Photos by Mary Powers

Japan is known for a lot of exceptional worldly contributions. Our collective top five would be general anesthesia, Capcom’s Street Fighter video game, instant noodles, haikus and whisky.  We know that the Japanese didn’t invent whisky, but they definitely found a way to make it superior. In recent years, the price and demand for Japanese whisky has increased significantly, especially since a little dram named Yamazaki Single Malt Cherry Cask 2013 scored near perfect in Jim Murray’s 2015 Definitive Whisky Bible. Before that Bill Murray made Suntory famous in Lost In Translation. These Murrays were important to the cause, but so was another man named Taketsuru who can pretty much be credited with evolving Japanese whisky into what it is today. He basically went to Scotland for a couple of years, made lots of secret notes about Scotch while lurking in the distillery shadows, found a wife, moved back to Japan and made delicious history (in that order).

Naturally we were curious about this particular type of whisky. We decided the best way to learn more was to visit Nobu at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, which is home to one of the largest Japanese whisky collections in the state of Nevada, 36 to be exact. They also carry one of the only bottles of Yamazaki 25 in the state. Since you’re curious, a taste of this 25-year can run upwards of $450 a pour. Joshua Monsivais is the lead bartender and whisky connoisseur responsible for growing the collection, perfecting cocktails and creating the whisky flights that guests can order while dining. He makes whisky his business and loves the opportunity to steer those that are curious but a bit reluctant in to trying something new. We were definitely curious, so he curated a couple of flights for our taste buds to dissect. 

When drinking Japanese whisky, Josh recommends that whisky drinkers should use the cheaper brands for cocktails, and enjoy the more exceptional tastes neat or with an ice sphere. Speaking from personal experience, adding anything to the spirit would be a bad idea. You mess with the flavor profiles, and you will definitely be doing the whisky an injustice, just like those who order their steaks well done. Shame.

First flight: 

Hibiki Harmony: Blended. Orange, honey, herbaceous, light oak (a mix of whisky from 3 different distilleries: Yamasaki, Hakushi and Chita).

Hibiki 17-yr: Blended. A long finish with notes of vanilla, black cherry and oak.

Hibiki 21-yr: Blended. Deemed dangerously drinkable, we tasted a touch of blackberry, honeycomb, apricot and oak.

Second flight: 

Akashi: Blended. Has a spilled beer smell, but is slightly nostalgic. Fruity with a note of honey.

Mars Iwai Traditional: Blended. Red berries, pepper, vanilla, with the taste you would expect from being finished in a pinot noir cask.

Nikka Yoichi: Single malt. Peaty meats fruity style with a long silky finish. 

Nikka Taketsuru: Pure malt. Espresso beans, chocolate, tobacco and lingering sherried fruit. There’s definitely some smoke in this one, but it’s merely complementary and evolves over the course of the sip. 

The verdict: 

Mary’s favorite was the Nikka Taketsuru, Delilah went with the Hibiki Harmony, and Josh stays true to Hibiki 17-yr (21-yr if someone else is buying). We definitely feel that Japanese whisky is a must for whisk(e)y enthusiasts to dabble in, especially those that are apprehensive of the peaty and smoky style. Don’t let a little tryst with Old Crofter and Monarch of the Glen deter your taste buds from moving on and trying something else within the realm of whisky. Learning to let go of negative whisky experiences is the first step to moving on, and learning to love something new. We like to call this whisky vulnerability. Josh is great with helping those with a fear of change move on to bigger and better tasting profiles. So, when you’re ready to broaden your horizons with a little or a lot of Japanese whisky, Josh will be there to guide you, especially at Whisky Wednesday starting in November.