Japan does not come close to the long history and lore of whiskey-making in countries such as Scotland, Ireland and the U.S., with its first distillery opening only in 1923. However, in recent years, the country has proven to be a quick learner and is making up for lost time.
Vegas’ Nobu in Hard Rock Hotel & Casino is doing its part to educate us on the outstanding products coming out of the country previously known more for its sake than its barrel-aged spirits. The restaurant’s collection has gradually grown and now stands at 38 pure malt, single malt and blended whiskeys, making it one of the largest Japanese whiskey selections in Las Vegas.
Prices range from $6 to $475, and the recently launched Japanese Whiskey Wednesdays, hosted weekly in the bar from 6 to 10:30 p.m., present an opportunity to enjoy most of the whiskey menu with 1-ounce pours at respective lower prices, allowing you to experience more expressions while staying within your budget. (Wednesday is the only night the smaller pours are offered; other nights, only 2-ounce pours are available.)
The spirits selection has been cultivated by general manager John Laverde and lead bartender Joshua Monsivais, who reports that he has tried more than 200 Japanese whiskeys and professes to like all of them. In 2013, he purchased half a case of Suntory’s extremely rare Yamazaki 25 Year, a 100 percent sherry cask-aged Japanese whiskey of which he claims to have the only bottle left in Las Vegas. The price has increased along with its rarity, and it now goes for $450 a shot.
Another dram that is a bit pricey, but much less so in comparison, is the Ichiro’s Chichibu Port Pipe Single Malt ($58), so named for the type and slender shape of the vessel in which it was aged. Not surprisingly, it brings clear notes of port wine. It’s also fairly rare, with only a handful of bottles remaining in Las Vegas.
Another wine barrel–aged blended Japanese whiskey is the Mars Iwai Wine Cask Finish from Nagano ($10 for 1 ounce, $18 for 2 ounces), aged in a pinot noir barrel from Santa Barbara, California.
High marks also go to the Suntory Hakushu 18 Year ($30 for 1 ounce, $60 for 2 ounces), from Mt. Kaikomagatake, located in the forests of the southern Japanese Alps. It is a Scottish-style whiskey, with peat smoke and notes of caramel candy and butterscotch.
The Mars Iwai ($6 for 1 ounces, $12 for 2 ounces) from Nagano will appeal to bourbon fans, as it is aged in a bourbon barrel; those who prefer a touch of smoke and dark chocolate notes should try the Akashi White Oak from Hyogo ($6 for 1 ounce, $12 for 2 ounces). And for a sip on the lighter side, the Togouchi from Hiroshima ($6 for 1 ounce$12 for 2 ounces) is a blend of malt and grain whiskeys.
If cocktails are more your style, you have several choices, such as the Hibiki Harmony Old Fashion ($13), made with Hibiki Blended Whiskey, muddled Luxardo Cherry, blood orange, demerara syrup and orange and cardamom bitters. A dose of drama is added as a Japanese cedar box is lit on fire and placed over the glass before serving.
Elsewhere, ’tis the season to be jolly, and what better way to help you get into the spirit than to indulge in some interestingly different holiday cocktails at some of the finer bars throughout our city.
RA Sushi Bar in Fashion Show has added the Spiced Apple Blossom ($10), made with Skyy Honey Crisp Apple Vodka, St-Germain Elderflower Liqueur, Wild Turkey Bourbon, lime sour, Angostura Aromatic Bitters and apple juice, garnished with cinnamon sugar, apple slices and a cinnamon stick.
Monkey Bar in SLS offers the Peppermint Bliss ($12), a mix of Godiva Chocolate Liqueur, Hennessy Black Cognac and Vittone Menta Fernet with a crushed candy cane rim, topped with whipped cream and a spray of chocolate bitters and garnished with fresh mint.
The Laundry Room—the not-so-secret speakeasy-style bar hidden within Commonwealth in the Fremont East Entertainment District—has the French Big Mouth ($16), crafted with Cognac, orange and cardamom bitters, allspice and maple. (Reservations are required for The Laundry Room, and may only be made via a detailed text message to 702-701-1466.)