Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Bringing The Swagger Back - Suntory Launches into Australia

Suntory- The Art Of Japanese Whisky
There has been a lot of talk recently about Suntory Whisky with its acquisition of Beam Global. What has come off the back of this acquisition is the launch of Suntory Whisky as a major whisky player in the world whisky industry. Not that they weren't to begin with as Japanese whisky has always had its place on the top shelves of many a commercial and private whisky bars. I for one rate the Suntory Hibiki 17yo as possibly the best blended whisky I have ever had and have yet to find a challenger that comes close.

Suntory in all its glory
Though a few Suntory whiskies could be found in Australia at the larger retailer chains, notably Yamazaki 12yo, we have generally been limited to either buying duty free ourselves, see my post In And Out - Buying Whisky Duty Free In Japan, importing in small orders from online retailers, or relying on the high prices charged by the specialist shops (having to do pretty much the same thing anyway with a mark up). Now Suntory Whisky is here in Australia in a big way and here to stay.

Exceptional presentation of the Suntory Whisky bottles
Monday 19th May 2014 saw the official launch of Suntory Whisky into Australia with a amazing House Of Suntory sensory experience at the Art Gallery of NSW, Upper Asian Gallery. If any brand can be said to have swagger then Suntory Whisky is at the top of the list. Dressed in our best black suite and ties The Proxy and myself arrived to be dually checked in and handed champagne flutes filled Suntory Hibiki 12yo mixed with Perrier mineral water. Though the effervescent glass of whisky matched to mineral water was a nice touch it left me thinking very quickly "where's the whisky at". Before the crowds of VIPs, well to do's, journalists, bloggers, and gate crashers alike (yes there was a few), we explored our surrounding enclosure to take in the scene of plinth mounted bottles of whisky stretching from one end of the gallery to the other. A very nice touch that made me still feel underdressed for the occasion. Note to self: next time a bow tie is in order.

The extraordinary tasting room
Before long we were ushered into one hell of an incredible tasting room that I think most of us failed to even notice what was before our eyes on entry. WOW what a setup! Row upon row of bench tops tiered with 6 Suntory whiskies ready for a tasting: Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve; Yamazaki 12yo; Hakushu Distiller’s Reserve; Hakushu 12yo; Hibiki 12yo; Hibiki 17yo. Scrambling for a row up front I think all us bloggers and writers had the same idea as we found ourselves packed into central one table. How do you do Mr and Mrs Gourmantic, Time For Whisky, and The Whisky Ledger. As great as these sessions are we never have enough time to actually make comprehensive tasting notes so lets just say there was not a drop left in any of my glasses and The Proxy and I were very grateful for the VIPs that did not turn up to leave those untouched glasses next to us.

Mike Miyamoto, Suntory Global Brand Ambassador
Guest speaker Mike Miyamoto, Suntory Global Brand Ambassador, walk us through a complete tasting of all expressions while enlightening us on the history and traditions that make up the global brand. A very knowledgeable chap to be sure considering his 35+ years working though various roles for Suntory Whisky. I am glad I had the opportunity to hear Mike speak on this night as I also saw him the following evening and he was looking pretty tired. It is clear Mike loves what Suntory Whisky has created and was happy to chat during the reception to anyone that wished to ask questions or give praise.

Those pesky monocles!
On a more humorous note, through the tasting a considerable amount of clinks and crashes could be heard around the room as the near invisible monocles covering each glass were knocked onto the table tops and floor. What was initially a mild distraction turned to outright laughter by the crowd as yet another monocle went flying. No really it got ridiculous and even though the crowd got a little raucous over it who could blame them.

All the action coming out of the kitchen
Following the tasting we descended into open kitchen and reception area to be treated to probably some of the best cocktail food pairings I have seen in a long time. Flowing from the kitchen were perfectly presented platters of short rib of beef marinated in teriyaki sauce, parmesan and herb gnocchi, white anchovies with mint aioli on grilled soda bread, smoked salmon risotto with avruga caviar, duck liver parfait, rare veal on witlof, and seared scallop with passion fruit. There was a really awesome dark chocolate truffle block kind of thing as well but I have no idea what it was called.

Some of the action at the Suntory Bars
To compliment the food and extend the sensory experience 3 Suntory Bars were scattered about the upper reception floor serving up an array of Suntory Whisky: All expressions neat; on the rocks; as a highball. Pick and choose what you will and enjoy the fun and if the whisky got too much trays of iced water flowed amongst the crowds.

The flow of food and water was outstanding
Highlights of the night was certainly the tasting of the Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve and Hakushu Distiller’s Reserve. Priced at the lowest end of the Suntory family my feeling is they beat the age labelled single malt expressions hands down. A real eye opener and so glad we will be seeing them here on Aussie shelves soon. For me Suntory Hibiki 17yo still hit the spot as best in show.

We who attended
Overall a fantastic night and the best whisky launch I have seen yet. It is exciting times for Japanese whisky and I hope we will be seeing a lot more presence very soon. Well done to Suntory Whisky and ICON International Communications for the invite, you did a great job!

The Baron

D.T.W.C. was invited as a guest this event. All views and opinions are our own unless otherwise stated.