Here Comes the Suntory
Whiskies of the World took place on two floors. On the ground level was the main tasting hall which involved dozens of tables set up around the perimeter, each manned by a different whisky brand pouring its stuff. It was a great showing, but I just can't deal with the crowds. After fighting through people piled up at each table just to get a pour, actually tasting, concentrating on it and taking a note is not easy to do. Which is why I spent most of my time up on the second floor, where in small meeting rooms, guided tastings and seminars devoted to various brands were running almost full time.
I caught a class about pairing the supremely peaty malts of Laphroaig with Scharfenberger chocolates (which technically works, but didn't end up being my favorite way to enjoy either) and one about a new independent bottler called the Alchemist. An independent bottler is someone, in the case of the Alchemist a man named Gordon Wright (whose family owns Springbank scotch), who makes a deal to select various barrels from an actual producer and sell them under his own name. He might give the particular whisky more aging than its original house would or he might just promote his own palate by selecting particularly good barrels and then bottling them. The Alchemist featured a scotch from the Macallan and another from Bowmore, but even more intriguing was his foray into Armagnac and Calvados--two under appreciated spirits from France.
Anyway, what I was really going to write about, though, was the seminar about Suntory "Yamizaki," the greatest whisky of Japan. The Japanese are profound whisky lovers. While I've never seen one in a kilt, I have seen examples of such obsessive tasting, research and note-taking to convince me that the ultimate Scotch geeks are from Japan. Anyway, I was introduced to Suntory Yamazaki when I first did a story on Nihon whiskey bar (14th and Folsom), and instantly fell in love. It's not the sweetest, nor the smokiest nor the anything-est. It's just so purely balanced and complex that it's always a pleasure to drink. I particularly go crazy for the 18-year-old, which I learned at Nihon pairs exquisitely with sashimi dipped in a little soy. The secret to Yamazaki's success, I learned, is the maturation in not just Spanish and American oak barrels, but also in Japanese oak, which imparts a different quality altogether. We tasted all three components and then the final blends, an altogether illuminating experience.