The Yamazaki 18 is one of the great official bottlings, and until a couple of years ago may have held the belt for best price/quality ratio among easily available sherried malts. Its closest relative from Scotland is the Highland Park 18, I think; I really like that one but I think this Yamazaki 18 just pips it at the post. Alas, in the last few years availability has plummeted and prices have skyrocketed (something that also seems to be about to happen with the Highland Park 18). I purchased my first bottle some 4 years ago for about $80; now it’s pushing $200 in some markets in the US, and is almost impossible to find below $120 (and not easy to find at that price either). I’m not sure if this is a US-only phenomenon. I resisted buying replacements when the price first began to go up as that $80 tag had spoilt me, but when I found a bottle for $115 in Los Angeles recently I decided to get it. It doesn’t seem likely that the price will come down when/if availability increases again.
My pour tonight is from a reference sample saved and hoarded jealously from my last “normal” price bottle. Now that I have a backup I can drink it again.
Yamazaki 18 (43%; from a reference sample saved from my own bottle
Nose: Rich polished wood and fruity sherry: dark sweet notes of rum-raisin, maple syrup and dark brown sugar. Some citrus and there’s something lightly dusty about it too. After a bit, some cold tea and hints of nutmeg/cinnamon. I could nose this for a long time–really quite succulent.
Palate: I won’t repeat myself–it tastes very much as advertised by the nose; but doesn’t entirely fulfill its promise. The reduced strength has everything to do with that as the palate is just a little too thin. Still very good though and remarkably balanced: no element dominates but all are evident. A touch of cocoa on the backend, or is that a lick of smoke?
Finish: Medium. Toasted wood (not tannic) and cocoa.
Comments: The nose is in the 90s but the palate and finish are not; a little more viscosity and depth there and I’d really get carried away. At 46% this would be an utter barnstormer. Ah well, I will dream of someday being able to find and afford a higher strength sherried Yamazaki. In the meanwhile, this reference sample bottle will be emptied this year and the new bottle enjoyed over the next two.
Rating: 88 points