Dry, smokey and sophisticated, Japanese whisky has earned a much-deserved place of honour in the world of single malts. Although Scotland’s isles are the birthplace of the coveted golden liquid, Japan has since long perfected the fine art of distilling this blend into one of the most coveted whiskies in the international market. It is woody and not sweet, and though key ingredients are imported from Scotland, it is the high-end distillation technique perfected over the centuries, the Japanese obsession with details and an individualistic philosophy behind the ageing process is what makes Yamazaki whisky a coveted treat. We find out more about the intriguing history behind Yamazaki whisky, one of the most prized brands in the world.
The identity of the Japanese single malt is connected with Yamazaki, as Japan’s first commercial distillery was built near the border of Kyoto and Osaka in Yamazaki.
Everything you need to know about Yamazaki whisky and its history
Exclusive and elusive, getting your hands on a good old bottle of Yamazaki whisky can be difficult. Here are all the details you must know before diving into it.
How did Yamazaki whisky come into being?
Did you know? Whisky was a peace offering to the Japanese by an American naval officer back in 1853 when the Tokugawa Shogunate, the military regime which ruled Japan in the Edo era, had closed the country off to the world. The golden liquid did the trick, and soon whisky imports began.
In 1919, a young wine apprentice and pharmacist Shinjiro Torii, accidentally blended a brew similar to whisky, and the drink started flying off the shelves. With increasing public demand, White Oak Distillery was first granted permission to brew whisky.
However, it was nowhere comparable to the original Scottish blend, and to master this art, Masataka Taketsuru from Hiroshima travelled to Glasgow. He, along with his Scottish wife, brought this expertise back to Japan and thus began the country’s tryst with distilling the single malt.
Taketsuru was later employed by Torii at Suntory as the principal whisky maker. Torii and Taketsuru zeroed in on a distillery in the Yamazaki province to set up a brand new distillery, which began operations in November 1924. And the rest is history.
Must-have Yamazaki whiskies
Japanese whisky is rare because there is a global demand for this product while its distillation is limited. With a couple of distilleries in the country closed down, acquiring a bottle of aged, limited-edition Yamazaki has become a status symbol now. Here are a few blends from the Yamazaki Distillery that you should add to your collection of single malts. The prices are estimates.
Suntory Yamazaki Single Malt Whisky 1984
Only 2,800 bottles of this limited-edition whisky were made. It is a highly regarded blend as it is aged in Japanese oak. The company, Suntory, bottled this blend in 2009 to celebrate its 110 years.
Price: USD 31,999 (RM 151,961)
Only 100 bottles of this whisky are available, and they are coveted not just because the blend was aged in Oloroso sherry casks, which gives it a distinct flavour but also because of the design of the bottle. The bottle is encrusted with a ‘Mizuhiki’ symbol seal, which essentially is the joining of hands, a trademark of Yamazaki.
Price: USD 8,819 (RM 41,806)
Touted as one of the greatest releases by Yamazaki, this whisky is for someone with a palate for opulence. This 18-year-old, aged, limited-edition whisky achieves a fine semblance between delicate and robust flavours. While there is a citrusy tinge of orange, one can also experience the depth added of cinnamon and the richness of coconut in this unique single malt.
Price: USD 14,999 (RM 71,103)
Yamazaki Limited Edition 2011
This blend has been aged for 11 years in a hogshead single cask and has hints of spice along with the full-bodied flavour of malt. Again, a rare bottle to possess, this whisky is available only in limited markets.
Price: USD 2,610 (RM 12,373)
Yamazaki Bourbon Barrel 750m
A departure from the usual spicy note, Yamazaki Bourbon Barrel has a sticky sweet flavour of caramelised cinnamon and vanilla ice cream, this is balanced by a sharp citric freshness, which comes as a happy surprise.
Price: USD 2,299 (RM 10,898)
If you are new to the world of Japanese single malts, you could try the 12-year-old Yamazaki whisky, which is readily available online at RM 1,680.
Why is Yamazaki coveted by every whisky purist?
Smooth indulgence and perfection in every sip, the Yamazaki 55 was auctioned recently at Sotheby’s for USD 780,000 (RM 3.7 million). The reason Japanese whisky, especially Yamazaki, is a coveted spirit to possess is that around 70 types of Yamazaki whisky are blended into seven types of stills and five types of casks. Two distinct methods of fermentation are used to create a unique texture and flavour.
Apart from the precision and technique-oriented distillation process, utmost care is taken to source exotic ingredients like a special semi-soft crystal-clear water from Ojira Rivera, which is naturally filtered for 10-15 years before reaching the river. Factors like these add to the mystique and allure of a bottle of this whisky.
Yamazaki is well worth its exceptional prices, thanks to its subtle, elegant flavour and rich history. It is rare to get your hands on a bottle of this brand since most of them are limited editions, released from time to time to commemorate a certain milestone of House Of Suntory, where this golden liquid is distilled.
Refined and nuanced Yamazaki whisky is the crowning jewel of Japanese spirits, a title that is both undisputed and well-deserved.
(Main and featured image credit: Jason Hong/Unsplash)
This story first appeared on Lifestyle Asia India
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Answer: A bottle of Yamazaki costs anywhere between USD 200 (RM 948) to USD 1,099 (RM 5,210). However, the prices also depend on its ageing and distilling process.
Answer: Yamazaki is one of the most revered single malt whisky brands in the world and is known for its subtle, nuanced flavour created by careful precision in distillation, blending and ageing process perfected over centuries at Yamazaki Distillery.
Answer: One could expect to pay anything between USD 150 (RM 711) and USD 250 (RM 1,185) for a 750 ml bottle.
Answer: Yamazaki is crafted at a distillery named Suntory in Japan, which is known for blending quality single malts, among other spirits. The brand is world famous for its quality, technique and sophistication.
Answer: Yamazaki is one of the finest single malts available in the world, and Suntory prides itself on perfecting the blending and ageing of the spirit by incorporating Scotland’s classic principles and complementing it with cutting-edge techniques perfected over decades. Yamazaki is designed to suit a nuanced, sophisticated palate.
Answer: Yes, one could buy a bottle of this single-malt Japanese whisky at a reasonable price at Costco.
Answer: Suntory has discontinued the original Yamazaki 25-year-old single malt but has re-formulated and re-introduced it in the market.
Answer: Yamazaki 12 is made at Suntory House in Yamazaki province near Kyoto and Osaka in Japan.
Answer: Yes, Yamazaki is a single malt whisky, highly coveted by whisky collectors.
Answer: No, Yamazaki is a single-malt whisky.
Answer: House of Suntory in Japan makes Yamazaki whisky.