Bill Amberg and Yamazaki whisky collaboration

The distillery’s 90th birthday is cause for celebration

If Scotland is deemed the source of the dram, it may come as something of a surprise to Alex Salmond to discover that a Japanese whisky house, Suntory, won the International Distiller of the Year award this year (for the third time) in the International Spirits Challenge.

But Yamazaki – one of Suntory’s labels and Japan’s oldest whisky distillery – is having an extra chance to shine, as it also celebrates its 90th birthday this year. To mark the occasion, it is working with leather-goods designer Bill Amberg, who has developed a huge fondness for Yamazaki whisky over the years. Their joint efforts see the production of two beautiful limited-edition cases for the iconic Yamazaki 18 Year and Yamazaki 25 Year single-malt whiskies.

“All the ideas came from visiting the distillery,” Amberg says. “I wanted to find a way to bring the spirit of Yamazaki to everyone – a reminder for those who’ve had the great fortune of visiting and an enticement for those who have not yet had the pleasure.”

For the Yamazaki 18 Year Old Whisky by Bill Amberg (£225, first picture, 250 out of 500 available in the UK), the designer folded soft leather to create an elegant calfskin pouch. The printed design mimics the impressions made when the interior of the oak casks used to age the whisky (formerly used for sherry or bourbon) are fired – a process that causes charring and gives the whisky a unique taste, in this case of ripe fruit, fudge, spice and even strawberry jam.  

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With the design for the Yamazaki 25 Year Old Whisky case (£1,400, second picture, 50 out of 100 available in the UK), Amberg was inspired by the three rivers of Yamazaki, where the misty conditions are ideal for ageing whisky. The case opens like a triptych, using three materials – leather, Japanese oak and copper – to mirror the distillery’s stills, while 25 saddle stitches represent each year of the ageing process. “Yamazaki 25 is a complex whisky matured in 100 per cent sherry casks, which gives an incredible array of flavours – from bitter chocolate and cocoa to almond, with a long, persistent dried-fruit finish,” explains Zoran Peric, Suntory brand ambassador.

But upon cracking open a bottle, how does one drink Japanese whisky differently to scotch? “Japan enjoys warmer summers than Scotland and so Japanese whiskies mature at a different rate and enjoy a particular complexity,” says Peric. “I tend not to add water to whiskies that have been aged in 100 per cent sherry casks, like Yamazaki 25, and the 18 is best served neat, over ice or over a handcrafted ice ball – just as is traditional in Japan.”

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