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.