Never before have I waited this long for a bottle that I’ve heard so much about. Since my interest for whisky had spurred a different direction and the mysteries of the Japanese juice had made rounds in the various books, forums and websites; I had my mind set in getting a taste of that oriental awesomeness!
If there is anything the Yamazaki has taught me it’s that ‘Good things come to those who wait’! Since the bottle could never be traced in India or the different duty free stores at the airports, patience and a lot of crossed fingers were my only solace. My last 2 visits to the US were also unfortunate as the liquor stores were all out of Yamazaki and the only option was to WAIT for 2 weeks, which certainly wasn’t feasible considering my return tickets were scheduled a few days later! I resorted to what seemed natural since most doors were just closing on me…beg and plead with travelers, colleagues and ‘one time’ acquaintances, to keep an eye out for any mortar stores or e-commerce sites that sell the stuff. And as you might have guessed, I had to go through another bout of waiting.
Salvation came in the form of my brother, who ordered them from the US and handed them over to me when he visited home this Christmas. And believe me when I say, never did a picture speak of a thousand words more than the day I held that beaut against the palms of my hands. I was euphoric and so much in a trance that time almost stood still, one thing was almost certain; I had gone to heaven and back!
A week later and now much calmer, here I am penning a review on this ‘so called’ whisky wonder, and at the end of it all i’m hoping we should be able to figure out if the wait was really worth it.
The Yamazaki is Suntory’s flagship whisky and is what put Japan on the malt map! The distillery was established in 1923 in Shimamoto, Osaka and is credited to being the first and oldest in Japan. The 12, 18 and 25 YO representations are no stranger to awards, with the 18 being the most decorated of the lot, grabbing one almost every year! Its popularity has enabled the brand to capture a major chunk of the market share and although their whiskies are available in 35+ countries, its demand far outpaces the supply making it a rare commodity even at your trusted local liquor store, not to mention the hole you would burn for this rather expensive 12 YO single malt. *ka-ching!!*
Distilleries here are known for creating a variety of whiskies within their four walls, which is not the case in Scotland where distilleries share their produce between themselves. A permutation from a thousand yeast strains, the type of container (steel/wood) used in the wash, varying pot still shapes and the difference in casks helps bring this wide spectrum of flavor profiles come to life, a ballpark figure of 150 at Yamazaki, to be more specific!!
The 12 YO Yamazaki is aged majorly in ex-Bourbon American oak and for a lesser while in Mizunara and Sherry Oak barrels. Mizunara which is unique to Japan, is more commonly used in the manufacture of incense sticks and that’s believed to impart the signature aromatics to this whisky.
To begin with, pouring the whisky was certainly a splendor; right from the ‘glug’ as it fought its way through the neck and out of the lip to the thin golden stream which rolled along the sides of the tulip shaped glass. Swirling the contents exposed its silky, light to medium bodied characteristics with the mildly viscous legs trailing down the sides.
ABV: 43% / 86 Proof
Nose: Sweet vanilla, butterscotch and charred oak hits you initially; with hints of maple syrup, raisins, cranberry, grapefruit and orange waltzing around the nosbuds. There is a distinct play of aromatics, both fruity and floral, which can only be attributed to the mizunara aging.
Taste: Complex and deep with virtually no burn at all. Smooth, sweet and fruity with vanilla, butterscotch, burnt butter and cranberry dominating most of the palate.
Adding a wee bit of water, opened up the whisky and exposed its true depth. Oak and leathery like tones were noticeable on the nose while plums, brown sugar, honey and vanilla were more evident on the palate.
Finish: Sweet, long and cinnamon-cake like.
The Yamazaki is light, crisp and refreshing, yet complex and deep. The aroma from the mizunara isn’t overpowering but well balanced reminding you that something unique has been added to the mix. Although on the sweeter end of the malt spectrum, the many red toned fruits on the palate is certainly an experience and one that should be given a shot considering the variation in which the whisky was crafted.
The Japanese prefer to down the dram with ice or as a highball (ice + carbonated water), but I prefer to savor this neat with just a teaspoon of water.
On the whole, the Yamazaki didn’t disappoint and provided a pleasurable fun night. It certainly isn’t peaty and might tend to be sweeter than most whiskies, but definitely deserves a try. Bad news is its availability might keep you tapping your toes and humming a tune for a while.
With 2016 around the corner, here’s wishing you all a joyous, blessed and fun filled Year! 🙂