Sometimes, I just don't know what people want. From what I can understand of Japanese whisky, consumers want something distinctive, refined, and affordable—fingers crossed. Then, Toki comes to the market and nobody seems to give a shit.
Maybe they're masochists. Maybe it isn't real Japanese whisky unless it costs you at least $90 a bottle. Maybe Japanese whisky doesn't taste as good to people unless they know they've had to travel to four different stores to snag the last one in stock. These are all real things that happen. So for better or for worse, Toki is accessible and affordable, which means you don't get to impress your friends by waving your hands at the bottle like Vanna White.
Part of the story behind Toki is that Suntory created a brand positioned at the American market. Sometimes I shudder at that phrasing, because my worst fear is that some foreign company sees us en masse as a collective of cowboy-hatted yahoos that just want bourbon from somewhere besides Kentucky. Here though, they've dodged that bullet.
Toki is a blend of grain whisky from the Chita distillery and single malt from Hakushu and Yamazaki playing supporting roles. My guess is that it's over 50% Chita, followed by Hakushu and sherried Yamazaki in a distant third place. That's all speculation, of course, but makes sense to me based on what I taste in the glass and also where the price point shakes out.
Whatever its actual composition, Toki gives me almost exactly what I want from Japanese whisky, blended or not. I like that I taste delicacy here: Toki is very light and almost melon-like at first sip. I'd go so far as to describe it as a very sake-like whisky in its presentation of sweetness. On the development, the malts become more prominent and add some welcome depth. The Hakushu provides some grip in the form of smoke and chewy malt, and the Yamazaki makes the fruit flavors rounder and richer. It's not earth shattering, but it's a direct hit for something refined enough to dig into but comfortable (and inexpensive) enough to drink regularly.
I've read in at least one place that because of the presence of grain, this still carries the Japanese markup and is a $20 whisky masquerading as a $40 whisky. Nuts to that. From sip one I had my guard up for a pretender that would immediately throw a haymaker of cheap grain, vanilla, and corn funk. Not so here. If this is sushi, it's not one of those salmon-jalapeno-cream-cheese Americanized abominations.
In fact, if its core "Japanese-ness" has been altered in its journey from Japan to the US, then Toki may be the California Roll of whisky: uncomplicated, but delicious and characterful in its own right.