Japanese dram Toki could be the world's most drinkable whisky

Australian whisky enthusiasts can soon get their hands on the most recent innovation from Japan's Suntory Whisky.

Toki is a sibling of sorts to the distiller's celebrated Hibiki range, and also its flagship Kakubin, in that all are blends.

But the blending methodology that created Toki was unique, not only for Suntory but whisky makers globally, according to global ambassador Mike Miyamoto.

He says the grain whisky sourced from Suntory's Chita Distillery usually plays only a supporting role in its blends, with malts from its acclaimed distilleries Hakushu and Yamazaki giving the accent and shape.

"Almost 100 per cent of Scotch whisky blenders use this concept," says Miyamoto, the former general manager of both Yamazaki and Hakushu, who has also run distilleries for Suntory's Scottish subsidiary, Morrison Bowmore.

A new era

In developing Toki, Miyamoto says Suntory chief blender Shinji Fukuyo has challenged blending norms by treating the grain whisky from Chita and malts from Hakushu and Yamazaki as two equal pillars of the blend.

"This is a really new idea. To achieve this is not easy, because malt whisky tends to be stronger than grain whisky in character, so malt whisky usually overwhelms the grain whisky," Miyamoto says.

"In order not to overwhelm the grain whisky, we used lighter type Hakushu whisky. In order not to be overwhelmed by the malt whisky, we used heavier type Chita grain whisky.

"Our blender did lots of trial and error but finally he came up with this superb, marvellous Toki blend."


A triple threat

The lightly peated Hakushu whisky was supplemented by two Yamazaki malts to bring greater depth and complexity to the blend.

Yamazaki American white oak cask malt whisky harmonises the Hakushu and Chita components, while bringing roundness and reinforcing the sweetness of Chita heavy-type grain whisky with peach and custard aromas.

Finally, Yamazaki Spanish oak cask malt whisky adds woody and bittersweet notes to the blend, which Miyamoto says is defined by its subtlety, refinement and complexity.

"If you drink this, you won't get tired of it. You will keep drinking it, because complexity is there," he says.

Open flavours

Miyamoto says Suntory's willingness to disclose the components of its Toki blend is unique in whisky production.

"I can think of no other whisky makers who disclose this sort of insight," he says.

"[But] nobody can follow us. It's not that easy to just put those elements together. Proportion is very important."

He says this blending innovation showcases the ability of Japanese craftsmanship to produce something entirely different, building on the skills they initially learnt from the west.

"I think a Scotch whisky blender may not be able to come up with this idea," he challenges.

"To make a blended whiskey they are using different Scotch whiskies. Those whiskies' character itself is different from ours.

"See if they don't have soy sauce they can't make any Japanese food, right? The same thing goes with whisky."

The Ao five

The Australian launch of Toki coincides with the global revelation that Suntory will soon launch 'Ao', a new blend of whiskies sourced from five countries: Scotland, Ireland, America, Canada and Japan.

The Japanese launch of Ao is scheduled for April 2019. Australians may have to wait a while longer however, given that Toki has been on sale in other markets since 2016 and has only now been made available here.

Either way, Miyamoto hopes Suntory is helping change the entrenched beliefs among single malt enthusiasts that blends are an inferior product.

"As a whisky company that actually provides enjoyment to whisky drinkers we must be responsible to produce something affordable to the wider audience. So blended whisky is perfect for that purpose," he says.

"In reality, 85 per cent of whisky on the market is blended. Blending is really difficult and also deep and profound, with many many areas we can explore."

Mixed, or straight

Suntory says the smoothness and complexity of Toki makes it exceptionally versatile; suitable for enjoyment neat, on the rocks, as a highball or in a cocktail.

A favourite of Japanese whisky drinkers in the 1950s, the highball is an artful blend of whisky and soda water over a generous serving of ice.

Suntory has over recent decades helped re-establishing the highball as drink of choice for a new generation of Japanese whisky drinkers, who enjoy it with Japanese cuisine at izakayas (Japanese gastropubs) across the country.

An Australian thirst

The distiller hopes Australians will embrace this more delicate and refreshing way to enjoy whisky.

"We have created this sort of fashion in Japan, having whisky over meals. This can be done in other countries," Miyamoto says.

"We learned how to make whisky from Scotland but the vision of [Suntory founder] Shinjiro Tori was different from Scotch whisky producers.

"He wanted to make whisky that appealed to the delicate palate, otherwise he knew that whisky wouldn't be enjoyed by lots of Japanese people."

Available from February 2019, Suntory Whisky Toki is priced at an RRP of $64.99.

The writer was a guest of Suntory.