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Suntory Yamazaki 12 Year Old

Glenn Gould Playing Mozart

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@olivierReview by @olivier

19th Mar 2010


  • Nose
  • Taste
  • Finish
  • Balance
  • Overall

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While thinking of a way to sum-up my feelings about the Yamazaki 12yo, I was reminded of the legendary pianist, Glenn Gould, who wrote that, when playing Mozart piano sonatas, he derived the most enjoyment, not from the music, but rather from the physical sensation of his fingers playing the sequence of notes.

Likewise, for me, the enjoyment of the Yamazaki 12yo is intensely physical.

NOSE: Powerful and bracing, despite being honeyish and buttery. The listing of specific aromas (cake, almond, vanilla, and butter) belies the power felt when nosing the Yamazaki 12yo.

Adding water makes little difference to the nose.

Oddly enough, when I sat down with a proper tulip-shaped glass to do this formal review, I did not experience the rich nosing experience that I had had, informally, when drinking this in a tumbler glass at various hotels in Asia. I therefore went back to a tumbler glass and the nose became much better. Odd.

PALATE: Now, we’re really getting physical, despite the addition of such “soft” attributes as creamy, caramel and toffee to the list of aromas detected in the nosing.

This whisky goes on to infiltrate every accessible nook, cranny, cavity and interstice of your mouth and sinuses. Such a sensory, almost anatomical, onslaught could have been aggressive, but in my case the effect has always been immensely pleasurable and physically gratifying.

Adding water makes the palate a bit more buttery and pleasantly bitter, but at 43% it also dilutes the taste more rapidly than for other whiskies. I would recommend adding water one drop at the time, and tasting after each drop.

Contrary to many Japanese whiskies, the Yamazaki 12yo is not really oily or viscous.

FINISH: Medium to long. The buttery and bitter elements are the ones that remain to the end. The bitter finish helps avoid sweetness saturation and it gets one’s mouth ready for the next sip.

APPRECIATION: This is a really interesting (and enjoyable) malt. The specific aromas and tastes could all be described as soft, yet the overall effect is one of bracing strength, robustness, and richness. The image that comes to mind is “Viking Mead”; sweet and honeyish but definitely not a ladies’ drink. The strong taste should not, however, make one forget that this is bottled at 43% (ie. go easy on the water).

This bottling is available at most duty-free stores in Asia, and many in Europe, for about U$50, about half of the Yamazaki 18yo. In my personal opinion the 12yo is much better than the 18yo (which I will review soon) and is a good example that “older is not better”, a concept that I am just starting to grasp.

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AboutChoice commented

Now that is a useful review ! I have Yamasaki on my ToAcquire list. Thank you !!

10 years ago 0

Beelzebozo commented

Wow, in two reviews you have covered two bottles already residing on my wishlist. Here again you have given me some superb descriptors to look for in my own tasting. I have certainly decided by now to read any future reviews you may post.

10 years ago 0

WhiskyNotes commented

Glenn Gould disliked Mozart. He even said that Mozart died quite late, rather than too soon! That's why he said he liked the physical part of moving his fingers more than the music itself. It makes your title quite ironic...

10 years ago 0

olivier commented

Yes, the Gould/Mozart analogy cannot be carried too far. Actually "disliked" is a euphemism; I seem to remember that he wrote that he forced himself to record all of Mozart's piano sonatas to show the world what a lousy composer Mozart was.

10 years ago 0

NilsG commented

I think you're right about nosing this from a tumbler. Maybe I'm just imagining it after reading your review, maybe my bottle has opened up more since last time I had it, but I think the nose feels...how to describe it?..."wider". Thanks for the tip!

7 years ago 0

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