Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Review - Yamazaki Sherry Cask (2016 Edition)

The multi award winning Japanese distillery of Yamazaki has announced the release of the 2016 Edition of its Sherry Cask expression. A previous version (the 2013 expression) gained fame by being voted 'Whisky of the Year' in Jim Murray's Whisky Bible 2015. There will be just 5,000 bottles worldwide and the whisky has been taken from ex-Oloroso sherry casks hand selected by Shinji Fukuyo, the Chief Blender at Suntory - he is only the fourth person to hold this position in Suntory's history. It joins three other expressions in the Yamazaki Cask 2016 Collection - the Bourbon Barrel, Mizunara & Puncheon.

Yamazaki was Japan's first single malt distillery. It began production in 1923 and was founded by Shinjiro Torri, a man widely regarded as the pioneer of the Japanese whisky industry. It is located in the town of Yamazaki in the Osaka Prefecture, which sits roughly between half way between the major cities of Kyoto and Osaka.  Yamazaki is owned by Suntory, the company that Shinjiro Torri formed in the early 1920s, and has a current annual production of approximately eight million litres.

The Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2016 Edition is bottled at 48% ABV and is priced at £200 per bottle.  It is available on allocation via selected specialist whisky retailers.  However, allocations are very small (the UK only getting an estimated 200 bottles for example) and have been unable to meet demand in the weeks since the news of the new bottling was released.

Our tasting notes
The colour is dark amber, almost mahogany.  The nose is heavy, fruity and with plenty of immediate wood spice.  There are a combination of rich aromas present - burnt caramel, rich dark dried fruits (think of prunes, raisins and dates), molasses, black treacle and bitter orange peel.  There are hints of peaches, almonds, menthol, clove and dark chocolate.

On the palate this does not feel quite as heavy as the aromas on the nose suggested.  It is a big whisky and there are plenty of sweeter notes up front including muscovado sugar, black treacle and dark dried fruits (especially the prunes and raisins from the nose, although they have a 'rum soaked' feel now).  In addition, complexity and depth is added by a combination of bitter, spicy and drying notes - imagine candied oranges, mace, cinnamon and cloves.  There are also further hints of coffee grounds, dried peaches, gingerbread, high cocoa chocolate and an increasing note of dried walnuts.

The finish is a little shorter than expected given the richness of the whisky, especially once the sweet elements fade.  This seems to happen quickly to leave a very savoury, dry and slightly bitter feeling.  The notes that linger longest are of dark chocolate, dried walnuts, cocoa powder, molasses and cinnamon.

What's the verdict?
So does this Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2016 Edition live up to the post-release hype?  We are not sure that it ever really could, but it is a good solid whisky as you would expect from Japan's premium single malt distillery.  Sherry casks whiskies tend to be on the richer and sweeter side but this has much more of a savoury and grown up edge.

It seems that if you would like to purchase a bottle this 2016 Edition, then sadly you must expect to pay much more than the recommended retail price on auction sites.  This is proving to be an extremely popular release given the previous accolade and subsequent positive press, turning it into a collector's item rather than a whisky for drinking.  Many who want one will be left disappointed or pay hugely over the odds, which is a shame.

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