...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Notes from a tasting: The Yamazaki Tasting Room

After a disappointing tasting at the end of the distillery tour (see yesterday's post), I walked down to Yamazaki's Tasting Room.  The "Room" is a wide open space with a multi-tiered Whisky Library lining two sides.  The Library:

Those bottles were not for sampling as many of them were historic.  Some curiosities in the bunch, too, including mint, juniper, and lavender flavored malts in the photo above.

While the "library" was more of a "museum", the tasting table did have pages full of goodies to actually drink (for reasonable prices).  I had been prepared for the worst, but oh my goodness yes there were real whiskies to sample.  There were the different cask elements that make up Hibiki (mizunara stuff, peated things, etc.), older age-stated Suntory Japanese malts, and a slew of Beam and non-Beam whiskies.  But three things caught my eye immediately.

Yamazaki distillate - 58%abv
Yamazaki single cask 1995 - 62%abv
Yamazaki single cask 1986 - 51%abv

This was an opportunity to try Yamazaki's high strength new make next to two well-aged high strength whiskies aged in very different casks.  To say that this opportunity intrigued me would be a slight understatement.

Yamazaki new make / distillate, 58%abv
Color - Clear as water
Nose - Fruity/yeasty as all hell right up front.  Then green grapes, pineapple, and cassia cinnamon sticks follow.  After a half hour, a hint of animal fur peeks out but is hollered down by plum slivovitz.
Palate - Slivovitz with a mouthful of geraniums and dandelions and white sugar.  But a nice little herbal bite keeps it from getting too sweet or floral.
Finish - Eastern European fruity brandy, more tuica than slivovitz.
Comments - Dear Suntory: F*** the "Distillers Reserves".  Sell this at $20-$25 and I'll buy it and you'll save money.  You just need your marketing department to figure out how to sell it to someone other than me.

Yamazaki single cask 1995, 62%abv -- ex-bourbon, 19-20 years old
Color - Amber
Nose - Full of tropical and citrus fruits.  Sometimes reminiscent of an old Speyside.  Candied orange peel and jasmine in caramel sauce.  Still some cinnamon bite to it.  Grapefruit juice and vanilla syrup start to show up after 30+ minutes.  Maybe some violets and orange creamsicles.
Palate - Hot, which is not a surprise at this abv.  But very floral.  Confectioner's sugar and brown sugar.  Mild vanilla and caramel.  Milk chocolate.  Still feels young.
Finish - Sweet and peppery (corns and bells).  Again it's young but nicely so, if one prefers to avoid oak.
Comments - They probably couldn't sell this as is due to how bold the spirit is -- the flowers, cinnamon, and fruit from the distillate still shouts after two decades -- but I'd go for it had they bottled it and priced it right (as they had during previous decades).

Yamazaki single cask 1986, 51% abv -- ex-sherry, 28-29yo
Color - Reddened maple syrup
Nose - Obscenely sherried.  Leather and pipe tobacco.  Cointreau and blood oranges.  Toffee pudding.  Very rich grape syrup with a hint of mint leaf.  More toffee pudding.  Crumbling brown sugar between one's fingers.  After nearly an hour, a note of burnt hay arises, the mint and orange oil grow, and some molasses joins the party.
Palate - Subtler than the nose, but very musty.  Teriyaki (yeah, yeah, I know) with something right between Angostura and Peychaud's bitters.  It takes a few minutes to open up.  After 30+ minutes a big tropical fruit note emerges, followed by toffeed coffee beans (if that was a thing), and old furniture.
Finish - Toffee pudding, black pepper, and a blood orange cocktail.
Comments - Holyf***ings**t.  Suntory is losing money by serving this at the distillery.  Not only did it hold up for more than an hour, it improved.  If you go to the distillery and they still have this cask available (because they kicked me out before I drank it all) then have it.  When you hear/read old timers weeping romantically about old Glen Grant, this is it and a sample won't cost you your whole vacation.

I'm quite serious about the last one, except for the part about getting kicked out.  A 29 year old Yamazaki single sherry cask would cost 20x more per pour (thank you, Jim Murray Cult for demolishing the Yamazaki sherry cask market, hugs and kisses from us all) than what I paid for it.  It's one of the most gorgeous noses I've come across.  I realized after I finished my pour that nothing could follow it.  So I bought another pour of the sherry cask, chatted with a Guinness-loving Japanese couple, and felt very thankful to exist in that moment.