Technically part of the ‘old world’ of whisky producers (including Scotland, Ireland, Canada, and the United States), Japan has around ten active distilleries. Yamazaki, arguably the most popular and certainly the first, is owned by drinks giant Suntory. You might know Suntory from their sticky-sweet unnaturally-green melon liquor: Midori.
Yamazaki has made quality single-malt Japanese whisky since 1923. With the wild popularity of scotch in that country, it should be no surprise that some enterprising Japanese would set up shop to emulate that venerable liquid. Yamazaki’s malt is made in the traditional Scottish way, but is aged in a combination of ex-bourbon American casks, Spanish sherry casks, and Japanese oak barrels. At 12 years and 43% ABV, it competes on a global scale with its inspiration, scotch.
Appearance: Nice color for a whisky – there’s a faint orange hue that is very appealing.
Nose: Fruit galore – there is a punchbowl of green banana, mango, honeydew, and pear – and a thick layer of pink bubblegum. Subsequent nosings give more and more banana, which is starting to verge on overripe. Under all the fruit is a veiled quantity of malt and cereal sugars. Luckily, after a few minutes of rest, the nose becomes dominated by the bubble-gum note, and not the banana.
Palate: Nicely viscous body, and a very mild tongue burn. A touch bitter to start, then some banana and toffee and a slight suggestion of old oak.
Finish: A wave of anise, followed by barbeque char, burned nuts, and bitter lemon. Medium-long.
With Water: A splash of water opens up some black licorice, but doesn’t ameliorate the intensity of the banana notes. It also thins the body. I’d skip the water here.
Overall: The positive experience of smelling all that fruit was short-lived. I’m not a big fan (as my regular readers know) of banana notes in whisky, and they are plentiful here, at least in the aroma. Pair that with a lot of bitterness on the finish, and you have a whisky that I wouldn’t buy for myself. It actually reminds me of the entry-level Amrut, for which I wrote similar notes. Of course, plenty of people like those banana notes and don’t mind some bitterness in the finish. To them I would say “Branch out! Try some malt from a whole ‘nother country!”… To the rest of us, I say skip it and start your Japanese whisky journey on something else.
Note: I sampled a 50ml ‘miniature’ for this review. It should be noted that I have not had the best luck with minis in other reviews (especially of bourbon). It is possible that my review is skewed by this fact. Of course, since many people use miniatures to “try before buying”, they deserve to be judged at face value.