In the early 20th century Suntory Ltd. was primarily an importer of Spanish wines but began to make its own plum-based dessert liquor. In 1923 its founder, Shinjiro Torri, capitalized on the sizable whisky market and founded the Suntory Distillery in the Vale of Yamazaki, between Kyoto and Tokyo.
Most of their (very lightly peated) barley is imported (from Australia, typically), but the natural water used for Suntory whiskies comes from wells right near the distillery and is relatively hard (ie, has a high mineral content, similarly to Highland Park and Glenmorangie). While the sizes and shapes of the various stills used at Suntory differ greatly, they are all in the copper pot tradition, and the whisky is distilled twice. The Yamazaki 12 year old expression comes from whiskies aged in three types of wood: American, Spanish, and Japanese oak. The result is something not unfamiliar to Scotch drinkers, but at the same time is something unique.
[Mike F.]: Reflective copper; seems like a little fino sherry influence.
[Dan]: A nice full gold. Reminds me of gilded painting frames.
[MF]: Great; many well-formed beads, slow, a little large, but long.
[Dan]: Super slow to form. Slow to fall. Medium sized.
[MF]: Sticky apricots, lemon meringue, cherry penny candies, orange marmalade, cedar wood; with time in the open air it becomes waxy, and some of the dried fruits come into play.
[Dan]: Berries, apple jam, flowers and something(s) that I can’t place (seaweed? grilled or dried fish? crayons?). There’s also a decent amount of vinegar there.
[MF]: Not exactly what I expected coming off of the nose; maltier, bready, and spicier; some dried cranberries; a touch of mint, perhaps.
[Dan]: Short and mostly sweet. Malty. There’s a good amount of spice and fruit. The floral taste from the nose is also here. The taste almost is really just a short beginning that crescendos and transitions extremely smoothly into the finish.
[MF]: Light-to-medium, with just a slightly assertive mouthfeel.
[MF]: Kind of long, big and slightly burning, but pleasant; ending on dried fruits, toffee, and cocoa powder.
[Dan]: Powerful and evolving. Hits both sweet and savory on the tongue, and almost gives you a spicy chili-pepper heat mouth feel. The lingering finish is coating and leaves you with a spicy sweet, almost fruity bubble gum taste.
[MF]: A very good single malt; easily fits within the Speyside style, but is still not quite the same as any Scotch. Would have liked more going on with the palate, but nevertheless not a watery or unpleasant product at all.
[Dan]: Wow. I have to say that this ranks up there with some of the more interesting drams I’ve had. It seems crazy to write crayons for the nose, but that smell that you get when you first open a new box of Crayola really struck me. This dram is entirely unique, complex and delicious. I’m a little surprised that some of the maritime character I got on the nose wasn’t found in the whisky, but it didn’t really detract from all the wonderful flavors which were there. It’s my first foray into Japanese whiskies, and I am impressed. The way the entire whisky is balanced and fits together demonstrates some amazing craftsmanship. I highly recommend it. I have been looking for a dram to have for dessert, and I may have just found one.