Yamazaki Mizunara Cask 2017 Edition Continues Tradition of Hard-to-Use Wood - The Whiskey Wash

Yamazaki Mizunara Cask 2017 Edition Continues Tradition of Hard-to-Use Wood

By Nino Marchetti / September 19, 2017

Japanese Mizunara wood is a highly sought after type of oak used for aging mainly Japanese whisky, though some American distilleries have taken to trying it out as well. It is also an extremely difficult wood to master, as its permeable character is less than ideal for cask-making, since liquid can easily seep through the wood. One of those who seems to get it, however, is Yamazaki, which is now unveiling another Mizunara-aged whisky.

The new Yamazaki Mizunara Cask 2017, according to those behind it, was aged for 18 years exclusively in Mizunara wood. The distillery is owned by Beam Suntory. For this whisky, Suntory’s fourth Chief Blender, Shinji Fukuyo, tasted a few hundred Mizunara whiskies and made selections of varying ages, starting from 18 years old. A very small portion exceed even 50 years of maturation.

“I wanted to reveal the whisky’s soul that is the Art of Mizunara—a heightened sense and awakened palate engaged through aromas and flavors never known before,” said Fukuyo in a prepared statement. “Encountering it should be a moment of epiphany.”

This latest Mizunara aged whisky, bottled at 96 proof, is pricing at $1,000. The bottle label on it is 100% handcrafted mulberry Echizen paper produced via a slow process of drying on wood boards (a traditional Japanese method). The wooden box that encloses the bottle is made of cask material used in the aging of Suntory whisky.

At the end of this story you’ll find official tasting notes for Yamazaki Mizunara Cask 2017. For the curious, it is said that in the early 1940s, Suntory’s blenders began small scale experiments with Mizunara. But it wasn’t until the end of World War II, when it became difficult to import wood, that Suntory truly focused on mastering the homegrown Mizunara cask.

In order to master this, the blenders first had to understand what they were working with. Given the hardness of the wood, it can be difficult to shape and join with the precision needed to prevent leaks. It was thus that Suntory had to learn how to identify the right trees to make good casks. They found that straight grain trees are less permeable. Trees suitable for cask making must have grown perfectly straight and have a diameter of at least 27.5 inches. They also tend to be far older than trees used in other casks.

It is also said that age is the key to unlocking good flavors from this oak. With many other cask types, whisky usually reaches a maturation peak at some point. But even at 50 years and beyond, Mizunara is believed by those who use it to generally still be improving in flavor.

  • Color:  Amber
  • Nose:   Rich and elegant fragrance, aloe wood, cinnamon
  • Palate:  Condensed sweetness, silky texture, dry fruits, coconut, orange marmalade
  • Finish:  Distinctive spiciness lingers with Japanese incense, aloe wood, cinnamon and tartness