By Richard Thomas
It’s been several years since the world became aware of how good Japanese whisky can be, and how the category has changed in that time. The two big names, Nikka and Suntory, have found themselves painfully pinched by the depletion of their stocks of aged and ultra-aged whisky; I’ve long said that anyone who wants to understand what a whisky shortage really looks like should look at Japan.
Another change is how success has thrust the previously (very) minor names in Japanese whisky into prominence, and encouraged others to get into the business. This is how we see Yoshino Spirits Company bringing Japanese expressions to the American market, such as Umiki. Prior to this, I was familiar with what the company was up to only by looking into who was furnishing the sake I sometimes came across while dining on sushi.
So, what do we know about Umiki, which is an important question given that Japanese whisky law is notoriously non-existent. Umiki is a blended whisky (at least one blogger has incorrectly identified this as a vatted malt), billed as being made with malt whiskies distilled along the Japanese coast. Even a conservative definition would include most of them, so what might have gone into Umiki is anyone’s guess. The grain whisky is imported, and that note makes Umiki quite transparent; Yoshino isn’t trying to pull it over on anyone. The whisky is cut with desalinated ocean water, and the whisky is finished in barrels made from Japanese pinewood. It’s bottled at 46% ABV.
Umiki whisky has a golden appearance. My whiffing at my Glencairn got me malty, cereal-ized honey, sandalwood, and a hint of dry straw. It’s on the palate that the interesting use of pinewood casks for finishing makes itself felt. There the flavor continues with a malty, grainy honeyed foundation, but with notes of mint, pine sap and cinnamon. The finish returns to the sandalwood note from the nose, which fades away to a dry woodiness that lingers on for a spell.
Given that Japanese whisky is hard to get; many of the classic expressions objectively are not what they used to be; and those that are cost as much as any two prized bottles an American might want to get; Umiki is a golden steal. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable whisky with an interesting, quite Japanese twist on it, and it won’t burn your wallet to ashes.
Check it out: just $48 a bottle.