Suntory Whisky Unveils Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2016 Edition

photo by Joe Leonard
photo by Joe Leonard

Suntory Whisky unveiled the highly anticipated 2016 edition of its Yamazaki Sherry Cask expression at a recent food pairing dinner held at the swanky, multi-story 214 Lafayette Street event space in Manhattan.

The 2013 Yamazaki Sherry Cask release garnered World Whisky of the Year status from Jim Murray's 2015 Whisky Bible. Therefore, even as all Japanese releases have earned added acclaim and recognition as of late, few, if any, sit aloft a perch as high as this expression. The question is whether or not the 2016 Sherry Cask could possibly hold up to the status of its predecessors.

The Dinner

Suntory's global brand ambassador Mike Miyamoto was on hand to discuss the storied whisky, while chef Paul Liebrandt prepared a beautiful meal to accompany the whisky served from Suntory's entire portfolio. Suntory enjoys showcasing their wares in a diverse variety of ways, more in line with the way whisky is enjoyed traditionally in Japanese culture than it is stateside.

So it is that different brands and labels were served in varied ways throughout the experience. Guests enjoyed the soft, floral notes of Hibiki Japanese Harmony with Champagne as the event began. Small passed canapes were served as Miyamoto shared background on The House of Suntory Whisky, and the new Yamazaki Sherry Cask release itself.

Dinner then opened with a Hakushu 12 Year highball, served with a stunning presentation of a scallop dish from chef Liebrandt, the scallop served cooked, but trapped back in its full shell, baked in a delightful bread crust. Next came Yamazaki 12 Year on the rocks, paired with a Japanese sweet potato dish accompanied by grilled avocado, mole sauce, and a freshly grated mound of truffles that probably cost as much per plate as the whisky still to come would cost per dram.

photo by Jake Emen
photo by Jake Emen

The rich succulence of an aged duck entrée, offered with hazelnut and cabbage, was subdued by a pour of Hibiki 17, surprisingly served warm. It was all a prelude to dessert, a chocolate "gold bar" served with a caramel Suntory sauce, paired with the showstopper itself, the Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2016 Edition.

The Whisky

Suntory's Chief Blender Shinji Fukuyo describes the Yamazaki Sherry Cask as a whisky not made for the novice. In Miyamoto's words, post tasting:"This is a big whisky!"

Big and layered, both in color and character, it's strongly linked to its sherry cask heritage. According to Fukuyo, it's "created for the 'Suntory Whisky Lover' - a lover of complex, refined and subtle tastes."

Fukuyo is recognized the world over for his ability to create balanced and delicate blends, and here, he incorporated many of the same individual components as were in the 2013 award-winning edition. Yet, they're each two years older now, that much more time spent maturing and developing. Further, an assortment of vintage sherry cask single malts were included into this release, with some topping out at over 25 years old.

that scallop dish - photo by Joe Leonard
that scallop dish - photo by Joe Leonard

Raise a dram and instantly take note of a big, sherry-influenced nose, nutty and rancio notes, and a dark chocolate and raisin sweetness. Take a sip and discover a bold, robust palate which takes your taste buds on a ride beginning with that rich sherry, before revealing a slight spiciness and acidity, and moving back again for more nuts and sherry, along with cloves and mulling spices, and cocoa powder. Enjoy a hearty, lingering finish, with a sherry residue encouraging you to sip again.

Is this another World Whisky of the Year in the making? I'll leave that to the likes of Murray. All you need to be concerned with is that the 2016 Yamazaki Sherry Cask is, in a word, exceptional. It's a bold and rich, yet nuanced and ultimately delightful dram you should seek out to experience.

Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2016, bottled at 48% ABV and sold at $300, is now available in stores -- if you can find it. A scant 5,000 bottles were released globally.