Editor’s Note: This whisky was provided to us as a review sample by the party behind it. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review. It should also be noted that by clicking the buy link in this review our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.
The House of Suntory introduced last year a limited edition series for their heralded Yamazaki Japanese Whisky. Touted as the Founding House of Japanese Whisky, Suntory is becoming a monolith in the whisky world. My first introduction to the brand happened while watching Lost in Translation when Bill Murray’s character says the famous line, “for relaxing times, make it Suntory times.”
The bottle he is featuring is the now discontinued Suntory Hibiki 17 year. Although Hibiki is potentially the more commonly known whisky by Suntory, the Yamazaki is potentially the more historically critical one for fans of Japanese whisky.
Yamazaki Single Malt Whisky launched in 1984, although its roots date back to 1923 with Shinjiro Torii and Japan’s first malt distillery in Yamazaki, Shimamoto Mishima District, Osaka, Japan. Since its introduction, the Yamazaki whisky has grown into an international favorite. In many states the 12-year-old has become allocated and no longer sits on shelves.
For myself, I am a fan of this whisky and find its flavor profile reminiscent of a fine Scotch, albeit accented with a greater floral profile. I am passingly familiar with most releases from Suntory. I will admit, outside of the Kacho Fugetsu (21 year Hibiki for reference), I am unfamiliar with the limited edition releases from Suntory.
The House of Suntory, in explaining the purpose behind this release, noted that “what excited me most about this launch is that just one year before the 100th anniversary of Suntory Whisky, we can finally share the full story behind our Tsukuriwake way of whisky making, which was born from the Founding House of Japanese Whisky,” says Suntory’s Fifth-Generation Chief Blender Shinji Fukuyo. “The 2022 Yamazaki Limited Edition Tsukuriwake Selection honors the fact that greatness comes from diversity. And in doing so, we unveil what truly makes Yamazaki Single Malt Whisky the authority of Japanese Whisky.”
Tsukuriwake means “artisanship through a diversity of making.” Japanese whisky is heralded for the absolute artistry their master blenders bring to the category. What may not be as appreciated is how thorough the distillery is when crafting the whisky to be blended. The House of Suntory’s Tsukuriwake in Yamazaki prides itself in multiple types of non-peated and peated grain varieties, two types of wash backs, eight pairs with various pot stills and maturation in four different oak casks (French, Spanish, Japanese and American), with three cask size differences in American Oak.
This line up has four different examples of the masterfully crafted whisky which is blended into the Yamazaki Single Malt we enjoy: Puncheon, Peated Malt, Spanish Oak, Mizunara.
We will focus on the Mizunara for the purposes of this review. Mizunara oak grows very slowly on the island of Japan. It is rare in whisky making because the wood itself is scarce. The Suntory forest is located in Hokkaido, but even with private access to the forest the ability to fell trees is not guaranteed. The forest must regenerate to preserve the longevity of this process.
This cask is said to impart an enigmatic spicy note, with incense-life flavor of sandalwood and agarwood essential to the “Japanese-ness” of Yamazaki. A subtle element I admire about The House of Suntory is the craftsmanship that goes into everything they make. While the labels in this selection – Spanish Oak, Puncheon, Peated Malt – all have standard labels, the Mizunara label is frayed. Instead a of a clean-cut label, this label shows a level of aging and rarity.
This series represents a curious exploration into the component structure of what makes-up a bottle of Yamazaki. We know how good the sum of its parts is, but how good is each part? With that, we turn to the glass.
Tasting Notes: Yamazaki Tsukuriwake Selection Mizunara
Vital Stats: The suggested retail price is $630, ABV of 48%.
Nose: Joney and fresh melon, soft and sweet. There are light whiffs of grass and cut flowers. Behind the softness is oak and peat smoke rounding out the flavor. I found saltwater taffy with a hint of alcohol. This is pleasant to smell and doesn’t overwhelm the sinuses at all.
Taste: Surprisingly peaty upfront. It doesn’t overwhelm, but it is a distinct profile. As it evolves the whisky shows off delicate malty flavors of the grain. Soft dessert sugars with a well rounded and complete mouthfeel. The soft oak mixes with tobacco leaves in the peat smoke as the finish starts.
The finish here, similar to Peated Malt, just disappears until you breath in. You reignite the coals and it fills your mouth with oak, yellow cake, tobacco and sugar. It eventually fades completely leaving only the memory of tobacco leaves. The finish is very clean and surprisingly well tempered.