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 192014

Torben is a close friend of mine. Yes, we have yet to meet in personam, but we’re Facebook whisky friends, and share similar professional backgrounds. And he’s a great guy! We have a pretty constant exchange of samples going back and forth, and at any given time there’s usually a package en route from one of us to the other. In the last package, a surprise awaited me, as Torben sent me a sample of the Yamazaki Sherry Cask (the 2010 edition). I was amused to learn that while in transit, it was decreed (in scripture, no less) that the 2013 version of it is the best whisky in the world with a score of 97.5 points.

Father and Son, Yamazaki master blenders Shinjiro Torii and Keizo Saji. Photo Credit:

As a reader of this blog you know that I don’t score the whiskys I taste. I’ll describe what I see, smell and taste, and give you my honest opinion about the whisky, vis-à-vis quality and price. I honestly don’t think that a scale of 1-100 can be used consistently to rate whisky. I mean, what’s the difference between a 95 and a 94? And between those two and a 94.5? And tasted blind, would you score them the same every time? So yes, Yoav (of Whisky Gospel) and I will talk about rating when we have tastings together, but neither of us score in our blogs. How is it, then, determined that the BEST whisky in the world is a 97.5 and the SECOND BESTS only a 97? Thus, with all due respect, I don’t subscribe to the concept of “the best whisky in the world”. Sure, I have my top 10 drams of all times, and I assure you that none of them are the best whisky in the world.

Getting to the whisky at hand, the Yamazaki Sherry Cask, I can tell you it’s a lovely sherry bomb, with a complex nose and a surprisingly intense palate. For its original price of about $110 (€80 in the exchange rate then), it’s a good dram. But the world has gone mad, as I just saw a 50 ml sample of it offered on ebay for €101. For a sample! That’s €1414 for the bottle, and I’ve seen bottles this week for as high as €1875.  Guys, this is a normal run of the mill sherry bomb, not all that different from the a’Bunadh or the Glenfarclas 105, just at a lower ABV. Good whisky, even very good whisky, but not so amazing as to justify costing twenty five fold what a bottle of a’Bunadh would.

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Yamazaki Sherry Cask (48% ABV, NAS, NCF)

Appearance: Deep bronze, thin and quick legs.

Nose: First you get the intense Oloroso sherry, very reminiscent of the a’Bunadh. Sultana raisins and prunes greet the nose, but they are not heavy on the spices with light cinnamon and clove and a sweet Christmas cake. Covered for a while you get a somewhat sour nose. The malt is richly there with cherry, sour berries, plum brandy and an underlying dusty balsamic note with a hint of licorice.

Palate: Very dry with cooked dried cherries and plums. The palate is surprisingly intense with the spices – cinnamon, pepper and clove in a sweet liquid with clear notes of sherry in that sweetness.

Linger: Sweet on the tongue with prunes and sultanas. Cinnamon and clove assert themselves in the back of the throat. Both the sweet and the spicy notes remain for a very long finish.



This is a beautifully intense sherry bomb, with the palate and the linger being particularly noteworthy. Despite being an excellent dram, it’s squarely in the league of the Glendronach 15 and 18, the Aberlour a’Bunadh and the Glenfarclas 105. The “Japanese effect” can only add so much value to the whisky. Thus, at current price levels, it’s best left to bible thumpers.

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.