In building the Dramnation brand, there are whisky labels that we clearly see as brands we like or want to feature during out whisky tasting experiences. When an opportunity comes to spend some time talking to Global Brand Ambassador for Suntory Whisky, Mike Miyamoto, very little will get in our way in stopping us missing such an opportunity.
This is the not the first time I have had the privilege of speaking with Mike and in fact this is the 5th time in the last 2 years. In saying that this is the first time as part of Dramnation. Advantageous we just happen to be holding our tasting Made In Japan on the following weekend.
What makes Mike the kind of guy in whisky you want to get to know not only relates to how he is such an accommodating chap, but also he has been working with Suntory for along time. He was also one of the blenders that worked to produce the iconic Suntory Hibiki Blended Whisky back in the late 80's. Now the Global Brand Ambassador, Mike spends his days not only between the 3 Suntory distilleries, Hakushu, Yamazaki, and Chita, but also jumping from city to city globally spreading the good word that is Japanese whisky.
Out in Australia promoting the release of the Suntory Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2016, Mike also ran a single consumer event at Sydney’s Grain Bar on the Wednesday, 17 February 2016. Grain Bar has been making a name for itself over the last 2 years, not only for its top shelf bar and central location, but also because it has been a host to several whisky brand ambassador run tasting sessions. More about the Mikes tasting soon.
Directly invited to attend this event we snaffled a quick 15min chat with Mike prior to the event commencing. Following are our questions and answers by Mike Miyamoto. We have had paraphrased in part as our time for note taking was short.
Matt: 30+ Whiskies go into making the Hibiki age statements, how many go into making the Hibiki Harmony?
Mike: The Harmony is very similar in the amount of whiskies that it contains. For The Harmony though we have 10 to 15 pre-blended vats of whiskies ready which are then married for the final Harmony. This is to manage an overall consistency of the blend on a global scale.
Matt: The Harmony is clearly different to the Hibiki 17yo and the Hibiki 12yo as it is much rounder and smoother. The original Hibiki was a no age statement. Since those days you originally worked on the Hibiki blend how different is the Harmony.
Mike: This is interesting because it is very close to the original Hibiki but unintentional. After creating The Harmony our master blender looked back to the original recipe and has found most ingredients and proportions are in fact almost the same. It is amazing!
Matt: How many barrel types go into making the Harmony?
Mike: Only 3 types. American, European and Japanese all of various sizes. (We did not have time to elaborate on this but knowing more about the various Suntory whiskies this would be to assume at least American White Oak both new and ex-bourbon, Spanish Oak both new and ex-sherry, and new Japanese Mizunara Oak).
Matt: Right now Suntory whiskies are very hard to find in Australia, especially the age statements. The Harmony is a no age statement whisky. Will we be seeing age statement whiskies by Suntory again in the future?
Mike: All age statement whiskies by Suntory will remain except the Hibiki 12yo. We do not have enough stock to maintain this whisky and prefer to focus stock into The Harmony.
Matt: I have a tasting coming up in a weeks time (Made In Japan) and I will be featuring 3 Suntory expressions. In particular The Chita Single Grain. Do you think this will become a standard release by the Chita Distillery for Suntory? Single Grain whiskies are becoming very popular these days.
Mike: This is something we would need to discuss with the board. Chita Distillery has been designed to just produce grain for the various Suntory blends and was never intended to be released on it's own.
Matt: What Grain goes into The Chita Single Grain release?
Mike: It is corn from the America but some malted barley is required for the mashing catalyst.
Matt: Is The Chita Single Grain release a single barrel style or is it many?
Mike: It is purely American Oak ex-bourbon at 3 different sizes.
Matt: What is your view of the extreme pricing happening in resale of Suntory Whisky? (I elaborate on the pricing people are paying for Hibiki 12yo in Australia right now).
Mike: (his eyes widen then Mike shakes his head and looks to the floor and laughs). Hibiki and all Suntory whiskies will be back. Age statements will not be gone.
Matt: What Suntory expression do you enjoy on a Daily basis?
Mike: I enjoy the Yamazaki 12yo. For me this is home. I enjoy it very much. I also enjoy Hibiki with a splash of hot water. It becomes very mellow and warming.
Matt: Is there any particular foods you enjoy with Suntory whiskies?
Mike: Hakushu works well with white fish. Harmony with any food.
At this point we ran out of time to ask more questions but I have a list to gather next time we meet.
Following our chat, Mike then lead a complete tasting through most of the Suntory core expressions. During this tasting we discussed many factors in what makes these whiskies so unique. We explored the history of Suntory, how they were made, what elements impart particular influence and how they blend together to make up the Hibiki blends.
The whiskies tasted were:
The Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve
The Hakushu Distiller’s Reserve
The Hakushu Single Malt 12 Years Old
The Hibiki Harmony
The Hibiki 17 Years Old
Many have asked since did we taste the Suntory Yamazaki 2016 Sherry Cask. Naturally not as it is in such limited supply. For those keen to have the opportunity to taste it though Grain Bar have 2 bottles on the shelf for tasting at $75 a dram. This is certainly priced well against other bars lucky enough to nab a bottle. The Grain Bar's environment is open and airy as well as very accessible via the street or through the Four Seasons Hotel foyer.
We have featured but a few images taken on the night. If you would like to see more of the event view our facebook album.
I really enjoyed the experience and took away with me a wealth of information often not discussed in the public forum.
"Enjoy Hibikiness" as Mike says. Yes we will!