One of the best highballs I've encountered.
You know, given the eye-watering prices of Japanese whisky - particularly Yamazaki - these days, one hesitates even to open a bottle of 12 Years Old Yamazaki, let alone having the Dutch courage or insanity to diluting one into a highball.
Maybe that's why Suntory decided to release this canned highball, so folks like us can now find out how a Yamazaki whisky highball tastes without having to wince and feel the pain of diluting the spirit ourselves as we contemplate our life choices. You know it's true - I'm not even being dramatic!
2023 marks the 100th anniversary of when Suntory's founder, Shinjiro Torii, ventured into the whisky business. Apart from releasing a spate of commemorative whisky bottlings, the company also decided to commemorate by releasing two special edition canned highballs from Hakushu earlier this year, and then from Yamazaki shortly after.
Yamazaki Distillery is built near Osaka and saw its beginnings in 1923, making it Japan's first malt distillery. Being the flagship single malt from Suntory and almost certainly Japan's most iconic whisky brand, it has a distinct profile that reflects its Japanese character. Drinkers agree it has that famous Mizunara oak influence which gives it a signature oriental feel - it's that woody, vannilic sandalwood aroma that reminds you of both temple incense and toasted coconut flakes.
With its 9% ABV, some quick maths suggests it's made according to Suntory's tried and tested bar recipe: 1 part whisky to 3 parts soda water. Interestingly, written in Japanese on the can is the claim of delivering a "Rich Taste of Mizunara Oak". Okay, I'll be the judge of that!
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Suntory Premium Highball - Yamazaki, 9% ABV – Review
Colour: Chamomile tea.
Nose: Fresh and vibrant with fruitiness of apple and pear. The scent is bright and has a very inviting sweet character.
Palate: Fruity and aromatic, all at once. It has a bright fruity presence complemented by a prominent vanilla essence. And not just any typical vanilla note you find in a whisky; it has this clean, floral character reminiscent of the vanilla fragrances found in a cosmetic store like Sephora or something. Vanilla seamlessly transitions into hints of sandalwood - most definitely the mizunara influence promised on the label, before revealing nuances of aromatic coconut rice (nasi lemak), toasted coconut flakes and pandan leaves.
Finish: There's a chalkiness at the end with a minerality of wet pebbles. As it fades, we have lingering notes of vanilla and a clean, dry oakiness.
💯 One of the best whisky highballs I've tasted.
I was initially sceptical and thought that it's a little redundant to make a Yamazaki-branded soft drink. But this is actually one of the best highballs I've encountered. It did renew my respect for the complexity of Yamazaki whisky.
Japanese single malts, especially Yamazakis, don't come cheap nowadays. Cracking open a fresh bottle always feels like a luxury, and the idea of diluting this whisky into a highball seems almost sacrilegious to many. This canned drink does it for you, and it seems to prove to you that when you take that step, the whisky opens up in a whole new way.
It's the whole reason why Scotch whisky blenders dilute their whisky like ten parts to one. When whisky is diluted, flavour compounds become more apparent, and these blenders can identify and assess the full range of flavours present in the spirit.
So, akin to jotting tiny words on a balloon and then blowing it up, the discrete flavours of the Yamazaki - the fruitiness, vanilla and sandalwood mizunara character all become much more discernible in a highball.
You might wonder whether this was a mix of the basic non-age statement Yamazaki Single Malt with soda. I can confidently answer that it isn't. This highball offers more depth and flavour than a highball made with a NAS Yamazaki. I'm quite sure they've utilised an older stock for this one. To be certain, I guess we might need to whip up a highball using a 12 YO Yamazaki, as painful as that might sound!