A few years back a friend of mine and I were in Osaka. I mentioned to him that Yamazaki station was not far away by train, and at that, Yamazaki Distillery was but a day trip away. We set out early and approximately one hour later found ourselves at Yamazaki station - a small station in the countryside. We walked along a small road towards the lush green countryside and in a brief few minutes saw our destination clearly marked on a building "Suntory Yamazaki Distillery". We entered and discovered the next tour was half an hour away and that the tour was in Japanese. Fortunately my Japanese was basic enough to get by, my friend unfortunately was not so lucky - but he was not going to let that spoil his moment. We occupied ourselves inspecting aisles of displayed bottles of distillery samples from various ages and casks. An art in itself. Row upon row on multiple shelves of identical archival bottles filled with every imaginable natural colour that can be expected from whisky aging.
The tour commenced and we were fortunate enough to see, firstly, examples of casks and aged barrels of spirit marked by age. This was followed by the machinery responsible for the distillation process. We then entered the warehouse housing the casks. The smell in the air of the angel's share. Casks stacked with the year clearly marked on the barrel. I looked for the oldest cask I could spot and took its photo. The walk back to our starting point took us past the wonderful nature that surrounds the distillery.
We were advised there would be complimentary tastings to conclude the tour consisting of three expressions. Our anticipation grew. We found ourselves seated in a new room and whisky was quickly brought in and served to one and all. Curiously there was a new expression I'd never heard of before on tasting, Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve. Since my friend and I where the only two foreigners on the tour, our guide unveiled her English and began to fuss over us. Making sure we knew what each expression was and asking if we'd like it neat, and then with a few drops of water and then with a lot of water. This was served with individually wrapped dark chocolate, one of which I still have today.
When the tasting concluded the young tour guide spoke to my friend and I retrospectively explained what we had seen on the tour. She spoke with pride as she discussed the history of the distillery and Japanese whisky. Our conversation continued into the gift store where I snagged a couple of lovely highball glasses. Concluding our conversation my friend and I returned to our starting point and where delighted to discover that we could sample anything from the bars wide range of Suntory Branded selections - including unreleased Yamazaki expressions. I chose a Yamazaki aged in an ex-Sherry cask and my friend an unreleased vintage Yamazaki.
The single malt is a combination of three vintages / cask types: a blending of three year old casks finished in ex-Bordeaux casks, ex-Sherry casks aged for approximately 20 years and Mizunara malt aged for 12 years and over. I am unsure of the percentage of contribution by each vintage/cask type.
Since that day I have tried Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve four times. The second time from a 200mL bottle and the following two times from a 700ml bottle. This review is based on my tasting from the fourth tasting.
Nose: Strawberry, coconut, red fruits, plums, soft honey, Mizunara oak, gentle floral aroma
Taste: Coconut, cherries, apples, ginger, tannic
Finish: Short with a lot of complexity in the shortness, starting with spice, then cherries and a dry tannic and red wine on the tail
Consistency is at the core of this range. The master blender seems to have a perfectionists approach to ensuring the consistency of the whisky, as the experience is the same each time. Batch variation appears to be minimal.
A subtle 43% that goes down easy. A soft and gentle delivery yet remarkably complex in a short burst of a finish. It's difficult to find a specific note that dominates. Yet red fruits and tannic comes to mind first when I recall my tastings.