
Nose: Sweet and very slightly gingery. Right on the heels of that is some sweet, minerally peat, but not much smoke (well below normal Bowmore’ish levels, I’d say). Gets a little more acidic with time, with some pepperiness and also some floral hints (almost like floral talcum powder). With time the peat gets more peppery and less sweet and comes to the fore. There’s some mild ash/soot in there too now. With more time there’s some musky/sweet lemon peel as well and also an expanding creamy note. Let’s see what water does: it brightens the lemon up, giving it a minerally, peaty shading on the edges.
Palate: Sweet and peppery with the peat manifesting itself more with mineral sweetness than with smoke–in fact, smoke is not particularly palpable here. A rather austere and narrow profile, in a way reminiscent of some northern Highland distilleries. The lemon emerges late on the palate as well. Much later there’s some dry, acidic smoke, but it’s dryer than it is smoky, if you know what I mean. Water makes it sweeter at first but there’s more intense ash/soot now (relatively speaking).
Finish: Long. Starts out sweet, and then gets peppery. At the very end, finally, there is a very mild ashiness. Water doesn’t alter the finish very much.
Comments: This is really very nice but, as with the recent Longrow 14 and 18, it is a stretch, I think, to call this heavily peated (does anyone know what the ppm levels are?). There is certainly peat but it is not at all overbearing, and those who are peat/smoke-phobic should not fear it in the slightest. Indeed, while the smokiness emerges with time–it’s barely palpable at all at first–this is not at all smoky or phenolic in the way of peated Islay whiskies or even highlanders like Ardmore or Benromach. If you’ve had the Hakushu 12 and liked it do give this a shot if you come across it on your travels or if it does in fact come to the US.
Rating: 87 points.