Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Yamazaki 1993/2012 Sherry Butt for LMdW

Post by Stefan Van Eycken, Tokyo
Photo credit: LMDW
Very few make it out of Japan – and we’re talking about single cask, sherried Yamazakis here – so when one does and you happen to be living in what we call ‘the rest of the world’, you know you can start counting your blessings. Last year, La Maison du Whisky managed to get their hands on a 1993 single cask Yamazaki drawn from a 1st fill sherry butt. If you whisper that slowly into the ear of someone who’s tasted a couple of sherried Yamazaki single casks before, chances are you’re going to need a mop and a bucket – that’s how mouth-wateringly good most of them are. There’s a reason for that: the people at Suntory are very particular about their sherry casks (well, they’re very particular about many things…) They regularly send wood specialists to forests in the north of Spain to look for the right trees; then, they have the wood prepared and coopered to their specifications by local craftsmen, while breathing down their neck; after that, they have the casks sent to top bodegas in Jerez, where they are seasoned with sherry for at least 3 years… and the best of those are sent back to Japan to be filled at Suntory’s warehouses here. If you think sherried Yamazakis are a bit expensive, well, now you know why.

Anyway, let’s get back to La Maison’s pachyderm (cask #3T 70070, 57.5%abv, 444 bottles). On the nose, the initial impressions are: dark chocolate mousse, mole sauce, artisanal speculoos, macadamia nuts. Then, the fruit enters: apricot jam, Moro blood oranges, sultanas, dried prunes, brandy-soaked cherries, strawberries with balsamic vinegar, … Then, other elements start to emerge: spices (nutmeg, cloves), freshly polished leather, Frangelico liqueur, a hint of foie gras and a distinct floral note that I can’t quite put my finger on (I’m lousy when it comes to flowers, as my wife will agree). The thing that’s amazing about this plethora of aromas is that they are so beautifully harmonized, it’s as if someone – that would be Mother Nature – carefully tweaked the individual components to make the whole ‘just right’.

The experience is very different from sipping a similarly heavily-sherried Karuizawa, by the way. How can I put this? With Karuizawa, your feet are always firmly on the ground (sometimes, in the ground, I would say); here, with this and other sherried Yamazakis, they’re two inches off the ground. It’s a beast and it’s heavy but you’re in an area with lower gravity (a bit like that bizarre region in northern Canada).

Anyway, back to the liquid at hand. On the palate, it’s the perfect triad of sour, sweet and bitter. Sweet as in candied orange peel, Turkish delights, crema catalana and tiramisu; sour featuring lime and yama-mikan (a peculiarly sour, Japanese variety of mandarin oranges); and the bitterness of Seville oranges, dark chocolate and tannins from the oak. The finish is long and lingering on ‘Napoleon III’ truffles, orangettes, Korean kimchi chocolate, chestnut cream cake, a touch of garam masala and that floral element again. It’s sublime – it really is, hands down one of the best sherried Japanese whiskies you’ll ever taste in your life (and yes, we know, the competition’s pretty stiff – no pun intended).

You can throw your Christmas shopping list in the bin. This is what you really need to get through the year-end merrymaking. Apparently, there’s 60 bottles left. Just saying…

Read more about Yamazaki Distillery here.

6 comments:

Rogier said...

Wow, the price tag just stopped me short in my tracks.

Stefan Van Eycken said...

I don't mean to trivialize the price - it is a lot of money, but these sort of things are all relative. Up until a few years ago (when I used to drive to Karuizawa distillery to buy some bottles at the distillery shop) I thought they were expensive. Now, I regret I didn't buy them by the case at the time.
I've seen sherried Yamazaki single casks reach astronomical amounts at auctions in Japan. The quality is there, but there quite scarce. LMdW has gone through the considerable effort to get a single cask to Europe. It's not cheap, but it's phenomenal...

Johanna said...

Yea... seconding Rogier: the price. Hear what you're saying about Karuizawa but to make a direct comparison, I still find 550 euros hard to justify for a 20yo single sherry cask from a distillery still in production, vs 385 euros for a 33yo from a silent distillery (and also from a sherry butt). Just saying :)

Niels Viveen said...

I have tried 3 or 4 sheried Yamazaki single casks and I have to say that up till now, they are the only official Yamazaki releases I really cared for.

Yes, 550 is a lot of money, but for me, if I could choose between a 20yo Karuizawa and a 20yo Yamazaki without tasting them, I'd go for the Yamazaki.

gimmeadram said...

Is this so much better than the others that you can find much cheaper even in auctions? I would want to think that they priced this so high because the intrinsic quality of the sherried whisky inside is much better than those of other sherried casks.

Stefan Van Eycken said...

We think you're right (and other people who have tasted and reviewed this, too): the price is partly justified by the intrinsic quality of the whisky in the bottle. The other reason why it is higher than other single casks is that those are released for the Japanese market. Getting a cask bottled for the overseas market is much more costly.