Distillery/Brand: Suntory Yamazaki | Region: Japan | ABV: 43% | Colour: Old Gold
Nose: 25 | Taste: 25 | Finish: 25 | Balance: 25
This is not a review. This is a declaration.
I finally landed my Moby Dick. Ever since I first laid eyes on that pristine label, the minimalist bottle design and the fiery red liquid inside I knew I just had to have it. It cost me an arm and a leg to get hold of a bottle a few years ago but I just couldn’t muster up the courage to open it and realize my dreams.
But then last night my good friend Nitin decided that gifting me a 50ml sample of this would be the perfect birthday present! And it was.
I even took notes but somehow my phone decided that judging this whisky would be a travesty and so promptly lost the memo.
Is this the best whisky I’ve ever tasted? Probably not. But is it any good? You bet your Bonsai Tree it is! It’s, to put it mildly, one of the most fabulously crafted spirits I’ve ever had.
But more than that it’s the fulfilment of a five year old dream.
Now I don’t want to sound like I’m gushing so I’ll go straight to my notes.
Nose: Pretty awesome.
Palate: Love it!
Balance: Out of this world.
Overall Comments: I’m going to give this a perfect score because it didn’t let me down even though I had built it up so much in my head.
Distillery/Brand: Hanyu | Region: Japan | ABV: 46% | Colour: Young Sauternes
Nose: 22 | Taste: 22 | Finish: 21 | Balance: 21 | Rating: 86
Hanyu Distillery was founded in 1941 by Isouji Akuto, a descendant of a long line of sake producers. Located north-west of Tokyo in Saitama prefecture, Hanyu distillery was built in the city of the same name, and is surrounded by vast rice fields supplied with river Tone water.
In 1980 the distillery started the production of single malt whisky, with the purchase of two Scottish pot stills. Success, however, eluded this distillery and it stopped producing whisky in 2000 and completely dismantled in 2004.
Remaining stocks previously stored on the site, were recovered by Ichiro Akuto (grand-son of the founder of Hanyu) assisted by a sake-maker Sasanokawa Shuzo, and were kept there until 2008 when they were transferred to Chichibu, a new distillery founded by Ichiro Akuto.
The spirit inside this bottle was distilled in 1990 and bottled in 2010 after being finished off in French Oak. My sample is from a brand new bottle and served at 46%
Nose: Bourbon. Vanilla. Nuts. Chocolate. Red berries. Grapes. Hint of oak. Spices. Becomes crisp over time. Earthy with a hint of something sour. The French Oak really let’s itself be known thanks to all the spices.
Palate: Spices. Coffee swirl. Chocolate. Oak. Peaches. Earthy. Dry leaves. Dry fruits. Nuts. It threatens to become complex but then chooses not to. The oak is a bit much for me here.
Finish: Medium. Coffee. Spices. And that damn oak again.
Overall Comments: Overall I feel this is a decent little whisky even if the oak has decided to overpower proceedings. And one can overlook minor flaws when tasting a piece of history.
Distillery/Brand: Suntory Hakushu | Region: Japan | ABV: 43% | Color: Pale Straw
Nose: 23 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 24 | Balance: 23 | Rating: 93
Not unlike most whisky drinking enthusiasts I also have a soft spot for Japanese single malts. For no other reason than that a non-traditional country is showing giants how the good stuff is made.
Their maturation techniques and unique weather conditions have created some of my most memorable moments of whisky sipping.
Hakushu (pronounce hak-shoo) was established in 1973, in the forest on the slopes of Mount Kaikoma which would explain the inherent earthiness that most of their spirits tend to have.
As a fan of the 12 I was quite excited to have a go at the 18. There is, however, shockingly little information on what goes into the making of this fine whisky. I understand the Japanese are insanely secretive about how they do things but some information would really help.
I suspect the spirit has seen multiple casks and a blending at some stage. I can safely assume bourbon and sherry in the mix with quite possibly some Japanese oak too. And there is some peat thrown in for good measure.
My sample is from a brand new bottle (circa 2014) and served at a strength of 43%
Nose: Tobacco. Peat. Smoke. It’s quite savory. grapes. Red apple. Cumin. Coffee. Chocolate. I’m suspecting Oloroso sherry here. Husk. Citrus. Ripe oranges. Soft dates. Clove. Now I’m pretty sure it’s Oloroso. Burnt toast. It’s quite a robust nose. Very controlled and on point. I like it a lot!
Palate: Sweeter than the nose. Honey. Citrus. Cinnamon. Those apples again. Mint. Very juicy and velvety delivery. The clove is back too. I love the texture of this one. Makes you salivate as it does the rounds around the palate.
Finish: So long. Amazingly long. Oily. Clove. Cinnamon. Mint. Oak
This was quite a complex undertaking with loads of flavor. I’ve seen a lot of reviews in favor of the 12 versus this. But those could be earlier bottlings because what I had was quite top class.
Distillery/Brand: Suntory Yamazaki | Region: Japan | ABV: 43% | Color: Sunlight
Nose: 22 | Taste: 22 | Finish: 21 | Balance: 22 | Rating: 87
Yamazaki is a powerhouse of a distillery. Competing alongside Nikka for my affections it is routinely churning out brilliant expressions. The 12 and the 18 – both having secured cult status. The 25 that I have sitting on my shelf which I am saving for the most momentous of occasions.
Then there are the Hakushus coming out from the same gates. Saltier and more maritime in nature and equally good.
But what I love most is the air of intrigue and minimalistic sophistication Japanese whiskies bring with them. There is nothing which is too much or unnecessary. Nothing is loud or overbearing. Instead there is a controlled elegance to everything they represent.
While the Yamazaki Distillers Reserve may not be the best Yamazaki I have tasted it is quite decent in it’s own right.
Expertly blended by Shinji Fukuyo, the fourth Chief Blender of Yamazaki, the Distillers Reserve is a mix of three unique casks; Wine, Sherry & Mizunara. And there seems to be something from each in the final spirit.
Nose: Malty. Butterscotch. Pepper. Dry fruit. Sugar frosting. A ton of pineapple. Jack fruit and papaya. All the tropical fruits in the world. The wine comes through in a fruity chardonnay with a hint of oak. Decently accomplished if not magnificent.
Palate: Very thin. Apples. Light honey. Mid-palate it becomes fruitier. It’s the same tropical suspects. Bananas with the faintest of mangoes. Hints of oak. I think it’s trying to be a Speysider but not really doing a good enough job of it.
Finish: Medium with a touch of spice. My least favorite part.
Look, I keep saying this one is far from magnificent but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve a pour.
Distillery/Brand: Nikka Taketsuru | Region: Japan | ABV: 43% | Color: Young Sauternes
Nose: 23 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 23 | Rating: 92
Taketsuru San is a legend. He worked in Scotland during the early part of the 20th century at Longmorn and then at Hazelburn all the while carefully plotting a plan that would take the whisky world by storm.
He went back to Japan armed with whisky making knowledge and a Scottish wife (of no relevance to this review by the way) and began work at Kotobukiya (which would later become Suntory). Then in 1934 he decided to open up his own distillery and chose Yoichi on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaid. He believed that this part of the country most resembled Scotland.
This distillery would be named Nikka.
This pure 2013 pure malt is a homage to the great man who is responsible for some of my finest moments in whisky drinking. This blend also has the distinction of winning the 2014 World Whiskies Award for Best Blend. Not that I give a toss about whisky awards.
Nose: The sherry influence is is obvious. Dark honey and marmalade fig jam on slightly burnt toast. There is a touch of fresh mint and almonds too. It gets fruitier over time with pears and red berries. All this against a backdrop of decadent oaky chocolate cake.
Palate: Rich. Robust. Creamy. Unmistakable sherry raisins and chocolate maple. The black coffee peppers bring the spice while the ripe sultanas add a touch of fruit.
Finish: Spicy date on autumn leaves.
This is quite a bold whisky and unashamed of it’s flavors. I’d love to see a cask strength version of this.
Nikka, are you reading this?
Colour: Young Sauternes
I must be honest. I have a soft spot for anything that comes out of the Land of the Rising Sun. I love the assertive flavors but more than that I simply love the way they package their spirits. There is a graphic design case study in each bottle.
This particular Chichibu is a 2009 vintage bottled in 2013 making it barely legal (sorry, couldn’t resist!). It’s been nurtured in the Japanese version of the Quarter Cask to accelerate the maturation process. This quarter cask is known as the Chibidaru. Unlike the Scottish QC which has less staves this one actually has the staves shortened and re-purposed.
Brought out at a tasting for my whisky club it was a hit or miss expression with some of the members loving it and some not overly impressed. I was not overly impressed.
Nose: Lots of tropical fruits. Papaya. Mango. Overripe papaya. Overripe mango. Like taking all the fruits together and mulching them in a wooden bowl. And then sprayed with a buttery biscuit maltiness to create an almost humid environment. It’s not bad, mind you.
(A glass was left for over an hour to breathe and these are the collective nosing notes of the society members for that experiment: jaggery, Christmas cake, nutmeg, almonds, butterscotch, cinnamon, cardamom, peach and star anise. It actually became quite intense.)
Palate: I found it a little weird. Something not quite right about it. Very overripe papaya which I don’t mind terribly but I draw the line at stale coconut oil. It is my least favorite flavor and it came through quite strongly. There are also dark red fruits with a black pepper sprinkle but the oily coconut is too distracting for me.
Finish: Medium with a black pepper spiciness.
With so many members liking this expression I think I will re-visit it and try and eke out the positives. Till then I will choose to remain unimpressed.
Distillery/Brand: Nikka Miyagikyou
Colour: Young Sauternes
There is something oddly comforting about opening a Japanese single malt, especially from the power house Nikka, because you know you’re always in for a treat. And this entry level 12 is a must have on any shelf.
The warm chocolate Christmas cake sets the tone for a complex nosing experience. First come the dried figs and raisins with a healthy drop of vanilla. Juicy fruits are next in the shape of pears. Let it catch it’s breath and in come salty wild red berries and a handful of almonds. A very complex nose on a relatively young malt.
The full-bodied spirit cascades in with luscious chocolate, black peppercorns and candied orange. Chew it for a while (you will want to, believe me!) to welcome red grapes and hazelnuts in a swirl of sticky toffee.
The distinct aftertaste has a curious ‘twang’ to it. Not too oily, not too dry, it ends with lovely citrus and mint.
Just another malt that re-affirms my faith in the Land of the Rising Sun.
Distillery/Brand: Nikka Miyagikyou
This particular 15 year old was sampled fresh on the heels of it’s magnificent younger brother the 12 and so expectations were high. Add to that the reputation Nikka brings with it and you can imagine the burden on it’s young shoulders.
The nose is not bad. It’s not magnificent, mind you, but then everything can’t be hit out of the park all the time. There is woody brown sugar syrup mixed in with sweet melon followed by a drizzle of balsamic vinegar on nectarines. Quite interesting.
The palate is aggressive and reminded me of pancakes smothered liberally with woody maple syrup, dark chocolate and cinnamon.
The dry finish is spicy and full of cloves.
This is not a bad malt by any standards. It is a touch brash, in my opinion, and I wish it held it’s poise like it’s 12 year old sibling.
Distillery/Brand: Suntory Yamazaki
Colour: Deep Gold
Suntory is a powerhouse and even when some of their offerings fall short they still manage to stay reasonably north of average. This 18 year expression falls into that range.
The sherried nose is quite nice even though I started to detect a hint of fatigue. Nevertheless the dark chocolate, mocha coffee and strong almond figs make for a decent bouquet of aromas. There are also subtle woody mint overtones. But all of this is rounded off by a peculiar egg yolk note which I can only attribute to sulphur.
The palate is a swirl of honey and maple syrup sprinkled with chocolate rum raisins and finished off with a pinch of banana cinnamon.
The only draw back in this expression is the finish as it leaves a cloying sulphury after taste which is quite dry.
Distillery/Brand: Suntory Yamazaki
This particular bottle of the Yamazaki 12 was opened well over a year ago and has not only maintained it’s elegance but become a little more mature as well. For example it’s not as floral as I remember it to be.
The nose is an essay in poised elegance. Wild red berries covered in black peppercorns are drizzled with vanilla infused honey. There is a pinch of sea salt with a lonely cardamom pod surrounded by delicate wood shavings.
The dry palate is creamy chocolate dates sprinkled with nuts and raisins and finished with a flourish of cinnamon mist.
The finish is long and satisfying with a touch of spice and slices of banana.
This malt has grown in stature the last time I tasted a year ago. Either that or my feeble mind was simply unable to comprehend a good malt when it tasted one. In any case I’m glad I decided to revisit this gem.