*Thank you to SF and GRC Imports for the sample.
According to ricepedia.com, rice, corn, and wheat account for approximately 42% of the calories consumed by us humans. Rice itself is responsible for nearly 20% of calories gobbled up by all the people on the planet, with Asia accounting for a staggering 90% of that total. Increasingly, in developing and impoverished countries, rice has become such a crucial commodity that fluctuations in price or supply have the power to create serious societal chaos. Obviously, despite its fairly benign, ubiquitous, occasionally bland public persona, rice is a big deal. Corn and wheat are big deals as well, as is barley which usually sneaks into the top five grains of the world. Thanks to our seemingly unstoppable quest to get a little buzzed, throughout history people have also found ways of turning these precious grains into boozy beverages.
Since rice’s popularity is centered mainly in Asia, it’s no surprise that most of the alcoholic drinks made from rice come from Asia. Fermented rice wines like Sake, Raksi, and Tapuy account for the majority of these, but there are several distilled rice beverages as well. The most widely-known are probably Korea’s Soju, China’s Baijiu, and Japan’s Shōchū, though all those can also be distilled from other grains and sugars. These are, more often than not, unaged spirits, generally lower in alcohol than you’d expect a distilled product to be, and complete with their own set of varieties and traditions. Obviously, whisky is also made in several Asian countries. In Japan, their long tradition of making whisky has followed a very European path, using barely, corn and wheat. Recently, though, a few rice whiskies have landed on US liquor store shelves. These spirits use the production methods akin to Shōchū, and the maturation methods more like that of “western” whisky.
Ohishi is one of the more recent Japanese distilleries to make the jump across the Pacific Ocean to our bedraggled shores. Their Ohishi Brandy Cask Regular Whisky is made from mostly Mochigome, a glutinous Japonica rice, more commonly associated with the paste-like dessert mochi. A smaller percentage of Gohyakumangoku completes the grainbill for this whisky. Gohyakumangoku is one of the more popular sake rices and is known for producing a lighter flavor profile. The Brandy Cask whisky is aged for an undisclosed amount of time in ex-Cognac casks.
The Nose: A fairly light spirit, in some ways whisky-like, in other ways, not so much. Initially, what comes through the most is a general sake note and…acetone. I’ve tried to find a more appetizing way to describe it, but acetone is the best descriptor. That said, it doesn’t necessarily smell like heavy solvent. It has the slightly sour, slightly floral quality of acetone without much of the solvent-y heat. There’s a honeyed sweetness and a subtle winey nuttiness as well, almost fino sherry-esque. Even more subtle are the hints of milky rice pudding and dusty rice flour. A bit of open time, the acetone blows off and is replaced by more sake notes.
The Palate: A nice, slightly syrupy mouthfeel and a flavor that’s weightier than the nose, but still relatively light. More honey and crisp, tart apples and touches of Ginjo-shu sake. There’s a bit of caramel and orgeat syrup as well. The almond quality is less sherry-like here, a bit more toasted, There are some mild, youngish oak notes with hints of clove and anise towards the end.
The Finish: Subdued with lingering light oak tannins, candied ginger, and toasted Marcona almonds.
Thoughts: Interesting. While the nose is not really off-putting, its initial acetone quality doesn’t strike me as inviting. With a bit of time in the glass, it does become more so, and gains a bit of dimension. The palate is smooth and pleasant, but like the nose, it’s light and somewhat simple. The rice influence is subtle but present throughout. Like I said – interesting. It’s youngish, but smooth and relatively easy drinking, quietly refreshing over ice. Without much basis for comparison, it’s tough to say whether the quality and novelty of this makes it worth the $75 price tag.