Thursday, May 6, 2010

Suntory YAMAZAKI Single Malt Whisky

I finally made the jump and tried the “Award Winning” Whisky from Japan that is in all the press.

I realize the thought of a Japanese “Scotch” has put me off this whisky for some time, but at the prodding of Randy….I thought I would give it a go.

Originally, I had only heard (as many Americans) of Suntory and Yamazaki from the movie “Lost in Translation” with Bill Murray.  In the movie, Murray is sent to Japan to film a commercial for Suntory.  The movie itself is smart (and funny in spots) and well conceived, particularly if you have ever visited other cultures that are vastly different than that of America.

However, contrary to popular believe, Whisky production in Japan began in the late 1800’s (around 1870) with individual distillery operations, with the first commercial production in 1924 at the opening of the country's first large scale distillery called Yamazaki.

The style and distilling process of Japanese whisky is more similar to that of Scotch whisky than Irish whiskey or bourbons, and thus the spelling typically follows the Scottish convention (omitting the letter "e").

Suntory gives the following information on their WEBSITE

From In 1923, Shinjiro Torii, the founder of Suntory and the father of Japanese whisky, built Japan’s first malt whisky distillery in the Vale of Yamazaki. Using copper pot stills, the Yamazaki distillery was the first of its kind outside of Scotland.

The distillery’s location on the outskirts of Japan’s ancient capital of Kyoto offered pure waters, diversity of climate and high humidity—the ideal environment for the maturation of good whisky.

Ever the one for something new…..I decided to give it a try.

The Price Mark for this whisky isn’t bad, from $50-$75 depending on your vendor.  I would call this “Mid-Range” for a 12 year old, and considering the pedigree of Yamazaki, I thought it would be more.

Bottle Presentation is excellent, with a bottle that would fit in with any other scotch set behind the bar, yet distinct in the Japanese lettering.  I was put off a little by the screw on top.  It is flimsy plastic and seems like it could be easily stripped out. 

Color- Matured in Oak Casks, this whisky has a very DEEP golden brown/amber.

Nose- Oak, dried fruit (particularly apples and berries) with a hint of Sherry (which makes me wonder about how their Oak Casks were matured).

Taste- Smooth and Buttery on the palate, the taste reminds me somewhat of a Speyside.  Not an overwhelming amount of peat, but enough smoke to let you know it is there.  Flavors of maple syrup and honey round out the glass.

Finish- A slight peaty bite hidden behind a sweet and flower taste, followed by a dry/crisp ending.

In a word, this whisky is perfect and I can see why it wins so many awards.

But therein lies the flaw of Yamazaki as well.  It is to perfect.

I am reminded of a scene in one of my favorite movies – Mr. Baseball.

In this scene, Jack (Tom Sellek/Mr. Baseball) is taken to dinner by his Japanese Girlfriend Hiroko.  He is surprised to have a very delicious steak dinner….to which Hiroko explains to him “Japan takes the best of the world and makes it her own”.

This is exactly how I feel about Yamazaki.  They have overanalyzed scotch, figured out all the appealing qualities and combined them all into one bottle.  It’s a wonderful idea, but then scotch loses it’s character.  Where is the peatbomb of a Laphroaig or the smoothness of a MacCallan?  It has no individuality.

For a non-scotch drinker…..this stuff would definitely start them down the road…..its that smooth and easy to drink. 

To me, I would enjoy a glass or two….but in the end, I would table the bottle and find something else to hold my interest.

I would rate this whisky 5 stars for technical, but only 3 for personal preference.

1 comment:

  1. SPOT ON! It’s a damn fine whiskey, but its too well balanced. It lacks the character that you desire in a single malt, the one defining note or feature that makes it unique and special.


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