Saturday, April 4, 2009

Proof of concept 2: whisky/Japanese grain blends



The last experiment with Japanese grain/whisky blends was a cop out. Blending no aged Miyagikyo and Iichiko is like blending Coke and Pepsi. It tasted smooth as hell, but then what did I expect?

Zuisen is a famous awamori distillery in Naha City, Okinawa. Awamori has a distilling tradition stretching back to the same sort of time whisky started in Scotland/Ireland and a long tradition of aging their liquor in unglazed pots (although I am currently planning a visit to a distillery that is experimenting with oak casks!)

Awamori is distilled alcohol made in Okinawa made from long grained rice. There is huge variety but this 43 per cent ABV Zuisen has a distinctive honeyed, cheesy smell and a rounded mustardy, earthy sweetness in the mouth that (as you can see) I am struggling to describe.

The problem with the Iichiko was that it was seriously underpowered (25 per cent alcohol and very mild in its taste). Zuisen is not. My hypothesis is that the very distinctive tastes/smells of the most angular Japanese shochus and Okinawan awamoris might offer a number of very interesting extensions to a very audacious blender's palate. This Zuisen is a kuusu (an awamori aged for more than 3 years). I tried a really basic, proof of concept blend: I found the characteristic awamori smell and taste really powered through a blend of 3xYoichi (a relatively fiesty whisky), 2xMiyagikyo (very mild single malt) and 2xZuisen.

The final product was definitely a whisky but I have a feeling that there is going to be a split between people who have learned to appreciate the characteristic smells and tastes of awamori and those that take those tastes as off flavours in whisky. I tried weaker awamori blends and I suspect that if this ever became acceptable among more sophisticated whisky blenders than I (extremely unlikely given the legal and historical context) that this rapier would be wielded less bludgeon-like. However, I tended to return to blends that preserved the characteristic awamori earthiness along with the peats and malts.

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