We recently booked a holiday to Japan for later this year, and this is my first proper exploration into their whisky in preparation for the trip - and courtesy of some friends with excellent taste in Christmas presents. I know very little about the Japanese whisky scene, so any hints and tips will be gratefully received, especially if you know of any must-visit bars or distilleries!
I've only tried a couple of Japanese whiskies before and I wasn't really paying enough attention to know what they were; I haven't been blown away by them, but it's entirely possible that I've been drinking the wrong ones.
This is The Yamazaki 18 Year Old, from one of the best known Japanese whisky producers, Suntory. It has a nice deep colour in the glass that screams 'sherry cask' before you even take a smell. And when you do take a smell… wow. A huge sherry hit, rich red berry fruit and an almost toffee like sweetness. A splash of water cuts back the fruit hugely, but the sweetness is still there and the wood appears, along with a not-quite grass like greenness. Oddly, the alcohol is more apparent too.
The taste is unexpected; far more alcohol on the tongue than on the nose, and the sweetness is much less in evidence. There's still that rich fruit at the start, drifting leisurely into a wonderfully long, spiced finish. Watering cuts back on that alcohol and pulls the fruit more to the fore. There's that stick sweet sherry again, remarkably smooth with a lingering warmth that just leaves you wanting more.
This is a seriously good whisky. It's a little frustrating that although a splash of water really frees up the taste, it takes away significantly from the nose – I'd love to be able to have the best of both. But that really is a quibble; it's a sweet, complex and delicious whisky that has me looking forward to visiting it's home country!
This review was originally published 1st February, 2012. It was last updated 1st June, 2023.