Of late, whisky connoisseurs across the globe have been feeding their on-the-rocks habit with the flavours of Japan’s oldest distillery. The home of Suntory has seen several delicious drams be bottled in elegant decanters. We’re exploring all the Yamazaki single malts that deserve a spot in your home bar.
Japan’s tryst with all things malt began with one name – Shinjiro Torii. At age 13, he was acquainted with Western liquors and the techniques of mixing through an apprenticeship. Over the course of his teenage years he developed a discriminating palate and nose – eventually opening the country’s first distillery – Suntory – in Yamazaki, Kyoto. The dream was to create a whisky that was truly Japanese. This saw the light of day under Masataka Taketsuru who’d discovered the secrets of Scotch production while studying organic chemistry in Scotland.
While the first ever bottle – Suntory Shirofuda – was too smokey for the delicate Japanese palate, the second – Suntory Kakubin – was an instant hit. Soon enough, the distillery had fused spirit-soda-ice to create what’s now known as a Highball, revolutionising the way the country consumed its malts. Today, it continues to follow the Scottish tradition of double distilling malted and peated barley before ageing to create some of the most coveted, smooth single malts in the world. These are marked by distinctly Japanese ingredients – mizunara barrels and mountain water – and values of harmony and balance. Here’s exploring a few that are worth the splurge.
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All of the Yamazaki single malts that whisky aficionados covet
Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve
This signature single malt is the only one of its kind that’s available in India. Complex and harmonious, it pours gold – product of being aged in a blend of six casks, including Bordeaux, American oak, Yamazaki sherry, and mizunara. Every sip is reminiscent of raspberry, white peach, and coconut. On the nose, meanwhile, are notes of strawberry, cherry, and wood. The finish is clear with hints of sweet vanilla and cinnamon.
Yamazaki 12 Years Old
Reportedly the first of the distillery’s flagship single malt to be seriously marketed, the 12 year expression has a cult-like following. The whisky pours a pure gold and is succulent and fruity, with notes of peach, pineapple, grapefruit, candied orange, vanilla, oak, and clove on the nose. Every sip, meanwhile, is reminiscent of coconut, cranberry, winter spice, and butter. The finish, meanwhile, is long with hints of sweet ginger and cinnamon.
Yamazaki 18 Years Old
This smooth single malt won a gold at the 2007 International Spirits Challenge and a Double Gold at the 2005 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. It also happens to be one of Suntory’s most popular single malts. It pours a deep amber and is rich with the flavours of autumn fruit. On the nose are notes of raisin, apricot, cafe au lait, and oak. Every sip, meanwhile, comes with hints of blackberry, strawberry jam, and dark chocolate. The finish is long, spicy, and smooth. This one’s as complex as they come.
Yamazaki 25 Years Old
A blend of rare whiskies that have been aged for over a quarter of a century in Kyoto, this expression comes courtesy of fifth generation chief blender Shinji Fukuyo. Aged in American, Spanish, and Japanese Mizunara oak, it pours a deep amber and is multi-layered. On the nose are notes of Mizunara incense, kaki persimmon, and ume plum. Every sip is reminiscent of Mizunara sandalwood, kaki persimmon, shoga ginger, and tart ume plum. The finish is profoundly long with lingering smokiness.
Yamazaki 55 Years Old
The oldest single malt in the history of the House of Suntory – this whisky is a tribute to the passage of time. It comes in a custom Mizunara box, finished with Japanese lacquer technique. The malt spotlights the Mizunara cask whisky that was first distilled under the supervision of Shinjiro Torii in the 1960s. It pours a deep amber and has a sandalwood aroma that’s complemented by hints of well-ripened fruit. Every sip is soft, sweet, and smooth, with wooden notes from the cask. The finish is rich and lingering. As far as collectors’ whiskies go, this one’s right at the top. In fact, a single shot of this rare Yamazaki whisky costs HK$ 45,16,700.
Deemed the ‘heart’ of Yamazaki single malts, this expression comprises meticulously-selected malts that have been aged exclusively in hand-selected 480-litre American oak casks. These allow the whiskies to mature slowly while giving them a distinctive complexity. In the case of this particular rendition, this includes a pale gold colour as well as hints of green apple, pear, acacia honey, and vanilla on the nose. Every sip is clean and mild, with subtle notes of butterscotch. The finish comes with a subtle sweetness as well.
Yamazaki Peated Malt
Gentle and refined, this whisky has been crafted masterfully and is considered the ‘hidden accent’ that gives Yamazaki single malts their distinctive complexity. It pours a bright gold and has a subtle herbal aroma. Every sip is gently peated, smokey, and earthy with notes of pineapple and citrus. The finish, meanwhile, is complex as well with a lingering peatiness. Best had with a splash of water, a quintessential Japanese practice, this one’s quite popular with aficionados.
Yamazaki Spanish Oak
Believed to be an ‘enhancer’ that gives Yamazaki its multi-layered, full-bodied flavour, this one is inspired by Tsukuriwake – a philosophy of artisanship via diversity. It features whiskies matured in the highest-quality oak casks from Northern Spain. It pours a red-amber, with notes of dried raisins, prunes, and sundried tomatoes on the nose. Every sip, meanwhile, is decadent and rich, with a subtle acidity and a finish that’s buttery. If more intense, mature flavours are to your taste, this one’s a must-try.
A tree only found in Japan, Mizunara truly sets Japanese whisky apart. This particular expression was matured in oak casks made of this very wood, which gives it a distinctive aromatic, spicy character and amber hue. On the nose are hints of custard cream biscuits, caramel, cinnamon, and incense. Every sip, meanwhile, is rounded with sweet undertones. The finish is distinctively deep, woody, and reminiscent of Japanese incense.
Savouring these is reason enough to head to Japan we reckon. Which of these do you hope to add to your collection?
All images: Courtesy Suntory distilleries/Shutterstock