Yamazaki 12 Year

I have never tried a Japanese whisky before, though I’ve been intrigued by them for quite some time.

My fascination began in 2014, when Suntory’s Yamazaki Sherry Cask ranked first in the Whisky Bible, unseating both Scotland and Ireland for the title of best whisky. Yeah I know. Holy shit.

Anyway, I’d been tempted before by other Japanese whiskies but felt I needed to hold out for the Suntory Sherry Cask. So, I passed up other acclaimed brands, including the also-legendary Nikka. I needed the best.

And so it was that I found myself in Swifts Attic, a fantastic Austin dinner place with a rotating and delicious whisky menu. I debated for a while what to get, and then I saw it. No, not the Yamazaki Sherry Cask, but the equally appealing (I’d had a Manhattan before hand) Yamazaki 12 Year. Fuck it, thought I. I’m gonna do this.

I bothered the bartender (a cute blonde with that decidedly “Southern thing” going for her) and asked her to pour up the Yamazaki for a tasting. She kindly catered to my bullshit and obliged, giving me one neat, one with a cube, and one with a splash of water.

I’ll start with the neat. The nose on this thing was potent. I got rubbing alcohol accompanied by a bright polished brass aroma and a touch of smoke. Though it was Japanese, the aroma reminded me of an intense Islay Scotch. The taste was similarly intense thought slightly fruity, giving me fresh black cherry, peat, cane sugar and Mediterranean spices.

The splash of water did change the nose of the drink slightly, dulling the brass a bit but keeping the smoke. However, the flavor profile remained mostly the same. It would take more than a splash to temper this beast.

Finally I tasted the drink with the ice cube. This version unlocked many more of the subtleties of the Yamazaki 12 Year. I got ginger, browned butter, dried cherry, and sea salt on the nose. I took a sip and was rewarded with delicious cherry flavors, more of the browned butter, and a taste of caramel that had been cooked just a touch too long. It was complex and rich.

Overall, I’d say the Yamazaki 12 Year was unexpected, but mostly because I didn’t know what to expect! The flavors were a bit too harsh neat, but they really shine when brought down a bit by an ice cube (or to a lesser extent by a splash of water). Check it out if you want a challenging drink. This is not something to sip casually. Give it some attention though and you will be rewarded.


4 thoughts on “Yamazaki 12 Year”

  1. I enjoyed the article since I’m a fan of this spirit but you might want to let your proofreader recover from the taste testing before posting (Yamazaki not Yamakazi in the tiitle). ??

    1. The proofreader definitely enjoyed the whisky a little TOO much 😉 Thanks for the heads up, name has been corrected!

  2. …glad you enjoyed it. It’s the Yamazaki Sherry Cask – not Cherry cask. 🙂 Kind of hard to finish a whisky in a barrel that had a bunch of cherries in it for years, right? 🙂 You can’t really find the original Sherry Cask from 2012 anywhere these days…unless you have thousands of dollars available to buy a bottle at auction. I’d doubt most of those are being opened. A shame really…

    Scotch/Whisky is the perfect pairing with a nice stoge…heck, even a not so nice stoge. I started drinking Japanese whisky (and it’s whisky not whiskey like Jack Daniels since they can’t call a scotch like spirit made in Japan “scotch” for obvious reasons…). The Japanese stuff, generally speaking, is well suited for this task.

    For your readers sake – if they or you have an opportunity – try the Yamazaki 18 year. It’s one of the best all-around whisky’s on the planet. Period. It’s running in the $250 a bottle range now…when you can find it…but it’s every bit worth it. My local Costco will stock it from time to time and when I see it there I buy them out of whatever they have.

    The Japanese have had some great success here and Suntory especially is making some damn fine whisky. The demand hit a hockey stick a few years ago when they won best whisky on the planet for the 2nd time in 3 or 4 years I believe. The 18 year got them on the map and then the Sherry Cask put them over the edge. I live in Austin, TX and there’s a local bar here with a very impressive scotch/whiskey/whisky menu and they have a bottle of the 2014 Sherry Cask. The 2012 is the holy grail…but I’ll get over there to get a glass when the time is right…and it’s $140 a glass for the 2014 stuff. Ridiculous. Yes. Worth it. I’m sure of it. 🙂

    Great blog – oh…please don’t put any more ice in these fine Japanese whisky’s. A dab of water will open some of the stronger stuff up…I usually go that direction with cask strength type stuff but the 12 isn’t overpowering at all right out of the bottle and if you do anything…a drop or two of distilled water is all you need.

    1. Thanks for the heads up on the sherry cask, agreed, cherries might make it difficult…:)

      I am definitely going to look into the 18 year. This was a great first excursion into the Japanese whiskies and I’m excited to try more from Suntory in this line. I really do need to track down the Sherry Cask somewhere, if just for a taste.

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