It’s been 10 months since I last looked at a Japanese whisky. This isn’t out of a lack of desire to try more—quite the opposite. Unfortunately, Japanese whisky is very much in the running for the least affordable spirit as a category, not to mention it only recently obtained some semblance of firm, legal definition. The former point is, from what I’ve gathered, a fairly recent development, since some bottles that used to fetch around $40 or so can easily command prices in excess of $100 or more. You’d think the bourbon market was seriously rubbing off on these bottles.
Of all the Japanese whiskies I’ve heard of, few draw as much attention as Yamazaki 12-Year. Pitched as “Suntory’s flagship single malt whisky,” Yamazaki 12-Year comes from the distillery of the same name, with Suntory’s site emphasizing the importance of nature in producing their whisky. They mention a misty climate with diverse temperature and humidity to help distinguish their product from scotch while also taking inspiration from it.
When I mentioned how high prices often are with Japanese whisky, Yamazaki 12-Year quickly sprung to mind. I don’t think I’ve seen a bottle south of $160 locally. Fortunately, I was able to get one from a sample swap with a fellow spirits enthusiast, so I can decide for myself with minimal cost. If my last brush with Japanese whisky was any indication, then I can’t wait.
Nose: Closed off. Air of light fruit (peach and white grape), borderline candy-like with a soft mustiness from the age. Dark honey note generously dumped into some well-steeped white tea. Honeydew and a restrained pineapple note.
Palate: Light mouthfeel with mild viscosity. Honey and white grapes. Somewhat of a pasty-like note that feels desperately in need of more fruit. Honey-malt that avoids being overly sweet. Some caramel from the oak lends a degree of richness and depth, but not much. Turns flat over time.
Finish: Mild and, overall, fairly short. Light peach note lingers at first, followed by gummy pineapple candy, more honey, and white grape juice. Soft oak offsets the relatively minor sweetness (in a good way).
Well, I sure am glad I didn’t shell out the dough for a full bottle.
To be clear, I don’t dislike this whisky—it’s perfectly fine and absolutely enjoyable. In a vacuum, this would make a nice first pour of the evening, one that’s pleasant and doesn’t ask too much. What I do dislike is the going rate. I’ve recently wanted to get more into whisky outside of bourbon and rye, which often entails scotches, a category presently known for its steep prices, depending on where you live. Part of me is used to it at this point. But triple-digit pricing for a bottle like this leaves me flabbergasted. Nothing about Yamazaki 12-Year leaves me impressed. Yes, it’s a pleasant dram and has some nicely developed notes if you spend time with it. But even in that context it falls woefully short of what one might expect given the cost of entry.
This is one of those times I struggle to separate the bottle from its price tag. I do my best to evaluate whisky first and price/value second, but I’ll concede that this is a tough one for me to review while adhering to that philosophy. It’s like the Very Olde St. Nick Ancient Cask 8-Year Rye I reviewed last year, but that was a far worse offender. Doesn’t make me feel much better about Yamazaki 12-Year though, which might as well be a $40-$50 single malt scotch with how lukewarm it left me. Worth trying, but not worth digging into the funds for.