What the heck is that?
Also known as Japanese Oak, it is native to Japan, and is also called the Water Oak because of its high moisture content. It became popular with Japanese distilleries in World War II when it was difficult to import barrels used to mature whiskies in.
This makes the tree really porous and hard to work with as well because it grows in a warped fashion which means that the trees have to be at least 200 years old before usable thick, straight cuts can be made to be turned into barrels for whisky aging. Even so, the barrels are still prone to leakage and breaking.
So why go through that trouble? That's because Mizunara imparts a unique and characteristic sandalwood/temple incense flavor profile, that is also accompanied by touches of coconut and light citrus, a flavor known as kara.
One of the distilleries best known for their excellent use of Mizunara Oak is the wildly revered Yamazaki Distillery, which popularised its use. The combination of Yamazaki's stellar reputation, as well as the tediousness of using the oak and also its rarity has meant that whiskies matured in Mizunara are highly sought after by aficionados and collectors alike.
Aficionados love the unique taste that Mizunara lends to whiskies and consider it to be iconic of Japanese whiskies as a category, while collectors believe that the rarity of its use means that such whiskies are hard to come by and demand for it will far outstrip supply. As such, whiskies matured in Mizunara have skyrocketed in value and price.
Why should I care? More importantly, should I try it?
As Japan remains one of the biggest producers of high quality whiskies and has only grown in popularity, with a handful of emerging new craft distilleries focused on emphasising regional specialities and flavors - you can understand the excitement and buzz surrounding the Japanese whisky market.
To experience Japanese whiskies without at least tasting once the unique flavors offered by Mizunara Oak aging would simply be incomplete. Mizunara Oak is after all an exclusively Japanese produce and as such is unique to the country and its whiskies. It's flavors are beloved by locals, and as they say, when in Tokyo, do as the Japanese do.
Yes, definitely try it.
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