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Suntory Hakushu 12 Year Old

A subtle complexity...

0 1787

@hunggarReview by @hunggar

20th Apr 2014

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  • Nose
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  • Taste
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  • Overall
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Distribution of ratings for this: brand user

The Hakushu 12 is an interesting one. In some ways it’s a light, easy sipper for a casual evening in front of the TV. In other ways it’s a complex whisky that demands your full attention. Leave it to the Japanese to make sense of such contradiction.

Nose: Apples, pears, honey, grass, earth, ginseng, oak, cinnamon, anise, and some subtle sherry. This has a soft, understated complexity.

Palate: Creamy arrival. A nice, rich caramel/honey note chimes in first. Some chocolate, pear, smoke, and anise, followed by some beautiful woody spices.

Finish: Some really bright, sweet, grassy oakiness. This is gently herbal and floral. Pears, apples, café latte, chocolate, quiet peat, and a beautiful woodspice carry on throughout the medium finish.

Like many of the Japanese whiskies I’ve tried, this is balanced with a very controlled, graceful complexity. For me, there seems to be something quite unique about Japanese oak. It imparts some very earthy, grassy, herbal notes along with the expected oak and woodspices. Such is the case here. I find this whisky to be both easy and accessible, but also quite complex and elegant. It will please those who want to sip casually, and satisfy those who want to explore it analytically. Beautifully balanced stuff. Recommended.

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17 comments

@MaltActivist
MaltActivist commented

Great review. I've had this many a time but just haven't come around to write about it. I know exactly what you mean about it being so drinkable yet so complex.

5 years ago 0

@Pierre_W
Pierre_W commented

I think you are spot on with this review, @hunggar, and I would be at odds trying to describe the Hakushu 12-year old in a better way. This is and will remain one of my favourite 12-year old non-peated single malts. So far I never got the anise but will go looking for it next time. I can also relate to the "controlled, graceful complexity" of Japanese whiskies, at least those from Suntory's core range. There is something to those drams that makes you realise immediately that here a Japanese distiller has been a work. Well done!

5 years ago 0

@hunggar
hunggar commented

Thanks guys. Yes, this can be quite a rewarding dram any way you approach it. I appreciate the kind words.

5 years ago 0

@cherylnifer
cherylnifer commented

I have had the pleasure of trying the Yoichi 15yo, but would like to purchase my first bottle of a Japanese whiskey. Looking at three beginner-level bottles: Hakashu 12yo, Taketsuru 12yo, and Suntory Yakazaki. I am game for any profile. Suggestions ?

5 years ago 0

@Victor
Victor commented

@cherylnifer, those three are all nice bottles. The one I have my eye on is the Taketsuru 17 yo blended malt. More money, but God is it good! Currently a top 25 rated whisky on Connosr, and the highest rated Japanese whisky on Connosr.

5 years ago 0

@cherylnifer
cherylnifer commented

Thanks Victor. Any thoughts on the Taketsuru 21, which appears to be only another $30 more than the 17yo ?

5 years ago 0

@Victor
Victor commented

@chrylnifer, unfortunately I haven't had the good fortune yet to have sampled the Taketsuru 21 yo. My trusted buddy, @CanadianNinja likes the 21 yo even better than he likes the 17 yo, so I am very confidant that the 21 yo is an excellent drink. The 17 yo I can speak for myself. Primo beverage.

5 years ago 0

@hunggar
hunggar commented

@cherylnifer, Between the three 12 yr olds I'd suggest the Hakushu first, or even the Yamazaki. Both are good introductions to Japanese style. The Taketsuru is nice at 12, but forgettable. As @Victor said, the 17 is an absolute beauty. I've yet to try the 21 as well, but I hear good things!

5 years ago 0

@cherylnifer
cherylnifer commented

@hunggar: I also have access to the Hibiki 12yo also. Do you still prefer the Hakushu over that one too ?

5 years ago 0

@hunggar
hunggar commented

Hmm. I'd suggest the two single malts first.

5 years ago 0

@Victor
Victor commented

@hunggar, I am with you completely that Hakushu 12 is "grassy". I would say that "Grassy" or even "Deep Grass" might be the way I may one day title a review of Hakushu 12, because it is for me the most distinctive characteristic of Hakushu 12 yo. Please do note that element, @cherylnifer, and make your decisions accordingly. @hunggar, do you really think that "grassy" can come from oak? I can't see that at all.

Hakushu 12 does have a lovely balance, and I have to say that it exceeded my expectations of it based on previous descriptions I had read.

Hibiki 12 is a mild-mannered, somewhat sweet, and easy-going blend. As a "blended whisky", it makes a "blended statement". It is very pleasant, and easily drinkable, but with a "blended" character lacking that "single" sort of personality characteristic of most malt whiskies. Hibiki 12 does not grab you by the throat and seize your attention...it hangs around with you more in the style of a mellow, undemanding, but enjoyable cocktail.

I agree with @hunggar that if you want to systematically start to explore the Japanese whiskies, try the malts first. That said, Hibiki 12 is a great whisky, and well worth the attention, when you get to it.

5 years ago 0

@hunggar
hunggar commented

@Victor: You seem to have much more technical knowledge about which points of the production process impart which kinds of flavours. But there's an herbal and sometimes grassy quality to Japanese releases that's really distinctive. I just assumed it had something to do with Japanese oak, although admittedly it could be any number of factors.

5 years ago 0

@Ol_Jas
Ol_Jas commented

A question to @Hunggar, @Victor, and anyone else who's had a bottle of this: Is it "heavily peated"?

I put that in quotes because that's how Binny's has it listed on their website: binnys.com/spirits/…

I bought a bottle from them and found it to be very UNpeated. I'm not seeing "peated" on the bottle anywhere. My taste experience matches this review pretty closely—though in the end I didn't like it nearly as much and called it a paltry 79 in my journal. I wanted and expected something distinctly peated. I'm not too happy with it.

I'm really just wondering whether I received the right bottle. I just read this review and all the others for Hakushu 12 here on Connosr in hopes of finding someone commenting on the labeling. No dice—but this is longest conversation about it!

Thanks much.

4 years ago 0

@Ol_Jas
Ol_Jas commented

Correction: Binny's calls it "peated," not "heavily peated." But my question's still the same. :)

And I'll probably contact Binny's about it, but I first wanted to see if I was crazy.

4 years ago 0

@Victor
Victor commented

@OlJas, sometimes the peat in peated whiskies is very difficult to taste. I've had bottles of Old Pulteney 12 and even Highland Park 12 in which the peat was just about invisible. It's been awhile since I've had any Hakushu 12. My recollection of it was that any peat there was subtle and that peat was not a feature which really stood out with me. Despite that, there probably was some peat used, which just blended in under the radar. Certainly for a heavy-peat lover it would not be a whisky delivering much satisfaction on the "peat-meter".

4 years ago 0

@Ol_Jas
Ol_Jas commented

Update on the "peated" labeling for anyone else who faces this conundrum: The good folks at Binny's never really explained where the "peated" labeling comes from—again, it's not on the bottle itself—but they did rightly point out that it's not just them who call it that. Most sellers do, so that labeling must come from the distributor or something.

And good on Binny's: They offered a perfectly reasonable discount on my next purchase to make up for the problem.

4 years ago 0

@ACrumblingWell
ACrumblingWell commented

I have a bottle of Hakushu 12 on my shelf that I've had open for exactly one year, and I can say this whisky is clearly peated, it just take some time to reveal itself. Upon opening the bottle I hardly noticed any peat at all (which wasn't a problem, as it wasn't a prime selling point for me) but over the months the peat undertone began to strengthen, and now, after one year, there's a quite distinct peat presence, particularly strong in the finish, that only makes this delicious whisky even better. This evolving character was a wonderful surprise from a single malt I would have already rated very highly!

4 years ago 0

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