Last night, Japanese whiskey powerhouse Suntory hosted a dinner for its Yamazaki brand at the ultra-chic Stephan Weiss Studio in New York City, at which Gardner Dunn, brand ambassador and master of ceremonies for the evening’s festivities, promised “some surprises”. It turned out to be a bit of an understatement. Not only did acclaimed chef Nobu Matsuhisa make a surprise appearance as the talent behind the evening’s incredible five-course dinner, but Suntory’s chief mixer Shinji Fukuyo joined from Japan, via video conference, to personally lead a tasting of 12, 18 and 25 Year Old Single Malt Expressions. But the real fireworks were yet to come.
They arrived in the form of small sealed vials, individually wrapped in black velvet bags, which contained a glass of the oldest version in Suntory’s history, the Yamazaki 55. Only 100 bottles, at retail price suggested $ 60,000. each will be released. As for the “wow” factor, that was hard to beat.
Yamazaki 55 consists of three main components which, taken together, span the three generations of Yamazaki master blenders, starting with Suntory founder Shinjiro Torii who is considered one of the founding fathers of Japanese whiskey. The first, distilled by Torii in 1960, was aged mainly in mizunara oak barrels; the second and third single malts were distilled in 1961 and 1964, respectively, by Keizo Saji, then master blender of Suntory, and aged in American white oak. By tying everything together and closing the loop of the project, the whiskey trio was selected and assembled in 2020 by Shingo Torii, grandson of Shinjiro and the current master blender of Suntory, in partnership with Fukuyo.
Tasting a very old whiskey is always a little trip down memory lane. Since spirits don’t age in the bottle, you taste as much an idea as a liquid. Modern artistic mix of Shingo Torii and Shinji Fukuyo. And the Yamazaki 55 is indeed lively, vibrant both in the glass – it has a light and pretty amber blush, thanks to the mizunara – and on the nose, which bursts with aromas of sticky, ripe mango and sandalwood. (another hallmark of mizunara) before giving way to more earthy notes of wet pine. Suntory served his 55 in a burgundy wine glass, and the reason is clear: you could spend as much time strolling this single malt as you do tasting many others.
The first sip is shocking, sweet and rich, almost rum-like in its sweetness, which transforms beautifully into the characteristic tropical fruit notes of Yamazaki. Then, a slightly bitter nutty with strong notes of smoky wood leading to a long lingering, sweet and slightly smoky finish. It’s an incredibly complex sip, with flavors dancing up and down like musical notes across a page and a finish long and powerful enough to rival a standing ovation. It is, in every way, a whiskey of statement.
The Yamazaki 55 will be presented in a crystal bottle with the name Yamazaki engraved in sandblasted calligraphy with gold powder and lacquer, delivered in a Japanese mizunara wooden box covered with Suruga lacquer. The bottle also features traditional Japanese handicrafts such as washi paper, when it is opened, and a Kyo-kumihimo braided rope from Kyoto, where Yamazaki is based.