stats: Japanese single malt whisky, 43%, $40
It was with great excitement that I procured a bottle of Suntory Yamazaki 12 year, back in 2006. I had read that there was some high quality brown liquor coming out of the land of the rising sun, but other than knowing that Japanese whisky emulated Scotch whisky stylistically, I really had no preconceived notion of what I might be about to taste.
A whisky bottle adorned with Japanese script was quite the peculiarity at the time, as very few people in the U.S. knew that Japan made any whisky at all, let alone that it was one of the top 5 whisky producing nations. And as much as I wanted to love my newly acquired libation, I have to admit, I was a bit disappointed. Of course it was early on in my whisky connoisseurship, and I did consider the possibility that my palate was still developing and in need of broader exposure. Either way, the Yamazaki languished on my whisky shelf, partially consumed and largely ignored for several years.
My interest in that bottle was however reawakened eventually, sometime in 2010 or 2011, and I was surprised to find it much more to my liking. This newfound appreciation caused me to ponder – had my palate and my preferences evolved, or had the whisky actually changed for the better 4 to 5 years after the bottle was opened? But questions of this nature can be tough to answer with the tastings being done years apart and a heavy reliance on one’s memory.
Fast forward to just a few months ago: I was feeling obligated to put together a 12 yr Yamazaki post as a follow-up to the recent 18 yr Yamazaki write-up. But with the contents of my 12 yr bottle having dwindled down to a single drink and the bottle having been originally opened at least 6 years ago, I was concerned that the remaining whisky may have deteriorated to the point that I might be giving it an unfair review. Fortunately, a solution presented itself as I bellied up to the bar at a local watering hole and spotted a fresh bottle of 12 year Yamazaki on the shelf. Notes from that night:
mild nose of slightly sweet grain. medium body. comes across a bit hot. malt foundation mingles with perfumed floral flavors & a hint of nuttiness. flavors fight for dominance with alcohol burn. smooth transition to a long warming finish.
The whisky was actually just about how I remembered it from the first time I tasted it – not bad, but with much stronger floral / perfumed flavors than I prefer and too much heat relative to the intensity of the flavors. When I originally opened my bottle, one of my friends likened it to the propeller blades of a Japanese Zero lashing across his tongue, a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the point.
As for my improved opinion of the whisky a few years ago, upon further reflection I think it was a combination of the fact that I’d become less sensitive to the strong floral element in the flavor profile, as well as the fact that over time the whisky seemed to have toned down and wasn’t coming across so hot, but without a corresponding loss of flavor.
I decided to go one step further and take the opportunity to compare the last drink in my bottle to a fresh sample. I managed to smuggle a wee dram out of the above mention bar for a proper side by side. Of course, this comparison should be taken with a grain of salt considering that the whisky most distillers put in the bottle isn’t entirely consistent from year to year.
The newer bottling has a nose of dusty corn, while the older one has aromas that are maltier, and surprisingly the older example seems to have a little more aromatic intensity than the fresh sample. The whisky from my bottle still has some heat, but definitely not as much. It also comes across as being less angular and with better continuity; it seems to have mellowed nicely with time.
This certainly doesn’t mean that all whiskies will get better as they linger in the bottle once the seal has been broken. Over the years I have observed some whiskies improve with time after the bottle was opened and I’ve seen others slowly drop off in quality.