After Yamazaki’s 2013 Single Malt Sherry Cask was named as the world’s best whisky by Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible, the follow up has finally had it’s long awaited release this week.
The House of Suntory have unveiled the Yamazaki 2016 sherry cask.
Limited to a global release of 5,000 bottles, of which only 195 bottles are arriving in the UK (at £200 a bottle, and more than twice the price of it’s predecessor, these are already said to have sold out)
Since Mr Murray’s award, hype for Japanese whisky (and this release especially) has surged over the last three years, but the Japanese have long been doing this for near a century.
Chief Blender Shinji Fukuyo is known to personally visit Spain to handpick the oak used to create the casks, overseeing the ageing process for three years before blends are picked from more than 100 malt whiskies to develop it’s flavour.
Demand has increased further with news that the 2016 would be aged for 2 years longer than it’s predecessor.
Aging in sherry casks has also long been tradition since the distillery opened in 1924, and their process and methods are taken very seriously to create something Murray has said to be of ‘near indescribable genius’.
After this extensive hype and the long wait, I’m sure the news of this whisky being near impossible to get hold of has disappointed many, it may also have upset many ‘collectors’ (or those wanting to make a huge profit at auction as soon as next week!).
However, there are many whisky drinking fans who will agree (ourselves included) that there are plenty other bottles available for less, and offering much more than Yamazaki’s latest.
We of course have yet to try the new release so there is a chance that it’s worth the demand and the price tag but based on the 2013 version of the whisky, we would much prefer one of these fantastic and readily available options.
Take a look at our top 10 choices for brilliant bottles under £200.
10. The Octomore 6.3
This super heavily peated whisky from Bruichaddich has achieved cult status in recent years as they continue to push the extreme limits of peating their barley.
This one uses grain peated to a 258ppm using only barley grown on Islay (although malted on the mainland). It’s bottled at just 5 year old, a big thumbs up to the guys at laddie for printing this on the bottle too as I’m sure the temptation to have it listed as a non age statement (NAS) would have been there.
This whisky is bottled cask strength- an impressive 64%. Everything about this bottle suggests it will a brutal punch in the face of young, strong spirit and smoke but this couldn’t be further from the truth.
A deliciously creamy dram with lots of exotic fruit flavours, yes the smoke is there but there’s so much more to it than that.
This is the first of a 4 bottle series released to document the progress of the Glengarioch distillery since it’s re-opening after a quiet period between 1994 and 1997 when the current owners took charge.
This means they will all be from casks distilled after it’s re-launch and will be released a year older each time. It’s bottled at cask strength, 51.9%, and is combination of bourbon and sherry cask maturation. A flavour profile of baked apples, sweet pastries and hazelnuts. It is a special edition with only 12,000 made and it’s still available from Hard to Find Whiskies at a reduced price!
In recent years Glendronach has become the ‘Go To’ brand for sherry cask whiskies. Their consistent high quality, good price point and commitment to age statements have given them the edge over their rivals and their range of single cask whiskies are unmissable.
Check out https://www.whiskybase.com/brand/81411?bottler_id=0&sort=cask_number&direction=desc for a comprehensive list of what's out there.
As we are just focussed on bottles still for sale at retail level we've chosen cask 444 from Batch 12 as a prime example. This is a 1995 vintage bottled last year at 52% volume. It was matured in a Pedro Ximenez Sherry Puncheon yielding 691 bottles.
It's not always easy to find this one at all never mind below our £200 budget but at the time of writing the fantastic Loch Fyne Whiskies in Inverary have it on offer for just £179.00.
The Campbeltown distillery has produced some stunning whiskies in the past but this stands out as one of the best. Perfectly balanced with delicate spicy smoke and a delicious plum-like fruitiness leading to a spicy, dry finish.
Caol Ila is the biggest producer of whisky on Islay but far from the best known. Primarily used for blending (Johnnie Walker in particular) only recently has it started to acquire the reputation that it's probably always deserved.
The 18yo is the pick of the official bottlings- its soft on the peat with a lovely toasty barbecue feel rather than the medicinal characteristics of some of it's neighbours. Yes its chill filtered, probably artificially coloured and watered down to 43% but when it tastes this good and you can get two bottles and still have change for the price of one Yamazaki Sherry Cask we don't care!
Ok, so it wouldn't be right to have a list of Yamazaki alternatives without suggesting at least one Japanese whisky. And why wouldn't we? There's some amazing whiskies out there.
The one we've chosen is the Taketsuru 21yo from Nikka. It's named after the company's founder who trained in Scotland before returning to Japan to set up a number of distilleries (Yamazki being the first one). This is a blended malt featuring the company's two malt whisky distilleries- Yoichi and Myagiko. As age statements on these whiskies are fast disappearing and prices going up all the time its worth grabbing a bottle sooner rather than later!
This was a very strong contender for Boom Whisky's Whisky of The Year 2015 and it seems Jim Murray agrees awarding it a liquid gold award and 95.5 out of 100. It's a perfect example of Glenfarclas' ability to get just the right amount of wood influence from a sherry cask while retaining the character of the malt even after 20 years in the cask. Expect dried fruit, citrus, dark coffee and a dry finish.
The Highland Park 21yo was released in 2007 and originally intended for travel retail. Thankfully the distillery decided to make it available to the domestic market and what a success it's been. Using American oak seasoned with sherry and the unique Orkney peat this whisky has one of the most complex flavour profiles you can get in a dram. It's soft, fruity, sweet, spicy, salty and a bit smoky all at the same time in perfect balance.
The third and final instalment of the hugely successful and collectible Devil's Cask range from Bowmore. It seems as if Bowmore got tired of seeing their bottles being purchased at a very reasonable price and sold on for great profit on auctions so with this release they bumped up the price to take a slice of it themselves. The outcome of this is that the bottles didn't sell out as quickly as the first two releases and are still available to buy some months after it's launch.
The whisky itself is remarkable; Peated and matured in first fill Pedro Ximenez and Oloroso. All the smoke and richness we've come to love from sherried Bowmores such as the Darkest and Laimrig but with more intensity and more satisfaction.
£190 from Any good whisky retailer
1. BenRiach 27yo 1990 Cask #3825
BenRiach is owned by the same group as the Glendronach we featured earlier and it's much the same story. I would have been happy with any of their standard range as a preferred option to the Yamazaki but have opted for this single cask release from last year. This is a 27yo whisky which was finished in a cask which formerly held Tawny Port. The result is not as fruity and port-like as you imagined as a subtle silky sweet mouth feel gives way to lovely peppery spice.