Review: Why a Blended Japanese Whisky Is My Thanksgiving Staple
Hatozaki will perfectly enhance your Turkey Day spread
What we’re drinking: Hatozaki Small Batch
Where it’s from: Kaikyo Distillery in Akashi City in Japan, about 320 miles west of Tokyo near the Seto Inland Sea. The distillery celebrated its centennial in 2017; it started off making rice-based spirits and moved on to sake. But most recently, it’s released two blended whiskies and a gin, all with flavors unique to Japan.
Why we’re drinking this: “In Japan, we have a highball during our meals,” explains Hatozaki’s brand ambassador Miho Komatsu during a Zoom tasting from Japan (alongside Master Distiller and Blender Kimio Yonezawa). “I find this whisky good with steak, grilled meat, fish and even roasted turkey or chicken. You have Thanksgiving coming up, right?”
That’s what perked up my ears. While Komatsu had been talking about Hatozaki Finest — a very light (in presence and appearance) blended product with whiskies aged up to 12 years in barrels with a minimum malt whisky content of 40% — I was picturing the distillery’s Small Batch release.
The Finest is a bit sweet and floral and would work well in a highball. But the Small Batch adds some heft (and a higher 46% ABV), along a few tasting notes that seem designed to pair well big, meaty holiday meals. The new release is a vatting of 100% malt whiskies aged — for an indeterminate amount of time — in imported bourbon and sherry casks along with Japan’s native Mizunara oak barrels.
How it tastes: The Small Batch reminds Komatsu of her time in America and “smoky barbecue pork ribs.” That’s pretty accurate — while the sweet cereal notes from the Finest release are still present (along with a fruitiness), there’s also a smoke factor here. It certainly doesn’t dominate, but it does provide a note that reminds me of artisanal bacon (we’re talking the good stuff from a steakhouse, not your fridge staple).
Rich, sweet, smoky, fruity and meaty — the distillery thinks you can drink this neat, and you certainly can. I think it makes for a superior highball, and one that’ll accentuate the tasting notes from your Thanksgiving meal. At the very least, it’ll add some character to your dry turkey, and in a highball, you can drink these all day and night.
Fun fact: The distillery also just released 135 East Hyogo, a dry gin with Japanese botanicals like yuzu, shiso leaf and sansho pepper.
Where to buy it: You can find both Finest and Small Batch on Drizly, where available.
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