A 55-year-old whisky from Yamazaki costs $60,000, and we got a taste

A 55-year-old whisky from Yamazaki costs $60,000, and we got a taste
Courtesy of House of Suntory

A limited edition of 100 bottles will be available.

The ultrachic Stephan Weiss Studio space in New York City was host to a dinner for Japanese whiskey powerhouse Suntory's Yamazaki brand last night, during which brand ambassador Gardner Dunn, who acted as emcee for the evening, promised “a couple of surprises.” It turned out to be somewhat of an understatement as it turns out.

There was not only Nobu Matsuhisa who surprised everyone by taking on the role of the chef of the five-course dinner that night as a surprise guest; Suntory's chief blender, Shinji Fukuyo, also participated in a videoconference from Japan, where he led us in a tasting of Suntory's aged single malt expressions of 12, 18, and 25 years. Despite the fact that the fireworks had come and gone, it had yet to be over.

The Yamazaki 55, the oldest release of Suntory's history, arrived as small, sealed vials, each wrapped individually in black velvet bags, each containing a single dram of its oldest release. There will only be 100 bottles available for sale, priced at a suggested retail price of $60,000. As far as "wow" factor is concerned, it is hard to compare it with anything else. 

Yamazaki 55 is comprised of three main components that, when taken together, represent all three generations of Yamazaki master blenders, beginning with Suntory founder Shinjiro Torii, an early pioneer of Japanese whisky production. Suntory's then-master blender Keizo Saji, distilled the first single malt in 1960 and aged it mostly in mizunara oak casks; the second and third single malts in 1961 and 1964, respectively, were both distilled by Torii and aged in American white oak casks.

As a final step in tying the package together and bringing this project full circle, Suntory's current master blender Shingo Torii, grandson of Shinjiro and the company's current master blender, has been appointed to select and blend the trio of whiskies in collaboration with Fukuyo.

Courtesy of House of Suntory

I always find it quite interesting to taste old whiskey. It is always a trip through history when you try it. You're tasting an idea rather than a liquid in spirits because spirits do not age in the bottle like wine does, in this case, a reflection of the whiskey-making ideas of Shinjiro Torii and Keizo Saji, but brought to life by the modern blending artistry of Shingo Torii and Shinji Fukuyo.

In fact, the Yamazaki 55 is indeed a lively wine, both on the glass, with its light and lovely amber blush thanks to the mizunara, and on the nose, which is bursting with aromas of ripe mango and sandalwood, another trademark of Mizunaras, before giving way to earthy notes of wet pine. It is not surprising that Suntory served its 55 in a burgundy wine glass, because the aromas of this single malt are just as delightful as they are in general.

As soon as you take the first sip, you are surprised, soft and rich, almost rum-like in sweetness, which transitions perfectly into Yamazaki's characteristic tropical fruit notes. Then there is an almost bitter nuttiness that leads into a long, lingering finish, which is sweet and lightly smoked at the same time. In addition to being incredibly complex, it has a finish with length and force that is strong enough to rival a standing ovation, as the flavors dance up and down the register like musical notes across a page. There is no doubt that it is a whiskey statement in every sense of the word.

Presented in a crystal bottle that features the Yamazaki name engraved in sand-blasted calligraphy with gold dust and lacquer, the Yamazaki 55 comes with a box made out of Japanese mizunara wood lacquered with Suruga lacquer. Yamazaki's brand is also known for its traditional Japanese crafts such as the use of washi paper on its openings and the use of Kyo-kumihimo plaited cord from Kyoto.

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