What happens when a renowned Japanese whisky house sets its sights on vodka? Meet Suntory’s Haku, our New Arrival of the Week.
We adore Japanese spirits here at MoM Towers. Japanese whiskies have long been held in high regard, and the hubbub around the likes of Ki No Bi and Roku gins endures. Now there’s a new kid on the booze block in the form of Haku Vodka – and it’s everything we hoped it would be and more.
What sets Japanese spirits apart for us is the meticulous attention to detail during all stages of production – as anyone who has sipped and savoured the likes of Hibiki, Nikka from the Barrel, or the now-legendary and rarer-than-hens-teeth Yamazaki 18 Year Old knows (mouths collectively water across MoM Towers at the mere mention). After all, the entire history of the category is based on Masataka Taketsuru’s adventures in Scotland from 1918, and his dogged determination to create the most perfect whisky distillery possible.
That there’s now a growing interest Japanese vodka is intriguing. Full disclosure: Haku is not the first to market. Nikka released its Coffey Vodka in 2017, and the eye-catching Eiko Vodka is also available. But vodka is a category with a bland reputation. It’s generally made in bulk, and as such is viewed as a bit of a humdrum tipple, useful for adding a hit of alcohol, but with little finesse. Well, Japanese vodka, and Haku in particular challenges that view with aplomb.
For starters, Haku starts life as white rice. But not just the white rice you’d stock your kitchen cupboards with. No. In Japan, white rice is seen as a luxury; traditionally it was reserved for fancy occasions and even worship. It’s got a slightly sweet flavour – a subtle characteristic which is preserved in Haku due to its painstaking production method.
Step one is to ferment with something called ‘rice koji’ to create a mash. It’s then distilled using pot stills to get the initial rice spirit – this happens in Kagoshima, in Kyushu, a place famed for making rice spirits. It’s then distilled twice more using different methods (we assume this is where the column still comes in) to hit that all-important ABV.
The spirit then gets taken more than 600 kilometres to Osaka, a place Suntory calls its ‘Liquor Atelier’. Here it is filtered using bamboo charcoal, in a specific process used only by Suntory. The use of charcoal, however, is super traditional and was even used to ‘sweeten’ water for tea. Turns out, bamboo is a genius material, three times more porous than wood charcoal, and super-sustainable, too.
The results of all this? Something velvet-soft yet surprisingly floral. There’s something a little bit grassy about it, too. But the most compelling thing is that roly-poly mouthfeel. It’s bouncy and glossy without being weighty. And it makes a bloody magic Martini. Kanpai!