Yamazaki 12 is a another delicious dram from Suntory that surprised and delighted me. Surprised, particularly because I had a bottle of Yamazaki 12 back in the early 90s that wasn't very impressive. That one suffered from a lack of density of flavor and a very shy nose. Yet from the very first sniff of the current stuff I knew that two decades had been too long a wait to give this one another try.
Suntory's cut sheet says:
"Yamazaki whisky is the first Japanese single malt whisky. Handcrafted at Japan’s oldest distillery, built in 1923, Yamazaki is made from barley imported from Scotland, distilled and matured in Japan. Yamazaki’s secret lies in the harmonious marriage of a single malt matured in three different types of oak – Spanish Oak, American
White Oak, and Japanese “Mizunara”– which gives the whisky its complex taste and unique flavor."
Let's see if that's true...
Yamazaki 12 43% abv(sampled a 50ml miniature provided by Danielle of Exposure)
Color: full gold with a slight amber tint.
Nose: Lush floral vanilla perfume over banana and caramelized overripe pineapple. I also get bee's wax, honey, sweet butter, cooking pancakes, and some bit of citrus and almond like orgeat syrup. Wonderful
Entry is sweet with treacle syrup but then immediately spicy. The mouth feel is light but silky. Mid-palate bites with a bit of heat and a lemon-tangerine citrus burst that fades a bit with extended air - replaced by a smooth sweet creaminess. The floral vanilla of the nose arcs over the whole shebang. Then honeyed malt and oak take over at the turn to the finish. Oak tannins show gently at the finish along with baking dinner rolls and a gentle herbal tang. It's agile and youthful feeling - very sweet. Yet it also has balance, poise, and some complexity.
A few drops of water heightens the citrus and almond notes in the nose (banishing the banana). A bit of classic juicy Scotch Highland fruit basket nose emerges (stonefruit, pear, salted butter marzipan). It keeps evolving in the glass and I keep getting more.
On the palate a few drops of water ups the sweetness and helps it to carry through the peppery heat of the expansion into the mid-palate which still pops with citrus burst, but more softly. Theres a mellow glow of tropical fruits in the fade of the spicy citrus burst. Bees wax, butter, toffee and malt waft around. The finish is gentle and softly malty-fruity like the aftermath of chewing juicyfruit gum.
Given that the nose and entry and mid-palate spice hit are all much bigger than the finish, I'm anxious to try older expressions. I imagine an august presence develops and more wood and flavor in the finish would enhance the balance overall.
Still, what's here is glorious. The nose is lovely, complex and involving. The entry seductive and the mid-palate spicy, rich and sweet. The gentle soothing finish is a salve after the mid-palate heat. Just a lovely and involving whisky overall. What happened in the past 20 years? How did they do it? A sea change. Yamazaki 12 transformed itself from a forgettable 2 star to a vibrant and delectable 4 star treat.