Last year, a tide shift happened when “Whisky Bible” author Jim Murray crowned Yamazaki 2013 Sherry Cask the “world’s best whisky.” It was the first time a Japanese whisky earned the annual crown and the first time a Scotch whisky hadn’t. There was already a big demand for older Japanese whiskies, but this sent the scramble for the few remaining bottles into the stratosphere. Now, a lucky few have another chance to sample Japanese gold with the release of the 2016 version of Yamazaki Sherry Cask.
This year, Murray bestowed his top honor on another non-Scotch: Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye. But the Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2016 Edition will be a strong contender for next year’s book. Last month in a special media tasting, a group of thirsty writers and editors were able to sample the new release under the guidance of Suntory brand ambassador Mike Miyamoto (Beam-Suntory is Yamazaki’s parent company).
“The 2016 is different,” Miyamoto told the assembled crowd seated at a posh Manhattan townhouse, enjoying a pairing dinner of several Yamazaki, Hibiki and Hakashu whiskies with an elegant multi-course dinner from chef Paul Liebrandt (The Elm in Williamsburg and former co-owner of the luxe Tribeca location Corton). “It’s two years older, first of all, and there is the addition of older whiskies, including a 25-year-old sherry cask whisky.”
Because Beam-Suntory owns two single malt distilleries (Yamazaki and Hakashu), each with multiple pot stills, malts and fermentation tanks, Miyamoto argues there are more than 150 types of whisky from which to choose and blend into new creations. “This is the art of Suntory blending,” he said. “It’s subtle, refined, yet complex.”
The 2016 release features whiskies aged in hand-selected (from forest through construction and sherry seasoning) barrels that held Spanish sherry for two or three years before being shipped to Japan. Chief blender Shinji Fukuyo oversees this entire process, rejecting many of the sherry casks before they ever leave Spain. He then selects whiskies from the many options aging at Yamazaki. The final product—employing the same whiskies as the 2013 as a base (now aged two years longer), and the addition of additional older whiskies as much as 25 years old—is robust, yet still retains the signature softness and elegance of Japanese malt whiskies.
In 2013, there were 18,000 bottles of the stuff. This year there are only 5,000 (since much of it is from the same dwindling stock). Next time, Miamoto warns, there will be even fewer bottles released.
The Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2016 edition is a deep, dark ruby color. on the nose it is rich and aromatic, with hints of clove, cinnamon and other spice, along with fresh dates and other fresh and dried fruit notes.
On the mouth it is full-bodied and warming. It opens with fruit notes of dates and figs, before moving into a spicy midpalate and a long banana, chocolate and baking spice finish. If you are fortunate enough to have access to a bottle or a dram, by all means take advantage of the opportunity. It’s a complex, yet subtle whisky with long, elegant flavors.
Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2016 Edition has an ABVI of 48% and a suggested retail price of $300. It was released in the U.S. at the beginning of February.