Could whiskey be your new summer sip? Usually, the season is given over to white spirits—vodka, gin, blanco tequila—but a new Japanese whisky, distilled from rice, offers similar crisp delicacy.
Kikori ($50) is a newcomer to the whiskey world. Whereas most Japanese versions are bolder and often peated, made in the style of scotch, this one resembles a barrel-aged gin. So pale in the glass it almost doesn’t seem like whiskey, it has the silkiness characteristic of Japanese whisky and is surprisingly refreshing to sip, with gentle layers of tropical fruit, lemon peel and coconut cream pie trailing to a clean finish with just the faintest wisp of smoke and spice.
Of course, it’s not the first whiskey to be made from rice. A handful of small craft distilleries (Atelier Vie in New Orleans,Vinn in Portland, Ore.) have also tried their hand at rice whiskey. Meanwhile, some bourbons incorporate rice as part of the mash bill, though it’s still going to be at least 51 percent corn. Jim Beam, notably, released a brown-rice-focused bottling as part of itsHarvest Bourbon series last year, and Buffalo Trace tried out a rice bourbon as part of itsExperimental Collection. And other spirits, such as AO vodka, are distilled from rice.
(image: Dylan + Jeni)
However, Kikori might be the first rice whiskey to find mass-market success. It’s already available in California, Nevada, Arizona and Hawaii, at high-end venues including Nobu, Morimoto Napa and Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas. Availability is expected to expand to additional states later this year.
The whiskey is made 100 percent from rice, grown in Kumamoto in southern Japan—yes, as in Kumamoto oysters, which, come to think of it, would pair remarkably well with this whiskey. After distillation, the whiskey is aged in American oak casks and Limousin French oak casks (each between three and five years), as well as sherry casks (approximately eight years). The batches are later blended and bottled, also in Kumamoto.
Los Angeles–based Ann Soh Woods, the founder of importer Soh Spirits, says the whiskey reflects her affection for the spirit, influenced by frequent family visits to Japan at a young age. When an opportunity to work with a Japanese spirit arose, says Woods, “I was thrilled to be able to introduce a spirit to the U.S. market that was familiar yet retained the essence of Japanese flavors, traditions and impeccable quality.”
Who knows? Maybe this will be the summer that we finally bring a bottle of whiskey to the beach.