*Sincere thanks to MS and Savona Communications for the sample.
Toki (とき) is the Japanese word for “time.”
Ah, if it were only that simple. It’s not. But if it were, this part of my review would be a little shorter. As I understand it, it’s far more accurate to say that toki (pronounced toe’-key) is a Japanese word that represents“time” and is used “to express the time when some states or actions exist or occur.”¹ So for example, you’d never say, “what toki is it?” but you would say…
(Watashi ga Sukottorando ni iku toki, watashi wa uisukī dake o nomu)
Which, when plugged into Google translate, translates as: “When I go to Scotland, I only drink whisky.”
In this case, “toki” more or less refers to the “when” part of the sentence as it relates to the time I only drink whisky. I think. All this is a little linguistically over my head, so if there are any Japanese speakers who would like to correct any of this, please do so. (ed. note, please see Yuichiro’s comment on the word/idea “toki” below, they clarify and elaborate far better than I ever could.)
Toki is also the name of the latest blended whisky released by the House of Suntory. Clever segue, huh? In a way, this new expression is sort of taking the place originally occupied in many markets by the Hibiki 12 Year Old. Upon its arrival, at least in the US, that one was a relatively affordable, high-quality Japanese blend. But as the years went by, it’s popularity soared, and demand eventually led Suntory to scale back distribution and raise prices. The non-age-statemented Hibiki Harmony followed a similar path. The Toki now seems to be filling Suntory’s need for a lower priced, entry-level Japanese blend. All that said, the Toki and the Hibiki are very different whiskies. Hibiki was known for its high malt content with whisky from the Yamazaki Distillery making up the majority of the single malt used. It also finished some of its malt in ex-Umeshu barrels, Umeshu being a traditional Japanese plum liqueur. The Toki, on the other hand, features whiskey from the Hakushu distillery as its primary malt which is different because Hakushu’s more distinct general style usually means it plays more of a supporting role in Suntory’s blends. The Hakushu malt in this one has been aged only in American oak, while the Yamazaki has been aged in both American oak and European oak.
As you might expect from a relatively lower priced blended whisky, the majority of what’s in the Toki bottle is grain whisky. However, the Japanese approach their grain whiskies differently than Scotch producers do. Both are distilled in column stills but Scottish grain whisky is predominantly distilled to a higher proof to create a cleaner, lighter spirit. In contrast, Japanese producers don’t just produce one type, they make a range of grain whisky to use in their blends. At Suntory’s Chita grain distillery, there are three different styles produced: a light, medium, and heavy. The three styles are defined by the amount of distillation each goes through, with the heavy style undergoing the least amount of distillation and having the richest flavor profile. The Suntory Toki contains just the heavy style of grain whisky produced at Chita. According to the brand’s PR, this heavy style grain is featured more prominently than in most of their blends with the Yamazaki malt balancing the two relatively differing styles of the Chita grain and Hakushu malt. The PR also touts this blend as groundbreaking and creative, while that may be the case, let’s not also forget that the Japanese whisky industry is experiencing something of a shortage of matured single malts at the moment. Perhaps turning to grain whisky in this time of need, is born as much out of financial necessity as it is out of creativity.
The Nose: Light, fresh, and somewhat simple…at first. There’s a subtly complex sweetness of green apples, tart cherries, floral honey, and a hint of amaro-like herbal liqueur. Sweet, malty grain notes as well as a whiff of those orgeat-syrup-ed, hot milk toddies from the original Cafe Trieste in San Francisco. The oak is very light and dusty with a bit of sandalwood, vanilla, and powdered ginger.
The Palate: Nicely balanced with much of the sweetness from the nose carrying over. The apple is joined by a bit of juicy citrus and the honey is joined by a little vanilla syrup. Just a little bit of nutty, fudge brownie and a touch of black cherry rounds out the mid-palate. The oak is more prominent here and pleasantly tannic along with vanilla bean, black pepper, allspice, fresh ginger and touch of mint.
The Finish: Medium-ish, with that floral, slightly herbal honey and sharp apple fading first with vanilla bean, oak, black pepper, ginger and that hint of mint lingering.
Thoughts: Pretty darn good stuff. This is a lighter whisky, with an initially straightforward seeming flavor profile. However, there’s a subtle complexity throughout that makes it very appealing. It’s balanced and consistent, and while some sharper youthful edges make an appearance, they don’t detract. The Hakushu malt does stand out, but it is tempered and smoothed out by the softer grain notes. It holds its own sipped neat, is crisp and clean over ice, and makes for a refreshing highball (see below). With a retail price of around $45, the Suntory Toki serves as a good, not-to-challenging introduction to Japanese whisky. Recommended.
***BONUS TASTING ROUND!***
Suntory Toki in the Mizuwari style
An important aspect to Japanese blended whiskies is their relationship to water and their use in highball cocktails. The mizuwari style continues to be extremely popular and most Japanese blends are constructed to shine when mixed with quite a bit of water and ice. I suppose it’s only right to have a look at Suntory’s Toki in this manner, too. Prepared according to the Neyah White/Alcademics Mizuwari…”procedure,” the Toki holds up fairly well. It does not have the strength or the complexity that the Hibiki 12 year old does in such a drink, but it does make for a light, refreshing glass. There’s a nice floral, almost herbal quality to it, with just a slight honeyed sweetness. There’s a dusty hint of sandalwood throughout and a surprising, pleasant bloom of anise towards the finish.
1. “Using Toki in Japanese (とき) – Learn Japanese Online.” Learn-Japanese-Adventure.com. N.p., n.d. Web. Nov. 2016.
Broom, Dave. “Japanese Grain Innovation and Scotch | Scotch Whisky.” Scotch Whisky. N.p., 2016. Web. Nov. 2016.
“Using Toki in Japanese (とき) – Learn Japanese Online.” Learn-Japanese-Adventure.com. N.p., n.d. Web. Nov. 2016.