It’s the second day of our 2020 Christmas Countdown, I hope you’ve got a dram and a mince pie at the ready! Yesterday we took a look at the brilliant Akkeshi Kanro, an exciting, fruity and well-balanced expression from a promising young distillery. If you missed that, you can catch up by clicking here.
Today, we’re keeping the ball rolling with a somewhat experimental, but ultimately delicious release from Japan’s most successful whisky producer – it’s the Essence of Suntory Volume 4.
Essence of Suntory: A Brief History
The Essence of Suntory range first came onto the scene in 2018 with Volume 1, which included three whiskies distilled at Yamazaki, Hakushu and Chita. Each had unique characteristics of its own that set it apart from other whiskies produced at the famous Suntory distilleries. The Yamazaki was peated, the Hakushu was Rye-Type whisky and the Chita was given a wine-cask finish. The volume went down a treat with fans around the world and that likely inspired Suntory to continue in the same vein.
Volume 2 arrived and it brought three whiskies distilled at the Yamazaki distillery, each matured in a different type of Spanish sherry cask. This one got everyone particularly hyped, thanks to the feverish excitement that the words “Yamazaki Whisky” can conjure, and it did not disappoint with it’s huge array of intricate and complex notes to explore.
Volume 3: Cedar Throwdown followed in late 2019, and was perhaps the most experimental set in the range until now. It featured two blended whiskies created to fit two specific flavour profiles – ‘clean type’ and ‘rich type’. They were matured respectively in the Yamazaki and Hakushu warehouses and, despite being blends that lacked the power of a distillery name behind them, the general feedback was that these were very good expressions indeed.
Then, in early May of this year, Volume 4: Sakura and Rice arrived and with this one, Suntory chose to take a further step into the world of eclectic whisky processes and expressions.
The set includes two expressions, one produced at Chita and matured for 18 years, including a particularly interesting finishing period, and another that is, wait for it, Suntory’s first ever rice whisky release!
To start with the latter, “Rice Whisky” is a term that has popped up with increasing regularity in the Japanese whisky industry in recent years, however it has generally been shrouded in controversy. This is because many ‘whisky producers’ have been creating Shochu and labelling it as rice whisky, feeding into the concerns surrounding the lack of Japanese whisky regulations.
The unique process has created a clean, slightly spicy whisky that brings light notes of peaches, fruity incense, hints of ginger and a moreish juiciness. It’s a soft, gentle expression that has a lot to be explored, and highlights the possibilities of using rice to create quality expressions of Japanese whisky.
The second bottle in Volume 4 was distilled at Chita, Suntory’s grain distillery. It’s a single grain whisky that was distilled in 2000 before being aged in white oak barrels for around 15 years. It was then transferred to Sakura casks (cherry blossom wood) for a three year finishing period before being bottled.
Sakura wood has been used with increasing regularity in the Japanese whisky industry and, in this case at least, it has had profound, elegant effects on the whisky. It brings cherries, mochi and whiffs of Sakura flowers on the nose, before lychee, white grapes and sweet honey dance on the palate. The scent of cherry blossom returns on the finish and lingers for a long time, while gentle wasabi spice hangs around in the background. All of this is delivered with a smoothness only found in the most carefully crafted expressions, making this a truly accomplished single grain whisky.
The experimental nature of these releases, combined with their quality, go to show that you don’t need a plethora of ageing stock to create unique, interesting and delicious expressions and, hopefully, that’s something that other producers (particularly those labelling imported whisky or shochu as Japanese whisky) will take note of.
The Essence of Suntory Volume4: Sakura & Rice a beautiful release that’s perfect for the avid whisky drinker who is always looking to broaden their horizons and increase their knowledge of what is possible in the world of whisky. It delivers on the nose, palate and finish, and is comfortable one of our favourite releases of the year.
We’ll be back tomorrow for more Christmas Countdown when we’ll be taking a look at another sublime new release from one of our favourite Japanese distilleries!