Suntory's legendary Yamazaki 12 Year Single Malt Whisky

2003 was a seminal year for Japanese whisky. It was the year that Bill Murray's character Bob Harris turned to the camera in the film Lost in Translation and let the whole world know that we should “make it Suntory time”. It just so happened to also be the year that Suntory's Yamazaki brand took the spirits world by storm when their Yamazaki 12 Year Single Malt became the first ever Japanese whisky to win gold in the International Spirits Challenge.

It was something of a perfect storm for Japanese whisky, and the Yamazaki 12 Year really put Japanese whisky on the map. Being praised for its “noble” aroma, the Yamazaki 12 provided a focus for the western world's new-found interest in Japanese whisky and has since gone on to win a string of awards in competitions around the world.

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Decades of innovation, 12 years of maturation

The Yamazaki, like many Japanese whiskies, draws its inspiration from the ingredients and techniques of Scottish whisky. Japanese distilleries have not been tied to the strict regulations governing the production of whisky in Scotland however, and so decades of innovation and development have allowed them to take their whisky in wholly new directions.

One of these innovations was the development of new cask-making techniques using wood from the rare Japanese oak tree Mizunara. The Yamazaki 12 Year is one of the few whiskies which is lucky enough to benefit from being aged in Mizunara casks, a 12-year process that imparts unique flavors to the Yamazaki. It is this aging process in Mizunara that has helped to separate the Yamazaki 12 Year from its competitors, and which has even attracted the attention of Scottish distilleries.

Those sweet, heady days of summer

Suntory describe the Yamazaki 12 Year as being “succulent with soft fruit”. With its golden colour and nose of pineapple, peach, grapefruit, vanilla, clove, candied orange, and – of course – Mizunara, they are right on the mark here.

One is reminded of the heady days of summer as the Yamazaki approaches the tongue, giving way to the smooth, creamy flavors of cranberry, coconut, and butter on the palate before drawing out into a long, spicy finish of cinnamon and sweet ginger. Sweet and spicy, there is little wonder that the Yamazaki 12 Year is widely considered to be one of the greatest single malt whiskies in the world.

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The Yamazaki's increasing cult status

The Yamazaki 12 year first entered the market in 1984 after 60 years of experimentation and development at the Yamazaki distillery outside of Kyoto. Originally mostly only known and enjoyed in Japan, it has seen a steady rise in popularity around the world since the early 2000s. The appropriation of the American whisky manufacturer Jim Beam by Suntory in 2014 has only served to increase sales of Japanese whisky in the US, as it markets its world-beating distillations to an eager American market.

But the success of the Yamazaki 12 year has not been without its problems. Japanese distillers had not anticipated the sharp rise in popularity of this spirit, which led to Yamazaki being for a long time somewhat difficult to obtain. It takes, after all, 12 years from distillation for this spirit to age and mature in those Mizunara oak barrels before it can be released out into the world. Such scarcity has only served to feed the Yamazaki's cult status however, and increase its desirability amongst whisky connoisseurs across the globe.

Thankfully, it is now possible to get hold of a bottle of Yamazaki 12 Year Single Malt directly from Japan. The online Japanese shopping mall Ippin have secured bottles of Yamazaki at fantastic prices and can ship these to select countries around the world. Now, more than ever before, there's no excuse for you not to “make it Suntory time”.

Awards won by the Yamazaki 12 Year Single Malt

International Spirits Challenge GOLD 2003, 2010

San Francisco World Spirits Competition DOUBLE GOLD 2009, 2013

San Francisco World Spirits Competition GOLD 2014

International Wine and Spirits Competition GOLD (BEST IN CLASS) 2011