Japanese Whisky Week – Day 7: Yamazaki 1984/2005 (56%, OB)

Wow, how quickly a week passes by. Already the last day of the Japanese Whisky Week. The last entry will be another Vintage Malt Yamazaki. This time a 1985. Will this be the best? But before I start reviewing this one, first a little comment.

This Japanese Whisky Week was a little ‘narrow’ All entries were from just three distilleries. Nikka’s Yoichi (in the Taketsuru’s) and Miyagikyo, and Suntory’s Yamazaki. But there is so much more. So please have a look at the others. Hanyu is great, so is Karuizawa, and many others, like the new Chichibu that already shows great potential. So enough material for another Japanese Whisky Week I would say.

By the way, not a lot of good pictures available, so the picture is for another Yamazaki from the same series, just from other distillation and bottling years. Sorry.

Color: Dark mahogany

Nose: Sherry, probably Oloroso. Dry, powdery and woody. Nice soapy smell, that adds to the elegance of it. Typical oak. Pencil shavings. Sugar candy. Paper as in old books. The nose is very balanced.

Taste: Sweet (at first) and spicy wood. Syrupy, thick, with cough syrup and black fruits. The initial sweetness soon gives way to oak. Burnt sugar with some mint. This isn’t 25yo yet, but it’s already on the brink. This is already pretty woody, and ageing this any longer ,would have made this extremely woody. Now it’s elegant and quite bitter, but a bitterness that can still be handled. There is also some Beer, or hoppy bitterness to this. Altogether half sweet. Burnt sugar and it has a woody, hoppy, bitter finish. The other Yamazaki Vintage Malt didn’t oxidize to well, but this one can handle air with ease.

This goes into Yamazaki 25yo territory, but it isn’t there, its definitively younger, a lot younger. I guess there are much older components that go into Yamazaki 25yo, than only 25yo casks. There you have old wood that isn’t present in this Vintage Cask.

I like it. It is sort of extreme, but for me the best of the Japanese Whisky Week. Still, it’s not for the faint at heart. All in all I have to say that all seven Whiskies were pretty good. Just have a look at the amount I scored 87 points. So this is the best, but with 89 points it’s barely the best. It seems that mean quality is high and therefore Japanese Whiskies, If you choose wisely, are very good. Recommended.

Points: 89

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Japanese Whisky Week – Day 6: Miyagikyo 1989/2006 (58%, Nikka, C# 108645, Warehouse 24)

On the third day of the Japanese Whisky Week, I tried a fairly standard Miyagikyo 15yo at the reasonable strength of 45% ABV. That one turned out to be very good. Today we’ll have another look at this distillery, but this time a single cask at the more samurai strength of 58% ABV. As I said before, Miyagikyo is one of my favorites from Japan, ánd I’ve stated before that Japanese whiskies need to be cask strength to show their…ehhh strength. So here we go!

Color: Copper

Nose: Musty sherry. Malty, muddy and sweaty. Smells a bit like your local ditch on a good day. So it doesn’t stink, but smells… organic. Mushrooms. Dry. Sea spray freshness and something burnt. Probably from a Fino Sherry cask. The nose isn’t typical Miyagikyo.

Taste: Strong. Yellow jam with apricots. Chewy. Lots of wood spice. It’s a whisky that wants to be sweet, but isn’t. It’s half sweet, half dry. Sherried. Not completely a Miyagikyo profile but very nice! Clay. Slight imbalance in the finish, due to the sour wood. It’s not very woody, but still it dominates the finish.

Yes these bottles come in a blank and ugly box. Just think the box protects the bottle and the whisky from scratches and light. The good stuff is in the bottle and luckily is not in the packaging. Still I like the smoke glass bottle Nikka also uses for Ben Nevis Whiskies.

I have a feeling this one doesn’t like to breathe too much. Ok, bad example, or there goes a prejudice? It’s Miyagikyo and it’s cask strength, still it scores the same as reduced and standard or even pure malts… We’ll see what happens with the next one…

Points: 87 (yes again 87).

Japanese Whisky Week – Day 5: Yamazaki 1991/2005 (56%, OB)

Lets stay with Yamazaki and Suntory for a while and have a look at a more younger version that is bottled in the vintage malt series. I would guess that it is cask strength, but both versions, the 2004 and the 2005 are precisely 56%. Coincidence or design? The version reviewed here is the 1991 bottled in 2005. The picture below is for the 2004 version, but both look the same. Now we can finally see how a cask strength japanese whisky will be, since I always claimed Japanese whiskies do need their strength, since I feel the reduced versions strike me as watery.

Color: Gold

Nose: Peaty clay. Musty, but also fresh. Radiant wood. Rotting leaves. Just the right spices. Salty grass, dry grass (not hay). Bonfire, fresh smoke. Yes it’s fruity too. Peach. Candy like sour fruityness. Very special.

Taste: Spicy, smoky and half sweet. Hardly any upfront peat here, at least not as much as expected. Licorice with clay.Fruity, just more pineapple than peach. Also the grassy notes emerge here too. Otherwise it’s clean and not overly complex. Warming. Ah, there is the peat, it comes very late in the finish. Welcome. Just a tad of imbalance in the finish though. The sour elements are fighting the sweets and they don’t go together well, because of the peat. Not an elegant Yamazaki this is, more rough around the edges. Likeable, but has it’s flaws taste-wise.

This smells like a Brora! It’s unbelievable, but in Japan they know how to make a whisky that smells like a Brora now! Isn’t this a hidden secret! Keep this in mind when going into a blind tasting… Just two big let-downs. The taste is a simple Brora at best and they charge as much for these kinds of Yamazaki as they do for a Brora. Bummer! Still, well done Suntory.

Points: 87

Japanese Whisky Week – Day 4: Yamazaki 25yo (43%, OB, 75 cl)

Leaving Nikka for a while and now visiting Suntory’s Yamazaki. Yamazaki is the oldest working distillery of Japan being founded by Shinjiro Torii in 1923. It lies between Kyoto and Osaka. Shinjiro Torii also founded the Suntory company. As with Nikka founder Masataka Taketsuru, both men were pretty influential in the rise of Japanese whisky. Taketsuru also first worked for Torii as a distillery executive before embarking on his own adventures.

Color: Mahogany

Nose: Furniture wax and burnt sugar. Before I go on, I have to say it’s a very thick and rich smell. It’s barely recognizable as a whisky. It could have been rum, but also smells like a PX Sherry. A truckload of raisins and prunes. Cacao with oak, minty oak actually. Glue, sugar and gravy. Well this is a pretty complex Japanese whisky.

Taste: Very dry and oaky. Toast and a hint of soap. The soap returns in the texture that otherwise is pretty thin. Sherried. Seems old. Red & black fruits, mocha and coffee. Dry teeth. Unfortunately this has a short slightly burnt, oaky finish. In this case it’s probably a good thing it got reduced, because if this would have been 55% ABV or even higher, with all these thick aroma’s and all that oak, it probably would have been very hard to drink. It’s a syrup (just not in the texture).

To my amazement, this is almost sold out everywhere. Don’t they make this anymore? If you think this is just the next standard Yamazaki after the 12yo and the 25yo, think again. This is very pricey stuff. If you want it today, be prepared to part with 600 Euro’s (800 USD) at auctions or 800 Euro’s (1000 USD) from a store. Wow, what an experience. So if you can get a dram in a bar, please do, you’ll have to try this, if it’s only just once in your life.

Points: 88

Japanese Whisky Week – Day 3: Miyagikyo 15yo (45%, Nikka)

Next up in our Japanese Whisky Week is one of the two components of the previously reviewed Taketsuru Pure malts. Miyagikyo. Miyagikyo was built by Masataka Taketsuru in 1969. Miyagikyo is also known as the Sendai Distillery and is located in northern Honshu. Quite close to the Fukushima nuclear power plant (30 minutes by car).

Equipped with only one pair of stills in 1969, a second and third pair were installed just six years later. All stills are steam-heated. Miyagikyo also has Coffee stills that were moved here from Nishinomiya distillery in 1999. With these stills Nikka Coffee Malt is made. The coffee malt is made with 100% malted barley.

Color: Orange gold.

Nose: Fat, muddy, spicier than Taketsuru. Very nice smoke. Meatier too. Almonds, vanilla ice cream, fern and sherry. Perfumy wood. Balanced and clean. Elegant with the spice coming late. Complex and balanced. There’s more to it…

Taste: Thick. Sweet clay. Sherry and it has substance. Vanilla ice cream. Spicy wood. It’s quite woody. Green, cardboardy but still great altogether. (I have to say the nose was slightly better).

I’m a big fan of Miyagikyo. Every time I taste one of its expressions it always ticks all of my boxes. It just clicks with me. Even this ‘standard’, large batch and reduced whisky. This is great stuff! Even though I scored this the same as Taketsuru 21yo. Both do deserve the same score. But if asked to choose, I would choose this. It has just two more points in ABV, and it shows (a little), but I still feel that Japanese whiskies are at their best at cask strength. We should find out if that’s true…

Points: 87

Japanese Whisky Week – Day 2: Taketsuru 21yo (43%, Nikka)

Moving on into day two of this Japanese Whisky Week. The next one might not come as a complete surprise, because this time we’ll have a look at the elderly brother of Taketsuru 17yo, namely Taketsuru 21yo. Did they make this just an older version of the 17yo or did they do a completely different profile for this one? If you want to warm up to Taketsuru 21yo, please have a look at the review of Taketsuru 17yo.

Color: Full gold, almost copper.

Nose: Ahhh, this is more. Clay and musty, wow! Gravy laden with almonds. Dirty and fruity. Not überfruity but there are some hints of yellow and red fruits in here. Also some peat (Yoichi) and oak. More sherry casks I would guess. Nice!

Taste: Sweet with sherry. Slightly winy even, yet warming. Cannabis and clay. Gravy. Again this one is too low in ABV. Still I’m having a lot of fun with this one. Malty, honest and it has a bit of a beer like finish.

It’s slightly different, but easily from the same family. It just has more of everything and for me a shift into more clay like sherried malt. For me a no brainer if you have to choose between the 17yo and the 21yo. This has more character to it. Just beware, this one suffers from even more batch variation than it’s 17yo brother.

Points: 87

Japanese Whisky Week – Day 1: Taketsuru 17yo (43%, Nikka)

In june I did my first ‘week’, called the Bourbon Week. Lot’s of Bourbons yes, but not all were actually Bourbons. I threw in the odd Rye as well. After the success of that week, and I have to admit, the fun I had by doing such a ‘week’, I thought it was time to do another week. So here is the first day of the Japanese Whisky Week! Again I’ll try to review seven Whiskies in seven days, and this time they are all from Japan. I thought that Japan was untill now a bit underexposed on Master Quill’s pages having reviewed none! But that’s about to change…

In 1918 one Masataka Taketsuru went to Scotland to learn the whisky trade at Longmorn, Ben Nevis and Hazelburn distilleries. During this time he met his soon to be wife Rita, and both returned to Japan. There Taketsuru founded Nikka with the building of Yoichi Distillery on Hokkaido Island in 1934.

Yoichi was built on the north island of Hokkaido considered by Taketsuru to be close to the natural environment of Scotland. Also copied was the way of distilling, two times in copper pot stills. In contrast to their Scottish counterparts is the use of new wood and slow-growing Japanese oak.

A lot of years later the Nikka company named a small series of pure malts after it’s founder. The series comprises of a 12yo, a 17yo and a 21yo. All Pure Malts are made up of only two components. Yoichi and Miyagikyo. The latter was founded in 1969 in Honshu. Both singles are great, so this Taketsuru should be no lemon.

Color: Full Gold (slightly pink).

Nose: Musty gravy. Nice slightly burnt wood. Sweetish fruits with pineapple. Sweat ánd men’s cologne. Powdery, almost like sawdust. Greenish. It smells a bit like those hard candies made out of fruity powder pressed into little pills. Sometimes a whiff of soap. All in all, very nice.

Taste: Spicy esters. Toast and a hint of tar. Tastes a bit dirty actually. Grainy with vanilla ice cream. Reminds me a bit of vodka. Greenish hints here too. Definitively not as sweet as the nose predicted. Half long sour wood finish which is a bit unbalanced. The toast and tar stay on for the, therefore bitter, finish. Alas too low in ABV.

Although this is quite a nice Pure Malt, for the money you can get a Yoichi or a Miyagikyo, that are (marginally) better. Still I do like this Taketsuru, and combining the two is an experience of its own. Just beware, because there is talk about batch variations.

Points: 85