Whisky Advocate’s 19th Annual Award: Japanese Whisky of the YearJanuary 25th, 2013
Yamazaki Mizunara bottled 2012, 48%, £250
Japan was quiet this year as distillers continued to try to find ways to balance an increase in demand for blends (at home) and malts (abroad), with a squeeze on mature stock. The pressure will be relieved over the next few years — the arrival of Nikka in the U.S. is evidence of this — but for the time being there are fewer new releases on the market than in the recent past.
Suntory’s quartet of different wood expressions (Mizunara, Puncheon, Sherry, and Bourbon), a virtual deconstruction of Yamazaki’s aged expressions, was an exception to this and was an inspired move. Here was a distiller showing a new audience the nuts and bolts of its single malt, showing how different cask types influence character, taking the same base liquid and spinning it into new shapes which then can be brought back together into a multi-faceted, complex whole.
The most significant of the quartet was the Mizunara (Japanese oak cask) bottling. It took me back to my first morning in Japan, when my hosts poured me a sample of Yamazaki aged in Japanese oak. As I was clearly scratching around for descriptors, they kindly offered the enigmatic suggestion that it “smelled of temples.” A dozen or so years later, with many temples under my knees, I can heartily concur. The scent of the aloeswood-based incense that scents these places is the greatest aromatic signature for Mizunara, and here it sits alongside cinnamon balls, sour cherry, and the apple and pineapple that help define the distillery.
Mizunara seems to add acidity, making the whisky more aromatically lifted and intense. It also helps make Yamazaki truly Japanese. Mizunara, in other words, isn’t just a wood type, it has symbolic importance. So this first commercial bottling, was not just a great whisky, but a hugely significant one. — Dave Broom
Whisky Advocate’s World Whisky of the Year will be announced tomorrow.