don’t get as much opportunity to sample Japanese whiskies as I wish I could. It
isn’t a matter of finding it; Japanese whisky is everywhere. Instead, I don’t
find myself thinking about it. When I peruse local liquor stores, I see their
Japanese selections but don’t stop and browse. That’s a mistake because many
fine Japanese whiskies are out there. I know because I’ve reviewed a handful.
such, when ImpEx
Beverages, the exclusive US distributor for Hakata Whisky,
offered a chance to review four of its expressions, I immediately took them up
requirements for Japanese whisky have been recently revised, and that’s because
stocks had been dwindling while demand rose exponentially. The solution for some
involved importing bulk Scotch whisky and having a distillery rebottle it as
its own. On April 1, 2021, the new industry-enforced standards went into effect, which state:
• Distillers must always use
malted grains but may also include other cereal grains.
• Water used to make whisky
must be extracted in Japan.
(conversion of starches into sugars or mashing), fermentation, and distillation
must occur at a Japanese distillery.
• Whisky must be matured in
wooden casks stored in Japan for at least three years.
• Bottling must occur only
in Japan, with a minimum strength of 40% abv.
• Plain caramel coloring may
• Whiskies that don’t meet
the above requirements may not use the names of geographical locations in
Japan, the Japanese flag, or the names of people that evoke the country in
“Hakata Whisky is
distilled and matured in Fukuoka, Japan by the Hikari Distillery (which
was founded in 1912). The mash of the whisky is 100% barley. A fraction of this
barley has been fermented with Koji providing healthy enzymes for fermentation
and creating the highly sought after and delicious, savory taste known as
The Sherry casks this whisky
is aged in are kept in traditional style warehouses as well as a few open-air
warehouses where they are exposed to humid summertime temperatures of 95°F and
winter temperatures of around 38°F. As a result, the whisky is bold and
almost classical in flavor; retaining a freshness that is truly unique.” –
Whisky offers four expressions: 10, 12, 16, and 18 years. Thankfully, ImpEx
Beverages provided me with samples of each in exchange for my
no-strings-attached, honest reviews. Let’s #DrinkCurious and discover what
these are all about. For the record, I’m sipping all four neat in my trusty
The first whisky up is Hataka 10. It is bottled at 42%
ABV (84°) and runs about $79.99. It is available in a 700ml bottle.
umber is the best description for the color, but it is even darker than that. A
thick rim collapsed into slow tears.
aroma of rich plum and dark cherry tickled my nostrils. It made me smile, and I
had to stop myself from already in love with the whisky. Caramel and oak
followed. When I inhaled through my lips, dried berries rolled across my
texture was soft, but the flavors were anything but. Raisin, plum, and cherry
cola hit the front of my palate. Midway through, I came across candied nuts, nutmeg,
and caramel, while tobacco leaf, leather, and oak formed the back.
leather from the back became ancient while removing any moisture that existed in
my mouth. As it faded, oak and cherry cola remained. The experience lasted several
minutes and left a slight warming sensation in my throat.
Bottle, Bar, or Bust: If sherry
bombs are your jam, you will go wild over Hakata 10. There was nothing not to
enjoy about it, from beginning to end. I enjoyed the bone-dry finish. It is
reasonably priced, and I can’t think of any suitable rating other than a Bottle.
Next, I tried Hakata 12.
It is packaged in a 700ml bottle at 42%
ABV (84°) and costs a suggested $99.99.
Appearance: I wasn’t
aware that whisky could get darker than the 10-year expression, but Hakata 12
made it possible — I could barely see through this one. Fast, watery tears fell
from a massive rim.
Nose: A slightly
drier nose of cherry, plum, leather, and caramel greeted my olfactory sense. As
I pulled the air into my mouth, caramel and oak were in tango.
texture was light and unassuming. Nutmeg, cherry, and plum were on the front, leading
to leather, caramel, and cola at mid-palate. The back featured tobacco leaf, roasted
almond, and oak.
there was a kiss of saline as I swallowed. However, it didn’t detract from the
cherry and plum notes but seemed to enhance them.
Bottle, Bar, or Bust: I relished
Hakata 12’s fruity flavors, especially with the finish. I appreciated that it
wasn’t as dry as the 10-year expression. I don’t believe anyone would have qualms
about the price, and I am happy to confer my Bottle rating for it.
third whisky in the rotation is Hakata 16. It is available at 42% ABV (84°), and a 700ml bottle is priced at around $149.99.
Appearance: I was
taken aback when looking at this whisky’s color because it was much lighter
than the 10- and 12-year expressions, presenting as a deep orange amber. A
husky rim released slow, sticky tears.
nuts combined with raisins, chocolate, and vanilla to form a sweet and
prominent fragrance. The taste of red grapes was on the vapor.
Palate: A silky
mouthfeel led to fruity notes of green grape, prune, and cherry on the front of
my palate. Mid-palate brought rich, thick honey; the back’s flavors were clove,
oak, and chocolate.
grape and prune made for most of the finish, with only a hint of oak and
chocolate. Based on my experience with the two previous expressions, the
duration was shorter than anticipated.
Bottle, Bar, or Bust: While Hakata
10 and 12 were obvious siblings, Hakata 16 seemed to have been adopted. It
could have been from an entirely different distillery. I appreciate the
contrast and found it almost refreshing. The first two were delicious, but I
was concerned this would be more on a similar theme. We’re getting into serious
dollars; I would be more comfortable with it being about $20.00 less. That
value statement only precludes Hakata 16 from taking a Bottle rating; it earns
but only because of its age statement, is Hakata 18. It commands a $189.99 price tag for a 42% ABV (84°),
now back to darker colors. In fact, side-by-side, Hakata 18 and Hakata 12 look
exactly the same. Unlike the previous three, the rim of the 18-year-old whisky
was fragile and yielded fast tears.
almond, toffee, and dried cherry gave a pleasant aroma. I found honey filling
my mouth as I drew in the air.
Palate: A rich,
silky texture coated my tongue. It caused me to lose my concentration which
doesn’t happen often. Nutmeg, almond, and tobacco leaf were on the front, while
raw honey and cherry controlled the middle. I got big chocolate flavors that married
clove and oak on the back.
honey, clove, almond, and chocolate formed a complicated finish with a medium duration.
It also ended with a syrupy texture, which was far different than the
Bottle, Bar, or Bust: The lack
of consistency in the texture left me dumbfounded. With all the whiskies I’ve
tried, this may be a first. If you can spend this much on a whisky, Hakata 18
is worth consideration. Its pure uniqueness was enough to tip the scale for my Bottle
Final Thoughts: Hakata
10 was my favorite, followed by 18, 12, and 16. I’m very impressed with what I
tasted, and whether you take my Bottle or Bar ratings, I think you’ll be happy.
My Simple, Easy-to-Understand
- Bottle = Buy It
- Bar = Try It
- Bust = Leave It
you to enjoy your whiskey as you see fit but begs you do so responsibly.