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I cannot believe I have never reviewed a Yamazaki before! Then again, since Suntory products are not available in Ontario, I shouldn't be surprised. This is one of the world's greatest and most innovative distilleries. Founded by Shinjiro Torii and developed and crafted by Masataka Taketsuru (who would later found Nikka), they began distillation in 1924 high in the Japanese Alps. Yamazaki uses various sizes and shapes of pot stills with many different cask types, to craft award winning malts (their 25 Year Old and 1984 Vintage malts win countless awards). Suntory combines malts from both Yamazaki and Hakushu, with grain whiskies from one or both distilleries, to create their Hibiki blends.
The 12 Year Old is the mainstay of the range, launched on Mar 14 1984 and composed of malts matured in three different casks: toasted American oak puncheon, mizunara cask and ex-sherry cask.
The malt has a rich golden colour. On the nose, a wonderful combination of fruit (oranges, bananas, pineapple), spice (cinnamon, cloves), honey and some subtle vanilla. A little bit perfumy, and let's not forget the crisp malt. Very complex, gentle and balanced. Interestingly, water accentuates some dark fruits with a whiff of smoke.
On the palate there is a little more spice with some chilli pepper thrown in. More honey and vanilla - and definitely more oak in the mouth. Fruit pastry, buttered toast and more cinnamon. Water brings out more malt and honey - yum!
The finish is long and luxurious - a touch of smoke and sandalwood with the pepper, vanilla and dark fruits. It is a complex and spicy, yet gentle whisky - I cannot imagine anyone not enjoying this, though it doesn't set the world on fire - I prefer the 18 or even the Hibiki 12 Year Old blend. If you're interested, Jim Murray scores this a 90. If you live in Ontario, worth making this a regular purchase when travelling.