Japanese Whiskey: Suntory vs Nikka

 

We when we went to Japan our first time in May 2015 we went to Suntory, and when we went back again in Oct 2016 we went to Nikka. In the Suntory Distillery on our first trip, the bar was out of control. You can taste anything there, and they not only have rare Japanese whiskeys but some super rare Scottish single malts. The featured image of this post was my favorite one, this bottle of Hibkik 30 is almost impossible to find. If you do find it, it will cost you $3000.00.

I am a bit biased and prefer the Yamazaki and Hibiki to the Nikka whiskeys. Not only is the Suntory factory in a prettier area, and much more impressive of a distillery, but you are also close to Kobe so you can have some crazy A5 Kobe Wagyu for dinner after getting sloshed at the Suntory bar. Not that Nikka is in a bad area, but it is in Yoichi, Hokkaido, so you really need to focus your trip in Hokkaido to make it worthwhile. I, unfortunately, did not take many notes on the different whiskey flavor profiles, so I am just going to be photo bombing on this post rather than waxing poetic. Also, of note, we were not able to buy any old vintages at either distillery, only the current release they were selling, at 2-3 bottles max per person. I suggest you save your money for duty-free at Osaka international airport. I was able to buy a limited edition Hibiki 21, which is now worth $1000.00. I would buy 3-4 bottles of the limited release bottles at the airport on your way home if they somehow still have anything with age. I think I only paid like $250.00 at that time, but I could be wrong, it was definitely nothing close to $1000.00. That is still a lot for a blended whiskey. The Yamazaki’s and Hakushu’s are the single malts. I also managed to snag a limited edition Hakushu 18 year old at duty-free for close to $180, and it is now $500.

hibiki 21

hakushu 18

As of recently though, I hear that age statements will become a thing of the past, so these bottles are going to skyrocket in value. See this article for more clarity on the issue. I seriously made it to the duty-free 6 months before they stopped the age statements. Lucky as fuck. Kicking myself for not having bought more bottles.

https://www.eater.com/drinks/2015/12/29/10659946/extinct-whiskies-2015

First the Suntory Distillery. Here is the metro stop. No frotteurism allowed here fellas. Women’s line only. No dry-boning in the subway after the whiskey tasting, the convenient excuse of “too much to drink” won’t get your Twinkie twisted here.

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It’s tricky, once you get off the stop, you go down the stairs and under the rail through a sewage hole like Shawshank redemption until it rains whiskey down on you.

giphy

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This is what it looks like when you come out the other side into the Willy Wonka factory for adults.

Oh yea baby, it’s definitely Suntory time!

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Please forgive me, I just couldn’t resist.

Proof that Japan serves alcohol to kids. Reminds me of that T-shirt.

I was like a kid in a candy store. You can’t buy these though, it’s more like a museum.

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Yes, the bar is in sight. Let the shit show begin.

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More shots from museum and distillery before I get to the bar menu.

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I just love copper. The juice is loose!

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I should include this speech in my Psychiatric treatment protocol. I forget where it was posted, but they funded this industry study that said drinking a dram of their whiskey gave you the equivalent feeling of taking a fifteen-minute walk through the woods, it was fucking hilarious.

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Here is an example of the wood used for their coopering.

Then you walk out into their beautiful garden.

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Before you hit up the tasting room. Ahhh the obsessive ritual and protocol of the Japanese, I love it. According to the mission statement of the Suntory founder, they founded the distillery here because it had the purest high-quality underground water that you see bubbling up from underground reservoirs to make the whiskey. So the water itself has terroir for this brand.

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Unfortunately, below is all we were able to buy to take home with us. Two of each. Not the best selection to take home, but the bar left me with a smile on my face.

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Here was my line up. Hibiki 30, Yamazaki 25, Hakushu 25,  not sure, but I think this was Hibiki 17 from the cask, and a special straight from the casks, sherry butt cask strength of Yamazaki from 1986. I think I had seconds of the Hibiki 30 since I will likely never have it again and the bottle costs $3000.00.

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Let’s fast-forward one year to Hokkaido now. Here we have the Nikka distillery in Yoichi.

This distillery is nice, but it felt like you were in a Chicago or Philly suburb. We had to cab it there, rather than take a magical walk through a sewer hole and emerge in Willy Wonka Whiskey land. The surrounding environs were not as quaint and Swiss chalet-like as you had in Suntory.

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I like the vampire coffin look.

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Needless to say this stuff will never go on sale, purely for display/museum purposes. Nikka 34 years. Imagine the schmuck that bought a case of this in the 90’s for pennies on the dollar and just has it sitting somewhere in their basement.

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Wow, this tops the Macallan 55 I had once. Look at the perfection of that crystal glass. I’m not worthy.

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These little knick knacks would look perfect on my bar at home. I wish I could buy this stuff. I did buy the little bear holding a bottle though. I will try to find a picture of that one later. I love their Japanese animal themed bottles.

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I feel like the 20 year and the 1987 bottling that was being sold in 2008 was like yesterday and how sad it is that you can’t get your hands on these anymore.

This Samurai bottle is badass. I would kill to have that on my bar.

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Look at these bottle, looks like that ceramic tequila they sell.

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Now for the bar, they had an impressive selection of Scotish whiskey here.

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Some nice Signatory, rare Macallan, Achentoshan. You can drink any of these at the bar.

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I decided to stick to the Japanese. When in Yoichi…

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I remember liking the Nikka 17 single malt the best. The 10 and 12 were too hot and bitter in taste, maybe the 12 was slightly sweeter, the 20 was very good, sherried like a Macallan 18, but the 17 for me had the best balance of peat and sweet and had a nice oily texture and a long finish.

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I love that I can drink for Erika at these things, as there is a limit of one per bottle per person, but you could technically have one of everything they have. I revisited the 17 and the 20 for Erika.

Here are the menus’ if you want to do the conversion into yen to see the price per glass.

Here is the final few shots before heading back to the hotel to get ready for Hokkaido crab bonanza dinner.

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Here is the store for taking things home. Too bad we only got these shitty little baby sized bottles. At least reward the customers that made it all the way to Hokkaido with some normal sized bottles of some limited release bottlings. This was what left a bad taste in my mouth about Nikka. If possible, try to visit Suntory Distillery before you come here.

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At least I got my little bear.

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