By Kurt Maitland
The name Yamazaki has been a hot one for the past few years (deservedly so), garnering critical acclaim, interest from whisky fans worldwide and plenty of awards for their owners at Suntory. This is one of the brands that made Japanese whisky famous, and the Sherry Cask in particular played a leading role in making it so. Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013 was Jim Murray’s choice for Whisky of the Year, adding momentum to the Japanese whisky breakout.
The Yamazaki distillery is located in Shimamoto, in Japan’s Osaka Prefecture. It first opened in 1923 as Japan’s first commercial whisky distillery. The distillery’s location on the outskirts of Japan’s ancient capital of Kyoto offers it good access to an excellent water supply, as well as a diverse climate, making for a fascinating maturation environment in which Yamazaki can develop their celebrated whiskies.
Since there was no Yamazaki Sherry Cask for 2014 and 2015, this year’s release is the follow up to the esteemed Sherry Cask 2013. The return of this expression has been awaited for two years, was met with much media attention, and will probably be the biggest thing in Japanese whisky this year.
Color: Dark Cherry Red
Nose: Stone fruits and cherry scones.
Taste: Slightly dry and heavily sherried, through and though. In some ways, it is somewhat reminiscent of The Macallan Gran Reserva, in that the sherry is deeply intertwined with this whisky and there is little space between the two. You’ll taste the stone fruits, tobacco and the leather of this whisky (it’s a Victorian drawing room in a bottle), but the sherry is the star. At 48% ABV, the liquid feels a little like a dry red wine, with a fair amount of astringency. The only ding on this release is a hint of bitterness only departs with a drop or two of water.
It’s a well put together whisky, and if you could get it for the actual retail price, you would be walking away with an excellent bottle.
With water, the bitterness disappears, the astringency lingers at the end, and the pepper spiciness diminishes.
Finish: A little spicy at the end (a combo of proof and the release’s own astringency) with several cascades of pepper.
By the time you read this, you will be hard pressed to find some anywhere for you to taste. It’s highly allocated world-wide and I’ve seen it going for $3K some stores in NYC. In some of your better bars, you may find it being poured by the dram at a decent price.
The Yamazaki Sherry 2016’s MSRP was £200 in the UK, and a bottle should have sold for around $400 in the States, but that isn’t happening. It’s running for over $2,000 on the open market, and I’ve seen it as high as $5,000.