Whisky Review #30 – Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013

This is the single expression that propels the Yamazaki brand and Japanese Whisky to fame. Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013 is a no-age statement and was matured solely in oloroso sherry casks. Only 18000 bottles were produced for this expression. This single malt whisky is also produced from malts that created the flavours of the Yamazaki brand. Coupled that with the maturation in oloroso sherry casks, and you get a rich, complex whisky.

In 2015, whisky expert Jim Murray named this 2013 expression of Yamazaki as the World Whisky of the Year with a whooping score of 97.5! It was also the same year that none of the Scottish distilleries made it to the top five! Since then, the Yamazaki brand and Japanese Whisky gained a major foothold in the industry. The rest of the world finally took notice of this Asian giant that has slowly creeped up behind the Scots. Even Jim Murray said that the Scottish whiskies “fell flat” in his books. 2015 was certainly a “wake-up call” for the Scottish brands.

Jim Murray described this whisky as “rich and fruity”, with a nose of “exquisite boldness” and finish of “light, teasing spice”. In addition, he said,”If anyone wants to find out roughly what the first Macallan 10 year old I had in 1975 tasted like, then grab a bottle of this …” Wow! That certainly felt like gold.

Unfortunately, the whisky was sold out so quickly that we were not in time to grab one in the primary market. Prices of this expression sky-rocketed in the secondary market. Surprisingly, the bottles found in the secondary market were sold out pretty fast as well. At present, only selected shops across the world still have stocks of this expression. The price, of course, is crazy.

We are sad that we are unable to taste this exquisite whisky but we hope to taste it in future!

What about you? If you have tried the Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013, why not share your experience with us here?

Awards

World Whisky of the Year 2015 – Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible

Tasting Notes – Not Available

Comment:
Geek Choc: “I remember back in 2010, I tried my first Yamazaki 12 years, and that made me realized that Japan is not only about sake. Subsequently, I managed to get hold of a bottle of Yamazaki 18 years from DFS, and WOW, I was really awed by the quality of the liquid. If I have the chance, the Sherry Cask is a must-try for me!

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Whisky Review #29 – Yamazaki 25 Years Old

Yamazaki 25 Years Old is a luxury bottle from the range of Yamazaki whiskies. It was released in 1999 and is still in production today. It has 12,000 bottles yearly. Yamazaki 25 years old is aged completely in sherry casks, which is a delight for sherry lovers! Similar to Yamazaki 18 years old, this expression of the 25 years old has won numerous awards. However, the drawback from this expression appears to be its inconsistency in its production.

Awards

Best Japanese Single Malt – Winner, World Whisky Awards 2014
Japanese Single Malt 21 Years and Over – Gold, World Whisky Awards 2014
Best Japanese Single Malt – Winner, World Whisky Awards 2013
World’s Best Single Malt – Winner, World Whisky Awards, 2012
Best Japanese Single Malt – Winner, World Whisky Awards 2012

Tasting Notes

Colour: Dark Amber
ABV: 43%

Nose: Strong sherry with rich dark chocolate at first nose. Red dates, raisins and prunes come after. Burnt campfire wood with hints of apples tops the nose after a while. (17 points)

Palate: Sweet sherry and chocolate at the beginning but astringent wood and extreme spice raid the palate soon after, overpowering all the sweetness that came before. (14 points)

Body: Decent balance with sweet sherry and chocolate. Unfortunately, the astringent wood and extreme spice is also presented in the nose, palate and finish. Nonetheless, a balance whisky that can be enjoyed by those who like oaky wood spice. (30 points)

Finish: Long and dry finish with bitterness that comes from the astringent oaky wood. (14 points)

Total Grade: 75 points

Comment:
Geek Flora: “I have heard various comments about the inconsistency of the production for the 25 years old. The dram that I had definitely did not come from one of its award-winning bottles. I had high hopes for this expression, but was solely disappointed that it did not live up to its reputation.”

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Whisky Review #28 – Yamazaki 18 Years Old

Credits: WhiskyGeeks

Yamazaki 18 Years Old is released in 1994, 10 years after the success of Yamazaki 12 year old. It was received with much anticipation by the industry. This legendary whisky is a classic and up till today, it is highly praised for its complexity and flavours. Yamazaki 18 years old has received numerous awards, but the most prominent ones are a gold award in the World Whiskies Awards in both 2014 and 2016 as well as Best Japanese Single Malt in 2015.

The price and rarity of Yamazaki 18 years old has steadily increased with the number of awards it won. It is no longer a bottle that you can easily find in duty-free stores, not even in Japan. You can find it on the secondary markets, but at a crazy price.

Awards

(1) San Francisco World Spirit Compeition 2005 – Double Gold
(2) International Spirit Challenge 2007 – Gold
(3) World Whiskies Awards 2014 – Gold for Japanese Single Malt 13 – 20 years
(4) World Whiskies Awards 2015 – Best Japanese Single Malt
(5) World Whiskies Awards 2016 – Gold for Japanese Single Malt 13 – 20 years

Tasting Notes:

Colour: Copper
ABV: 43%

Nose: Rich fruit cake on Christmas Day comes to mind as you take in the nose. Raisins, apples and cinnamon sticks coupled with dried dates are mixed with woody oakiness, some sulphur and a pleasant smokiness. (17 points)

Palate: Smooth and mellow, with strong raisins and red fruits on the palate before the oakiness and smoke comes in to balance it off. Hint of a rich, sinful chocolate cakes comes in towards the end. A perfect mix of sweet and spice. (17 points)

Body: It is a well rounded whisky that is rich and flavourful. The smooth velvety feel in the mouth feesl luxurious. (30 points)

Finish: Long, lingering finish of a luxuriously rich chocolate cake, raisins, light peat and some wood. (16 points)

Total Grade: 80 points

Comments:
Geek Flora: “I love the Yamazaki 18 years old because of its rich fruity notes. The hints of chocolate adds appeal. Even the wood and light peat is pleasant. Nonetheless, it is still another whisky that I can live without, especially when the price  has risen considerably since it started bagging numerous awards.”

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Whisky Review #27 – Yamazaki 12 Years Old

Credits: WhiskyGeeks

The Yamazaki 12 years old is the flagship single malt whisky of the Yamazaki Distillery. Released in 1984, it remains the best selling whisky in the distillery. Due to the shortage of aged whisky in recent years, the Yamazaki 12 years old is getting harder and harder to find in retail shops or duty-free stores. Most of the time, you can only find it in the secondary market.

Despite the popularity of the Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask (the winner of the Best Whisky in the Year in 2015), the 12 years old is still a great choice for most whisky drinkers. Its relatively mellow notes makes it a pleasant drink on most occasions.

Tasting Notes:

Colour: Gold
ABV: 43%

Nose: Rich tropical fruits with hints of orange hits first before butter cookies and honey toast makes an entrance. Makes a pleasant nose. Feels like a breakfast cereal. (15 points)

Palate: Tropical fruits and buttery cookies melt on the palate as you chew on the whisky. Citrus notes mix with vanilla and a dollap of honey softens the spice that comes in shortly after. (16 points)

Body: A decent balance with a light body and a velvety feel (29 points)

Finish: Medium finish, notes of sweet malt accompanied by toast, tropical fruits and a slight spice. (14 points)

Total Grade: 74 points

Comment:
Geek Flora: “I drink the Yamazaki 12 years old for some years now. It is getting harder to find, but I can live without it. I enjoyed it as a simple drink that is great for after dinner or a gathering with friends.”

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New Whisky Event: WhiskyLive Singapore 2017

Credits: www.whiskylive.com

Great news to all whisky lovers in Singapore! Finally there is a whisky fair we can go without taking the airplane! WhiskyLive is an international whisky tasting and sampling event that is held around the world. Happening almost every weekend in a different city, it is a prominent event that brings on excellent exhibitors and sell-out crowds.

WhiskyLive Singapore – What it is

WhiskyLive is not new to Singapore. It was held since 2010 and it was always concluded with great praise and fanfare. 2017 marks the 8th year that WhiskyLive is in Singapore and it is the first time to run over a 2 days period at 2 different (but nearby) venues. That’s why we are excited to announce WhiskyLive 2017 to our readers!

Organised by Maison Du Whisky, this year event showcase not just whisky, but also various other spirits such as gin and tequila. Cocktails are also not forgotten as there will be a cocktail street. For keen learners, there will be masterclasses where experts will teach you what they know. Currently, masterclass details are not out yet, but we will update when they are out! For the serious whisky connoisseurs, there is the VIP lounge and the Collectors’ Box where rare whiskies will be available for tasting! Doesn’t that sound truly awesome? So, what are we expecting from WhiskyLive this year? It’s simple. We expect rare, interesting whiskies, gin and tequila, interesting cocktails, learning opportunities and lots of fun!

When is this happening?

The event is happening on 25 to 26 Novemeber 2017 from 1.30pm to 8.30pm at TheatreWorks and STPI over at Mohamed Sultan Road.

Credits: www.whiskylive.sg

Here’s how it works. The exhibitors booths are on the ground floor on TheatreWorks, while the VIP bar and the Collector’s Room will take the upper floor. STPI is hosting the masterclasses, a special event (we don’t know what) and an exhibition. Food and cocktails are available on Caseen Street.

Ticketing Matters

Tickets are open for sale from 18 August. For the Super Early Bird, tickets are going at $79 for Standard, $159 for VIP and $700 for a group pass of 10 pax Standard. Super Early Bird ends on 18 September, so hurry to get your tickets at Peatix.

How to Go

Singapore is a friendly transport city and there are simply so many ways to get there.

By Bus
(River Valley Road) 32, 54, 139, 195
(Clemenceau Avenue) 64, 123, 143
(Havelock Road) 51, 64, 123, 186

By MRT
Clarke Quay MRT (15 minutes walk)
Chinatown MRT (15 mintues walk)
Dhoby Ghaut MRT (21 minutues walk) – seriously, please do not walk from Dhoby Ghaut unless you want to exercise before drinking back the calories!

By Car (Available Parking)
Mohamed Sultan Road
Robertson Quay Hotel
Robertson Walk
Sultan Link Car Park

If all of the above do not suit you, there is still Grab and Uber!

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Visit to Yamazaki Distillery Part Three

In Part One, we brought you some history of Yamazaki through its museum. Part Two consisted of the actual distillery tour.  In Part Three, let us bring you back to the museum to see the different whiskies made by Suntory.

All the whiskies ever produced by Suntory (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

The impressive display above caught our eyes as soon as we walked in. It showcased all the major whiskies produced by Suntory over the years. We couldn’t get a good shot of this display even with our wide angle lens, so we settled for a paranoma instead.

Old Whiskies of Suntory

Quiet little corners are often the best places to seek for treasures. We found a treasure cove behind some pillars and discovered the various old whiskies from Suntory!

Akadama Port Wine – The Sponsor of Yamazaki Distillery

The Akadama Port Wine imported by Kotobukiya (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

Torii-san imported the Akadama Port Wine by the name of Kotobukiya back in the 1920s. This Spanish port wine was popular among the Japanese.  The profits from the wine went towards the founding of the Yamazaki Distillery. In a way, we can say that Akadama Port Wine was one of the sponsors of Yamazaki Distillery.

Shirofuda White Label – The first ever Whisky produced by Suntory

Shirofuda White Label (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

This was the first whisky made by Suntory. It was a failure because it did not capture the hearts of the local community, but it was the reason why Suntory became better.

Old Whiskies from Suntory (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

 

Suntory Old Whisky (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

These are some of their really old whiskies made at Yamazaki Distillery. Rare aniques on their own, they are made more special by the roles that they had played in making Suntory and Yamazaki Distillery the way they are today.

Tory – the popular post-war whisky (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

Tory Blended Whisky was a special whisky that played a huge role after World War 2. Produced by Suntory, it was the number one favourite whisky for many of the Japanese population – both men and women – after the war. It was so well received that bars named “Torys” popped up all over Japan.

The Birth of Yamazaki 12 Years Old

Story of the Yamazaki (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

This section is the most crowded as visitors clicked their cameras and crowded around the display. The birth of the Yamazaki 12 Years Old generated a lot of interest for all visitors alike.

Birth of the Yamazaki (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

One of the Yamazaki 12 years was prominently displayed in the museum, with a simple write up of how it came about. There was also a flavour profile for some popular Yamazaki produced by Suntory.

Flavour Profile of the Yamazaki (Credit: WhiskyGeeks)

The Mizunara Cask

For us geeks, the Mizunara cask generated more interest as we were keen to see the difference between this and other casks such as the Sherry and the Bourbon.

The Mizunara Cask (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

During WW2, mizunara was used due to scarcity of sherry and bourbon. The challenges to use the mizunara were tremendous. Leakage, astingent woodliness that created bad whisky were all part of the reasons, but Suntory eventually figured the best way to use the mizunara as a second or third refill for a distinctive Japanese flavour of sandalwood and Japanese incense.

The Whisky Library

We head down to the highly anticipated whisky library after we have settled our curiousity for old whiskies and the mizunara cask of Yamazaki.

The Whisky Library at Yamazaki (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

This is the famed Yamazaki Library. There are about two rows of such shelfing with tons of whiskies sitting on them. It was impressive at first look, but it became disappointing when we noticed many repeated whiskies. Nonetheless, we did find something of interest.

Auchentoshan Whisky (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

 

Laphroaig Whisky (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

 

Macallan Whisky (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

There are Scotch whiskies in the library. We are not surprised given the history of Yamazaki. Torii-san had started the distillery based on knowledge from Scotland.

Other interesting finds include new make spirits and a selection of young Yamazaki.

New Make Spirits (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

 

A selection of 4 YO, 8 YO and 12 YO Yamazaki (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

The End of the Tour

We ended the tour with a drink at the bar, but it was nothing fancy. We left the distillery shortly afterwards to head back to Toyko. It was an interesting tour, even if we felt a lack in enthusiasm in their whole presentation. Our opinions shouldn’t stop you from visiting the distillery though. It is a personal experience for everyone!

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Visit to the Yamazaki Distillery Part Two

We left off in Part One where we were recalled to the meeting point of the distillery tour. We were given English audio guides as our tour will be in most part Japanese. The audio guides also come in other languages – Chinese, French, German and other major European languages.

Yamazaki Distillery Tour Starting Point (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

We were invited to explore the space within the starting point of the tour after gathering our audio guide. We managed to take a picture of the space before it was crowded and that’s what it looks like from the picture above! Nice, clean space with artful designs set to give visitors the maximum comfort.

Mini Casks at the Starting Point (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

 

Samples of whisky from Yamazaki Whisky Library (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

There are also miniatures casks on display as well as sample spirits from Yamazaki very own whisky library. More about the whisky library later. For now, let’s go explore the facilities!

The Distillery Tour Starts

The actual production house is of course, away from the main visitor centre but once we got there, the amazing aroma of malt drifted through the air and into our nose…making all of us go “mmm”…

Station 1: Mashing House and Fermentation Room

Credits: WhiskyGeeks

The first station was the mash house where malted barley is produced for fermentation. Malt whisky is made from selected two-rowed barley and water. The selected barley is germinated and dried to produce malt, before it is finely grounded and mix with water in a mash tun. The enzymes in the malt will break down the starch contents into sugar. Once that is completed, the mixture is filtered to obtain clear, unclouded liquid called wort.

The temperature in the mash house was high due to the ongoing mashing. The smell of malted barley was rather heavenly though, and we would not have left the station quite as quickly as the tour guide wanted us to if not for the heat.

The Mash Tun (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

Once the filtered wort is collected, it is transferred to the washbacks, and yeast is added to the wort, starting the fermentation process. The yeast converts the sugars in the wort into alcohol and carbon dioxide while generating “wash”, the distinctive flavours that define whisky.

Temperature in the fermentation room was just as high, if not higher. The sweet smell of sugar was distinctive here, and many of us agreed that it kinda smell like fresh bread due to the yeast in the room.

The wooden washbacks (Credit: WhiskyGeeks)

Station 2: Distillation

Next, we walked on to the distillation room, or what they called the Still House.

The Still House (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

Distillating the alcohol “wash” generated by fermentation is an art on its own. The shape and size of the stills plays an important role in the characteristics of the final “new make” spirit. This character of the “new make” spirit will then influence the way it takes to the casks during maturation.

Yamazaki Still Pots (Credit: WhiskyGeeks)

You can see from the picture above that the stills are of different shapes and sizes. The difference in the tilt of the angle, the size and the shape produces different kind of new spirits. The distillation process happens twice to produce a high alcohol content “new make” spirit.

Distillation in Process (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

At Suntory, they make use of different stills to produce different flavours of “new make” spirit. As you can see above, the new make are labelled for easy identification.

Collecting the alcohol (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

This is how the “new make: spirit is collected. The clear liquid shown here has a high alcohol concentration. If it makes the cut as a premium “new make”, it will make its way into a cask for maturation into whisky.

Station 3: Cooperage

Coopering is part of the whisky making process. Being equally important when compared to the spirit itself, it certainly deserves a station of its own.

The Cooperage Process (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

Coopering refers the the making of a cask and how each step of the cooperage experts will influence the eventual cask that they make. The casks used by Suntory are all hand-made, which makes the process even more challenging. We are sorry that the picture is rather blur as the bright light on top of the signage at the darken warehouse had made it difficult to take a good, clear photo.

The different casks on display (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

These are some of the casks that were on display. The tour included education on the different names of the casks such as butts, and hogheads. We will write another article on the different names of the casks soon!

Station 4: Warehouse

This was the defining moment of the distillery tour! Casks upon casks of maturing whisky stood before our eyes, and we got to say that it was just pure delight to walk in and smell that lovely, familiar aroma of wood and whisky.

The Yamazaki Warehouse (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

Just look at that! Rows and rows of maturing whiskies…Our hearts were so full at that moment we though it could burst. Here’s an upclose picture for you.

Close-up look at the casks (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

Notice the different years on the cask? The years tells you when the new make spirit was distilled and poured into the cask. There are plenty of casks with different years, from 1970s, to 1980s and the 2000s. None of them, however, were as exciting as the very FIRST cask ever filled at the Yamazaki Distillery!

The first ever cask by Yamazaki (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

Remember the replica we shown you at the extrance? The picture on top shows you the real deal. The real No. 0001 cask made and filled in 1923. All of us were so excited that we were told to tone down so as not to disturb the harmony of the maturing whiskies. It was a tough fight to just take this picture because of the excitement generated!

End of the Tour but not end of the story

We ended the tour with a tasting session. We will not be a spoil sport and revealed what you will taste at the session. To find out, go for the tour when you head for Japan next time!

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Visit to the Yamazaki Distillery Part One

Yamazaki Signboard (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

The Walk to Yamazaki Distillery

Geek Choc and Geek Flora visited the Yamazaki Distillery in early June this year for a tour of its facilities. The above picture was the first thing that greeted us when we reached the outer visitor post of the Yamazaki Distillery area after a relatively long walk from the train station of Yamazaki. Simple and clean, it is typical of Japanese Zen, but the distinct Yamazaki brand is stamped all over it.

After changing our tickets for the appropriate visitor passes, we walked past a beautiful forested area filled with tall trees, blooming flowers and a giant pot still!

Giant Pot Still outside of Yamazaki (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

The Yamazaki Distillery

This greeted us when we reached the distillery after a 5 minutes walk.

Yamazaki Distillery Visitors Centre (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

The simple yet imposing building stood majestically against the backdrop of forest, flowers and small streams. The simplicity of the building built up our curiousity, making us want to explore it immediately. Some of the other visitors we met along the way echoed the same sentiments and rushed through the doors. We lingered a little at the doors, taking some memorable pictures such as this.

Replica of Yamazaki first 9 casks from 1923 (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

These casks are a replica of 9 actual casks that were made when the distillery first opened in 1923. You can see the year as well as the cask number on them. Impressive as it is, the real ones are even more impressive! You will get to see it later in the warehouse in Part 2 of this series.

The Yamazaki Museum

Moving through the distillery doors, we were greeted with more majesty.

The imposing staircases of Yamazaki Visitors Centre (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

This staircase is part of the museum of Yamazaki, where we get a look into the history of Yamazaki as well as the different whiskies that were made over the year. If you take a closer look at the picture, you can see the original name of the company that founder Shinjiro Torii-san owned. The name Kotobukiya was later changed to Suntory, where it remains till today. From this staircase, we turned left to go into the museum as we still have some time before our tour would start.

The museum is a large, sprawling area where visitors can wander at their own pace without someone to hurry them along. There are lots of artefacts lying around, with information about almost everything that is Yamazaki and Suntory.

History of Yamazaki (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

Here are the small wordings on this board. “I want to make a Japanese whisky that fits for the delicate palate of the Japanese people.” The Suntory founder, Shinjiro Torii, followed his passion and built Japan’s first malt whisky distillery, ‘Yamazaki Distillery’. His passion and challenge have been continually passed down to the master craftsmen.”

History of Yamazaki

The old Yamazaki Distillery (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

There is also a picture of how Yamazaki Distillery used to look like in 1923, a rather imposing building back in its own days.

Moving deeper into the museum, we read about the history of Yamazaki, the choice of the Yamazaki site, and the history of the family. As the history is already told in a previous post, we will showcase some of the pictures we found instead.

Shinjiro Torii – Founder of Yamazaki Distillery (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

 

The second President and Master Blender of Yamazaki, Keizo Saji, the son of founder Torii-san (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

 

The Story of the 3 Generations (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

 

Old Map of Yamazaki Distillery (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

We were recalled to the meeting point of the distillery tour at this point, so let’s head over for the distillery tour in Part 2, where we bring you the secrets of Yamazaki.

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The Interesting History of Japan’s Whisky Pride – Yamazaki

Suntory Yamazaki Distillery from afar (Picture Credits: www.kansai.gr.jp)

Japanese whisky is popular ever since the Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013 won the prestigious Whisky of the Year award in 2015. Yamazaki shot to fame overnight and the distillery receives much attention since then.

What happened between the years when the distillery just started and 2015? What has caused this Japanese distillery to excel and produce whiskies that are now world-famous? We dig deeper into the story behind the successful Japanese brand.

The birth of the Japanese Whisky Industry

Shinjiro Torii, the founder of Yamazaki and the founding father of Japanese Whisky (Picture Credits: www.suntory.com)

The history of Yamazaki is literally the history of the Japanese whisky industry. It is the first whisky distillery (oldest of course) in Japan. The founding father of Yamazaki, Shinjiro Torii-san, was essentially the father of the Japanese whisky industry.

Back in 1920, Torii-san was a successful businessman. He imported European wines into Japan in the name of his company, Kotobukiya. He also produced plum-based dessert wines and liquers. Torii-san learned about Scotch whisky production methods and aspired to create a whisky that was suitable to the Japanese palate. He sent his co-worker, Masetaka Taketsuru to Scotland to learn about the traditional methods of whisky production and the whisky trade. Taketsuru-san spent three years in Scotland, married a Scottish woman and learnt the whisky trade before coming back to Japan to share his knowledge with Torii-san.

Torii-san’s 3 concerns – high quality spring water, unique climate and humidity as well as transport ease (Picture credits: www.suntory.com)

In 1923, both men went in search for a perfect place in Japan to settle down and build the distillery. Torii-san chose the site at Yamazaki, a rural village which lies between the cities of Osaka and Kyoto. Taketsuru-san chose a site on the northern island of Hokkaido. The final decision was the Yamazaki site. It fitted Torii-san’s three major concerns – exceptionally high quality of spring water, unique climate and humidity and its ideal location for transport in Japan. However, Taketsuru-san did not agree and he left Yamazaki after serving his 10-year bond. Taketsuru-san started his own distillery Yoichi at his original site of choice later on.

The History of Suntory and its first whisky

The first ever Japanese whisky made by Suntory (Picture Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

Torii-san’s company, Kotobukiya, funded the building of Yamazaki Distillery. It began producing whisky in 1924 under the skillful management of distillery manager, Taketsuru-san. The very first whisky was introduced to the Japanese population in 1929. Before releasing the whisky, Torii-san changed the name of Kotobukiya to Suntory (a name that rhyme with his own Japanese title “Torii-san”). Suntory was the name of this whisky but its nickname “Shirofuda” (white label) was more famous. Unfortunately, the Japanese market was not receptive of the new whisky and Torii-san had to try again.

In 1932, Taketsuru-san left to set up his own whisky distillery – Yoichi. He started production in 1934. We will dedicate another post for Yoichi later.

The birth of the first popular Japanese Whisky

The popular Kakubin Whisky by Suntory (Picture Credits: www.suntory.com)

The masterpiece of Suntory is not the Yamazaki, but Kakubin. Released in 1937, 14 years after founding of the distillery, it was made with a variety of matured casks. Each cask added their unique characteristics and flavours that catered to the Japanese palate. The whisky took the name of the tortoiseshell shaped bottle it is housed in and is still well-loved by many today.

Yamazaki distillery continued to expand the Suntory brand in the 1940s and 1950s, introducing various other Suntory whiskies. In 1961, Keizo Saji, the son of Torii-san took the reins of the Yamazaki distillery. Saji-san became the second president cum master blender of the company. He began the building of the Hakushu and Chita distilleries in the 1970s. We will speak more about them in later posts.

Saji-san was credited with the distillery’s move into single malt whisky production.

The birth of the Japanese Single Malt Whisky – Yamazaki

The Yamazaki first portfolio – 12 Years Old and 18 Years Old (Picture Credit: WhiskyGeeks)

 

Yamazaki 12 years old single malt was released in 1984. Back then, the mass market was more interested in blended whiskies. However, the Yamazaki 12 years old captured the hearts of the Japanese people with its rich flavours.

The distillery launched the Yamazaki 18 years old in 1994 after the success of the Yamazaki 12 Years Old. It was received with great fanfare by the market and is one of the most popular whisky today.

Innovations and Improvements of Yamazaki Distillery

Pot Stills at the Yamazaki Distillery (Picture Credit: WhiskyGeeks)

From the 1980s, Saji-san also moved towards innovation in order to improve the distillery’s production. The distillery invested heavily into research and development in the late 1980s. Saji-san’s main aim is to increase the production and variety of malt whisky at the distillery. In 2013, the distillery expanded once again and added 4 more stills to its production line, making a total of 12 stills and increasing production by 40%.

Expansion into the wider world

Beam Suntory – the global gateway for Suntory and Yamazaki (Picture Credits: www.beamsuntory.com)

In 2014, Suntory, as the parent company, bought the US-based Beam Inc and created the world’s third largest spirit producer, Beam Suntory. After the merger, Yamazaki’s fame grew internationally as it is now easier for Suntory to distribute Yamazaki to US and the world.

World Famous Award-Winning Yamazaki

Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013 (Picture Credits: Whiskygeeks)

2014 also marked a shortage of stocks in the whisky industry and prompted the first release of ageless whisky. It became a popular way to fuel a new interest in the whisky industry. Yamazaki followed the same trend and released both the Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve and the Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013. Not every distillery met with great success in the release of ageless whisky, but Yamazaki outdid itself. Whisky expert, Jim Murray, awarded the Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013 as the “World Whisky of the Year” in his Whisky Bible 2015. This caused a great furry from the market and everyone rushed to buy the whisky. The interest turned the bottle into a limited edition with eye-popping prices in the secondary market.

Yamazaki Today

Yamazaki is a brand that continuously innovates to outdo itself. Its future is bright in the world of whisky. While its home market might not always prosper, Yamazaki can leverage on its connection with Beam-Suntory to become one of the world’s famous whisky brands.

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Whisky Review #26 – The Single Cask Glenrothes 19 Years Old

We have kept the rarest whisky as the last bottle from The Single Cask Masterclass. The Glenrothes 19 Years Old is a dark sherry whisky – generally considered as an expensive and hard to find whisky in the industry due to the lack of sherry casks. Bottled at cask strength in Speyside, Scotland, it is also a single malt Scotch. There is only 86 bottles produced because the guys behind The Single Cask has only bought 60 litres of this whisky (roughly about 10% of a whole cask). Imagine how unique this is! Moreover, this bottle is not for sale. You can only taste it if you head over to The Single Cask for a dram or two.

This dark sherry is from Glenrothes. The oldest distillery in Speyside, it was founded in 1775 and is still a functioning distillery today. It is owned by the Edrington Group today. The distillery started out as a blending house, supplying both the Famous Grouse and Cutty Sark. They use mainly bourbon casks, but kept some special sherry casks as well. 50 of these special sherry casks was released by Glenrothes in late 2016 for purchase, and that is how The Single Cask got their hands on this!

Tasting Notes:

Colour: Dark Red Sherry
ABV: 58%

Nose: Aeration of minimum 30 minutes is needed. After 30 minutes: sherried notes of rich Christmas fruit cake engulfs the nose completely, with no other companions. 40 minutes later: dark stone cherries start to develop, pushing the fruit cake to the background. 50 minutes and counting: the oaky notes start coming out, softening the overpowering sweetness. Now the dark stone cherries complement the rich Christmas fruit cake to present a pleasant sweetness that feels really pleasant. (17 points)

Palate: Rich dark sherry, dark fruits like red grapes and berries fills the palate like a Christmas fruit cake in a glass. Black pepper, nutmeg and clove stay in the background with hints of spices but overpowered by the sweetness. Paired with a 70% dark chocolate, the palate changes. Sweetness is reduced to allow the spices to come out. Nutmeg is especially pronounced after the chocolate pairing. (17 points)

Body: Well-balanced whisky that needs a lot of aeration. The nose, palate and finish of dark fruits and Christmas fruit cake is exceptional. (33 points)

Finish: Very long finish with dark fruits and Christmas fruit cake leading the way from the start to the end. Tingles of spices accompanied at the side of the palate, making it a very pleasant finish. (16 points)

Total Grade: 83 points

Comments:
Geek Choc: “It is a little too sweet for my liking (I prefer the Islay peats) but it is a pleasant and well-balanced drink. Due to its exclusivity and uniqueness, I would recommend that you go for a try to judge it for yourself.”

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