We got an exclusive look at the newest bottle from one of the world's best whisky makers.
Yamazaki Mizunara Whisky
Credit: Courtesy of Beam Suntory

Japanese whisky is already some of the most sought after liquid on the planet today. A new autumn release out of the Yamazaki distillery is likely to swell that demand even more. In October, the Osaka-based producer releases its Mizunara Cask 2017 Edition—aged in Japanese oak for no less than 18 years. This marks a first-of-its-kind bottling here in the States, news shared exclusively with Food & Wine readers.

The primary point of distinction in Yamazaki’s latest offering stems from the barrels in which it matured. Mizunara casks are built of Quercus mongolica, an oak found in the dense, old-growth forests of Hokkaido. They unfurl a unique, native terroir upon the whisky they hold; shrouded in cedar, coconut, and sandalwood subtleties. “I wanted to reveal the whisky’s soul that is the art of Mizunara,” explains Chief Blender Shinji Fukuyo. “A heightened sense and awakened palate engaged through aromas and flavors never known before.”

These nuances—which take years to develop—are owed to an oak unique for its high moisture content and porous grain structure. Paradoxically, those very same characteristics also make Mizunara particularly problematic for long term whisky storage, as they leave it prone to leakage. Most whiskies that come in contact with the wood only do so for a few months, failing to awaken to their full potential. Incredibly rare is the whisky that matures entirely in Mizunara. And exceptionally precise is the craftsmanship of the barrel that holds it.

Working with the wood since the 1930s, Yamazaki barrel makers have learned over time how to identify the ideal oak for cask construction: less porous grain, typically sourced from thick, straightened trees upwards of 200-years-old. A cache of completed vessels is then filled and maintained thru the decades. Occasionally it surrenders a minute allotment, which is blended down against more traditional sherry and bourbon barrel-aged whiskies to form the brand’s core range of single malts. The Mizunara Cask 2017 Edition, however, is the first opportunity American drinkers will have to contemplate the complexities of Japanese oak maturation on its own.

To achieve optimal balance, Fukuyo sampled hundreds of Mizunara cask spirits, introducing into the blend a small portion of liquid upwards of 50-years-old. The result is a sip-able showcase of truly indigenous craftsmanship. But the experience won’t come easy.

“It will be hard for people to find the product,” warns Senior Brand Ambassador Gardner Dunn. “We would suggest contacting retailers that carry rare and limited edition whiskies and ask if they plan to sell any bottles.” A lucky few will encounter a bottle at retail for around $1000. As a point of reference, the brand’s previous limited edition, Sherry Cask—which helped shift single malt’s center of gravity from Scotland to the Far East—fetches three times that amount on the secondary market.

Your best bet is to hunt it down by the dram, behind the bar at a premiere drinking venue. Locations that plow thru hefty allotments of Yamazaki’s flagship bottles are more likely to be rewarded when limited editions become available. So don't be deterred by the challenge. Whisky appreciation can be a cruel mistress, but there is always thrill in the chase. And procuring that one perfect pour can make even decades of patience seem well worth the wait.