Non-Stop to Kyoto: The Art of Japanese Whisky
During the Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans, I accepted an invitation from Neyah White of Suntory Whisky to escape and experience a glimpse into the legendary bars of Kyoto. From nearly unobtainable Japansese whiskies to exemplary hospitality, not a single detail was overlooked.
Throughout this visit every taste, smell, bite, and sound was of beauty. Kyoto, I am told, is more laid back. Though the setting is very welcoming and relaxing, the whiskies, hospitality, and available knowledge is of the highest level. Hosts Neyah White and Gardner Dunn tend bar while Michelin star chef Lincoln Carson designs tastes to pair with your spirits. As each whisky or whisky cocktail is presented to you, Neyah and Gardner educate you on the details of each spirit for the fullest experience possible. I invite you now to walk with me as I did through “Non-Stop to Kyoto” at this year’s Tales of the Cocktail with Suntory Whisky.
Before entering the bar, you wait at the elevator and see some very special whiskies on display. In particular, you see a box of the Yamazaki 25 yr, Hakushu 25 yr, and a bottle of Hibiki 12 yr. You peak behind the display to find a box of the Yamazaki 1984 single malt whisky and smile.
The elevator door opens and takes you to your destination. Upon exiting the elevator, you walk into a dark room decorated with lights guiding you to the bar’s entrance. The light welcomes you in as you take in your surroundings.
Then there’s the whiskies- oh the whiskies.
I had the great fortune of tasting some truly rare and delicious whiskies, but alas the 25 year Hakushu, Yamazaki, and 30 year Hibiki still remain unobtainable for now. As these bottles flirt from across the room, a very special treat is presented at each table. Any whisky geek or anorak will especially appreciate this. I must say not only was it fun on its own, but it heavily impacted what my palate recognizes in each spirit.
Ah, the science of taste. In each of these test tubes is a taste of the following individual selections: American Oak, Spanish Oak, Japanese Oak, Smoky Malt, Chita Grain, and Vatted Malt. You are given a glass and a beaker along with the optional ice cubes and water. You can nose and taste each of these selections individually, however you are instructed to play and create your own blend. The beaker allows you to measure accurate pours and control how much of each ingredient you are adding to your glass. You can add as many or as few as you like. Not only is this a customized experience, but familiarizing yourself with each of the individual selections allows you to better acknowledge the influences in your favorite whiskies.
While you play with the various tastes you can create, another tasting opportunity arrives. A dram of the Yamazaki Puncheon and Bourbon Barrel whiskies are presented. Having just tasted the American Oak on its own, you can immediately see the difference in taste it makes. The Puncheon is bottled at a higher strength of 48% and is matured in large 480 litre puncheon casks, giving it a slower maturation than the normal 230 litre cask. The Bourbon Barrel is a limited edition available to the UK market and was aged entirely in first fill bourbon barrels.
As you are enjoying your tasting, pairings are served to match each of the different styles available. You have savory, fruity, sweet and rich bites to keep your palate engaged and entertained. Above are two of my favorites: a frozen banana ball which paired brilliantly with one of my tasting experiments, and a red velvet chocolate treat complete with tobacco shards. Yes, tobacco, because it goes oh so beautifully with whisky. I adored the inclusion and use of this ingredient.
Looking around the room, Gardner began carving ice for those who would like an ice ball for their spirit. Cocktails were also provided as an option. And because literally not a detail was missed- our water for this visit was shipped from Japan for the ultimate experience!
Thank you Neyah White, Gardner Dunn, Lincoln Carson, and everyone from Suntory for this wonderful passport to Kyoto. This was an experience I will treasure greatly.
Please find more photos in the slideshow below: