Producer: Suntory. Distiller: Yamazaki. ABV: 43%. Age: 12 years. Price: $100+.
Among the many Japanese whiskies that are hard to find these days, Yamazaki 12 is one of the scarcest. Part of the reason may be the halo effect of the sensational (and even harder to find) Yamazaki 18, but the 12 is very appealing in its own right. It’s fruitier and fuller-bodied than the peated Hakushu 12, and it may be a bit more approachable for less experienced whisky drinkers than the Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt 12–though don’t sleep on that Nikka.
(Incidentally, Nikka’s done a far better job than Yamazaki of producing a no-age-statement substitute for their all-but-inaccessible 12-year-olds…the Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt NAS is a stunner, and remarkably close in maturity and complexity to the 12-year-old, while the Yamazaki NAS single malt is raw and unfocused, especially next to its age-stated predecessor.)
On to the main event. The Yamazaki 12 is matured in a mix of ex-bourbon barrels, ex-sherry butts, and Japanese mizunara oak casks. The latter is known for imparting tropical and/or fragrant floral notes, and the Yamazaki 12 has plenty of both.
The nose starts out reminiscent of the honeyed Glenmorangie 10, then adds canned pineapple. Lychee. Fragrant jasmine. Golden raisins and plum blossoms.
The mouthfeel is pleasantly oily, and the palate has golden raisins in a buttery apple strudel. Plum brandy, mild spice, and barrel tannins just sour enough to give balance and backbone to what otherwise might be too sweet an experience. The finish has citrus rind and a bit of barrel char.
Easy-drinking but substantial, unchallenging but satisfying. At just enough of an angle from your everyday Speyside or Highland to keep things interesting. It’s little wonder the Yamazaki 12 was a hit, and a bit of a shame it’s so hard to find now–and so overpriced when it does pop up. At $60, this would be a no-brainer. At $80, I’d raise an eyebrow. At $100+, it’s a try-before-you-buy.
Kanpai, friends! – BO