Suffice to say, we’ve posted tasting notes on quite a lot of Suntory’s Yamazaki Single Malt Whisky. That said, if unaware (hiding under a rock of some sorts), Yamazaki announced a couple of weeks ago that they’d be releasing a Yamazaki Mizunara for 2017 but unlike those of previous years – this one would differ somewhat. It would be the first expression of Mizunara to be matured exclusively in Mizunara casks for a minimum of 18-years, of course lending lots of depth and character to a drop that may be considered more art than just mere whisky.
It is said that in the early 1940s Suntory’s blenders began small-scale experiments with Mizunara. But it wasn’t until the end of WWII, when it became difficult to import wood, that Suntory truly began to focus on mastering the art of the homegrown Mizunara cask. The Mizunara cask is the perfect expression of “Tsukuriwake” – the art of diversity in whisky making.
Although only found in a few regions within Japan, it wasn’t Mizunara rarity that presented the greatest challenge to cask maker’s but the hard, permeable nature of the tree’s wood. The name Mizunara comes from the tree’s high moisture content – in Japanese “mizu” translates to water and “nara” means oak. Its permeable character is less than ideal for cask making as liquid can easily seep through the wood. As Mizunara is a hardwood, it can be difficult to shape and join the wood with the precision required to prevent leaks.
Through great perseverance Suntory’s craftsmen mastered the art of Mizunara cask-making by learning how to identify the right trees that will make the perfect casks. Although rarer, Suntory’s cask makers found that a straight grain tree are less permeable. Trees suitable for cask making must have grown perfectly straight and have a diameter of as least 70cm. They also tend to be far older than trees used for other casks – hence the reason Mizunara casks are so cherished.
THE YAMAZAKI MIZUNARA 2017 EDITION
The Yamazaki Mizunara 2017 Edition is made from a precise selection of malt whiskies, all distilled at Yamazaki and aged exclusively in Mizunara casks. Suntory’s Chief Blender, Shinji Fukuyo (who we’ve had the pleasure of meeting) wanted to create an expression that achieved the exquisite balance of subtlety, refinement and complexity that is the hallmark of all Suntory whiskies. In his pursuit of true “Mizunara-ness” Shinji tasted no fewer than a hundred Mizunara whiskies and a selection with varying ages, from 18-years-old and beyond. A very small portion even exceed 50-years of maturation, giving this limited edition incomparable depth and flavour, that lingers long after taking the first sip.
On the nose: you’ll get an interesting waft of dark chocolate, liquorice, black pepper and vanilla. Spices of nutmeg and cinnamon start to emerge, followed by a dry nutty aroma, tobacco, freshly ground coffee and over ripe grapes. Notes of sweet sherry, raisins and currants start to appear, as well as lime zest and strong suggestions of Mizunara. Rounding-off the nose are notes of sesame seeds, brown sugar and slightest hint of fresh cucumber. The palate: is replete with Mizunara, dark chocolate, aniseed and sherry. Those notes of lime zest are present, as well as tobacco, cinnamon, cardamom, all-spice and star anise. Notes of walnuts start to emerge, followed by cracked black pepper, pine seed and rosemary. Rounding-off the nose are notes of coconut, raisins, currants and slightest hint of mandarins. The finish: is long, bittersweet, with hints of smoke, incense, nuttiness, lingering dark chocolate and oak.
The verdict: I love a good Japanese whisky but when I heard about the release of this 2017 Mizunara from the Yamazaki distillery, its fair to say I wasn’t only intrigued but eager to hopefully try some. Luckily enough, I was invited to a tasting just a few days ago to be one of the lucky few to try this limited edition release. Well, as you can tell from my tasting notes I was mightily impressed. But what I didn’t expect was how much depth in flavour there would be, it’s so elegantly fragrant yet also delicate and punchy, all as the same time. Bottled at 48% ABV, in my opinion, I don’t believe there is any need to add water, however, do so if required. Also leaving it to breathe for up to 10 minutes, also yields more depth in flavour. On the night we tasted this new Mizunara expression, as well as tasting the previous incarnations and a super-rare sample of Yamazaki Mizunara distilled in 1969 – whoa! Shinji said “he wanted to reveal the whisky’s soul that is the Art of Mizunara – a heightened sense and awakened palate, engaged through aromas and flavours never known before. Encountering a moment of epiphany.” I believe this has been achieved with this new limited edition Yamazaki Mizunara expression.
Suntory Yamazaki Mizunara 2017 Edition Japanese Single Malt Whisky is limited to 5000 bottles worldwide and will not be available to purchase until the 3rd October 2017. When available it can be found either online or in-store at any well-stocked whisky shop for approximately £1000
For more information on this 18-year-old Yamazaki Mizunara 2017 Edition expression, visit the official Suntory website.