While Suntory’s 2017 Yamazaki Mizunara 18-year has been the talk of the whisky world, true aficionados know that the true Japanese whisky of the year is the Paul Rusch 120th Anniversary Bottle Hakushu Bourbon Barrel. Bottled at 58% ABV, it even includes 30-year old whisky.
A mere 120 bottles of the Paul Rusch were released, making the 5,000 bottles of the Yamazaki Mizunara release seem like Johnnie Walker Red Label. I have no doubt that this Hakushu is the gold standard of 2017.
Here are my initial tasting notes. Nose: vanilla, honey, orange marmalade. Palate: Rich, deep, yet subtle. Finish: profoundly resonating, like a Bosendorfer Imperial piano.
Who was Paul Rusch, by the way? An American who settled in Japan in the 1920s, he was something of a renaissance man. As an educator, missionary, and post-war reconciliation activist, who also introduced American football to Japan, it is only fitting that a superb whisky is named after him.
The bottle was released for the Kiyosato Field Ballet 2017. You’ll be forgiven for wondering why on Earth I’m bringing up ballet on a whisky site. Sure, Rudolf Nureyev liked to knock back a few drinks — and why not? — but he wasn’t exactly drinking Karuizawa.
Now in its 28th year, the Kiyosato Field Ballet is held in Yamanashi Prefecture for a couple of weeks every summer, and attracts some of the world’s top ballerinas (I’m told. Fact is, I know nothing about ballet.)
The first whisky bottle was released for the 25th Kiyosato Ballet (2014). It was a brilliant single malt from Suntory’s Hakushu distillery, which is located just over 20 km (12 miles) from the town of Kiyosato.
The second was the 26th Kiyosato (2015): a blend of 25-year 1990 Hanyu malt and 33-year 1982 Kawasaki grain, 700 bottles were released at 48% ABV.
For the third edition (2016), 700 bottles were released. Known as the 27th Kiyosato, it is a 48% ABV blend of 1990 Hanyu, 1982 Kawasaki grain. The price on release was ¥80,000 (including tax) but of course it is sold out.
For 2017, the organizers released three bottles, two Japanese and an American. The 28th Kiyosato Field Ballet bottle is a 48% blend of 1991 Hanyu and 1982 Kawasaki Grain. This time, only 359 bottles were released. The price on release was ¥108,000 (including tax) but again, it sold out soon after release.
Finally, for those with a sweeter palate, an extremely limited Maker’s Mark 110 proof (55.5% ABV) bourbon was released. As expected, it is a superb base for a cocktail.
Look out for these at better whisky bars, such as the excellent Rum And Whisky in Kyoto.