Hatozaki Finest Whisky

Hatozaki Finest Whisky (Photo by the brand)

Dirty Little Secret

In 2020, I wrote a scathing expose’ on Japanese whisky’s dirty little secret, expressing my concern that very little of it is actually Japanese. Much of it is purchased Scotch, Irish, and even American whisky repackaged and labeled as Japanese. And, while the new rules were enacted to standardize what “Japanese Whisky” means, they don’t kick in until 2024. Also, they only apply to brands choosing to participate and have no consequences for failure to adhere. So, the old rule continues to hold- caveat emptor!

Hatozaki Finest

Despite the apparent deception, some of that so-called Japanese whiskey is good! Hatozaki is a brand taking advantage of flexible rules. Even though their label prominently displays “Product of Japan,” there’s no evidence that it’s distilled in Japan, much less by the distillery. When I asked for clarity about its heritage, the brand responded, “Hatozaki is a collection of blended whiskies…”

Their official description is, “Hatozaki Finest is an unpeated, delicate, and floral premium blend of whiskies. Hatozaki Finest is smooth and easy to mix. It can be served in a cocktail. Balanced and delicate, it works to give a new look to many classic Japanese cocktails such as the Highball or the Matcha Tea Highball.” I take that to mean that it’s not Japanese, and I leave you to decide whether that matters to you. That said, I’m pleased I had the opportunity to try it again. I first tasted Hatozaki Finest Japanese whisky in late 202o and found it quite pedestrian. I can report that I liked it nominally better this time, placing it in the category of other low malt, grain-heavy basic blended Scotch whiskies.

Tasting Notes

It pours a pale straw color, likely due to limited wood aging – the label states, “without coloring or chill filtration.” The aroma is subtle, with ethanol initially prominent. Extensive swirling and hand warming release mild notes of youthful grass, hay bales, malty cereal, and cut flowers, melded with distant hints of melon and citrus. The mouthfeel is much bigger than the aroma would suggest, with a round, warming sensation, and noticeable sweetness. There’s also an alcohol bite, surprising given its 40% ABV. Initially, there’s a vegetal, mushroom-like flavor, along with moist soil, unripe banana, melon rind, dried coconut, and more citrus. Mid-swallow reveals a grassiness leading to hints of wood, bell pepper, almond flour, tea biscuits, and some white pepper.

This is not a whisky that I would buy, but your tastes may differ. I might use this as a cocktail blender, but at a retail price of just under $50, there are myriad other options- one’s I far prefer.