With its whirl of incense and dried fruit notes, Yamazaki’s limited edition Mizunara 2017 is a spellbinding Japanese dram.

Suntory launched the Yamazaki Mizunara 2017 18-year-old edition for global markets last December, with only 5,000 bottles available worldwide. It’s not often that the Yamazaki Mizunara finds its way beyond Japanese shores, and when it does, it is snapped up pretty quickly by Yamazaki acolytes. It is, after all, a quintessentially Japanese dram—a spirit aged solely in Japanese oak, or mizunara.

Yamazaki's limited edition Mizunara 2017

Yamazaki’s limited edition Mizunara 2017

Mizunara has always figured in Yamazaki’s whiskies. For example, the flagship Yamazaki 12-year-old is aged in a mix of Spanish, American ex-bourbon, and mizunara casks. For many fans of Yamazaki, the Japanese wood gives the dram a whiff of aloe wood and incense; a scent of old Japan. The Yamazaki Mizunara 2017 18-year-old takes this distinctive fragrance up a notch, combining the perfume with delicious flavours of raisins, orange peel and ginger. Let it breathe in your glass for a while, and the golden spirit will unfurl tropical aromas of coconut and lychee.

The Mizunara 2017 18-year-old is also the first time Suntory has launched an age statement Mizunara edition. To make the blend, Shinji Fukuyo, who has been the chief blender of Suntory since 2009, tasted hundreds of mizunara whiskies aged 18 years old and above. The final blend includes a small portion of mizunara-aged dram that is more than 50 years old, which explains its dreamy, lingering finish. Fukuyo says drinking the Mizunara 2017 should be like “a moment of epiphany”.

Shinji Fukuyo, chief blender at Suntory since 2009

Shinji Fukuyo, chief blender at Suntory since 2009

Suntory’s love affair with mizunara wasn’t smooth-sailing from the start. The use of mizunara arose out of practicality: during World War II, it was difficult to import casks for whisky maturation, so Suntory’s whisky producers had to look for home-grown wood. They settled on mizunara but the oak posed a few problems: it was permeable, allowing spirit to seep through the wood. The tree’s hardwood profile also made shaping difficult for the coopers.

suntory yamazaki mizunara 2017 limited edition

Yamazaki’s limited edition Mizunara 2017

But Suntory’s craftsmen found a way. “We found that straight grain trees, with a diameter of at least 70cm, are more suitable to make a good cask that won’t leak easily,” says Fukuyo, “It takes about 150 years for a tree to grow to that size.” Suntory sources most of its mizunara from the mountainous regions of Hokkaido. Because of mizunara’s increasing rarity, Suntory will only cut the trees if their removal doesn’t have any impact on the surrounding environment. Fukuyo adds: “Mizunara has become so popular in the whisky industry. Everyone is trying to get it.”

Yamazaki Mizunara 2017 18-year-old, US$1,500 (Approx. S$2,040). Available at major bars.

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