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Background: The distillery in Yamazaki was the first in Japan. Established by the founder of Suntory, Shinjiro Torii. Because of this, Suntory will claim Torii to be "the father of Japanese whisky", saying nothing about Masataka Taketsuru. Taketsuru had spent years in Scotland studying the art of making whisky, and it was with his knowledge that the Yamazaki distillery was built. However, there was conflict between the two men regarding how the whisky should be made, and Taketsuru left the company (then made a distillery of his own in Yoichi and founded Nikka. But that's a different story). To simplify, Torii wanted to make a whisky that would suit the Japanese palate, but Taketsuru wanted to introduce Japanese made scottish style whisky. Who the real father of Japanese whisky is can be argued, and I will argue that it is Taketsuru. But I'll do that in the future when I review Yoichi. Regardless, both these dudes are whisky legends and pioneers.
It was however Shinjiro Torii's son, Keizo, that would take the Yamazaki distillery to the next level, and made the first Japanese single malt. It was released in the 80s. Japan was in its famous economical bubble and more expensive alcohol could finally enjoy a significant market.
The Yamazaki 12 is witout a doubt THE most important whisky to me. It was the first whisky I enjoyed straight. It was the whisky that opened my eyes, and it permanently changed the way perceive and think about taste and smell. It was my "first love" and it is possible that I would never have discovered whisky without it. For that reason I can probably not make an impartial review. But I have purposely waited with this review until the "honeymoon" was over, to give it a more honest opinion.
Here we go...
(No water added) Nose: Orange, melted butter, soap (maybe "floral" would be a more appealing term to use, but the image that pops up in my head is a bar of soap, not a flower). And, nosing a bit away from the glass, you can get heavy banana (thanks Victor for that one).
Taste: Ok, I can basically only repeat what everyone else already stated; it starts very sweet, then soon the sweetness is taken over by wood, vanilla and dryness, very dr¥. I would not say this is a balanced whisky, the wood is dominating, and I like it.
Finish: I really really enjoy this finish, but I can't stay focused through it. I normally prefer a finish that have its different parts coming in waves more like one at a time. But in this finish there is so much going on at the same time I find it hard to target the individual components. Maybe I should have waited to write this review after I gained more experience after all. I find the dryness disappears after a while, and although there is some bitterness in the early finish it's all gone towards the end, and it's a long end. However the bitterness goes so well with the wood taste I actually wouldn't have minded if it stuck around for longer.
Summary: This is a very good whisky. It's not mind blowing (although it sure was the first time I drank it). I don't put this whisky on a pedestal anymore. But it I recommend it strongly to anyone. Especially if you want to start exploring Japanese whiskies, this is the bottle to start with.