Has the Japanese Whisky Trend Gone Too Far?

The release of Suntory's new lacklustre Toki is not a good sign.

October 18, 2017

By Neal McLennan

Earlier this year, I had a few meals at JC Poirier’s new love letter to all things Québécois, St. Lawrence, and everything was solidly on message: oreilles de crisse, choucroute garnie, tallboys of Labatt 50. Everything that is, until I got to the back of the menu and saw a full page dedicated solely to Japanese whiskies. Wait, what?

It speaks to the sway a spirit has over the drinking populace that a chef/owner who makes everything just so would want to diverge for the sake of having a comprehensive selection of Japanese whiskies.

It must be amazing, right? Well the answer is a very qualified “sort of.” For starters, tasting and thus ranking spirits is inherently subjective. And while I’ve had a number of Japanese whiskies that were amazing (I love the Nikka Coffey Malt, the Yamazaki Sherry Cask), there’s no doubt that they’re very pricey. There’s also no doubt that every Vancouver hipster’s apartment is required to have the super design-y Nikka from the Barrel which, at $64 for  500ml, is seriously overpriced.

The fact is, a very large portion of Japanese whisky is overpriced (some of it is just ok and I’ve yet to find one that’s a steal). At the BCLDB, you can get the very good Nikka Coffey Grain, but at $95 for 700ml it’s by the far the most expensive grain (as opposed to malt) whisky in the province.

And then along came Suntory’s new whisky, Toki. At under $55 it’s cheaper than most Scottish single malts and its packaging looks great.

It just isn’t very good. But the weird thing is, if you search the reviews online, there’s nary a negative word. Most reviewers emphasize how light it is and almost all say it would be good in a cocktail. To recommend that a $55 bottle of liquor tastes better if you add other flavours to it is the backhanded compliment of the whiskey world. You know what whisky also works well in cocktails? The Famous Grouse, and it’s $24.50 per bottle. That’s not entirely fair—the Famous Grouse actually has significantly more flavour than Toki does.

I’d like to imagine an overpriced offering like this will cause the legions of nascent Japanese whisky fans to maybe rethink their allegiance, but I doubt it…because the bottle is undeniably cool looking.

 

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