Man at His Best

Opinion: The New Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2016 Is Suntory’s Love Offering To One Person

All it took was one man’s word to spark a revolution.

BY Patrick Chew | Feb 5, 2016 | Food & Drink

Photograph from Beam Suntory

When acclaimed whisky journalist Jim Murray released the 2015 edition of his whisky bible at the end of 2014, two things happened: the Scots got mad and the Japanese got rich.

Murray had achieved this by awarding Japanese distiller Suntory Whisky’s Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013 the title of World Whisky of the Year.

He also omitted Scotch whiskies from his list of top expressions, something he had never happened before. Murray went on to justify his decision by saying, “It is a wake-up call (for the Scotch industry). It is time for a little dose of humility.”

Needless to say, every Scotch distiller, blender and ambassador I met in the months that followed all had a few nasty things to say about the whisky journalist.

“Jim doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about,” Ledaig’s Master Distiller Ian MacMillan told me over a lunch.

“Have a taste of this and tell me whether you think we’re asleep,” Peter Prentice, Global Heritage and Brand Experience Director for Chivas Brothers said to me in another meeting as he handed me a dram of The Glenlivet Nàdurra 16 Year Old. 

On the other side of the world, however, things couldn’t be rosier. Murray had sparked a worldwide rush for Japanese whiskies.

Since the start of 2015, drinkers have consumed so much Japanese whisky that even the biggest producers such as Suntory and Nikka have pulled back on its age-statement expressions and replaced them with non age-statement ones so as to meet the astronomical demand.

As a matter of fact, anything older than a 12-year-old Japanese whisky has become something of a unicorn. More sales with less production time; what more can Japanese distillers ask for?

All they need to do now is to keep their popularity up with another one of those nifty World Whisky of the Year titles from Murray (Yamazaki failed to retain the title in Jim Murray's Whisky Bible 2016, with Canada's Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye clinching top spot) and consumers will be convinced that their first win wasn't a fluke and that they do, in fact, mean business. Japanese whisky producers will be riding the wave for years to come.

On that note, Suntory has just unveiled the 2015 World Whisky of the Year’s older brother—The Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2016.

Matured in Mizunara casks and bourbon barrels, this expression is a tribute to the distillery’s 91-year history of utilising sherry casks and boasts of rich notes and aromas of raisin, hazelnut and chocolate. 

“The Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2016 leverages the same lot of whiskies as was used for the Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013 for its base. These whiskies have matured for two more years, and to this blend, we added various rare sherry cask single malt whiskies, some of which are over 25 years old,” Mike Miyamoto, Global Brand Ambassador for Suntory Whisky explained. 

Only 5,000 bottles were produced for this global release (its award-winning predecessor was only on sale in Europe), with an undisclosed number available for purchase in Singapore at the end of the month, though I’m pretty sure one would have already been gift-wrapped and mailed to Murray for his oh-so kind consideration by then.

So if you somehow find yourself in possession of a bottle, I feel the need to point out that it really wasn’t made for you.

But hey, you go on ahead and enjoy it. It might just be the ‘best’ whisky of the year.