Yamazaki Bourbon Barrel

Yamazaki Bourbon Barrel

Yamazaki is one of the distilleries operated by Suntory, and for a long time was the only Japanese single malt distillery available in the US (Hibiki 12, also from Suntory, has also been available for a while, but is a blend). In the US we get the 12 yo and the 18 yo. Both are excellent, especially the 18 yo, but there are a lot of other expressions, and single cask releases available in Japan, and increasingly in the UK/EU that we don’t get to see. Now that Nikka has begun to release their whiskies in the US perhaps Suntory too will make more expressions of Yamazaki available to us (and also more from their excellent Hakushu distillery than just the excellent 12, which is also relatively recently arrived). I believe there is some regulatory silliness that has got in the way of Japanese whisky making it to the US in the past, and we can but hope. It would be nice to not have to bug friends travelling to or through Japan to bring bottles back. 

The whisky I am tasting tonight is, alas, not available in the US: it is the Yamazaki Bourbon Barrel (from the 2011 release, I think), and is bottled at a higher strength than either the regular 12 yo or 18 yo. This bottling has no age statement.

Yamazaki Bourbon Barrel (48.2%; from my own bottle)

yamazakibourbonbarrellabelNose: Sweet toasted wood and toffee at first; then some rye and wood spice, and also some honey. The spicy wood notes begin to expand as it sits and there’s also more and more salt. With a little more time the wood begins to smell less polished and more like freshly sawed pine and the rye note seems to grow more prominent. But with even more time the polished wood and honey come back with a vengeance along with some hints of tropical fruit: really quite elegant. Water doesn’t really do anything very interesting for the nose.

Palate: Rich sweetness, first woody and then quite fruity–stewed apples and pears with honey, brown sugar and a buttery wafer. With time there’s citrus–clementines, dried tangerine peel–along with some slightly bitter woody notes and some salt to rein it in. Unctuous mouthfeel. Really classy stuff. Let’s see if water unlocks anything more. No, nothing new; the fruit recedes a little and a there’s a little more of a sharpness to the wood; it does get a little saltier though with time.

Finish: Not very long and not much development; just some tingling woody notes on the sides of my tongue. A minute or two later it’s like it was never there. Water does lengthen the finish and keep more of the fruit/wood melange going.

Comments: The nose is quite similar at first to the profile of the Balvenie 15 Single Barrels I’ve had, but is finally quite a bit more elegant. On the whole, I do like the nose the most here (though I suppose that tends to be true in a lot of my reviews) but the palate is very good too; it’s the finish that disappoints just a bit, as there’s not much there without water. And while the finish improves with water I think the nose and palate are better without. On the whole, this is very good indeed, but I can’t help wonder just how good the best casks that went into this vatting were.

Rating: 88 points.

5 thoughts on “Yamazaki Bourbon Barrel

  1. Drinking this again tonight after a very long time, and almost exactly 3 years after I opened the bottle, and it’s still very good. It’s too bad what’s happened with the prices and availability of Japanese malts. There’s no way I’ll be able to replace this bottle any time soon.

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  2. Almost done with the bottle now and man, I’m going to miss this when it’s gone (which will be very soon). Especially as the low availability of and insane prices for Japanese whisky of even decent quality all but ensure that I will never be able to replace this bottle.

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