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.
The Yamazaki 12, unlike the Bourbon Barrel, is quite easily found in the US (though its price has gone up appreciably in the last year or two, perhaps to match the more recently arrived Hakushu 12). Unlike its older, and now tragically expensive sibling, the Yamazaki 18, this is not appreciably sherried. It is quite clearly a sibling of the Bourbon Barrel, and I would bet that this is mostly bourbon cask whisky as well. As to whether the difference between the two is down entirely to the extra 5% abv of the Bourbon Barrel or if there is something else that holds the Yamazaki 12 apart, I am not sure. If you know more about the composition of this whisky, please chime in in the comments.
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. Continue reading