Last night the Glengarry Wines Malt Club took a page out of The Vapours song book and turned Japanese for the night. Led by Sam Baker, Brand Manager for Hancocks Wines and Spirits, and Kenny Ariens, Spirit Brand Ambassador, also from Hancocks, we worked our way through our recently expanded range of Sake, Japanese Whiskies and Shochu.
First cab off the rank was Sam with Sake! After a quick rundown on the styles of Sake and how it is made (fermented like wine and not distilled like a spirit, which it is sometimes confused with!) it was straight into tasting. Most Sake have a recommendation of serving either cold or warm but there are no hard and fast rules so we tried all four Sake both cold and warm.
The difference was startling. We started with the Gekkeikan Traditional, made by the oldest and largest Sake brewery in Japan. This was lively and a touch rough while cold, but when warm the citrus flavours opened and the mouth-feel was fuller and rounder. Our journey through the quality levels made its way to the Houraisen (producer) Bi Junmai Daiginjo (style) which was pure and had a complex nose with sweet fruit, much like a wine! When trying this warm the delicate nose was lost and the Sake seemed simple, over powered by the temperature. Houraisen embody the quality focus that can be found in these Sake. From growing their own rice from a specially selected strain of rice suit to the area and high polishing (stripping away the hard-outside husk of the rice grain). A true masterclass in such an interesting category.
Next up was Kenny to explore two of the Mars Whiskies. Over the last 5-10 years the demand for Japanese Whisky has skyrocketed and it is great to see new distilleries here in the market. The Hombo family, owners of Mars Whisky, first took out a licence to distill whisky in 1949, although it was not until 1960 that it started making whisky. This continued until the distillery had to close in 1992 due to low demand, finally firing back into life in 2011. The Mars Iwai Traditional, aged in a combination of ex Bourbon and ex Sherry Casks, as well as some fresh Mizunara casks (Japanese oak) was rick, with dried fruits and an impressively long finish! Next the Lucky Cat, a limited release series named after the owner’s favourite feline friends, this one the third release named Mint. These sell out in Japan direct from the distillery.
Finally, we finished with some sweet Shochu (Sweet potato distillate) macerated with different fruit. A Yuzushu (Shochu macerated with yuzu fruit) was refreshingly tangy with citrus and sweetness, like old fashioned lemonade but with booze! Then a Umeshu (Shochu macerated with Japanese plums and brown sugar), tasting much like a refined PX Sherry would be a great match with blue cheese at the end of the night!
All and all a great, intriguing and educational tasting. The one thing that shines through all these products was the focus on purity and the quality of water sources these producers use. Look out for more Japanese Sake and Whisky finding their way around Auckland in the near future!