The Oak Barrel - Japanese Whisky Masterclass

Japanese Whisky Masterclass
Hosted & run by: The Oak Barrel, Sydney
When: January 24, 2017 (other class dates on website)
Ticket cost: $95
What: A tasting & history of Japanese Whisky

Overall rating:

My Experience at the Japanese Whisky Masterclass

The Oak Barrel is one of the oldest bottle shops in Sydney, and has been independent since 1956. The Oak Barrel is not your ordinary bottle shop that only sells  booze and sends you on your way. The employees behind the counter are so passionate and knowledgeable with their alcohol that they in fact run multiple tasting classes such as this event and others involving liquor from around the world.

The bottle shop itself is organised by region which I find to be a very convenient way of locating that special bottle imported from far away. Now let’s cut to the chase…what does $95 get you?

– We were served a total of 7 Japanese Whisky shots (1 was a bonus complimentary starter).
– A tonne of knowledge on Japanese Whisky including history, whisky availability, price and taste.
– The ability to purchase discounted whisky bottles.

The Oak Barrel - Japanese Whisky Masterclass
The Oak Barrel – Japanese Whisky Masterclass

I won’t run through too much of the interesting history behind Japanese Whisky as this was covered thanks to the owner at Tokyo Bird in Surry Hill available in the blog post here. What I will focus on is an overall review of the event and the whisky that was on offer during the masterclass.

1. Suntory Kakubin

This was the first whisky shot which seemed to be a bonus as it was not part of the 6 whisky shots waiting for us at our tables. This is a cheap blended Japanese Whisky which retails for around $46-52. This 40% whisky is okay if you’re on a tight budget but there is definitely better if you’re willing to spend a little more. You can expect a really strong aroma and taste.

2. Hibiki 21-Year-Old

By a little more $ (reference to the above paragraph) I do not mean the Hibiki 21-Year-Old as this retails for over $1,000 per bottle! This whisky is one of the most awarded and fits into the ‘ultra premium’ category. In the photo above this is the whisky glass on the bottom row and furthest to the left. This award winning blended Japanese Whisky is very limited in stock (world wide) so if you’ve a spare $1k lying around I’d recommend buying this one. It’s very easy drinking and of course produced by Suntory whom have a fierce rivalry with another Japanese distillery named Nikka.

The Oak Barrel - Japanese Whisky Masterclass
The Oak Barrel – inside the store

3 & 4. Yamazaki Limited Edition 2015 and 2016

The third and fourth whisky drink of the night was basically the same type of whisky however one was from the 2015 cask and the other 2016. These are both single malted whisky and are imported from Japan (hard to find in-store). They both come from sherry or red wine casks (Scott, the presenter wasn’t sure) however this makes a difference to the taste. My verdict is for the 2016 cask as this had less of a strong aroma, a smoother whisky, and had a hint of tropical fruit. By the way these bottles retail for over $500.

5. Yamazaki 18-Year-Old

 Yamazaki is Suntory’s flagship single malt (Hibiki is their flagship blended) and retails for around $800 a bottle. This has a very long and smooth finish although is spicy. This whisky is rich with mature autumn fruit such as blackberry & strawberry. At first I did not properly sip and thought ‘geez what a short aftertaste’ before properly taking my second sip and noticing the extremely long aftertaste. I did not mind this one although I’d still prefer the Yamazaki Limited Edition.

The Oak Barrel - Japanese Whisky Masterclass
The Oak Barrel – Japanese Whisky Masterclass

6. Hakushu 18-Year-Old

 Prior to attending this masterclass I had been familiar with Hibiki and Yamazaki however Hakushu was foreign to me. Hakushu’s distillery is owned by Suntory and is located in a mountain forest and of course the location of a distillery changes the flavour of the whisky. At one point Hakushu was the biggest distillery with around 36 distilleries!

At $600 a bottle you can expect a strong, smooth and slight smoky flavour in this single malt. I much prefer this over the Yamazaki 18 year old.

Hakushu Distillery in Japan
Hakushu Distillery in Japan

7. Nikka Coffey Grain Whisky

Finally we tasted a whisky from Suntory’s competitor, Nikka. They take their whisky very seriously in Japan…distilleries are fiercely competitive and are known not to share anything at all with each other. This is in contrast to Scotland where there is a much more relaxed approach with competing distilleries. The result is Japanese whisky with multiple variations in flavour.

This whisky is a blended whisky (single grain) with some fruity citrus tones. A little too strong for my liking and so I am not quite a fan of this one just yet.

Overall thoughts on event

If you love your whisky and would love to learn more I’d recommend this event (also good to gift to someone). Although if you’re after more fun and a great ambience I’d probably look for events run by bars rather than bottle shops. Boilermakers at Wild Rover cost half the price and was a lot more fun…although this was more informative (hence the long blog post).

Until next time…

– Mr. Undercover –