If you’ve been hot on the hunt for rare Japanese whiskies, you’re going to want to add this one to your list immediately. This October, Suntory released a special-edition cask whisky for the books: Yamazaki Mizunara 2017, which is aged in Japanese oak (mizunara in Japanese) casks. The goal for this special blend is to create the ultimate expression of Japanese whisky — not only are the base whiskies created in Japan, but so are the casks.
If using Japanese oak doesn’t sound like a huge deal, it is. The wood is rare, but according to Suntory, that isn’t even the biggest issue when it comes to creating a cask out of the wood. The tree has a naturally high moisture content (mizu means water and nara means oak) and is incredibly permeable. Oak is hardwood, meaning it is typically hard to shape (and if it isn’t shaped right, leaks will happen and, well, no one wants whisk(e)y leaks).
The process of understanding mizunara has gone on for decades. According to a statement, “it is said that in the early 1940s, Suntory’s blenders began small scale experiments with mizunara. But it wasn’t until the end of World War II, when it became difficult to import wood, that Suntory truly focused on mastering the homegrown mizunara cask.”
The trees that were selected for the casks were perfectly straight, at least 27.5 inches in diameter, and much older than other trees species typically used for aging. The whisky that comes out of those casks is, needless to say, special. When making the Yamazaki Mizunara 2017, Suntory chief blender Shinji Fukuyo said he wanted something to push the bounds a little. He wanted something new, something untasted before.
“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,” Fukuyo said.
The final product is a blend of whiskies aged eighteen years and above, with a small segment aged over fifty years. Amber in color, a rich spice nose greets you. The palate is dried fruits and marmalade with a finish that brings back the spice flavors and a lingering tartness and incense characteristic that is reminiscent of all beautiful Japanese whiskies.
The elegance of the whisky doesn’t stop at the barrel it’s made in or the spirit itself. The bottle’s label is handcrafted from mulberry Echizen paper in a traditional Japanese method of slow-drying on wood boards. The box that the whisky comes in is also made from mizunara wood.
Yamazaki Mizunara Cask 2017 Edition comes in at 48 percent ABV and retails for around $1,000.
Editor’s Note: This article is part of The Manual’s larger Journey to Japan travel guide. Over the course of a month, our writers had the pleasure of experiencing Japan in all its forms, from high-rise bars in Tokyo to traditional tea ceremonies in Kyoto. We hope this series will not only inform, but inspire you to take your own trip to the Land of the Rising Sun.
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