Rare East-meets-West whisky

International whisky ambassador for Beam Suntory John Cashman, with a bottle of The Bowmore Mizunara Cask Finish whisky.
International whisky ambassador for Beam Suntory John Cashman, with a bottle of The Bowmore Mizunara Cask Finish whisky.ST PHOTO: JAMIE KOH

Like most whiskies from Scottish distillery Bowmore, The Bowmore Mizunara Cask Finish has the smokiness from malt smoked in a peat-fired kiln, and a dose of brininess from the sea breeze that wafts through its 200-year-old sea-front whisky cellar in Islay.

However, what makes this single malt whisky stand out are the unexpected tropical notes of coconut and mango.

This is a result of the whisky being finished in Japanese Mizunara oak casks, which rarely travel outside of Japan.

The whisky was made with spirits matured in bourbon-seasoned American oak and sherry-infused European oak casks for more than 20 years.

The whisky was then transferred to three 500-litre Mizunara casks, which travelled more than 9,000km from Hokkaido to Islay. The whisky was kept in its new home for another three years.

About 2,000 bottles of The Bowmore Mizunara Cask Finish whisky were produced.

Mr John Cashman, 41, international whisky ambassador for Beam Suntory, which owns Bowmore, was in town to launch the whisky here last week. Only 30 bottles have been allocated to Singapore.

He recalls that Bowmore's master blender, Ms Rachel Barrie, jumped at the opportunity to experiment with Japanese casks when they were made more accessible after the Japanese beverage giant acquired the brand.

Suntory uses Mizunara casks to mature its Hibiki and Yamazaki whiskies.

"Most Scottish blenders never get the chance to work with the mystical Mizunara casks," he says. "It is a unique way of carving out some single malt history."

He says that up to 80 per cent of a whisky's flavour comes from the casks, adding that the Mizunara oak also imparts an umami flavour reminiscent of sandalwood and pine. Compared to other Bowmore whiskies, he says that the Bowmore Mizunara Cask Finish whisky resembles "a perfume-like potpourri".

Other tasting notes include citrus zest, vanilla, cedarwood and honey rose blossom.

Mr Cashman says the whisky makes a good digestif, pairing well with desserts such as creme brulee.

Upping the exclusivity factor is the scarcity of Mizunara oak as it can be harvested only after 300 years.

He adds that the oak is also notoriously difficult to handle.

"It is more soft and porous due to the wood's lack of lignin, which contributes to the stickiness of wood. Aging tightens the wood grains, and makes it more watertight."

Despite the promise of more such cross-cultural whisky exchanges, he says that there are no plans to expand the use of Mizunara oak casks in Bowmore whiskies due to limited supply of the wood in protected forest areas in Japan.

He says: "The whisky has a standalone taste as it is finished in virgin Mizunara casks and the taste of another batch of whisky will not be as intense if these casks are re-used."

•The Bowmore Mizunara Cask Finish ($1,500 for 750ml) is available at The Beam Cellar, 01-03 to 07, 229 Mountbatten Road.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 20, 2015, with the headline 'Rare East-meets-West whisky'. Print Edition | Subscribe