Booze Review

Whisky Review – Suntory Yamazaki 12 Year Old Single Malt Whisky


I first had the Yamazaki 12 Year Old Single Malt Whisky five years ago, when I attended my first Scotch Malt Whisky Society Extravaganza event at The Union League in Philadelphia. Since that first tasting, I have had this whisky on numerous occasions, but I’ve never had the opportunity to sit down and have it on its own. Since The Wookie was kind enough to lend me his bottle of this whisky, I can finally write up a proper review.

Here is what Suntory has to say about their Yamazaki 12

Both Suntory YAMAZAKI 12- and 18- year old single malts are aged in casks of three different kinds of oaks: American, Spanish and Japanese. This gives Suntory Whisky its unique quality. Each drink has a distinct taste. The 12 year old expression is a medium-bodied whisky with the aromas of dried fruits and honey. It has a delicate, mellow taste with a lingering, woody, dry finish.

And now for my WAY overdue review…

  • Appearance: Pale amber color. After giving it a swirl, thick, slow moving legs form and creep down the inside of the glass.
  • Aroma: Honey. Light brown sugar. Vanilla. Some floral notes. Very little smoke. A bit of alcohol sting when you nose it at full strength. Adding a healthy dose of water brings out subtle herbal notes and a hint of cinnamon.
  • Taste: Oily mouthfeel that’s very slick and slippery on your tongue. Starts off with some very mild smokiness. Subtle cinnamon spiciness kicks in towards mid-palate. Coats the front and sides of your tongue with a slightly drying, herbal finish. The finish also delivers some anise and licorice. Adding water actually intensifies the spiciness and brings out some black pepper notes for a tongue tingling and lingering finish.
  • ABV: 43%

Now that I’ve taken the time to drink the Yamazaki 12 on its own, I can finally appreciate how wonderfully complex and flavorful this whisky truly is. The Yamazaki 12 is the polar opposite of Koyanisqatsi! It has everything that you would expect in a well crafted whisky (i.e. sweet, smoky, spicy, etc.), but without any particular element taking center stage. To call it well-balanced would be an understatement. And if all of that weren’t enough, The Yamazaki 12 is also an exceptional value (prices range between $38 and $50 for a 750ml bottle). This is a spirit that every Whisk(e)y lover should try at least once in their lifetime. Well done Suntory!

20 replies »

  1. Sounds delicious. I don’t know much about Japanese whisky beyond the basics and I’ve only tasted a handful. Seems like you’re well versed – do you know if the Japanese Oak used by the industry over there is virgin wood or if has been either seasoned or previously used to mature another spirit? It would be also interesting to know if it’s toasted or charred? I’ve read that this wood contributes incense aromas and an acidic taste to whisky – but I haven’t picked out these flavours up in any of the ones with which I’m acquainted.

    Anyhow, sorry to pepper you with these questions, they’ve been floating about in my mind for some time. Thought I’d take this short-cut rather than doing the research myself :).

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    • Yo Patrick!

      Although I haven’t been able to get any specifics on the 12 YO expression, “Whisky for Everyone” has the following to say about the maturation of the 18 YO expression:

      “The Yamazaki 18 years old has started to pick up awards around the world in the last two years and should cost approximately £70 a bottle. This whisky has been matured in a complex mixture of casks including ex-bourbon, ex-sherry and Japanese mizunara oak.”

      I assume the same maturation process applies to the 12 YO, just 6 years less. As far as the Japanese Oak, here is what I was able to find on Nonjatta:

      “Do Mizunara barrels give a distintive flavour to their whisky? Most people agree they do. This special taste/aroma has been variously described as evoking “sandalwood”, a type of oriental incence called “kara” etc.. However, more recently, scientific research has focused on a distinctive coconut aroma associated with Mizunara barrels. A paper delivered by Yushi Noguchi at the Worldwide Distilled Spirits Conference 2008 in September tried to pin down this characteristic and makes fascinating reading.

      The researchers, supported by Suntory, The International Centre for Brewing and Distilling and the Scotch Whisky Research Institute, asked a panel of testers to score how much coconut smell they detected in two types of whisky: one matured in Mizunara and the other matured in White Oak barrels.”

      Does that help at all? While I am far from an expert on Japanese whisky or any other whisky (American, Scotch, Irish, etc), I will say that the 4 Japanese whiskies that I’ve had so far have all been excellent (Yamazaki 12 + 18, Hibiki 12, Nikka From the Barrel). It just makes me want to try more of them!

      Cheers!
      G-LO

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  2. Hi G-LO, since someone else is putting you on the spot already, I thought I’d add to your homework. I am also curious about Japanese single malt. You mention smokiness in the flavor profile; do they smoke their malt while drying like some scotches that use peat? Is there peat in Japan or do they use wood? My half-hearted googling didn’t yield any immediately insightful answers.

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    • Ryan,

      More tidbits of information from “Whisky for Everyone” about Yamazaki:

      “The raw materials for their whisky production are sourced from all around the world. Barley is grown on a small scale in the local area but most is imported from the UK, Europe, North America or Australia. Peat used to be imported from Scotland but Yamazaki stopped malting their own barley in 1971, so now barley is imported already lightly peated, when needed. Casks are imported from the American bourbon industry and the Spanish sherry industry, although Yamazaki regularly part mature their whisky in Japanese oak casks called mizunara. The experimentation with mizunara casks began after the Second World War, when there was a shortage of sherry casks. They discovered that the wood contained more natural oils and these were then imparted in to the whisky giving unique oriental flavours and characteristics. However, mizunara is very porous and as a result more whisky is lost through evaporation or leakage. Therefore, whisky is now only part matured in mizunara to minimise any losses and is seen as an integral part of the maturation process for Yamazaki malts and Hibiki blends, which are also produced by Suntory.”

      Looks like they use a bit of peat when necessary.

      Cheers!
      G-LO

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  3. I’ll have to give the 12-year another try. I had it at the same time as the 18-year, and the 18 was delicious, with the 12 really paling in comparison. Maybe it wasn’t a fair tasting for it.

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    • I can understand that. Kinda like Highland Park 12 and 18. Both are great, but the 18 shines. The Yamazaki 18 is excellent, but costs 2 to 3X as much, so I’ve only tasted it at whisky events. Been asking for the Yamazaki 18 as a Christmas present, but Santa keeps ignoring me. The Bastard! Woops… guess I’ll be getting more coal for that.

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  4. I didn’t “loan” you this bottle it was a rental …. I will send you a summary of your daily fees in the mail.

    All kidding aside this is a damn fine spirit and one of my favorites.

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  5. Hey all,
    Sorry for the late comment here but I just heard from Yoshi Morita (head of US Suntory sales/brand) and I wanted to share what he had to say about the points brought up in the above comments. Hope this is helpful!

    “… we use the peated malt for Yamazaki but the percentage is not disclosed.
    Hakushu has more peaty flavor but it is unique due to the fresh and green taste.

    Mizunara cask brings a sweetness and spiciness and we call the flavor oriental incense. It is used for both Yamazaki 12yo and 18yo slightly.” — Yoshi Morita

    Thanks again, G-LO for starting this conversation!
    -WW

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    • Never too late to comment. Thanks for the follow up WW!

      It looks like Mr. Morita has pretty much confirmed what Nonjatta and Whisky For Everyone have said.

      Pity I never had the opportunity to write a whisk(e)y research paper when I was in college. Would have aced that bad boy! Though the “research” may have killed me.

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