Saturday, November 28, 2009

Suntory Single Malt Whisky "Yamazaki" 12 yr old

"For relaxing times . . .
make it Suntory times." This famous line comes from the quirky and highly entertaining film, Lost in Translation. Bill Murray portrays an American actor in Japan for the purpose of doing an advertisement for Suntory whisky. The film gave tremendous exposure for the Yamazaki whiskey to the rest of the world, particularly, North America. Suntory have always run a lot of whisky ads with film stars too like Sean Connery. If you go on "You Tube" and search Suntory Advertisements you can see them for your self. Really quite entertaining. Getting back to the movie line above, I can personally attest that Suntory's Yamazaki 12yr old makes for relaxing times!

Single malt whisky can be distilled outside of Scotland! As much as scotch afficionados think only Scotland can deliver the finest whisky in the world, there are contenders elsewhere within grasp of taking the title.

Japan is home to a great distillery, Yamazaki, owned by the Suntory conglomerate. Matter of fact, this distillery was the first single malt distillery outside of Scotland. It was founded in 1923 in the Vale of Yamazaki, on the outskirts of Kyoto. The site was selected for its access to fresh air, pure water and ideal humidity for aging whisky in casks.

The Japanese love their whisky and like most endeavours that they attempt, they succeed when it comes to producing a great single malt whiskey. It is the Yamazaki 12 year old. My tasting note is as follows:

The aromas are a little different from what I expected. At first a little strong waft of alcohol, but sniffed more carefully, I detect malt and cereal. The nose is not impressive. Hard to read and so I really had no idea what would unfold upon tasting.

This is medium bodied to heavy. It has a viscous texture releasing malt, chocolate, sweet spice and some peat. It starts out sweet but by the finish starts to dry across the palate. Incredibly smooth dram of honey and cinammon. Could easily pass for a 12 year old Speyside single malt in a blind tasting test.

Nice length of flavors. Lingering cinammon/burnt toast and faint echo of peat, black tea and mint.

General Impressions
I like this a lot. It is interesting and totally inoffensive. Tastes like scotch and if I was conducting a blind taste test, I am sure it would pass for a Speyside as I mentioned above. Sophisticated, silky and reasonably priced too. You buy this and can be assured that you are receiving value for money. I rank this better than other 12 year old single malts like Glenfiddich and Glenlivet, but not as complex as say Cragganmore 12.

This is a sweet whisky with drying qualities upon the finish. Dalwhinnie is a good reference point for comparisons with this whisky.

What you will not taste in the Yamazaki 12 yr old is: sherry, tobacco and peat beyond a little tease.

The Yamazaki 12 yr old has made a new fan! I hope you will give it a try sometime. You will not be disappointed.


© Jason Debly, 2009-2011. All rights reserved.


  1. nice review Jason.
    i've heard many recommendations about the 18 yr but i have not yet samples any of those.
    it's on my list:)


  2. Granov, I am surprised by my disappointment with the Yamazaki 18. I am going to give it another tasting, all by itself. Maybe my palate was affected by a meal eaten shortly before the tasting. Cheers!

  3. Jason,

    I tried both the 12 and the 18 yr Yamazaki a few days ago at a restaurant in South Florida. The 18 yr absolutely knocked me out (of course, the waiter was nice enough to pour me about a full wine glass full of it as we'd just eaten about a $600 meal, so it should have knocked me a little). It was so smooth that I didn't think it was whisky until she brought me the bottle. I'd never heard of it. Now I want it, but can't find it in NJ. Try it again and comment, please.

  4. Hi! B. Linn. Nearly all reviews on this blog are based on tastings and my impressions taken over a couple of weeks. In order to do this I buy a bottle of whatever I am reviewing. In the case of the Yamazaki 18yrs, I did not buy a bottle, but rather tried it at a whisky fesitval and also in a bar. What I need to do is buy a bottle, study it, make notes on several different tastings and then provide a complete review. I will do this shortly.

    Too many scotch bloggers base their reviews upon tiny 200 ml bottles. I think this is a mistake. You need to buy a bottle and explore the nuances of flavor before deciding whether or not to buy.

    Thanks for your post, and I will put the Yamazaki 18yrs on my list to review.


  5. B. Linn, I bought a bottle of Yamazaki 18yr old and I must say that I concur with you. It is indeed very good. When I sampled it in the past, it was in conjunction with food or other whiskies and I think that tainted my palate sufficiently that I could not judge it properly.

    Today, I waited three hours after eating or drinking anything and tasted the Yamazaki 18. It was very good. I have deleted all my negative comments about this whisky in my Yamazaki 12 yr old review. I do not want to mislead readers who might read the review but not this thread of messages.

    Bottom line, give me a couple of days and I will deliver a detailed review of the impressive Yamazaki 18.

  6. I must say this bottle has impressed me. Despite hearing generally positive things about Japanese distilleries picking up a bottle of this in Scotland where I live almost feels like sacrilege. For the money it is a refreshing and interesting tipple but the Japanese still have a long way to go to match Balbain.

  7. Raithrover, I think you mean "Balblair." I am not overly familiar with Balblair, but will investigate.

    Thanks for your comment.


  8. Hey Jason,

    I was at the liquor store last week, examining a bottle of Yamazaki 12 that they recently began to stock. Desiring a Speyside malt, I recalled your statement here that Yamazaki could pass for that type. Since it was priced at only $35.00, I decided to take a chance on it - and very pleased that I did, too!

    This compares very favorably with Macallan 12, in my opinion having more floral notes on the palate and a stronger presence of peat on the finish. It isn't hard to imagine someone being of the opinion that the Yamazaki isn't quite as smooth or as well-balanced as the Macallan, but I happen to find its flavor profile a little more interesting because of the slightly wilder character.

    One more thing I'll mention is that the initial taste upon opening the bottle had a noticeable element of turpentine or some other petroleum flavor about it. However, that impression has been entirely absent from all subsequent tastings, so it might have been something that disappeared quickly after allowing the spirits to breath a bit, or perhaps what I tasted was the after-effect of the previous meal. I can't agree more with your opinion that a whisky needs to be sampled a number of times before you can get an accurate sense of the full flavor. Had I only tried this one once, my opinion of it would not be nearly so favorable. As things now stand, Yamazaki 12 has earned a spot in my liquor cabinet beside the Macallan and Balvenie malts.

  9. Paul, I am glad to read that the Yamazaki pleases you. It's great! Try the 18 yr old and you'll be blown away.

    I agree that upon opening the nose can be a little harsh but this is common of other fine whiskies. Subsequent samplings will reveal a softer nose and palate.

    Thanks for posting!

  10. I recommend the 12YO to friends that want to get started with Scotch, and I drink it myself when I don't want the scotch to get in the when I have a cigar. I just want something to complement it, not overpower it. I find, however, that this scotch has little or no character of its own, even though I find it hard to find any fault with it. Most of the whiskies I have sampled I have a very clear memory of, yet even immediately after finishing a Yamazaki I find it impossible to recall what it tasted like.

  11. The 12 year old is also quite tasty with a splash of mineral water. They started stocking it in Dallas, and from what I hear it's pretty popular. I had the 18 before dinner in Japan and was very impressed.
    I'm always hungry an hour after having a glass of The Yamazaki.

    Cheers, Reid

  12. Hi Reid,

    I will have to try it with some water.


  13. Hi Jason,
    Well... I'm a negative mate. I spent just shy of $100 Aus for a bottle and honestly I would get more enjoyment from HP 12 ...and as you know , it took a while to bring me around ... I'm at the point of giving the the last half away to a mate. Tell me... would I be better off saving some more $$ and try the HP18 ? It's nearly twice the price of the $68 HP12 I need help.... and on the verge of buying a JW black !!
    AL from OZ

  14. Hi Anonymous from OZ!

    I am sorry to hear that you spent nearly $100 for Yamazaki 12. In Canada and the US it is priced around $60, which is fair.

    Anyway, getting to your question about Highland Park 18. I think you would really enjoy it because it is basically HP 12 on steroids. More peat, smoke, caramel and heather. Everything is punched up a notch. Save those dollars!

  15. Thank Jason...
    I know I asked about the HP18 but is there something else in the vicinity price wise for me to think about...that might be more worthy...?

    1. Try GlenDronach 15yrs. Powerful, lots of sherry and wood spices.

      Glenfarclas is not my favorite distillery, but their 17 year old is really impressive. I really like the gentle sherry treatment with bourbon cask accents. Try it!

  16. Hi Jason,
    It's been a while... Just got home from a golf weekend up north.... lovely weather 3 straight days of golf.. No good for a hacker like me. The evenings where beer. great reds' and a fantastic whiskey one of the guys brought with him a Japanese one.. Nikka (from the barrel) Wow!! ... blew my socks off ... I'll be buying a bottle shortly. Have you tried it ? My view on the Yamazaki 12 remains the same but this one... It's right up there
    AL (from OZ)

    1. Haven't had any Nikka but all I hear and read is positive. Good to hear from you.

  17. You not going to believe this... Just browsing the local suppliers website.... The Yamazaki has jumped up in price... by just shy of... get this... $100 !!!!! That's right... It is currently $200. Must be hard to get down here in Australia. Doesn't worry me... but jeez... That's a hell of a price hike.

    1. Australia is a helluva lot closer to Japan than Canada, but yeah, I did notice that in Texas the price was sharking up there big time too. (I am planning a trip to Houston and wanted to see what I might pick up.)

      Guess, you gotta stick with your standbys that are well below $100.