Yamazaki & Hakushu Distiller's Reserve and 12 year old

Japanese whisky is something that has been overlooked here on Causeway Coast Whisky Reviews. Once freely available in supermarkets never mind online retailers, Japanese whisky became decidedly more difficult to attain at reasonable prices from around 2013 after the 'Man in the Hat' awarded a Yamazaki Sherry Cask his world whisky of the year award. By now you should know how I feel about such awards. At any rate Japanese whisky is something that just fell into my rear view whisky mirror, nothing to take note of as the prices are now frankly pretty mental.

So far the only Japanese whiskies to feature here are the Suntory Toki and the Tenjaku blend. It's fair to say neither set my world on fire.

Raiding my stash recently I realised I'd conveniently forgot I had a bottle of the Yamazaki 12 year old tucked away in the background. Today this retails for £135 a bottle or higher in the UK. Thankfully I didn't pay that. I was very fortunate to acquire two bottles from my local Tesco supermarket back in the day when they retailed for £45 a bottle. The funny thing was when I bought these bottles I'd noticed a theme in the local supermarkets here, anything priced £45 or higher were difficult to shift and often led to the line being discontinued from stock. Remember this goes back to when a Glenfiddich 12 year old or Glenlivet 12 was regularly available at £25 at full price, never mind discounted. I decided to wait and see if the trend would continue.

Sure enough, it did. After a number of months sitting on shelves with the local populace thumbing their noses at these fancy dan, expensive Japanese whiskies that likely few had heard of, the good folk at Tesco reduced the price to £22 a bottle. I nabbed two. I regret I didn't clear the shelf, but hindsight is twenty twenty as they say.

After 'The Hat's' world whisky award demand for Yamazaki and indeed all things Japanese whisky related, skyrocketed and so did prices. Eventually the Yamazaki 12 and 18 were discontinued in the UK market and eventually replaced with a NAS equivalant, The Distiller's Reserve.

My local Sainsbury stocked both the Yamazaki and Hakushu expressions of the Distiller's Reserve and I bought them for around £35 each as I recall. Oh, I should also explain that both the Yamazaki and the Hakushu are produced by Beam Suntory. The Yamazaki is unpeated and the Hakushu is lightly peated.

As I had these three bottles I figured it was about time to get some notes done and a review published. Happily I also had a sample of the Hakushu 12 year old from my good friend Val of Waterford Whiskey Society fame.

Looking online the pricing goes like this for our bottles today:

Yamazaki Distiller's Reserve: £60 - £75
Yamazaki 12: £135 and upwards

Hakushu Distiller's Reserve: £60 - £70
Hakushu 12: £155 and upwards

Yamazaki Distiller's Reserve 43% abv

Nose: A luscious nose - strawberry preserve, fresh raspberry followed by peach and pear. There's sugar syrup and vanilla alongside lemon curd. Cinnamon and anise notes too.

Palate: Quite creamy with red stewed berries and apple and blackberry crumble. Cedar wood, honey and cinnamon. Some coconut and toasted nuts. The European oak makes its presence felt too.

Finish: Short to medium with vanilla, yuzu and sandalwood.

Score: 6 out of 10

Yamazaki 12 year old 43% abv

Nose: Another lively and luscious nose. Sweet fruit notes of peach, pear poached in dessert wine, tart apple, plums and persimmon. Floral honey, milk chocolate and cinnamon. Coconut flesh, malt and mizunara oak.

Palate: Again a lovely creamy mouthfeel - like homemade rice pudding with cinnamon and nutmeg. Honey, vanilla pods, melon, peach and that coconut again. Persimmon too. A spry kick of ginger ale and clove spice alongside some cocoa powder and toasted oak.

Finish: Medium length with tropical fruit notes, ginger, european oak spice and coconut macaroons.

Score: 7 out of 10 (at £22 a bottle probably a 9)

Hakushu Distiller's Reserve 43% abv

Nose: Fresh and fruity. Peach, nectarine, plum and lightly brewed green tea. Cucumber. Honey, lavender, pine and a freshly mown lawn. A very faint wisp of smoke along with oak and mild black pepper.

Palate: Light and approachable with a somewhat thin mouthfeel. Heather honey, tart citrus - lemon and grapefruit which leads to a definite smokiness. More pine before moving back to a fresh fruit salad. Some minty freshness too with mild pepper spice.

Finish: Short to medium length with a mix of citrus, orchard and tropical fruit with a sooty tang at the end.

Score: 6 out of 10

Hakushu 12 year old 43% abv

Nose: This has more presence than the Distiller's Reserve. Still fresh and clean but also feels richer. Again we have peach, plum and sweet tropical notes of pineapple and papaya along with citrus of lemon and grapefruit. Smoke is apparent but still a light touch but adds a nice earthiness. More pine forest notes and garden mint.

Palate: Still a thinnish mouthfeel but improved over the Distiller's Reserve. Quite a bit of sweetness - honeyed malt and barley sugar. Ripe peach, mango, kiwi and lychee. Some yuzu balances out the sweetness with pine resin, chamomile and toasted oak. A hint of minted chocolate towards the end.

Finish: Medium with tonka bean, yuzu and chamomile.

Score: 7 out of 10

Overall: All being said these were tasty drams especially at the prices I paid for them. Sadly the clamour for Japanese whisky means that their current pricing means that they wouldn't be on my radar and if I'd bought them at those prices they'd all have a point deducted.

The age statement versions definitely did show improvement over their NAS replacements, just having more body and a little more complexity. It's just a shame that they are priced out of the reach of so many now. At today's prices they all lose a point from the score.

These are fairly gentle drams and at todays prices there are plenty of options available in both Ireland and Scotland that would be much better value and offer similar profiles. Will we ever see Japanese whiskies return to somewhat normal pricing? That remains to be seen but until then I'll spend my money elsewhere. 

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