yamakazi suntory release tetsuya sydney maple arrangement whisky dinner

The chef and the sherry cask | Whisky wish-list | Japanese tryst

Charisma and character - and just a little bit game-changing. Action!

 A whisky with Spanish and Japanese ancestry gets the red carpet treatment in the world’s gastronomy capitals

In a glamorous private room in Tetsuya Wakuda’s Sydney restaurant, 22 guests are sitting down to a food and whisky pairing rich in alchemy, artistry and Japanese savoir faire. Standing sentinal is a maple tree that seems to wrap the space in soft pastel light.

The acclaimed masterchef has been invited to create food matches for the suite of whiskies from Japan’s prestigious House of Suntory on the occasion of the launch of the Yamazaki Single Malt Whisky Sherry Cask 2016 edition. Will it surpass the 2013 release, named World Whisky of the Year in Jim Murray’s 2015 Whisky Bible and lauded as a drink of “near indescribable genius”.

Tetsuya’s signature soft-smoked Petuna ocean trout – awash with caviar, made luscious with egg, and propelled by wasabi – is paired with the smoky Hakushu 12-year-old single malt, whose green and herbal notes take the dish on an elegant dance.

Fat, barely grilled New Zealand scampi tail with mustard and tarragon sits on roasted eggplant which seems to be whispering endearments to its date, the amber Hibiki 17-year-old blended whisky, one of Japan’s most highly awarded blended whiskies.

Elegant  loin of venison is accompanied by beetroot cooked in pepperberries with honey and orange, paired with the deep yet delicate Yamazaki 12-year-old single malt which looks shot through with gold.

tetsuya will-studd brillat savarin dates dessert yamakazi sherry cask 2016

Brillat-savarin cheese with coffee-poached dates and roasted grapes

However, it is the astounding “dessert” – a peerless Will Studd Brillat-Savarin with coffee-poached dates and roasted grapes – that wins the lucky door prize: the deep dive, rich, mellow, complex Yamazaki Single Malt Whisky Sherry Cask 2016,  a limited edition carrying a $450 price tag.

From 1924, Shinjiro Torii, the founding father of Japanese whisky, used sherry casks imported from southern Spain to blend  his Akadama sweet wine, setting the groundwork for what would become a trailblazing Spain-Japan collaboration within the Suntory whisky portfolio.

Today, third generation master blender Shinji Fukuyo regularly visits the northern region of Spain to oversee the transportation of Spanish oak to the bodegas that fashion it into sherry casks for Spain’s Oloroso sherry. After three years of ageing, the sherry casks are sent to Suntory’s Yamazaki distillery to accommodate what will become the Yamazaki sherry cask whisky. Achieving the delicate chemistry between malt and cask is where the magic lies. The 2013 whisky was aged for 12 years in its sherry casks; the 2016 rendition has spent three years longer in oak and contains, according to Suntory, “an extra hit of 25-year-old whisky”.

Shinji Fukuyo recommends the whisky first be served neat to showcase its  nose of raisins, cloves, sun-dried tomatoes and cocoa. Serving it on the rocks or with water teases out two quite different personas.

On this steamy February night, Mike Miyamoto declares it the best food and whisky matching. Ever. High praise indeed from the Japanese whisky blender, ambassador, and aficianado who, as general manager of the House of Suntory’s Whisky Department, has been busy introducing the whisky at gourmet events in France, Germany, Spain, Russia, China, Taiwan, Singapore, Australia and Hong Kong.

Throughout the evening Tetsuya and Miyamoto confer reverently about the choices, the technique, the invisible threads that connect the pairings, the wonder and satisfaction that it works so well.

tetsuya mike miyamoto yamakazi sherry cask whisky 2016 sydney

Tetsuya Wakuda and Mike Miyamoto

Sales of Suntory whisky have tripled in Australia since 2014, when it expanded its range from just one Yamazaki 12-year-old single malt to single malts from its Hakushu distiller, and Hibiki – a blend of Yamazaki and Hakushu. TV’s Mad Men is said to be behind an increase in the popularity of whisky generally, while introducing the spirit to a younger generation.

So, how does the 2016 fare against the 2013? The consensus among diners at Tetsuya’s was that it might just be as good, if not better.

As Dennis Tang from The Wall Street Journal reported last month: “This isn’t the kind of blunt, expensive whisky one can sniff and drink and give some rudimentary label like ‘smooth,’ or ‘smoky.’ Instead, it is a more considered, harmonious testament to the Japanese whisky-making aesthetic, and Japan as a whole: multi-faceted and vibrant, for those who appreciate nuance.”

Nuance, then, seemed to be the order of the day.

Photography by Joey Clarke



Editor. Writer. Traveller. Keeping tabs on all things fab. susan@excessallareas.com.au

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Copyright © Susan Skelly 2020.