With the embarrassment of culinary riches right at our fingertips, us San Franciscans can get pretty damn smug about our food scene. Sure NY chefs get more Food Network shows, but we get all the best produce and animal parts. The plethora of local farms makes it incredibly easy to eat organic, non-processed, sustainably grown everything pretty much all the time. Plus, there’s great wine around here, fantastic beer and even a few distilleries of note. So yeah, we’re well-fed, well-watered and tend to brag about it too much.
On any given day, a casual search for Japanese whisky may turn up some Hibiki 12 and the Yamazaki 12 & 18…that’s about it. Maybe a few of the more well-stocked whisky bars have a couple more bottles, and the occasional well-travelled blogger might have a good stash, but really there’s those three and that’s about it. Please, Japan…please…we’re dying here…send more uniquely made and well-graphic-designed whiskies across that little body of water and save us. We can’t take any more extreme peat experiments or overblown ryes, we need something new.
In 1924, Shinjiro Torii’s Yamazaki Distillery began producing the first Japanese malt whiskies and five years later their first single malt, Suntory Whisky Sirofuda, hit the shelves. Out of this successful beginning grew the huge beverage+more company we know today as Suntory and Yamazaki is their flagship Japanese whisky brand.
The Nose: Fruit. Basket. And I mean that in the best way. Like walking into a kitchen full of freshly made applesauce. Very rich, inviting, almost voluptuous nose with strong apple and grape tones surrounding slighter sherried oak and spice notes. Slightly perfume-y, Cinnamon, waxy citrus, vanilla, and caramel. There are some faint, herbal, floral bits as well, a bit of lavender and anise, just to lend a little balance.
The Palate: A thinner entry than the nose lead me to believe, and a more zippy attack as well. Much more grain forward and herbal than the nose, this quickly grows spicy and very acidic. Fruit notes, citrus mostly, re-emerge a bit, but they’re more integrated and not as defined. Very bright, lively, somewhat sweet palate, there’s some drying oak, and just the perfect touch of green, bitter youth…a really nicely balanced palate with some interesting flavors.
The Finish: Nice length, strong mix of drying tannins and puckering acidity…yeah, I said it, puckering acidity. A bit more wood emerges towards the end as well
Thoughts: Uh…wow. There’s a lot going on here, and pretty much all of it is good. Rich, inviting nose, bright, challenging palate, definitely a well-crafted, interesting whisky, all the elements are really well-integrated. At times, for me it was a just slightly too perfume-y, but that’s only personal nit-picking. If the Yamazaki 12 is a gateway drug to Japanese whisky…then I might have a problem, because I’m ready for more and no one’s holding in my neighborhood.