Whenever I think of Japanese whisky, visions of highly-praised but obnoxiously-priced scotch replicas dance in my head. (Yeah, yeah it’s August, give me some creative license.) Maybe the stuff is affordable in Japan, but hearing about $70-a-bottle Hibiki (which I love) being artfully stirred with hand-carved ice cubes and soda into whisky highballs makes me a little queasy. I mean, I love a good whisky-and-soda when the balance is right, but you wouldn’t catch me filling one with Glenlivet 18 or anything.
Japanese whisky, to me, is all about art and subtlety. It’s aromatic, floral, subtle, and complex. That makes for a pretty compelling stripped-down highball, with only ice and soda water to support the whisky and deliver it in a refreshing way. The history of the Japanese whisky highball and the drinking culture surrounding it is fascinating, but I’m not qualified to cover it here. Suffice to say that I’ve made a few at home (complete with the 13-and-a-half clockwise stirs) and have enjoyed the simplicity, food-friendliness, and refreshing nature of such a drink. I just can’t bring myself to put actual expensive Japanese whisky in it.
My prayers have been answered! A Japanese whisky (an NAS blend, but that’s the kind of thing you dunk in ice and soda water anyway) priced under $40, and widely available in the US! Also, it doesn’t taste like engine cleaner. So there’s that.
Japanese drinks giant Suntory (which now owns Jim Beam and its related brands) has blended “selected” (read: leftover) barrels from Hakushu and Yamazaki distilleries (both malts), and Chita distillery (heavy-type grain whisky). Unlike previous Suntory blends, this one relies on Hakushu as primary malt, not Yamazaki. The Yamazaki components are aged in both American white oak and Spanish oak. The Hakushu in American white oak. (In other words, no Mizunara here). The blend is bottled at 43% ABV. Did I mention that it’s bottled in a glass brick? Literally, I bet Habitat for Humanity could collect these and mortar them together to make houses.
N: Fresh straw, vanilla, and gentle grain. A touch spirity a first (alcohol fumes) but this settles down to reveal faint coconut, grains of paradise, tamarind, blanched almonds, and mochi rice-flour cakes. There are also some florals that I can’t identify.
P: Medium-bodied. Grain-forward, with a honeyed sweetness and a subdued tongue burn. Vanilla and coconut again, and a ghostly oakiness.
F: Medium-short. Chestnuts, lemon peel, vanilla sugar, and fresh spring water. No bitterness or off flavors.
W: A few drops of water dampen the aroma somewhat. They might bring out a little extra lemon oil on tongue, and make the finish sweeter, but if you’re drinking this neat, it needs no additional water.
O: While you could certainly enjoy Toki neat, you might find yourself wishing for a little more flavor. Where it shines (and where it was intended to go) is in a Japanese Whisky Highball. I like mine with 1.5 oz of whisky and 3 oz of good club soda or unflavored sparkling water (something that comes in a glass bottle) over fresh ice made from filtered water, preferably in cubes just large enough to fit in the glass. You could throw a twist of lemon on there too, if so inclined. Thirteen-and-a-half clockwise stirs optional. If you’re like me and enjoy a refreshing highball on a hot summer day but can’t afford to dump Hibiki in them, this is your answer.