Sunday, January 13, 2013

From Kyushu (1): Hakata

Post by Stefan of Tokyo Whisky Hub.

Kyushu - the most southwesterly of Japan's four main islands - is not generally mentioned in the same breath as "whisky". Part of that has to do with the fact that the island's association with "shochu" - Kyushu's quintessential drink - is so strong. Part of it is... well, plain ignorance, and we here at Nonjatta would have been the first to have plead guilty as charged. But not anymore. We spent the last few days of 2012 in Kyushu and discovered a whisky culture so incredibly vibrant it left us in a state of constant embarrassment. How could we not have known about this? And how much did we miss all this time by not looking further than our own backyard? Over the next few weeks, we'll fill you in on what and who is driving this whisky renaissance in Kyushu.
We start our journey in Hakata - one of the oldest cities in Japan, now part of Fukuoka city - with this blended malt (the new nomenclature for a "vatted malt", although in Japan these terms have very little currency - the preferred term here is "pure malt") specially produced for Hakata: "Nikka Whisky Malt 100 Hakata" (bottled at 43% abv). This really is one of the best-kept secrets in Japan and when you try it, you'll understand why. It captures both the Yoichi and the Miyagikyo character but does so in a way that leaves received notions of what a blend should be by the wayside in favour of maintaining the energy generated by the meeting of these characters. It's as tough as nails but, at the same time, full of tenderness. I'm convinced it was also designed to stand up to the richness of the Fukuoka cuisine and it really does come shining through, with its smoke and spice, even amongst the most intense culinary assaults on the palate. It's only available in Hakata and the best place to try it is probably the Nikka Bar in Nakasu (the entertainment district - a pretty intense experience at night!). If you like it as much we think you will, you'll probably want to pick up a few bottles to take home. There are liquor shops on literally every street corner in Nakasu - the perfect excuse to spend a few hours roaming the streets there - and though it's getting harder to find, it's not impossible ... yet. They don't make 'em like that anymore and certainly not at this price (less than 4,000 yen, or 33 EUR / 44 USD).

3 comments:

Nikka Whisky EU said...

Wow, I didn't know about this bottling either. The only local bottling I'd heard of until now was the Sendai-only Datei blend. Wonder how many others there are...

Nikka Whisky EU said...

woops, I meant Date (my kanji is getting rusty):
http://www.nikka.com/products/date/

Stefan said...

I haven't the tried the Date yet. It would be interesting to do a comparative tasting of these (and others, if they exist) local bottlings. I don't know what the current Nikka policy is as far as these local bottlings is concerned and/or if this Hakata is still being produced currently. I wasn't able to confirm this while I was in Hakata (nobody knew exactly when it was released) but they did say it had been around for a while.