In 1923, Yamazaki, Japan's first malt whisky distillery was opened by Shinjiro Torii in Shimamoto, near Osaka. Nearly 100 years later and Yamazaki has become the poster boy for the growing Japanese whisky industry. Bottlings are hard to get hold of and production is struggling to keep up with demand. But, it wasn't always that way - from the 1980's well into the start of the 21st Century, Japanese whisky was both unpopular at home and also largely unheard outside of the country.
Following a remarkably successful marketing campaign spearheaded by Suntory (which revolved around drinking Japanese whisky as a highball - with water) the domestic market gradually recovered. A string of international awards later and, recognition and awareness of Japanese whisky has now risen to an all time high. That's the ultra quick and simple telling of the story at least.
Yamazaki Distiller's Reserve was introduced to replaced the distillery's 10 year old bottling, which has now been phased out. As of writing, it is the only member of their core range of single malts (Distillery's Reserve, 12yo, 18yo, 25yo) that you're likely to see (at least in the UK, probably everywhere on the planet) unless you dive into the world of whisky auctions. Even then, you're going to have to dig deep to obtain them. Such is the incredible demand for this brand and Japanese whisky generally.
The bottling is a marriage of ex-sherry casks, Bordeaux red wine caks and mizunara (Japanese oak) casks.
Nose: Rich and pronounced with raspberries, acetone, cereals and cocoa. Vanillins are very apparent, together with spicing from ginger and star anise. Strangely, after a while, I get a strong reminiscence of creamed rice puddling - nope, can't explain that one.
Taste: Delicate with blossoms, incense and cedar wood. Red fruits, honey and cinnamon. Somewhat tannic, which no doubt derives from the wine casks.
Finish: Medium, drying and favouring oak spicing and the aforementioned tannic quality.
A well-made and accessible whisky which ably demonstrates Yamazaki’s house style. More successful than its Hakushu NAS cousin overall, this is a good entry-level whisky which equally provides a solid gateway into the world of Japanese whisky. Generally available and at a relatively reasonable price – though even that has crept up over the past 12 months.