Whisky Showdown! Yamazaki 12 vs. Nikka Taketsuru 12

Ever had choose between two Japanese whiskies and couldn’t decide? Well today is your lucky day if your alternatives were the Yamazaki 12 or the Nikka Taketsuru 12! I’ll be putting these two whiskies to a head to head taste test so that you never have to face such a dilemma again!

The Yamazaki is bottled at 43% abv and is a single malt whereas the Taketsuru is a blend bottled at 40% abv. Both are aged at least 12 years prior to bottling at their respective locations. The Yamazaki is usually about $10 to $20 less expensive around these parts.

In appearance, the Yamazaki is lighter gold than the Taketsuru which tends more towards amber.

The nose on the Yamazaki is sweeter, with honey and melon contrasting against the Taketsuru’s deeper notes of lemon and aging apple. When considering these two back to back, I notice more oak and some smoke on the nose of the Taketsuru, something that I did not notice during my initial review.

The palate of the Yamazaki is juicy, with an explosion of pineapple quickly overwhelming the sense and adding honey and vanilla to the experience. Compared to the Taketsuru’s oak permeated mix of apple and cinnamon, the former is a party in my mouth. However, the Taketsuru gives off a more mature impression, in no small part due to the unmistakable presence of oak and a hint of smoke. Once again, I note that I didn’t tune in to just how much oak was present in the Taketsuru during my initial tasting and I missed the boat on the smoke altogether.

The Yamazaki 12 finishes nicely, with fruits continuing into the finish. Pineapple is still strong and the finish lasts a decent length, though I wouldn’t call it long. The Nikka Taketsuru 12 is sweet on the finish but not quite as much as the Yamazaki. The Taketsuru seals the deal with more oak and smoke. Both are quite satisfying.

Overall, these are two distinct whiskies and I am surprised at how much they contrast. In fact, I believe the Taketsuru would be a more interesting candidate against a Macallan 12 due to the oak and smoke. Perhaps Takesturu was attempting to emulate the classic elements of a Macallan whereas Yamazaki was aiming at creating something a bit more uniquely Japanese. I will give my vote to the Yamazaki for creating something a bit different. Of course, if your preference is for something more oaky, smokey, and subdued, then you will no doubt disagree. The pineapple in the Yamazaki is enjoyable, refreshing, and distinct from most whiskies I have tried to date. I will keep my eyes open for more expressions from these two distilleries as they consistently win international whisky awards, outranking even some of the best Scotch whiskies.

Nikka Taketsuru 12

I finally get to try another Japanese whisky. There is very little selection in these parts and a recent trip to New Hampshire yielded this bottle of Nikka Taketsuru 12. Nikka produces a range of blended malts at 12, 17, and 21 years. The blend is made up of whiskies from the company’s two sites, bottled at 40% abv, and called a “pure malt” by the company. The Taketsuru name comes from the “father of Japanese whisky”, Masataka Teketsuru who was the first Japanese to learn whisky-making in Scotland and bring the knowledge back with him to Japan. Taketsuru built distilleries in two locations, Yoichi and Miyagikyo, due to the proximity to resources required for making great whisky.

A wonderful amber coloured spirit is the result of minimum 12 years in oak casks. The legs run thin but slow in the glass.

The nose is strong and the first smell leaves me with just vanilla and apple. Despite the lower alcohol concentration, the whisky gives off a strong alcohol burn on the nose and I need a bit of time to adjust. A second whiff and I get some more aromas, caramel in particular along with traces of honey, the kind that comes on a comb and not in a jar. A third whiff now that my nose is fully accustomed to the strong perfume of this promising spirit produces lemon. A wonderful experience on the nose alone.

The palate is soft and sweet. The taste of apple and cinnamon mix pleasantly with almond and oak. I note some grain in the texture.

The finish is medium length and leaves oak, almond, a bit of smoke, and hints of spice.

Adding a few drops of water brings a more powerful bouquet on the nose, adding some flowery notes. The palate benefits from more than a hint of lemon and caramel. The finish remains mostly the same, but I may be catching apple now and even the slightest hint of peat.

Overall, this is a smooth whisky, full-bodied, and quite complex for a 12-year-old blend. At US $50 for a bottle in New Hampshire, it’s reasonably priced. However, I have seen it at more than C $85 at the SAQ in Quebec, which makes it egregiously overpriced and to be avoided unless a promotion comes along. The LCBO in Ontario sells it for about $70, which is just about the limit of what I would be willing to spend as there are some fine makes at those price points. The Taketsuru 12 makes for a nice dram, but I am eager to taste it against a personal favourite, the Yamazaki 12 before concluding on its merits as a fine whisky, let alone a prime example of Japanese makes.


Nikka Taketsuru 12

Whisky Showdown! Glenlivet 12 vs. Yamazaki 12

People often ask me what I think about one whisky or another. Far be it for me to deprive the world of my opinion, I often comply with these requests. Comparing and contrasting one whisky versus another aids in these discussions. Many of these conversations find their genesis in the person’s desire to choose their next bottle carefully. Giving a reference point facilitates the decision-making process. Most of these discussions revolve around Scotch but I like to point out that Japanese whisky is a worthy contender. This brings me to today’s Showdown! The popular Glenlivet 12 goes up against a strong contender, the Yamazaki 12.

I added but a few drops of water prior to tasting the two whiskies bottled at 40% abv for the Glenlivet and 43% for the Yamazaki.

In appearance, one is challenged to tell them apart. Nearly identical in colour and consistency, the two can most likely only be told apart at the point of pouring.

The nose on the Glenlivet is soft and smooth against a slightly stronger Yamazaki. Side by side, I would say the biggest difference between the two is that the Glenlivet is more lemony while the Yamazaki is stronger on caramel.

The palate on the Glenlivet is soft and silky while the Yamazaki is spicy and bold. The Glenlivets fruits and honey and softer than the similar notes on the Yamazaki. The Yamazaki proves to be richer on the palate.

The finish on the Glenlivet is again smooth and silky and contrasts with the Yamazaki, whose spice and bold flavour continue into a long and satisfying conclusion. Honey and melon continue long after consuming the Yamazaki and transform into sweet spice.

Overall, the Yamazaki delivers a bolder, richer, more complex and more intense experience than the Glenlivet. The Glenlivet is still a nice whisky and versatile as a whisky for all occasions, but the Yamazaki is the clear winner for the traists menitoned above. If you can find it, the Yamazaki is a bit more expensive that the Glenlivet. However, the quality of the product merits its price point. I believe I picked up my bottle for about $65 at the SAQ in Quebec. I have not seen it in Ontario or New Hampshire recently. The Glenlivet 12 is commonly found at any store that sells fine spirits.


Yamazaki 12

What? Japanese whisky? What the…? Indeed my friends, Japanese whisky exists! But is it any good? We’ll soon find out. But first some background. The Yamazaki is a whisky produced by Suntory in Japan. The Japanese are famous for taking a product introduced abroad and perfecting it and Suntory has attempted to do this since at least 1923 at, according to the bottle, the oldest distillery in Japan. The Yamazaki distillery appears to be one of few in the world that makes several types of single malts. In other words, most Scotch is made up of one type and aged over different years and casks. Yamazaki 12 may be made of a different type than its 10 year old. You can read about the fascinating history and methodology here.

So how about this whisky? It’s 43% alcohol by volume and comes in a nice gold colour. Swirling it in my glass reveals legs that run thick but quickly.

On the nose, it’s quite sweet. I smell melon and honey. Maybe some raisin at the end. No smokiness here, at least not that I can tell.

On the tongue, it starts off sweet as well. It is full bodied, lots of texture, and a wide range of flavours that I can’t quite get a handle on to describe. Juicy flavour, some bite to it as it lingers on my tongue and quite tasty. You’ll have to decide for yourself. This one is very difficult to describe.

The finish does not disappoint. It’s long lasting and fruity. Some peanut towards the end, mixed with raisin and berries. Very good, though I am sure I am not doing it justice in my description.

With a few drops of water, the smell is slightly stronger. Not overpowering, but sweet once again and fruity. Melon for sure. Peach? Apricot? Something to that effect. Maybe a hint of pear.

The tongue delivers the same sweetness as before. Still hard to make out everything, fruits are definitely present and I will say apricot juice followed by raisin and peanut.

The aftertaste is much the same, becoming sweeter as it fades and leaving a long, sweet feel on the tongue.

Overall, this is a very complex whisky. Excellent not just for its age but overall as a whisky. This can easily compare to whisies much older than itself and highly recommended. You will not regret this purchase if you can find it. The SAQ in the Ailes de la Mode carries this product, but I am not sure if I have ever seen it elsewhere.