Yamazaki Mizunara Cask 18 year old (2017 Edition), 48%
Japanese | $1,000
When whisky lovers talk about the grandeur of Japanese whisky, the enlightenment they desire can be found within this bottle. A refined luxury evocative of toasted marshmallow, sweet incense, butter-soft caramels, oak spices, and ground cinnamon. All the hallmarks of mizunara are here. Concentrated sweet citrus, so intensely fruity on the palate; the mouthfeel is rapturously silky with touches of mango, dried apricot, and gentle but resilient spices.
Deep, mature in nature, and very complex. Notes of polished leather, maple syrup, and dark pit fruit, with suggestions of tobacco smoke, wood shavings, and unsweetened chocolate. References to fine old bourbon and ultra-matured pot-still rum provide intrigue. Proof that Japan produces some outstanding, distinctive whiskies. Nicely done!
The first thing you notice is the elegant fragrance of lychee, spring blossoms, lily, rosewater, and raspberry meringue. Deeper in, grassy notes with star fruit, kumquat, and kaffir lime leaves. The flavors offer perfection in their simplicity: silky honey, soft spices, crystalized pineapple, barley sugar, lemon, and orange. On the finish, the spices chatter on and on as the sweet citrus and honey fade in and out. One to cherish.
The first vintage Suntory Yamazaki offered in the U.S. A portion of this whisky is aged in Japanese oak. Heavy aroma, with lush sherried fruit and deep juicy oak, marrying with firmly dry and spicy oak resin (the Japanese oak influence is obvious). This same profile follows through on the palate: ripe berried fruit, raisin, blackberry jam, plum spiced with cinnamon, vanilla spearmint, roasted nuts and gripping leather. All this, lying on a bed of molasses and toffee. The Japanese oak really kicks in on the invigoratingly spicy, warm, resinous finish. Quite elderly in nature, but remains very exciting and dynamic, even with all the oak.
Mizunara—or Japanese oak—was considered inferior for many years. Only recently have its extraordinary aromatic qualities been appreciated. These are immediately apparent on the nose: aloes, wood incense, sandalwood, cinnamon balls, sour cherry, and apple, becoming more gingery with water. Intense and acidic in the mouth, there are tart, stewed red fruits, pomegranate, and citrus. Lightly bitter tannins add to the complexity, as does the smoke rising from the smoldering incense stick. The most significant Japanese whisky of the year? £250
I tried this alongside the ‘legendary’ 2013 which, while good, remains too tannic for me. This though, has refinement and some complexity, with roasted tea, scented wood, resin, new brogues, and then the fruity Yamazaki undertow. In time you’ll get perfumed, incense-like sherried elements. It’s the finish where things take off into rose petal, strawberry, and Yamazaki’s pineapple signature. Water increases the tannin. Better than 2013, but still only for sherry bomb and tannin lovers.
Yamazaki’s puncheons contain 480 liters and are made at the distillery’s cooperage from American white oak. The greater size means there are lower levels of oak extract, immediately apparent in the paler hue and more restrained aromas, where flowers mix with the gentle blandness of pear, lychee and, with water, pineapple. Best neat, here is distillery character (or one of the distillery characters, Yamazaki makes many styles) to the fore. Less immediate than the bourbon barrel, but ultimately more rewarding. £70
Very bright gold. This shows some of the warm tatami/dry grass notes seen in Yamazaki 12 year old, this time overlaid with fruit stones, banana chips, fresh persimmon, and, once it opens, cask-generated aromas of crème brûlée, cinnamon toast, caramelized sugar, and cotton candy. The palate is sweet and lush with plenty of vanilla ice cream, but there’s sufficient acidity to maintain freshness and prevent things from getting too flabby. £70
No doubts from the color what type of cask this is: first-fill, sherry. The nose shows masses of bitter chocolate, fresh coffee grounds, black cherry, and molasses cut with humid aromas of damp earth, nut, and dried fruit. This bittersweet theme continues on the tongue, but its sweetness surprises, with the spirit pushing the tannins away just enough to reveal itself. If you like savory power, this is for you. For me, while it’s instructive, it’s too grippy. £70