A year later and I acquaint myself with yet another expression from the Suntory Yamazaki Distillery, the Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve – a gift presented by a close family friend on a recent visit to Japan. The Distiller’s Reserve is the distilleries first venture into the NAS space which also occupies a spot now in its core product portfolio. Released in 2014, the bottle is traditional Yamazaki, retaining the characteristic Echizen Washi paper, albeit a shade lighter with the distinct “Yamazaki” calligraphy taking up a chunk of its real estate.
Shinji Fukuyo, the fourth chief master blender at Suntory was presented with a challenge when he was handed the ‘Distiller’s Reserve’ project. NAS whiskies historically have had it hard from the start, with much of the general public turning hostile due to the belief that its constituents might not necessarily be all that old and hence not all that great. And so with this venture came the need to be innovative and introduce a profile that exhibited a fine balance of depth, complexity and flavor. An endeavour which took months of nosing and tasting over 200 plus samples a day.
Ultimately it was the amalgamation of three distinct whiskies, one finished for six months in wine casks-supposedly Bordeaux Chateau Lagrange, another housed in Japanese Mizunara while the third, an older 20 something aged whisky matured in sherry casks. Fascinatingly, Shinji attributed a lot of its success by not restricting the expression to an age. He felt this gave him the leverage to experiment and blend over-aged whiskies with those younger to give that sense of harmony and poise.
Eye: Pale Gold
Nose: Damp wood and a bouquet of Japanese blossoms, some malt and vanilla. Following through is some red wine, with citrus, cherry and a pinch of nutmeg. Gradually, as the whisky breathes you begin to notice shards of milk chocolate, honey, strawberries with traces of almonds and raisins.
Taste: Reserved, light and subtle, mildly viscous coating the insides of my mouth. Shades of sweetness, but not overpowering, lots of red fruits, cherries, some spice from the black pepper and a unison of cinnamon and bubble gum.
Finish: Medium with Vanilla and cinnamon.
The Distiller’s Reserve is in no ways a bore, with a delightful ‘puts a smile on your face’ nose and a decent arousal of one’s taste buds. You begin to realise how each pre-blended whisky plays a role almost harmoniously – the Mizunara (Japanese Oak) lends those layers of scents and flavors, while the older sherry matured whisky brings in the woody, viscous, dry feel with the Bordeaux holding them all together. It isn’t overly sweet and the layers give you all the more reason to head for some more whisky goodness!
For those accustomed to punchy, smoky Islays or spicy rye bourbons, this might not appeal. But going into the tasting you need to realise that Japanese whisky is a genre in itself, not Scotch, nor Irish with its own niche carved out. And with that expectation in mind, this Yamazaki will please you-though not excite! It’s different from its elder 12 Year Old sibling but still shares similar Yamazaki DNA.
The Reserve is sure to burn a hole considering it to be priced more than what an entry level spirit ought to be – but certainly one to try. Great for the summers, for amateur whisky enthusiasts, and for those wanting to venture into the East. The Distiller’s Reserve can be had neat, on the rocks or as a mizuwari (Highball- 1 part whisky, 2 parts water)!
PS: Arigato Unniuncle for the whisky, without which getting hold of one in Pune would have been close to impossible! 🙂