Dec 222014

Yamazaki is Japan’s oldest distillery, but Nikka’s Yoichi is the most “Scottish” distillery in Japan. It’s located near the sea on the west coast of the northern island of Hokkaido, in conditions that are close to those of the western coastal Highlands (think Oban or Adelphi’s new Ardnamurchan) or even Islay, and still use direct coal fire to heat the stills. The location was chosen by Masataka Taketsuru, of Yamazaki fame, after leaving Suntory to start Nikka in 1934.

By 1940, World War II in the east was in full blow, and Nikka (then named Dainipponkaju, which would never work on exports) was sitting pretty with defense contracts to supply whisky to the Imperial Navy, where officers had to have their whisky and Scotch wasn’t an option because of the war.

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Yoichi has a core range of 5 single malts (NAS, 10, 12, 15 and 20 year old), with the bulk of the production going into Nikka’s Taketsuru vatted malts, the Nikka Pure Malt Black and the blends Nikka makes.

Yoichi is known for its coastal, even medicinal, qualities. The whisky is full bodied, even oily, with varying degrees of peatiness and smokiness, and the 10 showcases that character nicely.

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Yoichi 10 (45% ABV)

Appearance: Gold, slow legs dripping from a long lasting ring.

Nose: First comes the peat. More highland than maritime, though. Under the peat is a layer of sherry sweetness. There’s also an oily-vegetal note which opens to floral notes and bread dough.

Palate: Peat, honey, peppery spice and zesty orange peel.

Linger: The spice lingers in the whole mouth, with light sweetness and smoke resolving into some metallic notes in a long lasting finish.


This is good stuff, not that we’d expect anything less from the Japanese whisky industry.

Again, price is a concern, as it is with all Japanese whisky, with Yoichi being in even more of a bind because it didn’t foresee the current boom, and didn’t lay down enough stock to age. Expect shortages, and price hikes on this front too.

The Yoichi 10 was tasted as part of the December meeting of the Malt Mongers Israel Whisky Club




Dec 212014

The Yamazaki 18 is a highly acclaimed whisky. It has much more sherry matured whisky than the 12, yet retains the characteristic “vanilla-orange” florals of  the Yamazaki.

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Yamazaki 18 (43% ABV)

Appearance: Bronze with thin legs.

Nose: The telltale Yamazaki floral-orange-vanilla note is clearly there, with a deeper sherry. Sultanas, cinnamon, light clove with light notes of furniture polish. Smooth bittersweet chocolate and oak close out the nose. The sherry is clearly there, lending sweetness to the nose, but this isn’t the heavy sherry of the Yamazaki Sherry Cask or true sherry bombs.

Palate: Less complex than the nose, delivering a combination of pepper and sweetness with citrus bitterness and wood spice (mostly pepper) warmness.

Linger: Longish linger with spice in the throat, sweetness in the center of the tongue and tartness on the sides. The inside of the cheeks have the sherry tanins.


Beautiful expression of the heights to which precision crafted whisky can get. It’s a very accurate and balanced dram.

The only obvious problem with this whisky is its price. It basically doubled in price over the past few years, and we’re nowhere near the end of that trend, with a 15-20% price hike planned by Suntory for April 2015. In the UK you’ll pay £155 for a bottle of the Yamazaki 18, whereas the discontinued Macallan 1995 18 Year Old Sherry Oak can be had for £10 cheaper, and is on average double the price of 18 year old Scotch.

Dec 182014

The Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve is the new entry level NAS Yamazaki, now placed at the €50 mark the Yamazaki 12 occupied not too long ago.

This is an excellent Speyside impostor that will have you wondering if Yamazaki and Glenlivet aren’t working together.  It’s young. In fact, Suntory says that it was created to showcase the qualities of the younger whiskys they mature. Created by master distiller Shingo Torii, grandson of the great Shinjiro Torii, this is actually a very complex whisky that may make believers out of NASophobics…

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Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve (43% ABV, NAS)

Appearance: Deep gold, quick and thin legs.

Nose: The Yamazaki’s signature vanilla-orange-flowers is there, but it only drops in to say hello. It’s noticeably younger than the 12 and more aggressive in presenting its aromas, but this is not a deterrent in any way. The nose would place you in Speyside in a blind tasting, with fresh grapes, green apples and fresh clean citrus. Time reveals melon, light balsamic vinegar and coconut cream.

Palate: Spice on the palate with gentle pepper, honey and sweeter spices like nutmeg and cinnamon.

Linger: The linger is long, sweet and spicy. You’ll find pepper and sweet sherry like notes with tartness on the sides of the cheeks and spice in the throat. The feel is almost like after drinking coke.


Excellent and complex, it will leave you wondering if this isn’t a Speysider, as it really disguises itself very well. Despite being a NAS entry level whisky, this is an excellent expression. At £50/€50, this expression offers a decent VFM and a bottle I can definitely see becoming people’s favorite daily dram.

This expression was part of the December 2014 tasting at the Malt Mongers Israel Club.



Dec 172014

Yamazaki needs no introductions. Japan’s first single malt distillery has been active since 1923. The Japanese market is fascinating as Japanese distillers don’t share stocks, thus each one needs to create all the different whiskys they need for blending.

Consequently,  the stillhouse at Yamazaki has short onion stills capable of making beefy and sulfury new make alongside tall stills with reflux bulges to create gentle floral whisky.

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Going from complete obscurity outside Japan to being highly desired and leaders of inflationary trends in just one decade,  Japanese whisky is now a major player on the world stage.  A few Japanese distilleries even achieved the highly coveted,  albeit posthumous,  legendary status of Port Ellen and Brora and command breathtaking prices at auction.

I reviewed some of those whiskys following the Whisky Show in London,  but I now want to review some of the standard editions of Yamazaki, starting with the 12. We’ll then review the Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve and the Yamazaki 18.

This expression was made from whiskys matured in American, European and Japanese oak.

Yamazaki 12 (43% ABV)

Appearance: Amber, thin and relatively quick legs.

Nose: Floral honey, strong cinnamon, perfume, flower bouquets, malt, open fields. The floral notes are very present, but not the Scottish Lowlands type, these have more vanilla. It has an overall profile I’d describe as orange-floral.

Palate: Sweet and peppery, light lemon and very smooth mouthfeel.

Linger: Pepper on the tongue and an overall sweetness in a medium finish.


The Yamazaki 12 was the first Japanese single malt I ever had, and I remember the distinct “wow factor” at the quality and taste. My notes are more recent, though, as I have a bottle of it at home.

This is a great daily dram whisky, but considering the recent Japanese whisky craze and the hyperinflation running rampant in the world of whisky, it’s going to get more and more expensive and is starting to pull away from its 7th grade class mates.