"Hokuto" was created and named accordingly to commemorate the birth of Hokuto city in the Yamanishi prefecture. The vatting, which consists of a variety of key malts from the Hakushu distillery as well as Yamazaki genshu malt was released on June 22, 2004. The 12yo pure malt vatting that adopted the "bamboo charcoal filtration" method was the result of Suntory's pursuit to create an "easy to drink" whisky. Interestingly, the Hokuto pure malt was at times marketed as an alternative to Sochu with certain catch copy saying: "Clear, tasty, and refined - allowing you to shift from Sochu to whisky". Among other promotions Suntory suggested that this pure malt was designed to be drank with ice - specifically 'half rock'. This I'd not recommend as this whisky is initially mellow, watering it down completely drowns it. The Hokuto 12yo pure malt came in two distinctive label variations (releases) before it was sadly put out of production in 2010. The first release (left image) in 2004 pictured lush forestry that I presume is either the surroundings of the Hakushu distillery and/or the city of Hokuto. This release is labeled as Suntory Pure Malt Whisky (top of label) with Hokuto written in quotations (bottom of label), and bottled by Suntory limited. The second label variation (right image) drops the wording 'Suntory' out of 'Pure Malt Whisky' (top of label), and moves the brand name of Hokuto towards to top without the quotations. Besides these small difference on the second release that accordingly was put out in 2005, the obvious change is the label's image that clearly depicts the Hakushu distillery and surrounding forest in the foreground of rolling hills in Hokuto, and what looks like to be the area's wheat silos? Also, in 2005 a quarter bottle (250ml) hit the market. Now...any difference taste wise?
● Suntory Pure Malt Whisky - "Hokuto" - Aged 12 Years - Suntory Limited 2004 (pictured left)
Nose: Fresh and clean with immediate citrus - predominately lime with a hint of Yuzu. Fresh forestry notes. Aloe Vera mixed with vanilla and/or toasted marshmallows. Subtle Mint and Shiso intertwine. Actually, I could even say a weak Mojito? Musk melons and a drizzle of honey. Green banana. Pickled crisp vegetables (cucumber). All up - lovely oak, very delicate.
Taste: As with the nose clean, and silky smooth. Mellow spices. There's a tad mouthfeel of menthol gum. Moderate sweet lime. Green toasted capsicum, subtle oak influence, green banana, a touch of toffee and/or scorched black sugar. Plain cashews.
Finish: A combination of mellow mint and menthol gum, and white pepper on red cabbage. Mellow oak. Medium length.
Comment: This is an exceptional whisky that is quite rightly suited to the warmer months of the year. The colour of the whisky in the first release is much darker than the second release - both in the bottle and by glass. This may suggest malt in the first release spent more time in casks compared to the second release (there may be a slight influence in lighting).
● Pure Malt Whisky - Hokuto - Aged 12 Years - Suntory 2005 (pictured right)
Nose: Whipped cream, fried pineapple, fresh banana fritters, dusty wood chips, integrated subtle sweet smoke, Allen’s fruit tingles: lemon and orange, sweet oak, salt rock, and strangely but pleasant spicy tomato juice.
Taste: Lush. Smooth and silky with gorgeous oak, a dash of concentrated lime juice, and a drop of pineapple juice from a can. The whipped cream makes itself present before spiced mixed nuts roll into the equation. The malt becomes very creamy the longer it sits.
Finish: Dry, tame, and oaky, and like the first release medium in length.
Comment: Although a mass marketed line-up of Suntory at the time, it is now ever so scarce due to its popularity, and effectively cheap price for excellent quality. It originally took me months and months to find my first bottle (second release), followed with the first release. Now I can never stop finding them. This Pure Malt ticks all the right boxes, it offers something different to Suntory’s core Yamazaki and Hakushu single malts.
To conclude, both versions retain a clean-cut, fresh, mellow citrus presentation. Both versions are very similar. However, the second release in my opinion has a sweater top note (creamy) on the nose, and is slightly more richer than the first release (only by a point or two). At the same time the first release has a slightly more sumptuous mouthfeel (again, only by a point or two). At the end of the day there are only very subtle differences. Both versions are of exceptional quality with great blending - a must have for every drinker.