Today marks a special occasion for us here at Dekanta, as we publish the first piece of our “Japanese Pair” series. We’re all about the beauty of Japanese whisky, and we decided to reach out to the other die-hard fans out there, who love to take their whisky experience to the next level by pairing it with magnificent culinary expressions from all around the world.

Of course, savouring your favourite Japanese whisky on its own is necessary to break down the many complex flavours and better “understand” the dram. But, as your whisky journey goes on you’ll start to search for new and different ways to deepen your whisky experience – Enter the world of food and whisky pairing!

Pairing alcoholic drinks with food is nothing new. You’ve definitely heard of the timeless combos: cheese and wine; spicy food and dark beer; battered fish and lager. There are countless natural pairings throughout the drinks and culinary world, each one bringing forth the fullest of its “partner’s” potential.

In our series, we will delve into the many, unique Japanese whiskies and recommend the very best Japanese dishes to pair with each one. We guarantee this series will teach you about whisky, shed some light on the globally-known Japanese cuisine, and make your mouth water after each piece.

Without further ado, we give you our first Japanese pair:

Yamazaki 18 year-old and Japanese Wagyu beef. This combo screams nothing but luxury, involving one of the most expensive types of beef in the world, and an award-winning whisky by the great Yamazaki distillery. For fans of whisky and meat, there may never be a better combination.

Yamazaki 18 Year-old

Let’s start with the whisky, which, to be honest, is so spectacular that mere words aren’t enough to describe it.

Before delving into the flavour, let’s look at the impact this particular Yamazaki release has had across the globe.

Starting out, this single malt received a double gold award at the 2005 San Francisco World Spirits Competition, and then, only two years later, a gold at the 2007 International Spirits Challenge, and then again in 2013. In 2015 and 2016 the Yamazaki 18 won the Best Japanese Single Malt award at the World Whiskies Awards. So, to say the least, Yamazaki have got more than a few things right with this one.

But why has this particular Yamazaki whisky won so many awards? Well, the secret lies in its exceptional production. Using some of the best barley in the world, the Yamazaki team are renowned for their unique methods of distillation, which have made many of their whiskies famous globally.

The beauty of the Yamazaki 18 year-old, however, lies in its maturation. Around 80 per cent of the distilled spirit is placed in sherry casks. Over 18 years the whisky turns a deep amber, as blackberry, dark chocolate, and forest fruit flavours develop, eventually bursting onto the palate when tasted.

The other 20 per cent of the spirit is matured in Japanese Mizunara oak, which infuses the whisky with woody and spicy notes.

Brought together the whisky becomes the masterpiece that is found in each bottle – that slightly sweet and spicy, rich, and extremely smooth single malt.

Wagyu Beef

Wagyu beef comprises of four different breeds of Japanese beef cattle, and is known worldwide for its superior quality and extremely high pricing.

Some areas in Japan brand their Wagyu beef with said area’s name. You may have heard of Kobe beef, Omi beef, and Matsusaka beef, which are the top breeds of Wagyu beef from those specific Japanese locations.

What sets Wagyu apart from typical beef is its higher percentage of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. This higher fat percentage paired with the traditional breeding, feeding, and treatment of the cattle all make the flavour, tenderness, and texture of the beef superior in every way.

The Pairing

The steak should be cooked taking the traditional Japanese minimalistic approach into consideration, by seasoning it with only salt and pepper. Cooked no more than medium, the goal is to let the beef’s superior flavour shine through, without the addition of other ingredients.

The Wagyu should blow you away, with deep, meaty flavours, and a fatty, rich mouth feel. Umami and grilled flavours will dominate the palate and leave a rich lingering aftertaste following each bite.

A sip of the Yamazaki 18 year-old will, simply put, intensify the entire experience. While the dark and autumn fruit notes will soothe and “lighten” the rich mouth feel left from the meat, the whisky’s sweet and spicy notes will compliment and help the meat’s strong flavours grow.

Following the tasting of both products, you should be left wanting for nothing, with the whisky’s oaky, dark complexity mixing in with the deep umami flavour of the meat.

As most Japanese whiskies, and the Yamazaki 18 in particular, are some of the best-rounded and smoothest in the world, the balance should be perfect, with the meat weighted against the richness of the single malt.

George Koutsakis

Despite having a long time love for quality spirits, George truly explored his passion for whisky when he became the assistant manager for the BrewDog Japan franchise, owned by Whisk-e, Japan’s biggest Scotch whisky importer, in Tokyo. During his time in Tokyo he sampled countless high-end Scotch and Japanese whiskies, held numerous beer and whisky tasting events, and built relationships with many sellers, producers, and owners of some of the best whisky and cocktail bars in Tokyo. After his time in Japan, George continued to study whisky and beer production extensively, receiving his Cicerone certificate and becoming an integral part of the team at Dekanta, acting as Creative Director. He now spends his time travelling, sampling great whiskies, and writing all about them.