In celebration of the 100th anniversary of Japan's whisky industry, Glenfiddich unveiled its latest addition to the Grand Series: the Grand Yozakura, a single malt Scotch whisky that honours Japanese culture.
This new release is the first of its kind, as it is finished in casks previously used to age Awamori, a traditional Japanese distilled spirit.
What is Awamori?
Awamori is a traditional alcoholic spirit from the Okinawa region in southern Japan.
It is made from a blend of rice, water, yeast and steamed koji kome rice inoculated with a microscopic fungus. The rice beer is then distilled in a traditional still to become awamori.
Sounds familiar? Yep – but while similar, Awamori is not the same as Shochu, which it uses round-grain japonica rice and a different mushroom for fermentation.
Awamori, on the other hand was introduced from Thailand during the 15th-century trade between Southeast Asia and Japan and is still made with long-grain indica rice imported from Thailand (as well as a different type of fungus). It may sound like small details, but that’s the equivalent of the difference between malt and grain whisky. Both are cereals and need yeast – but varieties play a big part in the flavour and classifications.
Traditionally, awamori is stored in clay pots (known as kame), where it matures for several years developing a rich complexity of aromas, textures and flavours. Oak casks were only introduced into awamori production recently, primarily due to the growing popularity of Japanese whisky. However, even today, only a handful of producers work with wood, making second hand casks scarce.
(Head here if you are interesting in learning more about Japanese Casks)
Where does this release fit in the range?
The Grand Yozakura joins other distinguished releases in the Glenfiddich Grand Series, such as the Grand Cru (finished in French cuvée casks), Gran Reserva (finished in Caribbean rum casks), Grand Couronne (finished in Cognac casks), and Gran Cortes (finished in Palo Cortado sherry casks).
A statement from Brian Kinsman, Glenfiddich’s Malt Master explained "This is the first time that Single Malt Scotch whisky has been finished in these rare casks.” When working with awamori, Kinsman trialled a very small number of casks at a younger age first but found that the richness of the rice-imbued casks was better showcased with an older spirit, thus a 29yr old bottling that has been finished for around 6 months in these special barrels.
The Grand Yozakura has been launched to coincide with the Japanese cherry blossom (sakura) festival. Symbolizing renewal and optimism, the festival is particularly enchanting when experienced at night, referred to as Yozakura or 'night sakura.' The bottle is placed in the mesmerising rotating Grand Range box (as is usual for the series), this time adorned with cherry blossom florals that bring Hanami to life with a signature illustration created by a Japanese whose vision incorporates Japanese culture and landscapes.
Glenfiddich’s Global Brand Director, Claudia Falcone, emphasised the innovative spirit of the Grand Series; “It is perhaps the most ground-breaking expression to sit alongside the series so far, whilst also being the first limited-edition release.”
The Glenfiddich Grand Yozakura is available from March 28th in luxury and specialist whisky retailers, at a recommended price of £1,500.
What’s Grand Yozakura Whisky like?
Quoted across many publications Kinsman shared his excitement about experimenting with the rare ex-Awamori casks saying it was “notes unlike any in the series, or anything I have tasted before". Which, given his experience and the amount of whiskies he’s created is saying something.
In particular, he pays tribute to the whisky’s transformation through contact with the Awamori soaked oak and his satisfaction about achieving a silky mouthfeel with lingering hints of marzipan and herbal tea.
Those lucky enough to get a bottle and willing to serve up a dram will find a distinctive herbal zing on the nose. To taste, Grand Yozakura is said to have indulgent layers of toasted oak, creamy vanilla toffee and silky tannin, alongside bursts of spice and sherbet lemons. As you would expect from a Grand series Glenfiddich, long lasting oak lingers on the finish.