It’s been a fascinating journey to watch Three Societies’ three early editions, which give us a glimpse of how Korea’s intense climate and seasons have a bearing on the whisky being created. After all, local climate is one of the things that is special to a distillery and a key point of differentiation.
With each release, we’ve been fortunate to get our hands on the really small quantities coming out of Korea, so we could say we’ve been eagerly following along on the trip. The inaugural Tiger Edition showcased the distillery’s first foray at 13 months of age (it’s legal to call it whisky even then in Korea), and then the Unicorn came two seasons later at 21 months of age, and now finally the Eagle – which caps the series off – at 26 months of age.
Remember that what makes these three early editions so fascinating is that they were all from the same run of whiskies distilled on the 7th July 2020, each longer aged than the previous, so age is really the main difference here. Together, you get to track the evolution of the whisky’s development.
With the Tiger, we talked about how there seems to be an increasingly strong presence of whiskymaking growing in Asia, which we hope in time becomes a serious region for whisky. Then with the Unicorn, we explored how many times, the economics of alcohol plays a big role in what ends up in our glasses, often times more so than the taste and preferences representing the zeitgeist of our palates. As whisky grows beyond its historic motherland of Scotland and makes its way into Asia, local spirits are often defensively protected by the government, standing in the way of new spirits being created from within.
Today, with the last of the trio – the Eagle – I want to talk about the differences in the way whisky is consumed in Asia versus the West. I should know; I come from Singapore, often hailed as the food capital of Asia.
See, in the West, spirits such as whisky are often appreciated neat, allowing the drinker to ponder their quality and isolate key notes that make up a certain distillery’s profile.
Yet, in Asia, the reality is spirits are overwhelmingly consumed with food, or during meals. They are often considered celebratory in nature, and are appreciated through the act of sharing amongst friends and family over a communal meal. Yes, even whisky.
Now, that might sound like a real tragedy that any well-crafted spirit’s intricate aroma and taste is being jumbled up with an overture of raucous laughter and a cacophony of flavors from the other foods and drinks at the table, but it is the reality. In Asia, that’s how spirits such as whisky are appreciated.
Whisky’s status as a food accompaniment is not so much an obstacle to overcome but rather adds a new dimension to how whisky can be created: to complement food pairings, and – perhaps even more fascinatingly – local food pairings.
To understand the philosophy of Asian whiskymakers, one must first accept the premise that food and whisky can go together and can even heighten and amplify certain factors. The holistic experience is what is to be appreciated, rather than simply the whisky in isolation. This goes for any whiskymaker in Asia; you don’t have to look too far to find that common thread: whisky is always spoken about in symphony with food.
Korea’s Three Societies Distillery is no different; Korean American founder Bryan Do has outlined his belief that whisky made in Korea should match the local cuisine, and so the whisky he produces is crafted to be sweet and spicy, the way Koreans like it.
Whisky and food are intricately and intimately intertwined in Asia, and maybe that’s the way it should be in this part of the world. After all, the beauty is in taking something enjoyed the world over and making it your own.
Let’s get to it!
This is bottled at cask strength of 56.6% ABV, aged for 26 months in virgin American oak, with a total outturn of 1,963 bottles.
Three Societies, Ki One EagleEdition Korean Single Malt – Review
(US$142 for 20cl bottle)
Color: Deep amber.
On the nose: Sweet, punchy, with that characteristic spicy butterscotch, or maybe honey soy glaze, before heading towards more on fruit jams; blackberries and raspberries. It’s thick and syrupy with a good sprinkling of cracked black pepper, with a final touch of fresh pine wood.
In the mouth: Quite seamless from its aromas – sweet honey, maltose candy, it has a fairly glossy body that is silky with a good amount of heft. It packs in notes of butter, vanilla, caramel sauce, and then again moves towards fruit jams; think pancakes with a fruit medley. There’s also notes of stewed apples and cooked apricots and raisins. It’s mostly sweet, dense and with cooked fruits. Long finish, with more spiced honey, caramel candy, and then a final touch of minty eucalyptus and a bit of wood tannins.
This isn’t too far off from what I recall the earlier Tiger and Unicorn tasted like; that classic sweet, butterscotch and cooked fruits profile. Here it is noticeably denser and richer than before, and altogether the fruits have become more concentrated and cooked and less bright. This gives it an intensity and richness that packs a lot of force. The final minty note was a huge plus for me and gave it a nice balance to all the richness.
Would have been 8/10 if not for the price, which is a real consideration here given the 20cl format.