Our second review of the Yamazaki distillery, and in its 12 year old we get one expression closer to its acclaimed and award-winning elder sibling, the 18 year old. Still, to skip on by would be doing this superb whisky a gross disservice. Japanese whisky, despite not hitting the dizzy heights at the top of our leaderboard, is amongst my favourite. One key feature that differentiates some of these expressions from their Scottish or American counterparts is their use of oak cask. In the Far East, they use the native white oak species Mizunara, which gives the whisky a wonderfully sweet and unique presence, truly something to be sampled.
It comes through wonderfully on the nose: it’s an intensely sweet but oh-so-delicate oak; as likable as it is impossible to adequately describe. It permeates through the whisky, creating a delightfully perfumed quality. The merest hint of rosewater combines perfectly with the sweet and tangy pear drops in the background before it’s superseded by the faintest suggestion of overripe banana.
If the taste had improved on the nose, this whisky would become a megastar; as it is, it doesn’t quite match up to its olfactory offerings. It begins with the sweet oak, before good apple and a solid, more familiar oak takes over, the effect being that it loses the unique edge which made the nose so delicious. The fruit is then lost in a fizz of spice. On the finish, it recovers: the Japanese oak returns, alongside a bubblegum sweetness that is exceptionally pleasant. And there the pear drops return. This is a whisky that comes so close to greatness, but perhaps reveals something of what the 18 year old has to offer…
Nose 21 Taste 18 Taste 21 Balance 21