Serious scotch lovers fall into two camps: Those who drool at the mere scent of any liquid made on Islay (a neat, windswept island off the southwestern Scottish coast with a reputation for seriously smoky scotch), and those mainland purists who can't stand Islay whiskey's pungent, peaty taste.
We're unapologetically with the former, and we encourage fellow peaty scotch lovers to read on, because they're about to meet their new favorite. The thing is, it's not from Scotland; it's from Japan. The new rival, Hakushu Heavily Peated, is made at a distillery located at the foot of Mount Asayo in Japan's so-called Southern Alps, a few hours northwest of Tokyo. Here, the distillery has access to some of the purest water on Earth; the scotch is aged with mountain breezes infused with the wonderful aromas of high-altitude forests. It's heaven on earth, and it's produced by Suntory, the oldest name in Japanese whiskey.
Discerning whiskey drinkers may already be familiar with the Hakushu name, since its 12-year scotch has been available in the States for the past few years. But Hakushu's impeccable reputation as a soft, delicate, grassy sipper (a bit like a Lowlands scotch, if we're still making comparisons) is now turned on its head with the release of Heavily Peated. Aptly named, the new release features a heightened smokiness that effortlessly marries with the whiskey's soft complexion. And unlike the most intense Islay scotch (think Laphroaig and Ardbeg), there's no forward abrasiveness; it's immaculately subtle. This is Japanese whiskey, after all, which is often far more subdued than Scottish whiskey.
What you're left with is an incredibly subtle sipper that's also boldly drenched in peat – and yes, we know it sounds like an oxymoron. Instead of trying to understand it, consider investing in it. After all, the holiday season is here. [$155; suntory.com]