Suntory launches new Yamazaki Mizunara whisky

Suntory's launches a new whisky aimed at collectors.
Suntory's launches a new whisky aimed at collectors.PHOTO: SUNTORY

Suntory's latest whisky is set to spark a frenzy among collectors

SINGAPORE (THE BUSINESS TIMES) - Fans of Japanese whisky had better move fast. Suntory Whisky has just launched the Yamazaki Mizunara 2017 Edition in Singapore. There is no word on how many bottles there are in Singapore, but there are only 5,000 bottles available worldwide.

For the uninitiated, Mizunara is a Japanese oak, found only in a few regions within Japan. According to Suntory's fourth chief blender, Shinji Fukuyo, Mizunara has been used as a whisky cask since the 1930s and 1940s.

In the early 1940s, Suntory's blenders began small experiments with Mizunara.But it wasn't until the end of WWII, when it became difficult to import wood, that the company focused on mastering the homegrown Mizunara cask.

Most of the Mizunara that Suntory uses for its casks are from Hokkaido. The Japanese oak is tricky to work with, top of which is the hard, permeable nature of the wood.

The name Mizunara comes from the tree's high moisture content - "mizu" is water in Japanese and "nara" means oak. Compared to European or American oak, Mizunara has a much higher moisture content. The Mizunara's permeable character is less than ideal for cask-making since liquid can easily seep through the wood.

As Mizunara is a hardwood, it is more difficult to shape and join with the precision needed to make a cask that is leak-proof. Over the years, Suntory's craftsmen have gotten around the problem by identifying the right Mizunara trees to use for cask-making.

According to Mr Fukuyo, perfectly straight Mizunara trees are the best, and they need to have a diameter of 70cm, for cask making. Such ideal trees take at least 150 years to grow.

Mr Fukuyo has been chief blender since 2009, and is responsible for every bottle of whisky that leaves the distillery, including the Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013, which was crowned the world's best whisky by the 2015 World Whisky Bible.

The Yamazaki Mizunara 2017 Edition is made from a precise selection of malt whiskies, all distilled in Yamazaki, the oldest distillery in Japan and aged in Mizunara casks.

For the Yamazaki Mizunara 2017 Edition, Mr Fukuyo, 56, tasted a few hundred Mizunara whiskies and made selections with varying ages, from 18 years old and beyond. A very small portion exceed even 50 years of maturation (which Mr Fukuyo describes as having a very spicy Oriental note), which give this limited edition an incomparable depth and a flavor that lingers long after the liquid has passed the lips. Age is the key to unlocking the signature taste of Mizunara whisky.

The amber coloured liquid has a rich and elegant fragrance, with hints of aloe wood and cinnamon. On the palate, it has a silky texture with sweetness, and tastes of dried fruits and orange marmalade. "There is also a coconut sweetness to it," says Mr Fukuyo.

He describes its finish as having a distinctive spiciness that lingers with Japanese incense, aloe wood, cinnamon, and tartness.

Mr Fukuyo knew from the start that the Yamazaki Mizunara 2017 Edition was not intended for a familiar, relaxing moment. He wanted this uniquely Japanese whisky to be dramatic and unforgettable.

"I wanted to reveal the whisky's soul that is the Art of Mizunara-a heightened sense and awakened palate engaged through aromas and flavors never known before. Encountering it should be a moment of epiphany," says Mr Fukuyo.

The bottle label is 100 per cent handcrafted mulberry Echizen paper produced via the traditional Japanese method of drying on wooden boards. The wooden box that the bottle comes in, is made of recycled casks used in the aging of Suntory whisky.

The Yamazaki Single Malt Whisky Mizunara 2017 Edition is priced at US$1,500 (S$2,034) for  a 700ml bottle. Available at major bars.