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Just shy of its 100th anniversary, Japan’s award-winning distillery has released an ultra-limited edition 55-year-old single malt – the oldest in its history. The $60,000, 100-bottle Yamazaki 55 is a marriage of three single malts distilled in the 1960s, including one distilled under the supervision of Yamazaki founder Shinjiro Torii.
The first component – the one that Torii oversaw – was distilled in 1960 and aged primarily in mizunara oak. The second and third components were distilled in 1961 and 1964 under Suntory’s second master blender Keizo Saji, and aged in American white oak. The malts were then selected and blended by Suntory’s incumbent chief blender Shinji Fukuyo in partnership with third-generation master blender Shingo Torii, the grandson of founder Shinjiro Torii.
“Throughout the process of blending Yamazaki 55, I used as inspiration the passage of time and ‘wabi-sabi’ – the Japanese belief that imperfections can help to ultimately contribute to perfection,” says Fukuyo. “Blending is one technique which brings together and combines imperfect liquids to as perfect a liquid as possible.”
Yamazaki 55 (46 per cent abv) will be of interest to Japanese whisky fans not only because of its age and the people who made it but also because of its prominent use of mizunara – a Japanese oak strain that, over time, can lend a whisky temple-y notes of cedarwood, incense and celery seed. Mizunara is not widely used in Japanese whisky maturation because it’s expensive and hard to cooper – American and European oak casks are much more common – so opportunities to taste mizunara whiskies with this level of maturity are rare.
The first thing that’s striking about Yamazaki 55 is its colour – it has a burnished rosy glow, characteristic of mizunara. It is also highly aromatic, almost perfumed, with notes of overripe mango, pot-pourri, cedar, sandalwood and desiccated coconut. Gradually a more rain-drenched quality emerges: petrichor, wet greenery, humid temples. Then resinous, sticky notes: pine needles on a forest floor, the deep bitter sweetness of thick-cut orange marmalade.
Many whiskies this age would be past their prime, but on the palate Yamazaki 55 remains remarkably vibrant. There are glimpses of Yamazaki’s characteristic tropical characters: mango and pineapple. The time in cask has given it scented wood and sweet, nutty notes too: glazed sesame snaps, hazelnut and macaroon. The finish is bitter chocolate and crystallised orange. It’s a malt with a patina of aromas and flavours. Suntory recommends tasting it in a burgundy glass to capture its full complexity.
The whisky is presented in handmade packaging that celebrates a number of Japanese crafts. The crystal bottle is engraved with the word “Yamazaki” and embellished with gold dust and lacquer on the age marking. The bottle’s opening is wrapped in handmade washi paper from Echizen and bound with a Kyo-kumihimo plaited cord, a traditional craft from Kyoto. The presentation box is made from Japanese mizunara, coated with Suruga lacquer.
Yamazaki 55 will be available through select retailers in the UK, the US, mainland China and Taiwan. Beam Suntory will donate $5,000 from each bottle sold (or a total of $500,000) to the White Oak Initiative (whiteoakinitiative.org) – a conservation charity working to preserve the long-term sustainability of US white oak forests.
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