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Philip Day discusses Yamazaki, a Japanese brand of whisky revered by the cognoscenti.

 

Japanese whisky

 

Owned by The distillery is owned by Suntory Spirits Ltd. Address

5-2-1 Yamazaki,

Shimamoto-cho,

Mishima-gun,

Osaka, Japan.

Founded in 1923 Telephone

Email

 

 

 

 

Phone: +81-75-962-1423

mbd.eu.theyamazaki@suntory.co.jp (Europe)

si.usa.theyamazaki@suntory.co.jp (U.S.)

(For other countries/regions see website)

 

Current status

 

Active Web-site www.theyamazaki.jp
Capacity (Litres of finished whisky per annum) Undisclosed Visitor Centre Yes, booking essential

 

 

 

The Yamazaki distillery, nestled in forested hills between Kyoto and Osaka near the southern end of Japan’s main island Honshu, was Japan’s first malt whisky distillery. Established in 1923 on land acquired by Shinjiro Torii (1879-1962), the founder of the Suntory company who with the aid of Masataka Taketsuru, a scientist and whisky-making expert, who had gained experience of distilling techniques in Scotland, began the task of creating unique blends of Japanese whisky.

 

Japanese whisky

 

The distillery houses sixteen stills. This allows Yamazaki to produce the range of flavours necessary for Suntory’s blended whiskies. In Japan, it is very difficult to source whisky for blending, as Japanese distillers refuse to share their malts for the making of blends. This, therefore, necessitates the ability to create many different whiskies for variety. Hence the large number of different sized stills at the Yamazaki Distillery, that together with the use of different yeasts that allow for a diversity of flavours in the new-make spirit.

 

Japanese whisky

 

The site in Yamazaki also benefits from a plentiful supply of high-quality underground water that was suited to whisky-making, a resource that is critically important in the making of whisky and the unique moist climate and humidity of the location of Yamazaki created by the convergence of three local rivers are essential requirements for ageing whisky. The fact that the site also lay close to the best transport links in Japan at the time, between Osaka and Kyoto was an important consideration for Shinjiro Torii, when he was deciding where to build his distillery.

 

The story of how Yamazaki Distillery went on to craft Yamazaki single malt whisky and raise it to a world-class level of quality is perhaps the story of Japanese whisky itself.

 

Shinjiro Torii was determined to create a whisky suited to the delicate Japanese palate.

 

Many detractors argued that the challenge he faced was impossible to achieve.

 

Undeterred, the Kotobukiya Company, owned by Shinjiro Torii, funded the building of the Yamazaki Distillery and production of whisky commenced in 1924, with Masetaka Taketsuru as distillery manager. The money for the project came from the successful sales of Akadama Port wine which Shinjiro Torii began selling in 1907.

 

The name of the company was changed in 1929 to Suntory the same year as their first authentic Japanese whisky Suntory Whisky Shirofuda (white label).
In 1937, Shinjiro, launched a new blended whisky, Suntory Whisky Kakubin, a blend that after many years of experimentation and hard work, he felt he had achieved his lifelong goal of producing a whisky perfectly suited to Japanese tastes. He was correct and was rewarded by brisk sales. Shinjiro then went on to create Suntory Old Whisky in 1950.

 

The first properly marketed pure single malt in Japan (Yamazaki Twelve Year-Old) was launched in 1984 and was followed by the Eighteen Year-Old variant in 1992.

 

Japanese whisky

The Suntory Yamazaki Twelve Year-Old single malt whisky, was the first Japanese single malt whisky to be awarded a gold medal in the whisky category of the most authoritative spirits competition in the world, the International Spirits Challenge 2003 (ISC 2003). This accolade earned the brand international recognition.

 

Yamazaki Distillery makes use of a variety of methods and techniques all the way through the whisky-making process, from the mashing stage through to distillation, that allows it to produce an array of single malt whiskies with a variety of distinctive characters.

 

Both wooden and stainless steel wash backs are employed. In spite of requiring closely controlled monitoring of temperatures, wooden wash backs not only take advantage of nature’s gifts thanks to the location of the site but also help promote the production of rich-flavoured single malt whiskies through the action of the distillery’s naturally occurring lactic acid bacteria and other micro-organism populations. Owing to the variety of single malt whiskies produced, great emphasis is placed on the careful selection of the yeast type that would best suit the desired whisky flavour from the distillery’s stock of thousands of strains.

 

During the fermentation process, the wash produced is distilled twice in rows of pot stills of different shapes and sizes. By utilising different stills, the distillery can produce a variety of whiskies with flavours that range from light to full-bodied, non-peated, lightly peated and heavily peated malts. The stills are heated both directly by fire and indirectly with steam, since these differing heating methods help to further distinguish the individualised character of each of the single malt whiskies produced at the distillery.

 

Once the distillation is complete, the whiskies are placed in casks and allowed to repose in the distillery’s ageing warehouse until it has sufficiently mellowed. Even here, the outcome of the maturation of the same batch of whisky differs depending on the type of cask the young whisky has been stored in. The Yamazaki distillery uses casks of different shapes, sizes, made from diverse varieties of oak, including casks seasoned by a wide range of spirits, wines, fortified wines and liqueurs. A unique type of cask, made from Japanese oak (Mizunara) which is grown in Hokkaido, is used to allow the whisky it contains to age over long periods of time,. This particular wood imparts a distinctively mellow bouquet evocative of aromatic trees found in Japan, a unique flavour has been gaining special attention globally.

 

Japanese whisky

 

All this variety means that every single malt whisky from Yamazaki is a vatting of distilled whiskies, each prepared in completely different ways. While the same can be said for the majority of single malts, the flavour variations are more pronounced at Yamazaki than almost anywhere else. It is not surprising that the whiskies produced here are extremely good but it is only in the last ten years or so that the rest of the world has opened its eyes to the fact.

 

There are three primary variants of Yamazaki whisky:

  • Yamazaki Single Malt 12-Year-Old whisky
  • Yamazaki Single Malt 18-Year-Old whisky
  • Yamazaki Single Malt 25-Year-Old whisky

Japanese whisky

 

There are also other offerings including Distiller’s Reserve and some dated offerings like the 1984 and Puncheon, Sherry and Bourbon casked offerings.

 

Recent very successful issues have included:

  • Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve
  • Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013
  • Yamazaki Mizunara 2014
  • Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2016

 

 

Yamazaki Distillery also lays claim to the busiest visitor centre of all Japanese distilleries which includes a sampling bar that contains well over 120 different Yamazaki whiskies of differing ages and cask types. It also has a very impressive ‘whisky library’.

 

Yamazaki in the news

  • January, 2016

Just over a year ago, Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013 made headlines worldwide and became an internet sensation after trouncing all Scottish contenders to be crowned the world’s best whisky by ‘The Whisky Bible’ 2015. The whisky, aged in Spanish oloroso sherry butts to lend it richness and complexity, immediately sold out.

Yamazaki_Single_Malt_Sherry_Cask_2016_Edition - ESCAPEMENT Magazine - the finer things in life by Angus Davies

Suntory has now announced that its hugely anticipated successor, Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2016, to be launched on Monday 1st February.

However, Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2016 is a very limited edition, having spent three years longer in oak than the 2013. Only 5,000 bottles have been made with the UK allocation only available from Selfridges, The Whisky Exchange and Harvey Nichols. The new release is twice as expensive as the award-winning 2013 at approximately £200 for a 70cl bottle.

Source: Telegraph.co.uk – 28 Jan 2016

  • February, 2016

Whisky enthusiasts have been disappointed after discovering that less than 200 bottles of an eagerly anticipated Japanese single malt will arrive in England and that the few outlets that stock it have sold out already.

Suntory, the makers of the Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2016, said that 2,000 bottles were being shipped out to 10 European cities this week. However the actual number of the allocation to arrive in London was just 198 bottles.

Source: The Independent.co.uk – 2 February 2016

 

Awards

Yamazaki 12 Years Old:

  • International Spirits Challenge (ISC) 2003, 2010 (Gold)
  • San Francisco World Spirits Competition (SWSC) 2009, 2013 Double Gold, 2014 Gold
  • International Wine & Spirit Competition (IWSC) 2011 (Best in class)

 

Yamazaki 18 Years Old:

  • International Spirits Challenge (ISC) 2007, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014 (Gold)
    also 2012 (ISC Trophy)
  • San Francisco World Spirits Competition (SWSC) 2011, 2012, 2015 (Best other whisky)
    2005,2008,2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 (Double Gold)

 

Yamazaki 25 Years Old:

  • World Whiskies Award (WWA) 2012 (Best Single Malt Whisky)
    San Francisco World Spirits Competition (SWSC) 2015 (Double Gold)

 

Yamazaki Mizunara 2014:

International Spirits Challenge (ISC) 2015 (Gold)

 

References

 

Yamazaki is a trademarked brand of single malt whisky by Suntory Holdings Ltd.

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