Color: Pale amber. (Liquid sunshine if I’m being poetic.)
Nose: Vanilla, pear, walnut, green tea.
Taste: Honey, oak, coconut, florals, and a sharp, smoky finish.
Brewery: Suntory (Blend of Hakushu, Yamazaki, and Chita distilleries.)
Let me begin by saying I am not a whisky girl. In general, it mostly tastes like leather to me. Then I saw Suntory Toki at the liquor store and was surprised by its pale color and, later, its aromatic taste. Following a mix of heady fruits and flowers, the concluding whisky burn is welcome on my tongue. Toki is considerably mild and good for beginners, probably because it’s a blend of various malt and grain whiskies from three of Suntory’s distilleries. With three competing whisky types mixed together and none of them overpowering the others, it’s considerably more subtle than any whisky I’ve tried before. At $40 for 750 ml (25 oz.), this is not top shelf liquor. I like it best with an enormous round ice cube and some savory snacks from the Asian grocery to pair with the drink’s sweetness.
This has been a guest post by:
Lauren has been getting carded for nine years and counting and is trying to take it as a compliment. She writes about geek careers at Otaku Journalist and builds model robots at Gunpla 101.
Suzaku by Gekkeikan
Color: Very clear with, perhaps, the faintest yellow hue.
Nose: Light lychee with even more subtle pineapple underpinnings.
Taste: No alcohol presence. Smooth on palate and finish. Notes primarily of green melon and honeydew.
Brewery: Gekkeikan (Fushimi region of Kyoto, Japan)
Unlike Gekkeikan sake from their Folsom, CA brewery typically encountered in domestic liquor stores, Suzaku is a junmai ginjo imported from Japan. This fact marks a drastic difference in taste compared to such domestically brewed brands as Black & Gold and Haiku. Suzaku is a lovely sake best sipped after a good chilling during the summer months. My first time trying this sake was with salmon rolls, and the sake was a perfect complement. Other food pairing recommendations can be found on Gekkeikan’s Suzaku page.
Color: Crystal clear.
Nose: Light lychee, honeysuckle.
Taste: Complex. Medium-sweet; honeydew with a slightly dry finish. When cold, there’s a sharp banana highlight that serves as an odd complement to the elements of nose that are also represented on the palate. As it comes to room temperature, a faint presence of alcohol surrounds the sweetness of the flavors and melts into a dry finish.
Brewery: Ozeki (Imazu, Hyogogo Prefecture)
For the quality, the $20 price tag (Viking Wine & Liquors, NJ) for this tokubetsu junmai is amazingly inexpensive. This sake is very enjoyable slightly warm with sushi and salmon, but I more often prefer to drink the bottle on its own slightly chilled. It should be noted that the banana highlights mentioned earlier disappear when the drink comes to room temperature or when slightly heated, so don’t think twice about pairing it with fish.
Color: Deep amber with slight reddish hue. When tilted in glass, a clear halo adorns the perimeter.
Nose: Caramel and honey with hints of orange peel and purple plumb.
Taste: The ol’ caramel standby is present but highlighted by a woody sweetness purportedly imparted by 12 years of aging in wine barrels. The finish left me with the very faint essence of anise.
Incredibly smooth and accessible with a slight rasp and smokiness on the back end, this malt/grain blend is a silky pleasure from first sip to last drop.
Distillery: Mars Whisky
Color: Near clear with an almost unnoticeable yellow tint.
Nose: Bright melon/cantaloupe and very light floral with honey sweetness. As it comes to room temperature, a gentle presence of alcohol makes itself known.
Taste: Medium to medium-dry. Melon, again, up front fades into sweeter fruits (faint pineapple mixed with white grape and lychee) and white flower balanced nicely by alcohol on the back end.
It’s important to note that this sake changes radically upon sitting a day after opening. Drinking it directly after twisting off the cap (out of the bottle or via an intermediary cup/glass) is fine, but exposing its contents to air and then refrigerating it for a day emboldens the best in this junmai.
Brewery: Kizakura (Kyoto)
This sake is relatively inexpensive at $13-$16 retail (Joe Canal’s in Lawrenceville, NJ) and has become one of my go-tos for both its taste and price point. A lovely sipping sake.
Sake powder infuses this crafty Kit Kat variant with the unique flavor and scent (as well as an ABV of 0.8%) of a pleasant junmai. I honestly don’t know whether it’s power of suggestion or an actually well-crafted balance, but that subtle sake smell and taste perfectly complement the white chocolate. Even the aftertaste is pleasant; a soft, almost floral, sweetness doesn’t overstay its welcome. As for packaging, there are two options: a 3-pack box featuring a picture of a sake bottle and sakura blossoms, and a 9-piece box SHAPED like an isshobin sake bottle with a picture of the same. (Guess which one I went in for.) This limited edition snack was made available on February 1 (just in time for Craft Sake Week (February 5-14)) in Japan. If you’re quick, you can still grab some on eBay, and I highly recommend you do!