Did you know that not all fine scotches are made on the Emerald Isle…the ‘ole sod? Suntory Distilleries, founded by Shinjiro Torii in Yamazaki, near Kyoto Japan has been making single malt whiskey since 1923. In 1973, Suntory opened another distillery in Hakushu at the foot of Mt. Kaikomagatake in the Southern Japan Alps to take advantage of the region’s pure mountain water.
Whiskey may only be classified as Scotch if it’s distilled within the borders of Scotland. You can of course use the same recipe and distill your brew somewhere else in the world, but you can’t call the results “Scotch.” Since Suntory’s liquor more than meets the criteria, they avert this obstacle by classifying it as “single malt whiskey”.
Like the Scots, Japanese distillers create their whiskey using pure malted barley and the finest local water processing the mixture in copper pot stills. Sold as either a twelve or eighteen-year-old single malt whiskey, Yamazaki has risen in stature largely due to doing particularly well in blind tastings. Its popularity precipitously spiked when Bill Murray savored it in Lost in Translation declaring: “For relaxing times, make it Suntory time”.
Yamazaki pours clear golden amber and the addition of cold water or ice clouds it a bit releasing a tantalizing floral aroma with hints of vanilla and almond. This whiskey doesn’t leave peat undertones on the palate normally characteristic of stronger Scotch varieties since the Scottish dry their malted barley over peat-fueled fires. Not the practice in Japan, Yamazaki has a distinct nutty character with a hint of sweetness and a light finish with a hint of caramel.
photo courtesy of Suntory Distilleries