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Whisky Reviews

Yamazaki 18 Years Mizunara 100th Anniversary Edition

 

Disclaimer alert before starting this review: this is perhaps – in my whisky journey thus far – the whisky I have hyped up to myself the most. This hype stems from my love of Mizunara oak and my individual pursuit to try whiskies exclusively aged in Mizunara oak casks. An eighteen-year-old expression from House of Suntory’s Yamazaki distillery, this expression was released in 2023 in celebration of the centenary of Suntory Whisky.

Being a devoted fan of the standard Yamazaki 18 – which combines mostly sherry cask maturation with brief stints of bourbon oak and Mizunara oak maturation – this whisky naturally piqued my interest as an older expression with that full-term Mizunara aging. I’ve already discussed the reverence of Mizunara oak and how it requires skilled cooperage in order to be shaped for cask usage in a previous whisky review, so I feel there is not much more to add, especially about a Yamazaki expression that is already renowned across the globe. To be honest, I’m simply excited to finally publish my thoughts and scoring for this dram and cannot wait any longer! Without further ado….

Tasting Notes

Nose: The nose on this Yamazaki expression is absolutely beautiful. It’s vibrant; it’s exquisite; it’s clean – I have never experienced such a nose on a whisky. Safe to say, this is an inviting nose. It brings about ripe oranges and peaches all intertwined in baking spices and Mizunara incense; think ginger, cinnamon, and sandalwood. I also detect an underlying creamy aspect to this dram, which I haven’t typically detected in Mizunara-influenced whiskies…spoiler alert: more on this later! Lastly, joining that creamy note is some soft vanilla and a slight burnt note, which perhaps serves as another indicator of that Mizunara incense. This whisky most certainly smells like a Yamazaki. More specifically, it’s like I’m nosing a component of the standard Yamazaki 18, which you now know happens to be one of my top drams. Perhaps it will get a review on here at some point, but I digress! 

Palate: The palate is warm and delicate. While certainly not as high of an ABV as the last two drams I reviewed – the Legent Yamazaki Cask and Bowmore Mizunara Cask Finish – I expected a little more bite to accompany the 48%, yet it was so…trigger warning…smooth! The plate brings about more of that fruity orange theme from the nose and is joined by ripe apples. Again, accompanying these fruity flavors is that baking spice and ginger, and it is here where that creamy note from the nose reveals itself as an orange-vanilla cream soda. So delicious and completely unexpected!

Finish: The finish on this dram is medium-long in length, but more so on the medium side, I’d say. Those Mizunara incense notes make a reprisal, as does the orange theme, albeit this time in the form of more of a subdued orange. The spicy aspects of this finish are the notes that linger the most. While I can certainly quip that all finishes aren’t nearly as long as I would like them to be, I truly wanted this finish to play on forever. 

Final Thoughts

I’ll get right to the point here without any suspense – this truly is a wonderful, beautiful, remarkable dram. Many times, before trying a hyped whisky, a little part of me is worried that it won’t live up to that subconscious hype I’ve built up in my mind. With these reviews, I try to be as unbiased and critical as I possibly can be. Did I expect this to ultimately take the top spot on my favorite whisky list? Yes. Did it succeed? No, but it most certainly occupies a high placing on my personal list. I honestly enjoyed everything about this dram, although, I would have expected a finish akin to the experiences of the nose and the palate.

Despite my feelings about the finish, this whisky does a couple incredible things for me that few whiskies can accomplish. Similar to my nostalgic response to the Bowmore Mizunara Cask nose, the nose and the palate of this whisky promote that same feeling of nostalgia in the form of that orange-vanilla cream soda flavor, reminding me of one of my favorite childhood treats. Not many whiskies elicit that type of response, nor do the whiskies that happen to elicit such a response trigger the same memories. I think we can all agree that nostalgia is a powerful thing and I can say that when I experience this dram, it puts a smile on my face for that reason.

The second incredible thing that this whisky accomplishes is that it provides what some may call an academic experience. Looking through my reviews thus far, it’s no secret that I adore Japanese Mizunara oak and its effect on whisky. It’s also no secret that I’m a fan of whiskies in the Suntory Global Spirits portfolio. Furthermore, I adore the Hibiki blends. While enjoying these blends, there’s been an elusive aspect to them that has truly intrigued me. Until tasting this 100th Anniversary Yamazaki 18, I couldn’t quite put my finger on it; this pure Mizunara oak expression highlights my favorite parts of those Hibiki blends. When I nose and taste this dram, it dawned on me that one of the things I enjoy so much in the Hibiki blends is the Mizunara component and how it shines through. In blends it’s one thing to be able to identify some of the component whiskies, but when you enjoy something specific about those blends so much and ultimately find out what it is, it’s a very satisfying experience.

Enough of my rambling; it’s time to let my below scoresheet do the talking! Despite being only the third whisky I will have scored thus far, I will say that this dram now owns the top spot amongst those scores. Time will tell if something else will take its place, although I may have alluded to this earlier!

My Score: 93/100*

*A disclaimer that my scores are bound to change as I continue to taste and review a given spirit. This score was the result of several tastings.

Rating System:

  • 96–100; An absolutely stellar whisky. Easily a contender for best whisky I’ve ever had.
  • 90–95; A great whisky. One of the best whiskies I’ve had. Higher end of this spectrum approaches legend status.
  • 80–89; This is a solid, strong whisky. Something is missing that prevents it from being great, but this is still a bottle I’d like to have. Anything at or above this point deserves a spot on my home bar. Higher end of this spectrum approaches “great whisky” territory.
  • 70–79; This is a good whisky. Anything in this range and above is something I would consider having on my home bar. Something I could easily sip on every day and something I can enjoy simply for what it is. Does not blow me away, but is still enjoyable.
  • 60–69; I’ve had better whiskies. I wouldn’t turn this down if someone offered me a dram, but I also wouldn’t go out of my way to grab a dram.
  • 50–59; Not all that good. Again, might not turn it down, but would certainly not go out of my way to grab a dram or find. Would not recommend.
  • 50 and below; Not worth the time.

Breakdown of Score:

Tasting Experience (Each category out of 10 possible points, then totaled/weighted 50%): 45/50 points 

  • Nose (out of 10 possible points) 10
  • Palate (out of 10 possible points) 9
  • Finish (out of 10 possible points) 7
  • Balance, or how well the flavors work together (out of 10 possible points) 10
  • Complexity, or number of notes/distribution amongst them (out of 10 possible points) 9

Tasting Experience Weighted Score of 45

Bottle Aesthetics (Out of 10 possible points, weighted 20%): 9/10 points

Bottle Aesthetics Weighted Score of 18

The Craft (Out of 10 possible points, weighted 20%): 1/10 points

The Craft Weighted Score of 20

Uniqueness (Out of 10 possible points, weighted 5%): 10/10 points

Uniqueness Weighted Score of 5

Intangibles (Out of 10 possible points, weighted 5%): 10/10 points

Uniqueness Weighted Score of 5

Total Score = 93*

Explanation of Scoring Criteria:

There are five total categories that amount to what I value in a whisk(e)y, and each category is weighted accordingly to what I value the most. The breakdown is as follows:

  • The Tasting Experience category is weighted 50%. 50 possible points are spread evenly across five sub-categories. These sub-categories are nose; palate; finish; balance; and complexity. The rest of the categories allow a possible of 10 points each, respectively, but have varying weights.
  • The Bottle Aesthetics category is weighted 20%. In this section I factor in the visuals of the just the bottle, because bottles aren’t always sold with or presented on bar shelves with their accompanying boxes.
  • The Craft category is also weighted 20%. This section takes into account the process of making the whisk(e)y and the type(s) of maturation that was/were used.
  • The Uniqueness category is weighted at 5%. This category takes into account anything about the dram that stands out, such as whether it’s the first release of its kind or a rare limited edition – things of that nature.
  • The Intangibles category is also weighted at 5%. This category is meant to reflect some miscellaneous categories – such as, but not limited to, the versatility of a whisk(e)y and whether or not it’s easy to find – and encompass the things you can’t always see coming – such as the significance of a whisk(e)y to me personally and anytime a dram evokes a feeling of nostalgia (which truly is a thing, at least for me!).

The weighted scores are then added together to total the final score.

 

Images courtesy of Whisk(e)y & Whatnot.

Whisk(e)y & Whatnot
🇯🇵 whisky lover/scotch adventurer

Read his column on 88 Bamboo here!