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Saturday, 29 September 2012

Yamazaki Whisky: Wood You Believe It?

Not so much 'Norwegian Wood' as 'Japanese Wood'

When you walk in to a room, there is a lot to take in. The furniture, the carpet, the colours on the walls. Is there any art hanging up and if so, what does it add to the room; what does it say about the owners? How is the room laid out, and for what purpose?

However, when we walk in to a room, we don't usually run through this check-list of points. Not consciously, anyway.

But a room is given life, personality and character by the items in it and the way it has been dressed and arranged.

Unless you go out and buy a single cask, every bottle of whisky you buy has been blended, be it from a mixture of grain and malts from different distilleries into what we would traditionally define as a 'blended whisky', or those which carry the moniker of 'single malt' which are also blended together, just using malts from one distillery.

Every so often as drinks writers, we are invited to try 'deconstructions' of both blends and single malts. Fascinating to write about, these occasions give a real insight in to the make up of certain whiskies.

Conversations with the Master Blender reveal interesting nuggets as to the flavour profile of the overall mix (percentages of first fill sherry, to refill bourbon, etc.) but these geeky facts may not excite everyone. Personally, I don't want an explanation of how an aeroplane works before getting on it; I just want to have a great customer experience with my flight. In the same way, most people don't give two hoots as to the make-up of their blended or single malt whisky; they just want it to taste good.

However, some of the whiskies which go in to making up a standard release of a single malt are pretty bloody good. So much so, that the Japanese distillers Suntory have decided to release a series of whiskies which, we are told, make up the constituent parts of their Yamazaki 12 Year Old.

This series will be made up of four release, two already on the market. These editions showcase the whisky matured in individual styles of casks: a puncheon, a bourbon barrel and a heavy sherry barrel (all named, cunningly, 'Bourbon', 'Puncheon' and 'Sherry') will be available for around £70. The jewel in the crown is the Mizunara release, an edition matured in casks made from the famous Japanese variety of oak. This will weigh in around the £250 price point.

These four release are all markedly different, with the puncheon and bourbon barrel showing off light and delicate whisky, the sherry barrel giving excellent, heavily sherried hooch which, for the money, seems absurdly good. The wild-card player in the squad is the Japanese oak release:

Yamazaki - Mizunara (480 litre barrel) - NAS - 48% abv

Nose: a big hit of dried apricots, figs, toasted almonds (almond croissant), marzipan, light and aromatic spices.

Palate: the initial hit is of toasted tobacco leaf, over-ripe banana, which develops into banana bread and ever such a delicate hint of smoke.

Finish: heavy butterscotch, tropical fruits of mango and passion fruit, all finished nicely with delicate pear drops.

Overall: This is a whisky full of wonderful character and bold statements. Delicious and intriguing, this is well worth a try.

These individual bottlings may well be excellent in their own right (and there isn't a ringer in the flight), but the really interesting conclusion was trying the Yamazaki 12.

A whisky which we feel is underrated, the flavours of cooking apples, cinnamon, vanilla and flapjacks left us in no doubt that, once again, the quality of whisky coming out of Japan is of the highest order.

These whiskies have not just been put together, they have been expertly constructed by masters of liquid Feng Shui to create a room with personality, character and flavour.