Beam Suntory unveils its premium Haku Vodka, made from 100% Japanese rice in a unique production process that blends the best of sake brewing and spirits distillation.
We know Beam Suntory most for its stable of award-winning whisky brands in Yamazaki, Hakushu and Hibiki, which has in recent times reached eye-popping stratospheric pricing due to a combination of surging global popularity and limited supply. But that’s not all that Beam Suntory makes, having its fingers in every slice of the pie in the spirits world including bourbons such as Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark thanks to the American side of its business, but also whiskies from other parts of the world. What was a surprise though was when Beam Suntory entered the gin market – and specifically targeting at the explosive cocktail culture around the world – with its Japan-made Roku Gin back in 2017.
It was a matter of time before Beam Suntory made its own vodka. And so it has with Haku Vodka, which it introduced to the world last year, and in Singapore a couple of months back during the height of the Singapore Cocktail Festival.
Haku means “white” in Japanese, but it could also denote the idea of an “untainted brilliance”, and so rather suitable here for representing a vodka brand. In fact the folks at Beam Suntory insist this premium vodka is the very “embodiment of Suntory founder Shinjiro Torii’s philosophy of monozukuri craftsmanship: a relentless pursuit of perfection, meticulous attention to detail and commitment to quality”.
“For the House of Suntory, craftsmanship has always translated to sourcing the best ingredients, and elaborating on complex and innovative techniques to create unrivaled quality spirits,” shared Kazuyuki Torii, Suntory Specialist for Gin and Spirits.
“This unique vodka was developed from a vision to create a truly authentic Japanese product that meet the demand for a meticulously crafted vodka with a distinct and balanced taste,” he added.
Haku Vodka – making of a rice-based spirit.
And very Japanese it is, wholly produced in Japan with all-Japanese ingredients (we feel a need to state this because not every spirit bottled in Japan has that distinction). And unlike most European vodkas derived from potatoes or grains such as wheat, rye or sorghum, here it’s made from 100% Japanese white rice. And from table rice meant for eating too, not rice for sake brewing (the latter cultivated specially for its starch kernels).
Haku Vodka’s production begins in Kagoshima on the island of Kyushu, and starts off like the making of sake. Koji mould is first added to milled white rice to create a starter for the ‘moromi’ or mash, and then the mash undergoes the endothermic and exothermic reactions of both saccharification and fermentation in the same vessel – a process unique to sake brewing – before going to distillation.
Even in distillation there’s beauty in the making. The mash undergoes its first distillation to create a rice spirit not unlike Japanese shochu, but then is distilled a second time. Here’s where it starts to differ from the production of most vodkas. Unlike most commercial vodkas that undergo a fractional distilling process for multiple distillations at a time, Haku Vodka is made more like some rum or tequila brands. The initial wash is split to undergo two separate distillation processes – one in a pot still, and the other through a column still – before the distillates are blended together. The compound distillate is then run through bamboo charcoal to remove impurities and further refine the flavour.
“With sake, the taste is influenced by the rice variety used in the mash, for example, Yamada Nishiki or Hyakumangoku,” explained Suntory’s Torii. “On the other hand, in vodka production, you rely more on careful distillation and filtration [through charcoal] to achieve your desired quality and flavour. For Haku Vodka, we chose [Japanese white rice] because it is slightly sweet and fruity.”
Possesses of a sweet spirit.
The result is a very delicate aroma with a distinct sweetness from the rice that’s rather different from wheat or potato-based vodka. That rounded sweetness – we reckon is the result coming off the distillate from the pot still – also translates into the palate, with a finish that runs incredibly silky yet lingering. Beam Suntory recommends Haku Vodka in cocktails such as a vodka highball, but it actually makes very good sipping vodka if you’re into that kind of thing.
“We are thrilled to release Haku Vodka in Singapore as part of the House of Suntory,” said Sally Lim, Senior Marketing Manager for Beam Suntory. “The launch of this new vodka creates great opportunity for craft spirits enthusiasts to discover new tastes and experiences that further embody Shinjiro Torii’s vision of a challenge and quest for excellence.”
Beam Suntory’s Haku Vodka is now available at all good bottle shops and spirits retailers such as 1855 The Bottle Shop.