7 Jan 2013

Spirits: Suntory Time! at Roast

ZORAN Peric of "Cellar Trends" hosted a tasting of Japanese whiskies from Suntory as part of a series of masterclasses being held at London's Roast restaurant in the eaves of Borough Market. It began with a pretty, tart "Shard Sour" invented by bar manager, Sebastien Guesdon. "Every barman wants to leave behind a legacy which survives them," said Guesdon, dispensing the subtly smoky Suntory Hakushu (pronounced "pronounced ˜Hack-shoo") 12 year-old single malt blended with lemon juice, egg white, and cherry, which represents Japan's most celebrated blossom.
Guesdon launched the cocktail, which is from the world's largest distillery situated at twice the altitude of Scotland's highest, to mark the Shard's inauguration in July. It has since become one of Roast's best-selling libations, along with creations involving Hibiki 17 year-old, which previously didn't sell well on its own.
A blend of malt and grain whiskies from Suntory's three distilleries comes in a bottle of 24 faces to "represent the old Japanese calendar" and "24 hours in a day," said Peric. The cocktails are infused with, respectively, cinnamon and orange peels (for the Sumptuous Old Fashioned), lilies (Piano Man Melody), and sultanas and vanilla (I Love Candy).
The Shard Sour is served over an ice ball (a little smaller than a tennis ball) to allude to "the passing of a stream of water over pebbles, and therefore the passing of time," said Peric. Drinking whisky over ice with water is known as "Mizuwari" in Japan, Peric added, where it is not unusual for ice to be carved by hand. Guesdon demonstrated the "Mizuwari" style by combining Hakushu 12 year-old to three parts of sparkling water, served over two ice balls in a tall highball. The result was rather unusual for your reporter who is more used to only a nudge of still water in Scotch.
Suntory built Japan's first whisky distillery in 1924, although it took over a decade for the brand to reap success. This finally occurred in 1937 when whisky, "Kaku-bin" (Yellow Label) was launched. Kaku-bin delivered what the Japanese were looking for, according to Peric. That is: "the right price and the right balance of flavours." He added: "I wouldn't be here today if they hadn't got it right!"
Peric advised when tasting whisky to always check its alcohol content on account of the popularity of cask strength versions around the globe. "Otherwise you could blow your sinuses!"
Peric mentioned that Tokyo's dedicated whisky bars are a highlight for locals and tourists alike when visiting. While these intimate, special venues may only seat a maximum 20 people, their walls "can be covered in fine and rare bottles."
The tasting also included Yamazaki 12 year-old single malt, aged in oloroso sherry and Japanese oak casks, and, particularly worthy of note, Yamazaki 18 year-old. Of the latter's copper-gold colour, Peric commented that it "had a premium look to it." It was served in very large brandy balloons stoppered with paper napkins which evoked a dandy's handkerchief. When this was removed, sweet, honeyed aromas promptly filled the air. "Now you know why I do what I do," said Peric, broadly smiling.