In Japan, when out drinking, food is always present. For the Japanese population, it’s strange to just go to a bar, drink, and then head home. Drinks are usually accompanied by some light snacks, known as otsumami. The snack help keep you sober and your belly happy. For the more experienced drinker, some places recommend the best pairings with your chosen drink.
This aspect of Japanese culture is what gave birth to our “Japanese Pair” series. For the times the bar staff aren’t familiar with the best Japanese whisky to pair with some of the country’s amazing dishes, we’re here for you. Our previous pieces include:
The Yamazaki 18 & Wagyu steak pairing.
The Hibiki 21 & Sushi pairing.
Today’s pairing will be focusing on yet another globally loved expression by Suntory, the Hakushu 12 year-old. The accompanying dish with be Japan’s vegetable and meat tempura. The balance between the whisky and tempura is immense, as both heighten and compliment the other, showcasing even the most subtle, hidden flavours.
Even today, Suntory’s Hakushu distillery stands in the shadow of its older sibling, the Yamazaki distillery.
That isn’t to say that Hakushu expressions don’t occupy a significant spot in the global whisky market. Yamazaki single malts simply enjoy a larger portfolio of award-winning, globally renowned expressions.
In recent years, however, Hakushu has continued to grow, with many ardent Japanese whisky fans choosing its expressions as their favourite. The brainchild of the son of Suntory’s founder, Keizo Sanji, Hakushu is in the forest at the foot of Mt. Kaikoma. Using the soft waters from the Ojira River, the Hakushu distillery creates expressions bursting with freshness.
The Hakushu 12, the distillery’s most widely known expression, is defined by the green, floral character which defines the forest distillery.
The presence of green apples and pears, basil and mint is said to come from fermentation in wood and the use of one of Hakushu many yeast strains. The distillery’s location and the wooden washbacks aid in allowing unique micro-organisms to enter the whisky, resulting in the unique, fresh character. Hakushu is also one of the few Japanese single malts to bring forth subtle hints of peat and smoke.
In terms of awards the Hakushu 12 received a double gold medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition in 2016 and 2013.
While tempura hails from Portugal, the dish reached the global status it enjoys today after reaching Japan and being popularized during the Edo era. Put simply – tempura consists of seafood and vegetables which are, usually, lightly battered and deep-fried.
Often served on top of udon and soba noodles or on top of rice bowls, the most common tempura pieces include shrimp and assorted vegetables.
Whether consumed on their own, with a dipping sauce, or a topping to the main dish, the mark of well-made tempura lies in the batter.
When made right, the lightness of the batter is immediately evident. While one would expect a deep-fried dish to be a heavy, oily experience, great tempura is as light and crispy as can be, providing an amazing balance between crunchy batter and fleshy vegetables or fish.
Famous types of tempura include the Kansai style, and the Kanto style enjoyed mostly in Tokyo. Each style uses different seasonings, oils, and ingredients. Kakiage, a tempura patty made out of mixed strips of vegetables and seafood, is also a famous style of the dish across the country.
Time for the pairing.
For the most diverse experience, an assortment of tempura is recommended. Ebi (shrimp), sakana (fish), kinoko (mushrooms), kabocha (pumpkin), kakiage, the more you have the richer the pairing will be.
The, hopefully, well-made tempura will start off crispy and light, and then cut through to warm, smooth texture of shrimp, fish, or vegetables. The dipping sauce, which usually comes with some daikon (white radish) to be mixed in, will help to lighten the sensations further, allowing the delicate flavours of the seafood and vegetable to shine through.
With your mouth now coated with freshness and oily batter, it’s time for a sip of the Hakushu.
The whisky, with its fresh, green character, will immediately cut through the fattiness of the batter and intensify the subtle notes of the greens and fish.
The weight of the batter, paired with the evident smoke from the whisky, will bring barbeque to mind, while your palate is still imbued with the green experience of the greens and whisky.
After trying one type of tempura, accompanied by a sip, drink water to cleanse your palate. Then, repeat with a different cut of meat or another assortment of veg. It can be the rubbery texture of mushrooms or the soft texture of the pumpkin; the Hakushu will continuously push the coated ingredient forward, whilst cutting through the weight of the batter.
Give it a try and experience an entirely new, yet traditional Japanese experience. Let us know about your experience!