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The Art Of Pairing Japanese Whisky

On November 9, enjoy an evening of food and Japanese whisky
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Photo: Lombardi Family Concepts

There is a long history in Japanese booze of pairing food with alcohol. Among brewed drinks, it's traditionally been sake, and for distilled liquor, in the southwestern part of the country, it's been shochu. Proper Japanese-made whisky has less than 100 years of history, but the drink has also found its place alongside meals. 

"In my opinion, Japanese whisky is a better fit for food pairing than their American counterparts," Danilo A. Di Nardo, vice president of operations at Lombardi Family Concepts, tells Local Profile. For Di Nardo, the flavor profile of Japanese whisky is better suited for food.

On November 9, a Japanese whisky pairing dinner is scheduled for Kai in Legacy West, hosted by Executive Chef Heather Bruhn. The five-course meal will be paired with a selection of Suntory whiskies.

According to Di Nardo, "All of the pairings were very well integrated with the menu, starting from the most popular category, such as Toki, excelling to a special reserve of Yamazaki 12-year-old 2022 Edition, served with an incredible coffee crust kurobuta pork and cherry mustard demi-glace."

Yamazaki 12-year-old should pair brilliantly with the fat in the savory kurobuta, with the whisky's American white oak and sherry cask-aged elements coming into harmony. 

Proper Japanese whisky was first distilled in Osaka in 1923 at Suntory's Yamazaki Distillery. Prior to that, whisky was available in Japan (Americans first brought whiskey to the country in the 1850s when Commodore Matthew Perry and the U.S. Navy forced Japan out of self-imposed isolation.) In the latter half of the 19th century, whiskies were imported from Ireland, Scotland and the United States, but mainly consumed by foreigners living in Japan. Suntory's first whisky, released in 1929, was a little too smokey for Japanese palates, but later expressions were better suited to the country's taste buds, with flavors that evoke the savory-sweet dashi broth of Osaka and neighboring Kyoto. 

By the 1970s, Suntory was advertising its whiskies with Japanese food, promoting whiskies like Suntory Old as a perfect complement to the country's cuisine. Sake and shochu come in at lower alcohol-by-volume levels, usually around 16 - 18% and 25%, respectively. Whisky is bottled at 40% ABV and up (though, there are some "whiskies" in Japan that are bottled at under 40%!), which means that pairing menus must be designed carefully so the spirit doesn't overpower the food. A delicate fish might be overpowered by whisky, even Japanese whisky, but one with a good fat content should pair deliciously. 

"We are super excited to be able to continue the Japanese spirits series," says Di Nardo. "This will be our third dinner that showcases them. We are very grateful to have received such a great turnout and support from our guests to be able to continue this incredible series of tasting dinners."

For more on the Japanese whisky pairing dinner, check out the event’s webpage

In case you missed it, here's Local Profile's piece on the art of pairing tequila.