Sunday, 23 April 2017



The top five of Japan’s 12-year-old whiskies are: Yamazaki, Hakushu, Nikka Taketsuru, Nikka Miyagikyo and Hibiki. Drink them as you like, but note that the Japanese typically add a dash (or a lot) of water. I use between 5 and 15 drops of water, using a pipette or drinking straw. I like Yamazaki the most.I have included the Yoichi 10-year-old as a very close 6th.

1. Suntory Yamazaki









The Sweetest: The first seriously marketed whisky from the distillery that started it all: Yamazaki 12-year-old. This is the classic, and for good reason. It’s light. It’s floral. It’s delicious. For what you’re getting, it’s reasonably priced. On the nose, one gets hints of zest and honey, and the palate, smooth and sweet, brings flavors of citrus with some vanilla oakiness. If you have a snobbish friend who insists on Scotch, a glass of Yamazaki should be the first class in a course of conversion to the Japanese path.  

2. Suntory Hakushu








The Smokiest: Hakushu, Suntory’s third American release, comes in a green bottle (a rarity among most clear-bottled Japanese whiskies) that hints at its “green” flavor profile: leaves and fruits, particularly pear. Marketed as the “fresh” whisky, Hakushu 12-year-old comes from the forests at the base of the Southern Japanese Alps. However, you’d be forgiven if you mistake this for an Islay malt. Even thoroughbred tasters often fail to separate the two. The use of peated barley, imported from Scotland, gives the whisky a smoky nose that suggests seaside origins; then you taste the delicate whisky, and find yourself transported to the forests of Japan.

3. Nikka Miyagikyo



The Most Surprising: When you nose this whisky, it releases little by the way of aroma. It takes ten minutes to settle and a second sniff yields heavy doses of toffee and caramel. The taste — full of strong, sweet vanilla — mimicks the nose’s form: slow to build, but impressive at its peak.Very classy finish.

4. Nikka Taketsuru









The Smoothest: Interestingly, this is a vatted (a blend of single malts) versus blended whisky, brought over to the United States for the first time just last year. It combines 12-year-old malts from Nikka’s Yoichi and Miyagikyo distilleries. The darkest of the five whiskies (though still light, as far as whiskies go), the Taketsuru wows your taste with its even balance and smooth finish. On the nose, you get hints of vanilla, apple and cinnamon (apple pie). However, honey dominates the palate — so much so, in fact, that you feel like you are drinking straight from a honeycomb. The finish is rather short. 

5. Suntory Hibiki

The Sexiest Bottle: Housed in a distinct, multi-faceted, corked (!) bottle, or decanter, this Suntory whisky looks like something pulled from Noel’s personal bar. Although the nose is a bit sharp, the Hibiki gains points for using whisky aged in Mizunara, a rare Japanese oak, as well as casks formerly used to hold Japanese plum liqueur. Like the Nikka Miyagikyo, the Hibiki is rich and thick, bordering on syrupy. The taste mirrors the honey and vanilla of other offerings, but with an oily texture and small notes of fruit. An excellent blend. 

6. Yoichi 10 YO


A very well made single malt from Japan, Yoichi is the jewel in Nikka's crown, their 10 year old offering notes of vanilla and fruit.  Nose: Plenty of fruit notes- peach stands out in particular, ripe, vibrant and subtly floral. Then there's rich vanilla custard, peat smoke and a hint of nutmeg spice. Palate: Oily and sweet, with peat smoke following swiftly afterwards. Light oak and developing fruit notes beneath. Finish: Appealing oak lasts on the finish.