“Well, ring-a-ding-ding! We are really in for a Suntory Fun Time!” – Limpd
On Tuesday, May 14th, Limpd and I took the day off from work and headed up to New York City for an event called “The Art of Japanese Whisky Through The Art of Isamu Nogucho”. This event was being presented by Suntory, the makers of Yamazaki, Hibiki, and Hakushu Japanese whisky, and featured the four Suntory whiskies that are currently available in the USA, as well as several of their rarer expressions which are not currently available here. In addition to the whisky, the event also featured food pairings created by Chef Isao Yamada and Chef David Bouley of NYC restaurant Brushstroke.
Rather than the usual “play by play” that we pull together for our event recaps, Limpd and I thought that we would instead share a conversation that we had via email in the days following the event. But before we get to that, below are the Suntory whiskies that were available during the event:
And here is a link to the official press release from Suntory which will tell you more about the food and whisky pairings:
Let’s get on with our conversation about this outstanding event…
G-LO: Besides the fact that we were actually able to get some time off from work to have a bit of “Suntory Fun Time!” in NYC, I am still amazed that everything went so smoothly, and that we were able to do all that we planned to do (I’m sure it helped that the weather was absolutely perfect). I mean, beers at The Ginger Man, a 2 hour lunch and whisky tasting at Keen’s Steakhouse with Josh “The Coopered Tot” Feldman and Allison “The Whisky Woman” Patel, and a brief visit to Park Avenue Liquor would be a post unto itself. I say we stay on topic and focus solely on the Suntory event. What say you fussy britches?
Limpd: I think that’s “fuzzy britches”, and my britches are usually relaxed fit and pleated. Anyway, I am amazed by the perfect timing of our pre-gaming activities and the generosity of our fellow bloggers. To get five (or was it six?) samples from the Coopered Tot, and another sample of Brenne plus a sample of the next “double top secret” project from the Whisky Woman on top of beers at the Ginger Man and lunch at Keen’s was as you said, practically an event unto itself. Unfortunately, I had to reign in my afternoon as my ambition was beginning to get the better of me. Highlights for me were the St. Louis Framboise at the Ginger Man, the Dallas Dhu 27 Dun Bheagan that I ordered at Keen’s, the Mackmyra 8 from Josh, and both the Brenne (batch 52?) and the “double top secret” samples from Allison.
G-LO: You call those highlights? Sounds to me like you enjoyed pretty much everything you tried. The truth is that there were no duds to be found on the table that afternoon. Such a good time! And by the way, I am absolutely convinced that I hear a choir of angels every time I walk into Keen’s. They really should consider replacing the front door with a set of pearly gates!
Ok. Enough about the pre-game. Now let’s talk about the actual event…
G-LO: When we first pulled up to The Noguchi Museum and noticed that it was directly across the street from a Costco Warehouse, I was a bit concerned (in my head I was thinking, “Where the hell are we???”). From the outside, the museum looks like a cinder block bunker in the middle of an industrial looking neighborhood in Queens. Thankfully, as soon as we walked in the door and were greeted by an army of waiters serving Hakushu Highballs, all of my concerns went away. And after a quick walk through and a look at the garden where the first whisky tasting was going to take place, I was positively ecstatic!
Limpd: I know what you mean about the ride to the museum. While I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Stephen of The Malt Impostor blog was on our shuttle (click here to read his recap of the Suntory event), I was fairly certain I had seen the ride from Grand Central to Long Island City before in a low budget mob movie. The one where the main characters are driven over a bridge into an industrial area and then whacked. To me, the outside of the museum looked a little more like it was trying to keep people in than it was trying to keep people out. Once ensconced in the Noguchi, I was amazed at how they had captured the spirit of a Japanese garden within such an industrial area. It was obvious that a Japanese oasis had been planted in Queens.
G-LO: Definitely a pleasant surprise to run into Stephen and his girlfriend Sarah on the shuttle. We’ve talked a bit on Facebook over the past year, but we’ve never actually met in person. It turns out that he too was at last year’s NYC Extravaganza. It was like a meeting of the whisky bloggers up there, and the fact that it all came together almost by accident and in such a short period of time is even more impressive. We couldn’t have planned it better if we tried.
Limpd: I think the word you’re looking for is serendipity. Anyway. After a perusal of the art and a meet-and-greet with former Suntory Master Distiller Mike Miyamoto and Suntory USA CEO Toshi Kumakura, we had the opportunity to taste three fine whiskies: the Yamazaki 18, the Hakushu 25 and the Hibiki 21. Three fantastic whiskies for sure, but since I have the Yamazaki 18 at home, I was a little more interested in the Hakushu and the Hibiki.
G-LO: You and your fancy words! I prefer the word luck.
While you, Josh, and Stephen were schmoozing with Mr. Miyamoto and Mr. Kumakura, I was wandering around the museum and douching it up with my camera prior to the formal tasting. Have I mentioned how fantastic the lighting was throughout the museum? It made the photography part of the trip super easy. Even better, it made me look like I actually knew what I was doing with my camera.
I think it was somewhere between the meet-and-greet and the official tasting that we ran into Allison and her husband Nital. Much like the rest of the day, our timing was superb, and we managed to grab a perfect spot for the whisky tasting, i.e. front and center. I really enjoyed all three of the whiskies. My only complaint is that the Hibiki 21 and the Hakushu 25 are not yet available here. While I would have loved to take some tasting notes while we sampled, the truth is that I was too busy taking it all in, and simply enjoying the event and the company. And speaking of tasting notes, Allison was writing stuff down throughout the entire tasting. I guess that’s why she’s the pro and we’re just amateurs. The Whisky Woman has skills!
What did you think of what was going on inside the museum?
Limpd: I loved the inside event, but I don’t think I was effectively rotating my glass with the Hibiki 12 to get the proper spin on the ice ball. The two samples (I also had a Yamazaki Mizuwari, which is essentially a Japanese version of my patent pending “Whisky Water”) were a nice precursor to the rare whiskies that were outside. What did you think of the food? A little too fancy for my taste (no offense to the work of Brushstroke Chefs Isao Yamada and David Bouley) and maybe a little light given the amount of whisky we were to consume. I did find that as Suntory founder Shinjiro Torii had intended, the food and the whisky were paired beautifully.
G-LO: While it is well documented that I prefer my whisky neat, I really enjoyed the whisky cocktails that they were serving inside. Of the three, the Hakushu Highball was my favorite, followed closely by the Hibiki Ice Ball, while the Yamazaki Mizuwari was a distant third. The Mizuwari was definitely refreshing, but I think it was a bit too watered down, and the addition of the lemon peel kind of overpowered the whisky. Did you happen to catch Gardner Dunn (Suntory’s East Coast Brand Ambassador) hand carving those ice balls? Pretty impressive stuff! I need to find out how they make that crystal clear ice. It makes any drink look special! Even a Coca Cola.
I thought the food was quite good, but to be completely honest, my focus was on the whisky. I agree that the food was a bit too complicated and difficult to eat for what was essentially a three hour cocktail hour. When I first read the invitation, I thought it was going to be a formal food/whisky pairing, i.e. a sit down meal. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely preferred the cocktail hour format, but it would have been nice to have food that you can eat with one hand while holding a drink in the other. As you said on several occasions throughout the event, some sliders would have been most welcome. Just one question. How do I get my hands on more of that Wagyu Beef Jerky? That stuff was fantastic!
Limpd: Interesting. Given your love of fancy Asian cuisine, I thought for sure that you would have been gushing about the food. Agreed on that Jerky. We need to get a batch of that stuff for drinking around the fire.
After a couple of drinks inside, I went to the rare whiskey table and while pacing myself, I had the opportunity to talk at length with Suntory’s West Coast Brand Ambassador, Neyah White. I learned a good deal about the subtle differences between the Yamazaki distillery located at the meeting of three rivers in Shimamoto, Osaka Prefecture and the Hakushu distillery located 700 feet above sea level in Yamanashi Prefecture. While I was schooled in the development of blended whiskies, I sampled all of the rare whiskies. I am not sure which whisky I liked better (maybe the Hakushu 25, maybe the Hibiki 21), but they were all fantastic.
G-LO: It took me awhile to catch up with you at the rare whisky table since I was too busy douching it up some more with the camera and trying more of the food offerings (Josh and I were practically tackling the waiters as they came up from the kitchen with fresh plates of food!). It’s a good thing that we walked down to you when we did since they were rapidly running out of the Yamazaki 25. The color on that whisky was amazing! I know it was a pretty short pour, but man oh man was it delicious. So rich and flavorful. I just wish I had the skills to describe it in greater detail.
Limpd: Tasting notes? Who cares about taking whisky notes under these circumstances? Just relax, enjoy the moment, and stop being such a douche!
Was it just me, or did time start to really fly by once we hit the 8 o’clock hour? I was sad to see the event end as it was such a fantastic time. This might be one of the best events that we have been to. Great whisky, some delicious food, and the opportunity to make some new friends and talk to some really knowledgeable people. What’s not to love? Send my thanks along to your PR friends!
G-LO: I can’t argue with your douche comment. I do occasionally take this blogging business a bit too seriously. But I’m having such a good time!
As far as the event, and the whole day in general, everything was absolutely fantastic! And speaking of the PR people, it was truly a pleasure to finally meet Danielle Katz and Nicholas Rotondi of Exposure PR. They did a wonderful job of making sure that everything went smoothly, and they totally made us feel at home throughout the entire event.