Sunday, July 21, 2013

Yamazaki “48%” for Aeon

Post by Stefan Van Eycken, Tokyo

A few months ago, we reported on a special limited edition of Suntory’s iconic Kakubin for highball bar Rockfish, available exclusively – at the time, that is – from Aeon supermarkets. It seems like the Aeon group have quite a special relationship with Suntory because last month, they managed to arrange a special limited edition bottling of their Yamazaki malt, simply entitled “48%”, which refers to the bottling strength, obviously.  It sort of slipped under the radar and, unless you can track down a bottle or two in an Aeon supermarket that doesn’t move too much liquor, your chances of getting hold of one are pretty slim now. The retail price was a little over 5,000 yen and there were only 300 bottles.
We decided to do a little head-to-head with the standard NAS Yamazaki (bottled at 43%), which our readers abroad may not be familiar with, since it’s only available domestically, but as the entry-level Yamazaki single malt, it’s ubiquitous here and a good point of reference. Although the Aeon bottling is slightly lighter in colour compared with the NAS, it’s immediately clear on the nose that the “48%” contains a higher percentage of sherried malt. On the nose, the NAS offers stewed orchard fruits, maraschino cherries and light wood notes – in the double sense of: forest notes and new plank. The “48%” has dried fruits but also fresh orchard fruits (pears in particular). It’s also got a really nice, light earthy dimension (root vegetables), and there are hints of paper, cloves and even cardamom. Given time, the pear element becomes really pronounced.

With the NAS, on the palate, you get candied orange peel, fruit cake, butterscotch, crème brulee, honey-on-toast, soft caramel and lemon tart. It’s one of the best-kept Japanese whisky secrets, really. People abroad don’t know it and whisky fans here tend to overlook it but it is the most versatile Japanese malt on the market, in our opinion. It’s great neat, but it also works well with ice, in highballs and in mizuwaris. In fact, not a day goes by here at Nonjatta HQ that it doesn’t find its way into our system one way or another. The “48%” is even better. It’s a bit more lush, with loads of orchard fruits again, freshly-made preserves, apricot Danish, … and even though it’s obviously quite young (probably an 8yo, if they had to put an age statement on it), it’s fresh and vibrant and perfectly balanced. Well worth the extra money compared with the NAS.

Something else we like about this Aeon release is that they named it so matter-of-factly – “48%” – and stayed away from the word “rich”, which seems to be the new buzzword here in Japan as far as new products are concerned – not just whisky, but beer and other drinks as well. We’re getting a bit sick of it, to be honest, and it’s quite interesting to compare the situation now with whisky advertising and catch-copies in vogue during the bubble years. If you check Japanese whiskies released during the 80s, you’ll see “light” everywhere. Good whisky was light. A famous catchphrase – coined by a Fuji TV writer during the bubble – was “カルチャーっぽい” ("karucha-poi"which literally means, “culture-like” but is also to be understood as a pun on the Japanese for ‘light’, i.e. ‘karu(i)’). What people wanted then - what they needed - was 'lightness' or 'leggerezza' (the Italian, which is more appropriate carrying, as it does, connotations of "a lack of control in behavior because of scant seriousness and frivolous negligence"). It’s quite interesting that, in the current recession climate, things are pushed by being advertised as “rich”…

Read more about Yamazaki Distillery here.

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