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Hakushu 12-year-old single malt, Suntory whisky (43% ABV)

Star rating: 5/5

Read our round-up of the best Japanese whisky

Suntory’s second distillery, built in Hakushu in 1973, nestles on the lower slopes of Mount Kaikoma and hides its immense size (it was for a while the largest malt distillery in the world) within the dense forests that surround it.

A relatively cool climate means that maturation is longer here than at Suntory’s original Yamazaki plant, and you can possibly taste some of that in this expression’s refinement and cooler herbal notes.

Presenting a pale gold in the glass, the nose is complex, with a cool, cucumber smoothness, mint and basil, then warm spiciness, possibly tobacco leaf. A bit of marzipan and sweet malt under that reinforce the body, while a hint of smoke trails in at the end.

On the palate, that coolness gives way to a smooth alcohol warmth, the minty notes and some lemon mingling with the sweetness of the malt. There’s a full body, with a certain creaminess, and that smoky note prickling almost to coffee bitterness.

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The finish is reasonably long, the full mouthfeel coating the mouth as coffee and smoke top-notes linger over a cereal and slight liquorice sweetness.

The perfect pour

This is a beautifully refined and complex single malt, so as much as we would like to swap out the rye from a sazerac cocktail for this in order to play with the clean herbal side of the Hakushu, the perfect serve for this would simply be straight up.

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