Timeless Taste: From Cocktails to Pairings, Here's How to Savour Japanese Whisky

Orlaith Costello
April 04, 2024

Our friend and spirits connoisseur James Buntin gives us the rundown on all things Japanese whisky.

Whisky is one of those spirits with a long history, plenty of fans and copious stories associated with it. Crafted with a reverence for tradition, Japanese whisky has carved out its own niche in the world of spirits, offering a blend of complexity and elegance. 

Among the array of Japanese whiskies, one standout is Suntory Toki, a blended drop made of 100 percent Japanese whisky. Brand Ambassador for House of Suntory and devout whisky-lover James Buntin returns to give us some insights into the Japanese tipple.

A Sip of History

The story of Japanese whisky traces back to the early 20th century when Shinjiro Torii wanted to craft a Japanese spirit to rival the best Scotch.

“One of the biggest things with Japanese whisky is its lightness and vibrancy compared to its counterparts,” says James Buntin.

“When Shinjirō Torii started making whisky, he wanted to create whisky made in Japan by Japanese people, for Japanese people,” says James. “The whiskies coming in from Scotland and America were a little bit too big and overpowering for Japanese food.” 

It’s a common practice when making a blended whisky for makers to source or trade whisky — even single malts — from distilleries in the same or other countries with different distilling methods and flavour profiles. It’s a lot more streamlined in Japan, according to James.

“Blended whiskies can be made with spirits from Ireland, America and beyond. Suntory has only three distilleries, each crafting specific styles, with each then blended together to make Toki. So it’s a blended whiskey that’s purely Japanese from three different distilleries: Yamazaki Distillery, Hakushu and Chita, our grain distillery. Those three distilleries contribute different styles of whisky to be brought together to create Toki.”

Crafting Cocktails

Thanks to its delicate balance of flavours, blended Japanese whisky like Suntory Toki, works well neat, on the rocks as well as in a variety of cocktails. 

“The first thing you notice is honey on the nose; the taste is light and fresh,” notes James. “What always gets me is a really nice fresh green apple taste to it, almost a citrus note like pink or ruby grapefruit — as opposed to lemons and limes — backed up by some lightly toasted almonds.”

“Unlike the big peated Scotches or sherry-cask whiskies that have a lot of cinnamon and spice and are quite heavy and robust, Toki is delicate and versatile, which is why it works so well in cocktails, especially its signature serve, the highball.”

To make a highball, fill a tall glass with ice, pour one part whisky, three parts soda water, and juice of a wedge of lemon and gently stir to combine. Then, garnish with a lemon wedge. 

“It’s a classic because it works, but you can put your own personal twist on it,” says James. “I actually like to add a little bit of guava juice to mine for an extra tropical note.”

For a more adventurous palate, the Toki Slipper, crafted by Melbourne-favourite Yakimono, offers a delightful blend of sweet and bitter notes, marrying Suntory Toki with a hint of sugar, bitters, and a citrus twist.

Pairing Perfection

In the same way that Italian wine is, in general, made to be enjoyed with food, Japanese whisky is the same. And unsurprisingly, it pairs best with traditional Japanese fare.

“Bourbon and Scotch whiskies are just too big for the delicate flavours of Japanese dishes,” says James. “For the best pairings, you need something that matches flavour-wise and texture-wise. If you’re having a nice rump steak, you’d go for a glass of red wine or big peaty whisky. But it doesn’t go so well when you’re having sashimi, sushi or tuna tartare. Go for a classic highball instead.”

He continues, “The Toki Slipper works well with seafood with a bit of char, like a scallop and miso butter. The saltiness of the seafood and the umami butter helps balance the sweetness of the slipper.”

Whether enjoyed neat, in a cocktail or with food, Japanese whisky like Suntory Toki offers a timeless taste that rivals the styles of its European, American, and Australian counterparts. So discover it for yourself, raise a glass and don’t forget to say kanpai!

Suntory Toki is collaborating with the excellent izakaya-style restaurant Yakimono for an immersive experience, Toki Tuesdays, taking place at the Melbourne venue on April 23 or April 30. Bookings are essential and tickets are priced from $99 per person. Find out more on the website. If you can’t make the events, Yakimono is offering an exclusive Yaki Toki Bites menu for the month of April only, with Japanese-forward bites paired with Suntory Toiki cocktails for just $20 a pairing.

Suntory Toki is available at bottle shops and directly from the website.

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