Japan, it’s not just Sushi & Sake!
Japan is actually an important whisky country. In Japan they consume a lot of whisky but it is also a prominent producer of whisky, both of the type called “blends” and malt whisky. One of the most famous producers of Japanese whisky is Suntory. Their series of premium malt whisky is sold under the brand Yamazaki. BKWine’s Roland Ericsson was at the resent presentation of the Yamazaki Cask Collection 2013.
As a whisky country Japan is not very old. In the early 1900s Shinjiro Torii started a company called Suntory who traded with wine, but it was really whisky that was his big dream.
In 1923 Torii had earned enough money to start a distillery entirely according to a Scottish model and in 1929 the first Japanese whisky, Suntory White (blended) was released to the market. But it was not until the 1980s and the emerging whisky boom that they moved into production of malt whisky.
The perfect whisky?
So what is special with Japanese malt whisky? It is perhaps that the Japanese are perfectionists, trying to make everything so perfect and as fine as possible. You choose the best ingredients and the best barrels and you are very careful with the distilling process. In what other country you can, for example, buy the perfect pear in a gift box with an elaborately tied ribbon?
It is therefore not difficult to understand that there are often very high scores and medals in various competitions for Japanese whisky. (NB: All this applies to malt whisky. There are many simple and not so good Japanese blended whiskies sold cheaply mainly on the domestic market.)
In our tasting room there are glasses and bottles lined up on the tables. We are at the Tweed Bar in Gamla Stan in Stockholm. Tweed won the award for Bar of the Year; it is stylishly furnished with comfortable leather armchairs and decorated with assorted nautical antiques, Nelson memorabilia and objects.
Their spirits range is exclusive and very extensive. The humidors are filled with all the classic Cuban cigar brands.
I would gladly have spent the afternoon in deep meditation with a Romeo & Julieta Churchill cigar and a bottle of Sherry Cask if smoking had not been banned restaurants and bars!
Four new Japanese malt whiskies
Four new Yamazaki whiskies have been launched, each aged in different oak barrels which gives completely different character. Curiously, no age is indicated on the bottles. But it feels as if the age of the whiskies is 8-10 years (?)… As a reference, we also taste the “normal” Yamazaki Single Malt 12 Years.
Yamazaki Single Malt Bourbon Barrel
The whisky is not cold filtered*. It is aged in 180 litre barrels of American white oak that previously contained bourbon whiskey (probably Jack Daniels). The alcohol contents is 48%. Systembolaget released the 360 bottles (997 SEK / 110 euro, 70cl.) (Ed.: NB: price indications are the release prices in Sweden, where alcohol tends to be pricey.)
Amber, quite big, fruity, slightly smoky aroma, with hints of tangy oak and vanilla flavour is mellow right and tight, well balanced, with hints of malt, floral and fruity. 93p.
Yamazaki Single Malt Puncheon
The whisky is not cold filtered *. It is aged in 480 litre barrels of new American white oak. The alcohol contents is 48%. Systembolaget released the 360 bottles (997 SEK / 110 euro, 70cl ).
Golden yellow, medium, spicy, quite young, slightly raw scent, with lots of oak and light smokiness, flavour is tight, dry and plump, a slightly burnt and smoky with hints of vanilla and nutmeg, long. 90p.
Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask
The whisky is not cold filtered *. It is aged in 500 litre casks of Spanish oak that previously contained oloroso sherry (first fill). The alcohol contents is 48%. Systembolaget released the 480 bottles (997 SEK / 110 euro, 70cl).
Mahogany colour, the nose is big, with hints of dried fruit, raisins, Victoria plum and muscovado sugar, flavour is big and full-bodied, a little burnt, with a lot of dried fruits, prunes, raisins and dark tobacco, very long. Perfect for sherry enthusiast. 93p.
Yamazaki Single Malt Mizunara
The whisky is not cold filtered *. It is aged in 480 litre barrels of new Japanese Mizunara oak which is quite unique in that the availability of trees is limited and it takes about 200 years for a tree to grow up! In addition, the tree structure is special which means that the barrels sometimes leak. The alcohol contents is 48%. Systembolaget released the 24 bottles (2497 SEK / 270 euro, 70cl).
Amber, young fruity and peppery aroma, with a hint of citrus, cinnamon and herbs, the flavour is rich and spicy with hints of tropical fruit, apricots and mangoes, long. 92p.
Yamazaki Single Malt 12 Years
The whisky is cold filtered *. It is aged in sherry and bourbon wood and barrels of Mizunara oak. The alcohol contents is 43%. It is generally available at Systembolaget (565 SEK / 60 euro, 70cl ).
Amber, big, slightly sweet nose, with notes of sherry, heather honey and pear fruit, the taste is rich, slightly hard, with notes of sherry, dried fruit, barrels and honey. Feels somewhat older than the other samples and has a little bit of “everything”. 90p.
* Cold filtering or chill filtering means that the whisky is cooled to approximately 0 degrees. It is then filtered by passing through a fine wire mesh to remove fatty acids, proteins and carbon from the barrel, so that the whisky is always brilliant and clear in the bottle or when chilled with ice in glass instead of being hazy. Unfortunately this also removes some of the flavour elements so many quality manufacturers refrain from filtering.
The tasting of the Yamazaki Cask Collection 2013 was organised by Philipson Söderberg and led by their whisky ambassador Christian Ingerhed.
Roland Eriksson writes on BKWine Magazine on wine tastings with wine merchants and importers in Sweden. Roland is the author of a book on cognac (A Handbook: Cognac, 2007, published in Swedish) and one on rum as well as one on tea.
This post is also available in: Swedish