What an honour it was to be invited to the ‘The Founding House of Suntory’ premium whisky experience at ‘Simmer on the Bay’ in Sydney last week where the Yamazaki Mizunara 2017 Edition was unveiled along with other fine & rare Suntory Whisky liquids for our enjoyment. From the moment the invitation instructed in true Japanese tradition, to wear a pair of my cleanest socks as I would be requested to remove my shoes on entry, I knew I was in for something very special and wow – it sure was unforgettable.
We were ushered into a room steeped in Japanese tradition where Dan Wooley (Australia’s CCA Whisky Ambassador) and his awesome team invited us to kneel on low tables to sample some special Suntory offering whilst Dan proceeded to talk about Suntory’s history and the early craftmanship of their brand.
Once this first tasting concluded, we were then moved to another room where we were surprised with……. yep, you guessed it, 4 more glasses filled with different special bottlings of Mizunara whisky. Before we were directed to sample these offerings, we were treated to a stunning visual of the Mizunara tree growing before our eyes from a projector on the main wall – it was quite ethereal actually, because as the very slow growing Mizunara tree was flourishing before our eyes, birds were softly cooing in the background adding to the ambiance of the room which was testament to the time and patience needed to shape this beautiful wood.
Suntory global brand Ambassador Mr Mike Miyamoto then took us through the history of Mizunara starting from World War 2 through to modern day. He’s a living legend and his tales were both riveting and enlightening. He explained that in the early 1940’s, Suntory’s blenders began small-scale analysis of Mizunara, but it wasn’t until the end of World War 2 when wood importation became difficult that Suntory concentrated on mastering the homegrown Mizunara cask. Although quite scarce in Japan, it wasn’t Mizunara’s rarity that presented the greatest challenge to cask makers, it was the hard, porous nature of the tree’s wood making it difficult to shape and hold liquid with the precision needed to prevent leaks.
The first Mizunara casks ever produced were filled with whisky in the early 1940’s and left to mature for 3 years, and when sampled, the whisky hadn’t developed at all which brought great disappointment. The casks were then left in the shadows of the distillery virtually forgotten over time. It wasn’t until the late 1980’s when the Hibiki blend was been created that the Master blender decided something different was needed so he proceeded to re-check the resting Mizunara casks and to his delight, he recognised that that a small portion of the contents would suit the Hibiki blend perfectly, and thus; The Mizunara cask was reborn.
Through great determination, Suntory’s Craftsman mastered the art of Mizunara cask-making by learning how to identify the right trees to make thoroughly true casks. The name “Mizunara” has evolved from the Japanese words “Mizu” meaning water and “nara” meaning oak and throughout their long history using Mizunara casks, Suntory’s blenders have recognised that age is the secret to releasing the signature taste of Mizunara whisky. A long maturation period imparts the distinctive spiciness and incense like flavours of sandalwood and aloe-wood that Suntory considers as the quintessential “Mizunara-ness”.
Once Mr Miyamoto concluded his talk, it was on to the main whisky tasting. The experience was incredible, we tasted our way through a dazzling line up of whiskies starting from the young (2013 Mizunara cask bottling which is 4 years old) to the very old, tannic and woody (Yamazaki Mizunara whisky distilled in 1969) putting all the tasting pieces together to better understand and appreciate the depth and flavour of the final and main piece of the puzzle; The Yamazaki Mizunara 18 year old 2017 Edition, one of the House of Suntory’s crowning jewels.
The Yamazaki Mizunara 18 year old 2017 Edition
Suntory’s 4th chief blender Shinji Fukuyo wanted this uniquely Japanese whisky to be dramatic and unforgettable and in his pursuit of true “Mizunara-ness”, tasted a few hundred whiskies matured in Mizunara of varying ages from at least 18 years with a small portion of the blend exceeding 50 years of age. This precise selection of malt whiskies is what gives the Yamazaki Mizunara 2017 Edition an incomparable depth and a flavour that lingers long past the final pour.
Later in the day, long after I left the tasting – I found myself smiling, possibly because I found my very own “Mizunara-ness” somewhere along the way. If only I could’ve bottled that feeling. 😉
Official tasting notes.
Nose: A rich and elegant fragrance, aloe wood, cinnamon
Palate: A condensed sweetness, dry fruits, coconut and orange marmalade with silky palate texture
Finish: A distinctive spiciness lingers with Japanese incense, aloe wood, cinnamon, and tartness