Japan Eats

What we’re drinking: Suntory “Kaku-bin”

Whisk(e)y fans sometimes talk about the three main types of the king of tipples: Scotch, Bourbon, and Irish.

Now Christopher will surely be asking, “What about my Canadian Club? My Crown Royal? My Seagram’s Royal-freaking-Reserve?! Where is Canada on the list?”  But anything best served drowned in cola is best not served.

Fans of Japan’s ever-improving product, Scotch-like as it may be, may be in a better position to ask when their country will get its due. After all, Mr. Torii himself began his decades of work developing and blending and relentlessly tasting his decidedly un-peaty distillations specifically to make them different from, and more palatable to his compatriots than, the Scotch he’d been importing.

Despite being one of Japan’s oldest and most successful whiskies, good old Kaku-bin (“square bottle”) gets about as much respect from malt afficionados as Suntory’s first big hit product – the saccharine Akadama Port Wine – would get from Robert Parker.


Now widely available in three types, which I’ll call yellow, black, and white (their label colors), Kaku-bin is among the best values in the liquor store.

Yellow, the most common, is the classic, the original, the regular, if you will. You’ll see it in bars and restaurants at all levels and need not fear falling back on it when pickings are slim.

White is light, dry (although, like Yellow, a typical 80 proof.) Found mostly in supermarkets and liquor stores, this makes a great pre-dinner or after-work drink, but should be approached with caution – it’s easy to sink more than a few of these light, clean beauties while waiting for whisky’s usual punch.

Black is stronger – both in flavor and in alcohol. Also found mostly at retail for home consumption. My favorite of the three, this one packs more of a punch and is best suited to uncurling after dinner or for a last belt of the night before retiring.

All three are rather smooth for blends in their price range – a steady ?1000 to ?1100 for a  700 ml bottle at retail with hip-flask-sized bottles widely available at conbini in the ?300 range – and are worth every yen of it.

Unlike many of its counterparts on the lower shelves, Kaku-bin is enjoyable on the rocks or in the high balls Suntory advertizes and needs no masking. In other words, you can drink it to enjoy and not just because you have a crushing need to get tight right now.

About Garrett
Da mihi sis crustum Etruscum cum omnibus in eo.

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