Thursday, January 7, 2010

Yamazaki 18 year old Single Malt Whisky

Recently, an anonymous poster, B. Linn, asked me to try the Yamazaki 18 year old again. In my review of this spirit’s younger sibling, the 12 year old, I mentioned that I had sampled it (the 18) on a couple of occasions with disappointing results. I was surprised because the Yamazaki 18 has enjoyed virtually universal praise from critics. So, when I sampled it and couldn’t figure out what all the fuss was about, I did doubt myself.

Now, in fairness to the Yamazaki 18, the first time I tried it was at a whisky festival, in a poorly lit, cavernous hotel ballroom, with brand ambassadors of a multitude of distilleries hawking their wares to me as if they were working a bazaar in Aleppo or Beirut. It was a noisy, confused gathering of whisky lovers and wannabes. I fit right in. Nevertheless, I was underwhelmed with the 18. Mind you, I had been eating English Stilton cheese, and tasting other whiskies too.

The second time I had it was at a pub following some Maker’s Mark. Again I was not impressed and not quite sure what to make of it. I thought it tasted of fish oil and maybe some seafood recipe out of a dog-eared, yellow, sun-damaged copy of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

I knew that I needed to purchase a bottle, have a clear head and palate in order to properly taste this whisky. So, this week I swiped a bottle of Suntory Yamazaki 12 year old Single Malt, took it home, and that evening, three hours following dinner, pulled it out of its packaging, poured a dram into a crystal brandy snifter, warmed it up in my hand, and prepared to sample it for the purpose of this tasting note.

Dark amber. One of the darkest whiskies I have ever seen.

Very Subtle oak, sherry and malty tones.

Upon sipping this whiskey, one is impressed by the weight and viscosity, which opens upon the palate with waves of warm baklava dripping in syrup, honey and pistachios. You will taste marzipan and Turkish Delight. Dried Moroccan dates and other dark fruit. There are sweet spices at play with broken cinnamon sticks. All of this caught up in a cloud of smoke.

The flavors evoke thoughts of the Mediterranean sea and all its ports. There are the Greek Islands, Istanbul and Larnaca to name a few. All provide patios of villas, perched high above sea level, where one might gaze at the calm blue sea and sip Turkish coffee in between bites of dates, baklava and other desserts in the dry, summer heat.

Upon swallowing, you are again feeling the sun’s warmth and the sensation of it drying across the palate. Lingering malty flavors with smokey salt and exotic spices. This warming, drying sensation is very memorable.

General Impressions
Smooth, rich, luxuriant, decadent, dried fruit with a scintilla of peat and smoke are all words that hint at what awaits in a bottle of Suntory Yamazaki 18 year old. It may be Japanese single malt whisky, but sure conjures up memories of Middle Eastern dessert for me.

In terms of single malt scotch, as a point of reference, this whisky shares flavor profile similarities with Dalwhinnie.

So, in conclusion Yamazaki 18 year old is very good! This is premium single malt whisky. I take back anything negative I have said about this whisky in the past. Matter of fact, I edited my review of Suntory Yamazaki 12 to delete any criticism. It was not correct, and I attribute my error in judgment due to my palate being corrupted by other spirits, food and those damn scotch brand ambassadors at that whisky festival.

It is expensive, but worth it.


© Jason Debly, 2010. All rights reserved.


  1. Proficient review, and a kind devotion to altruistic communication. I like your style. Will be looking in your archives for recommendations.

  2. Did you swipe the 12 year old or the 18?

  3. I have both, but thinking about buying another Yamazaki 18yr before they are all gone.

  4. Jason,

    I consider myself a person of average luck -- win some, lose some -- but after a recent purchase at my local BevMo, I filled out the online customer survey and a few days later found out that I had won $50!

    Back to BevMo I went and put the $50 toward a bottle of Yamazaki 18. It retailed at $117 and I was unlikely to take a flyer at that price, but with $50 off, what the heck.

    Very unique, albeit a tad on the sweet side. An excellent change of pace from my usual single malt samplings. A lifetime of caffeine and nicotine has not left me with the most discerning palate, but this whisky is quite different in a good way. Thanks for pointing me in Yamazaki's direction.

    BTW, is the 12 different enough from the 18 to warrant a go? It is quite reasonably price at under $40.

  5. Hello Dry Heat!

    Glad you enjoy the Yamazaki 18yrs. While it is sweet upon entry, I think you will find it does dry eventually with a twist of smoke. So, I prescribe repeated samplings!

    As for the Yamazaki 12yrs, it is also very good and certainly worth the money. You can't go wrong by picking up a bottle.

    It is a pity that in the US supply of Japanese whisky is limited in range. Basically Yamazaki and Hibiki (another heart stopper, but terribly expensive).


  6. Thanks! I've thoroughly enjoyed both the Yamazaki 12 and Hibiki 12 after stalking both bottles for some time, and have found that further investigations into the 18-year expressions of both are absolutely warranted.
    An upcoming trip to Japan will include visits to Hakushu and Yamazaki distilleries and purchase of some Nikka and the Yoichi 20.

  7. Archer, I strongly encourage you to try to purchase some Japanese whiskies that are not available in North America. I am thinking of Hibiki 17 and 21. Simply incredible, especially the 17.

    Also, while in Japan, try to check out the whisky bars of Tokyo. The level of service, attention to detail is second to none.