Mondiale: Japanese Whisky Tasting & Dinner

Monday, December 05, 2016 –

The Annex at GreenRiver


Discovering Japanese Whisky at The Annex

By Todd Arkebauer, Vice-Chargé de Presse Photos by Elan Jacoby & Todd Arkebauer

Chaîne Chicago’s first Mondiale event of the 2016-2017 season explored the fascinating world of Japanese whisky at The Annex at GreenRiver, home to one of the city’s finest collections of this increasingly coveted spirit. On December 5, twenty-two confrères had exclusive use of this chic cocktail bar for an informative and tasty evening.

The event began with a convivial reception where guests enjoyed Old Fashioneds and a selection of artisanal cheeses, charcuterie and breads. Next, Mike Karberg, a Key Account Manager for Beam Suntory (the world’s third largest premium spirits company) led members through a 30-minute tutorial and tasting of five Japanese whiskies produced by Suntory.

Commercial Japanese whisky production began in 1924 when Shinjiro Torii opened the country’s first distillery, Yamazaki, in a suburb of Kyoto known for its excellent water. Torii hired Masataka Taketsuru who had studied the art of distilling in Scotland, and he became a key to the success of the company that would eventually become Suntory. Taketsuru left in 1934 to establish his own distillery that would eventually become Nikka, Japan’s other major whisky maker.

The evening’s tasting phase started with Hibiki 12 Year Old, a blend of numerous single malt whiskies that combine to create a full orchestra of flavors and aromas with a complex finish. Next up was Yamazaki 12 Year Old, a single malt with a nose of citrus, clove and vanilla and a palate of coconut and butter with a long, cinnamon-infused finish. Produced in Suntory’s mountain distillery nestled deep in a forest, Hakushu 12 Year Old proved to be a lovely herbal and gently smoky single malt. Hibiki 17 Year Old followed and it was the favorite of many members. Flavors of toffee, black cherry, vanilla, and rare Mizunara Japanese oak evolved into a sweet, slightly fruity aftertaste. The sampling concluded with Yamazaki 18 Year Old, a deep amber single malt with a palate of berries and dark chocolate with spicy smooth finish.

Following the tasting, guests were served a family-style dinner comprising a multi-colored cauliflower salad with ruby grapefruit, endive and finely shaved Mimolette cheese; house-made cavetelli with black winter truffles and maitake mushrooms; pan-seared Loch Duart salmon with fingerling potatoes, leek coins and dill beurre blanc; and beef tenderloin, roasted maitake mushrooms, cipollini onions, potato purée and bone marrow jus. The Grey Wolf, GreenRiver’s popular cocktail created with Yamazaki 12 Year Old, Bénédictine, demerara sugar, plum vinegar and Angostura bitters, was paired with the feast. Two delectable desserts followed: a classic apple tarte Tatin with cardamom crème fraîche and molasses shortbread, and a chocolate tart with a pistachio biscuit, ricotta cheese and chocolate crèmeux. The tarts paired delightfully with the sweet, nutty and fudge notes of Nikka Coffey Grain Whisky, produced mainly from corn using one of the distillery’s continuous Coffey stills.

After the dinner was completed, hosts Todd Arkebauer and Elan Jacoby thanked the GreenRiver team and Manager Justin Gilmore for organizing the highly successful event. The Annex then opened to guests, and some confrères continued exploring the deep list of Japanese whisky offerings, including the award-winning Yamazaki 25 Year Old.  Our members departed with enhanced enjoyment, knowledge and understanding of why Japanese whisky has become a superstar in the spirits world.