Yamazaki 12-Year-Old Single Malt Japanese Whisky Review

Photo courtesy of Beam Suntory.

Photo courtesy of Beam Suntory.

The Yamazaki might just be Japan’s most talked about distillery, or at least its most popular one.  It’s Sherry Cask expression was named World Whisky of the Year 2013 by whisky writer Jim Murray.  The Japanese whisky category seems to have exploded since then.

Part of this popularity means it’s getting harder and harder to certain Japanese whisky expressions on your store shelf.  The Yamazaki 18-year-old expression has all but disappeared from shelves, but every now and then its younger sibling, the Yamazaki 12-year-old, can be found.

The Yamazaki 12-year is bottled at 43% abv, and available for $60+, if you can find a bottle.

The nose here has a rich character, full of honey, ripe plums, sweet malt, and ginger root.  There is no astringent alcohol vapor here, which confirms just how well made this whisky is.  Where Hakushu 12-year-old is very herbal and fresh, Yamazaki 12-year is a rich, velvety pour.  That clove honey note from the nose is present on the palate, from start to finish.  Some spice quickly hits the tongue on entry, complimenting the rich honey note.  The spice dissipates and big fruit and citrus notes appear, with plums, baked pear, and orange peel being the more dominant notes.  A very faint hint of smoke shows up on the back palate and fades away, leaving a long spiced honey finish.

Without question, The Yamazaki 12-year-old is a delicious whisky, especially for people who love big honey and fruit notes in their whisky.   The way the layers of flavor develop should keep experienced drinkers excited, but it’s also an easy drinker for beginners.

Now, the hard part is easily finding a bottle.

(Note: A review sample was provided by Beam Suntory.)

The Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2016 Announced


Photo courtesy of Beam-Suntory.

Photo courtesy of Beam-Suntory.

Jim Murray’s 2014 World Whisky of the Year was The Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013.  Sadly, that expression was not released in the United States, and lots of Yamazaki fans were left empty handed.   Chin up, folks.  The 2016 edition of the Yamazaki Sherry Cask comes to the U.S. market, among others.  Only about 5,000 bottles are being released worldwide.  I’m not being told how many of those bottles are making it here, but I can bet it won’t be a lot.  Read on for the full press release.

Deerfield, IL (January 12, 2016) – It may have come as a surprise that Suntory Whisky Yamazaki® Sherry Cask 2013 was named “World Whisky of the Year” in Jim Murray’s 2015 Whisky Bible. However, sherry cask whisky has been a constant staple of the Suntory Whisky portfolio since 1924, a year after the distillery began construction. Shinjiro Torii, the founding father of Japanese whisky first started making his whiskies by leveraging sherry casks imported from the wine of southern Spain needed to blend his famous Akadama Sweet Wine. Hence the sherry cask was the first cask used by Suntory Whisky and plays an important role in the origin of Japanese whisky.

The House of Suntory Whisky is proud to introduce Yamazaki® Sherry Cask 2016 (48% ABV), available as of February 1, 2016. 

The Sherry Cask – A Meticulous Selection

Over its 92-year history, Suntory Whisky has managed numerous sherry casks and sherry malts. Suntory’s Chief Blender Shinji Fukuyo makes a point of visiting the Northern region of Spain himself. He does this to ensure that his selection of Spanish oak be sent to the “bodegas” (sherry wineries) to be made into the sherry casks used to store their Oloroso Sherry. Fukuyo carefully oversees this entire process, from the selection of the casks, to the charring and the aging of the sherry. After three years of aging, the sherry casks are sent back to Suntory’s Yamazaki distillery, ready to receive what becomes the distinguished Yamazaki Sherry Cask Whisky.

The Sherry Cask – The Challenge

Sherry casks are both revered and feared for their strong character, as they can easily overpower a whisky’s flavor. The Yamazaki malts can also be affected by this sherry/Spanish oak cask flavor. However, in the case of the Yamazaki Sherry Cask, Suntory’s Chief Blender Shinji Fukuyo selects only those casks in which the delicate balance of chemistry between the Yamazaki malt and sherry cask can be achieved, thereby enhancing Yamazaki’s characteristically rich and multifaceted flavor. The meticulous selection process of the Spanish oak, the management of the sherry casks, and the overall aging process ensure the final award winning quality of this liquid.

The Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2016:

A Fine Blend of Maturity and Delicateness

Chief Blender Shinji Fukuyo is often compared to an artist. His blends are deliberate designs meticulously chosen from more than 100 malt whiskies. Each taste is a color and aroma, specifically curated for the occasion. Fukuyo is clear that he did not blend the Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2016 for the novice. The Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2016 is created for the “Suntory Whisky Lover”—a lover of complex, refined and subtle tastes. Like the rest of the Yamazaki Cask Collection (Mizunara, Bourbon Barrel, and Puncheon), the sherry cask is a critical component that differentiates and characterizes the award winning Yamazaki Single Malt Whisky.

The Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2016 – The Journey

Fukuyo has designed a journey in this whisky. The Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2016 is undeniably where Spain meets Japan in the form of a whisky. To fully enjoy this journey, Fukuyo recommends the whisky first be served neat to showcase its nose. On its own, there is a clear and fresh top note. A raisin-like, deep sweetness that is both elegant and rich. You immediately taste the complexity of this liquid and the fine balance of maturity and delicateness. Served on the rocks, the flavor opens as you begin to taste the Delaware grape-like sweetness and its slightly bitter acidity. When cut with water, there is a soft sweetness that blossoms like the first apples of the harvest.

Tasting Notes

The Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2016 leverages the same lot of whiskies as was used for the Yamazaki Sherry cask 2013 for its base. These whiskies have matured for two more years. To this blend, Fukuoy adds various rare sherry cask single malt whiskies, some of which are more than 25 years old, creating a whisky that has a deep richness, mellowness and complexity of flavors.

Color:   Dark brown, a rich and decadent natural “Sherry” color

Nose:    Raisin, sun-dried tomato, clove, cocoa

Taste:    Deep, rich, sweet and sour, chocolate with hazelnuts

Finish:  Long, bittersweet, sour

 Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2016, a single malt whisky, is presented at 48% alcohol by volume (96 proof) and will be available in market as of February 1, 2016. The suggested retail price is $300.00. Five thousand bottles of Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2016 have been produced globally.