Unless you’ve been hiding under a barrel for the last decade, you’ve probably noticed that Japanese whisky has become an internationally recognised force in the world of booze, challenging – and often beating – the equivalent scotch.
Fewer people know what, exactly, makes the two so distinct. Firstly you have the fermentation process, with Japanese distilleries mainly using barley imported from Scotland, while Scottish distilleries use barley imported from Poland, Germany and the US.
There are differences in the shape of stills and distilling techniques – Japanese distilleries use low-pressure distillation, which allows for more aroma and creates a lighter and thinner texture of spirit. Japanese whiskies also tend to age faster than scotch due to the climate in which they’re created.
Scotland has a larger number of distilleries compared to Japan but only Yamazaki can produce as many as 60 different single malts, which gives Japan more varieties of whiskies to blend together.
For the complete layman, a good way of differentiating a scotch from a Japanese whisky is how peaty it tastes, with Scottish malts generally heavier on this distinctive flavour.
Macallan 12yr old vs Yamazaki 12yr old
Introduction: Macallan is the better known name of the two high-end whiskies. Both have been aged in old sherry casks. Yamazaki uses three different type of cask; Sherry, American oak toasted and Japanese oak, which gives it a richer flavour.
Colour: Macallan is dark and rich. Yamazaki is light and golden. Macallan also has thicker legs (the run-down on the side of the glass, sometimes referred to as “tears” in the wine world).
Nose: Macallan is fruity with hints of orange, smoke and oak with underlying elements of sherry wood. Yamazaki is sweet on the nose with hints of melon, pineapple, honey glaze and vanilla, lightly spicy rather than overtly smoky.
Pallet: Macallan’s sherry cask flavour dominates with a bit of smoke. Yamazaki is fruity with pineapple and honey, with vanilla also present.
Finish: Macallan is dry and slightly smoky, while Yamazaki’s still fruity with a hint of honey and vanilla.
Verdict: Yamazaki is better – it’s more complex and versatile, a real star whisky that deserves a place on anyone’s cabinet.