Yamazaki 12-Year-Old Japanese Whisky: Why Pricing Has Gone Through The Roof

There were a few teething problems when I first started compiling this piece.

Yamazaki 12-Year-Old from Japan is a whisky I have loved every time I have had the chance to try it. The bottle I sampled for this piece was actually one from the back of the cupboard, which I have been sitting on for far too long. When a mate saw it, he implored me not to open it.

Yamazaki 12-Year-Old Japanese whisky

“Way too expensive just to crack to drink,” he insisted, although I don’t buy bottles for resale so I have no idea what he was expecting me to do with it. As it has been with me for a long while, I would have picked it up when the price was still very reasonable, though I don’t recall exactly how much I paid.

Today, it is about AUD$350 (I would guess at least well over twice what I paid – it has risen more than 70 percent in the last two years and apparently is almost always sold at more than twice the producer’s recommended price, such is demand). Even worse, I recently came across a wine list in China offering a 30 ml glass for a mere $440!

But that is the problem across the board with Japanese whisky these days. Prices have gone through the roof.

There was a second problem. As soon as I started researching, I found numerous references to this Yamazaki being discontinued – many top Japanese whiskies have been, in fact, thanks to the shortages because of worldwide demand.

Non-age-statement whiskies have become much more common as, despite the construction of numerous new distilleries, they don’t have the necessary aged material and won’t for many years.

And if you think there is a problem now, the Rugby World Cup is about to kick off in Japan, bringing with it a great many well-heeled visitors who are expecting to drink and buy the best Japanese whiskies.

Even worse, next year Tokyo hosts the 2020 Olympics. Stock up soon or say goodbye for many years.

The good news is that my information suggests that the Yamazaki 12-Year-Old has not been discontinued, but that does not mean it will not be in the near future.

Yamazaki 12-Year-Old Japanese whisky

Suntory, the owner of Yamazaki and a number of other leading Japanese whiskies, has discontinued its Hibiki 17-Year-Old (which would have devastated Bill Murray’s character in Lost in Translation) and the Hakushu 12-Year-Old Single Malt.

Yamazaki did not release a limited edition for 2018, despite the huge popularity of these releases from 2015 to 2017.

#kenfessions: the author is a fan of Japanese whiskies

So with all that behind us, onward. No secret that I am a fan of top Japanese whiskies. Some may remember that we looked at a few of the astonishing whiskies from Chichibu, made by Ichiro Akuto. If any reader was interested, I hope you got in quickly.

Shortly after publication of that piece in May 2019, a full set of 54 bottles in Hanyu Ichiro’s Card Series, mentioned in the story, sold for HK$7,192,000 (just under a million bucks US!!).

Apparently, it was only one of four full sets remaining, although readers might recall that bottles from the series were known to languish on shelves for several years, considered almost unsalable only a few years before.

Yamazaki is part of the Suntory empire. Founded by Shinjiro Torii, it was Japan’s first commercial distillery. Opening way back in 1923 in Shimamoto in the Osaka Prefecture, the first whisky emerged in 1929, though to rather muted accolades.

The three core single malts in the range have been the 12-Year-Old, 18-Year-Old, and the 25-Year-Old, although it does seem that the 18-Year-Old is now on that dreaded discontinued list.

As much as I would have loved this to be about the 25, sadly none was to be found in the back of the magic cupboard. And with the price, if any was available these days, pushing AUD$6,000 a bottle, I am not holding my breath.

Yamazaki also does the occasional Sherry Cask, which was named in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible as the “World’s Best Whisky” in 2013; various vintage-dated whiskies; and, on occasion, others such as a 10-Year-Old and even a 50-Year-Old.

A bottle of the latter set a record price for Japanese whisky at auction last year in Hong Kong, topping $343,000 (the winning bidder remained anonymous). That whisky was originally released in 2005 at a price around $9,000, which probably seemed outrageous at the time.

It was limited to just 50 bottles and it is believed that the majority, which went to various local bars, were opened and enjoyed soon after they landed. A second release of a further 50 bottles was offered in 2007 and then, in 2011, a final 150 bottles.

The early releases from the distillery, labelled “Suntory,” were unashamedly attempts to replicate Scottish whiskies.

The first master distiller, Masataka Taketsuru, had trained as both an organic chemist and whisky distiller in Scotland (it is believed that part of this sudden and unprecedented demand for quality Japanese whisky came about because of a 2014 TV drama based on his life).

Success eventually came when Shinjiro Torii launched the Kakubin label in 1937. No Yamazaki whisky appeared until its first single malt in 1984 thanks to Shinjiro Torii’s son, Keizo Saji, the distillery’s second master blender.

In 1992 Suntory added the 18-Year-old, a Ten-Year-Old in 1995, and subsequently its 25-Year-Old.

Yamazaki 12-Year-Old Japanese whisky

In 2003, the 12-Year-Old became the first Japanese whisky to win gold at the International Spirits Challenge. It was the start of a cavalcade of bling for its whiskies.

Yamazaki operates with both wooden and stainless steel fermentation tanks and uses different yeasts, depending on the final flavor profile the blenders seek. They use a dozen pot stills of varying shapes and sizes and a wide range of different oak for cask-ageing, including 180-liter roasted barrels, 230-liter hogsheads, American oak puncheons, Spanish oak casks, and even casks made from Mizunara (Japanese oak).

The 12-Year-Old matures in a mix of ex-Bourbon casks and American oak with a touch of material that has seen time in ex-Oloroso casks and Mizunara oak.

Yamazaki 12-Year-Old: tasting notes

The 12-Year-Old is a wonderful whisky. Notes of honey, cinnamon, and peach with a hint of toffee. Complex. This is great stuff. The merest whiff of white chocolate. There is a notable spirity character, but it is so well balanced and delightfully smooth. Terrific length. For a score, an easy 96.

I love this whisky. What a sad day to have acknowledge that it is likely to be one of those spirits that have become a special occasion only! Perhaps my mate was right.

For more please visit www.whisky.suntory.com/en/na/products/yamazaki.

You may also enjoy:

Chichibu Whisky: The Japanese Version Of Pappy Van Winkle

Lagavulin 16-Year-Old Whisky And Why Ron Swanson Was Right On The Money

Last Drop 1971 Blended Scotch Whisky: Is This The World’s Most Exclusive Whisky?

Glenlivet Winchester Collection Vintage 1967: Ultra-Rare 50-Year-Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky Selling For $25,000 Per Bottle

17 replies
  1. Tam o' Banter
    Tam o' Banter says:

    It’s worth mentioning that Japanese single malt is also expensive in Japan. But at least the quality is still high. I have lost count of the number of Scottish whiskies which are now a pale imitation of their former selves I simply don’t buy blends anymore. You know something has gone very wrong in the world when Black Label has gone bad

  2. ken gargett
    ken gargett says:

    Hi Tam, Thanks for the thoughts and I have to agree. Pressure on stocks is causing havoc in the spirit world. That said, I have not looked at Black for a very long time. Might be time to try again.

  3. Robert
    Robert says:

    Thanks for writing this article very enjoyable read. I just received a bottle from a family friend in Japan and was very humble in receiving such a gift knowing it’s rarity. I’ve looked over a good half a dozen shops in our local area and only 1 shop had 1 bottle of regular Yamazaki, no Hakushu anywhere. Even high quality Nikka whiskeys are rare, Taketsuru is priced at about 3,300 yen but I couldn’t find that too. Luckily I got a couple nice bottles from my visit to Miyagikyo distillery.

    • ken gargett
      ken gargett says:

      Hi Robert, thanks for the thoughts. Interesting to hear from someone on the ground, so to speak. It does seem to confirm the reports that we are in for tough times in sourcing favourite Japanese whiskies.

  4. Robert B
    Robert B says:

    Some of the best whiskey for the money hands down. If your a Japanese whiskey fan and you can find a bottle sub 125$ buy it! Since the Hakusue 12 year has been discontinued from Suntory forever, I suggest you buy a bottle before it’s all gone! I am going to buy a bottle come Monday of the Hakusue for 125$ get yours before it’s gone for good =[

  5. Addison
    Addison says:

    Nice article. I first had yamazaki 12 year several years back at a local bar and was impressed. I had other Japanese whiskies prior to that but none were as good. Flash forward to fall 2019, I went to go buy a bottle and couldn’t find one anywhere locally. Did some research and to my shock learned exactly what you are talking about. Japanese whiskey just got super popular recently. Well here I am now currently bidding on a yamazaki 12 & 18 year as well as a hakushu 18 year. *fingers crossed*

    • ken gargett
      ken gargett says:

      hi Addison. many thanks for your comments. It is a great shame that so many are so limited or so expensive but that seems to be the way of the world. best of luck with the bidding.

  6. Ellen Ripley
    Ellen Ripley says:

    Hey there,

    I was wondering if you’ve heard on the grapevine whether Yamazaki 12 is going to end up discontinued?

    I haven’t been able to find any solid information, and it still appears to be on Suntory’s website.

    I’ve got two bottles left, and it would be such a pity to see this disappear for good.

    Thank you for the great article.

    • ken gargett
      ken gargett says:

      Thanks for the note, Ellen – assuming you are an Alien fan? The funny thing was that the next email to arrive this morning was one from a Japanese retailer offering a few whiskies including that very one. Although only a couple of bottles. So I am assuming that not discontinued as yet. But don’t be surprised if it happens. I think that had the Olympics proceeded as planned, there would have been even more discontinuations – still likely. Enjoy those bottles but stock up if you get the chance.

  7. Simeon Lee
    Simeon Lee says:

    If anyone is close to the southern California area, I saw about 15-20 boxes of Yamazaki 12 for $99.99 USD at the Costco in Marina Del Ray on April 15, 2020. I’ve also been able to find it at the Pavilions in Newport Beach/Coast.

    • ken gargett
      ken gargett says:

      thanks simeon. an american friend recently told me it is at $95 at his local, but only one or two bottles available. no idea where he is based. prices seem all over the place.

  8. Harrison M
    Harrison M says:

    Really interesting read! I’m in the US, MA to be exact, and just happened to find a bottle of the Yamazaki 12 for $89.99 so I made sure to pick it up! So it’s definitely not discontinued (yet!) and can be found! I wasn’t looking for it, just made sure to go to my local spot where they often have interesting finds and don’t price gouge.

    • ken gargett
      ken gargett says:

      Harrison, thanks for the comment. I lived in DC (i suppose technically Arlington VA) many years ago – still a mad keen Redskins fa (or whatever they will be soon). Some good stores around there. Terrific pick up.


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *