Hakushu 12 Year Review [In Depth]

Hakushu 12 Year Single Malt Whiskey

hakushu 12 year review

Hakushu 12 Year Details

Distillery: Hakushu

Type & Region: Japanese Whiskey, Japan

Alcohol: 43% ABV

Composition: 100% malted barley

Aged: 12 years in virgin American white oak

Color: 0.9/2.0 on the color scale (amontillado sherry)

Price: $100-130 MSRP

From the Hakushu website:

“Straight from the untouched forests, soft and crisp waters and mountains of the Southern Japanese Alps, it is no wonder that Hakushu is a “green and fresh” whisky. Created by the dream for a new type of whisky of Keizo Saji, the second master blender, the unique taste made in distinct. Four seasons in high altitude is praised by the most curious whisky connoisseurs and lovers of gastronomy. Its crisp and vibrant feel, unique in a single malt whisky, enlivens and liberates your senses.”

hakushu 12 year overview

Hakushu 12 Single Malt Whiskey is an example of the booming whiskey world taking its toll on unprepared distilleries. I distinctly remember in 2018 when there was news that Hakushu 12 Year was being paused for a few years until their stocks caught up due to exploding demand for Japanese whiskey.
In the years since though, I’ve been seeing these pop up occasionally at stores for some reason, but that’s a good thing. Regardless, I bought one and am reviewing it for you and me.
Here’s some extra background – Hakushu and Yamazaki are related, both Japanese whiskey distilleries owned by Suntory-Beam (yes that Jim Beam). While both Hakushu 12 and Yamazaki 12 Year whiskeys are single malt whiskeys (100% malted barley from a single distillery) made in the Scotch style, I believe that one major distinction between the two is that Hakushu is supposedly lightly peated while Yamazaki does more with sherry casks. 
I’ve had a few bottles of Yamazaki 12 Year Whiskey over the years, but don’t have any experience with Hakushu 12 Year until now. Let’s find out together what this whiskey has to offer in this Hakushu 12 Year Japanese whiskey review.
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hakushu 12 year smell

As low as the ABV is, Hakushu 12 bursts with creamy grapefruit and orange, starfruit, honey, vanilla, graham cracker, strawberry, hints of prunes and dates, and a little dark oak and dry hay. If there’s any peat in here, it’s so faint that I don’t really smell it.
The bright, fruity, and creamy nose reminds me a lot of Ben Nevis Scotch, but not quite as clear or defined in character as the ABV takes off some of the depth and dulls everything a little. Still, Hakushu 12 Year is vibrant and smells great.
It smells more or less the same after swirling, with a similarly lively, citrusy, sweet, and fruity nose. The nose is very inviting and gentle, but likely because of the lower ABV and/or age, it doesn’t have the fullness or depth that I want from something excellent.
Most of the notes sit at the surface with not much underneath to uncover, but I still really enjoy smelling this. 

hakushu 12 year taste & aftertaste

Hakushu 12 Year Whiskey has sweet honeyed and citrusy cocoa powder, vanilla, orange, grapefruit, a little malty grain, and oak with just a hint of date and blueberry. The heat is gentle to say the least.
 This is a very citrusy and fruity whiskey that isn’t thin for its ABV, but certainly not all that thick in the grand scheme of malt whiskeys. Still, Hakushu 12 tastes very good, with the strength of a 47% or so ABV whiskey that’s plenty flavorful and very easy drink.
“Chewing” brings out a little more savory character, but it’s still just as sweet with honey, orange, grapefruit, starfruit, vanilla, roasted chocolate, dates, blueberries, roasted oak, mint, and even a little basil. I think I’m getting very faint smoke, but it’s delicate at best. The oak and cocoa powder notes pop a little more on the back and into the finish.
Vibrant citrus starts the finish with freshly eaten oranges and grapefruit, followed by a small dose of oak tannins, more dry and bitter citrus peel, and mint. After about a minute, a lot of the sweetness pulls back, leaving lightly dry citrus peel and oak tannins – the lingering taste after eating a fresh orange, which is great.
The finish is slightly darker and roasted after “chewing” with candied orange, honey, roasted grains, dark chocolate, mint, and dried hay. The finish again tapers-off quickly and ends with a long smoldering citrus peel, honey, mint, and rock sugar – just delicious. 

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Hakushu 12 Year Rating

Mid shelf+
I was a little biased going into this review, thinking that the 43% ABV would be a major detractor. While it still often is, dulling many of the traits, Hakushu 12 still has plenty of vibrant citrus and fruit character to satisfy most Japanese Whiskey lovers, including myself. It’s not big and burly. Instead, it’s more gentle, welcoming, and delicate, making it a good change of pace from cask strength beasts.
Yes, I do like to take a break from 100+ proofers from time to time. The key with Hakushu 12 Year is to take your time – let it breathe in the glass, and smell and drink it slowly to get the full experience. It would be a shame to rush through it and miss the nuance.
Is Hakushu 12 worth $100-130? It’s questionable for me. There’s a lot to like, but it’s not all pleasure in paradise. Hakushu 12 doesn’t have quite enough roundness or depth to reach “Top Shelf”, regardless of ABV, but it’s certainly no slouch as-is.
Nikka From The Barrel is my go-to Japanese Whiskey (but not actually Japanese whiskey) and in my opinion one of the better whiskeys you can buy, although it’s highly likely that there’s Scotch blended into it as well.
I personally don’t mind that. If you’re pining for Hakushu 12 and can’t get it, you are in luck as there are other ex-bourbon cask aged single malt whiskeys that are similar-ish. I’m thinking Glenlivet Nadurra First Fill, Redbreast 12 Cask Strength (or the not cask strength version), and Bruichladdich Port Charlotte 10 Year Scotch.
Alex author
Meet the Author: Alex

I have far too much fun writing about whiskey and singlehandedly running The Whiskey Shelf to bring you independent, honest, and useful reviews, comparisons, and more. I’m proudly Asian American and can speak Cantonese, Mandarin, and some Japanese.

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BrüMate NOS’R, Double-Wall Stainless Steel Whiskey Nosing Glass – 7oz (Matte Black)

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