I have been longing to try the Yamazaki single malts for some time now. Luckily i was able to get hold of a 18 yo sample, just recently when exchanging samples with a local whisky enthusiast (Igal T). A good friend was generous enough as to send me the 12 yo as a holiday present for Hanukah (many many thanks again Y.)
Yamazaki whiskies are hard to get here in Israel. while the 12 year old costs a modest 40$ in retail USA shops, here it’s price after taxes and retailer’s cut is around 200$. Let alone the 18 which i have not spotted here at all.
Yamazaki was foudned in 1923 by Shinjiro Torii which is “the father of japanese whisky”, and was located in the valley of Yamazaki (hence the name) . The location of the distillery was chosen for two main reasons: The first, water in that area is known to be of exceptional quality (in terms of purity) , and the second reason, because of the location between two major cities (Kyoto and Osaka).
Back then consumption of whisky was low, and only the wealthy could afford the expensive whisky. The Japanese whisky boom started around the 70’s when economic growth raised the standard of living in Japan across the board. Whisky consumption soared as the drink began popping up on menus at sushi bars and other restaurants across the country. Keizo Saji, Shinjiro’s second son took a wise decision and focused on single malt whiskies, anticipating that the market would develop a taste for premium whisky made from high quality malt and aged over a long period of time. The Yamazaki single malt was first released in 1984. Currently the distilleries “mainstream” single malt consist of the 10 year, 12 year, 18 year and the very rare 25-year-old (not really mainstream, but compare to the 50-year-old it is).
Yamazaki first used imported scotish whisky casks, and some sherry casks imported from spain, but later switched to local built casks from Japanese Oak (“Mizunara”). The usage of this unique oak for aging and maturing the spirit gives the Yamazaki malt its unique profile and flavours.
The Yamazaki is often compared to a classic Speyside, and although i agree with some of the similar points between those whiskies, I do think it is really very different at the same time, from Nose to Palate it has a unique profile. What will be more interesting as to compare the 12 and the 18 head to head? Will the older expression be better, or will the younger one match or even surpass his elder brother?
Yamazaki 12 yo , 43% Abv (around 40$)
Color: Golden Sunlight
Nose: fruity notes (pears?) , vanilla and some oak (Japanese oak), it has a unique nose in my opinion, slightly differnt than the average Speyside malt. Yet, i cant put my finger on it and say what… interesting.
Palate: Starts with a sweetness, a bit heathery. Next i sense a gentle and welcoming spiciness, which turns a bit peppery towards the finish. Some barley notes are evident as well. It would be interesting to taste this malt at Cask Strength. Wishful thinking….
Finish: The finish is again dominated by Pears and a wee bit of apple puree which lingers quite nicely. The pepper is also there, but in a nice way, combining with the fruity apple-pears combo. A wee bit of smoke? can it be so?!
All in all, a very very good dram. and excellent for its price.
Yamazaki 18 yo, 43% Abv (around 115$)
Color: Dark Amber
Nose: Oak, dried fruit, Sherry. Wow! a very attractive nose. The extra 6 years did their magic in terms of intensity of the fruit and the aromas. After some time, Sultanas dipped in liquor. Wonderful.
Palate: vanilla at first is noticeable, as well as Oak and sweet sherry.Dried fruits galore ( Sultanas, Dates). Some Demerara sugar cane and spices. Complex. Very Complex.
Finish: Woodiness (Oak), Distant smoke (but stronger than the 12 year old), spice and pepper going all the way. A long finish, text book long finish. Ace!
Indeed the Yamazki offers a unique profile and great value. The 12 year old is very well priced at 40$ and offers a great bang for the buck: It is extremely enjoyable and quite complex for a 12 year old in that price range. If you are a speyside lover you will appreciate this one. I as an Islay devotee was very impressed with this one, tough much milder than the malts i usually find myself drinking.
The 18 year old is a wonderful dram, which demonstrates what 6 more years in the cask can do to the spirit. While very recommended, the price difference between the two is evident, and i can think of other wonderful older scotch whiskies (the HP 18 for example) which give the Yamazaki 18 a good fight.
Indeed the Japanese have learned the art of whisky making, and i can say that those two are perfectly crafted malts. Very impressive. Indeed the land of the rising sun has succeeded again in learning a new art, and perfecting it.
More Japanese whisky in blogs we like:
- whiskyHost writes an excellent review of 4 Japanese whiskies.
- Jeff from the Scotch Hobbyist’s Blog writers about Yamazaki 12.
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