Just in time for Father's Day 2021, Kyoto-based sake maker Yamamoto Honke has announced the release of a pair of junmai daiginjos named "Utori" that are finished in casks that previously held whisky from the nearby Suntory Yamazaki Distillery. Both ex-Yamazaki Puncheon and ex-Yamazaki Mizunara versions are available.Utori isn't the first sake to spend time in whisky casks, and it's likely not the last either. But to my knowledge it is the first that is specifically using casks that previously held Yamazaki's malt whisky.
As Japan's biggest and most famous whisky maker, Suntory must go through quite a lot of casks. I'm not entirely sure what happens to most of them at the end of their life. Walking around Tokyo, you'll sometimes notice wooden planters at office buildings have Suntory badges. Then there's Suntory's collaboration with Karimoku, making furniture from the staves. Then they use some for their umeshu. But all that's still probably only a few thousand casks per year, tops. What happens to the rest? No clue.
In any case, Yamamoto Honke got their hands on some ex-Yamazaki casks somehow. They say it's because of their location: Yamamoto Honkei is in the Kyoto Basin with the Yamazaki Distillery, being only 9km away as the crow flies.
And it sounds like this wasn't just Suntory selling off their old casks to Yamamoto Honkei. The Utori product page mentions that the two companies came together to taste the junmai daiginjo that came out of a variety of ex-Yamazaki casks, and together they decided that Puncheon and Mizunara were the best fit. It's pretty rare to see Suntory collaborate with other companies like this.
Utori Mizunara is described as being like the duet of a violin and a viola, where both instruments' characteristics accentuate one another. The mizunara brings an aromatic woody tree element to the sake, making a nice contrast. The suggested food pairings are blue cheese (specifically, Persille de Beaujolais), prosciutto, and Comté. 570 bottles at 720ml are available for 11,000 yen each including tax and shipping in Japan.
Utori Puncheon brings the sweetness of puncheons to the table. Specifically the honey-like sweet notes add depth to the junmai daiginjo. Music-wise they equate this one with a soloist's piano ballad. The recommended pairings are Mimolette, duck terrine, and tripe. 680 bottles, 720ml, 11,000 yen.
Due to the low volumes of each bottle, these ones are being sold exclusively via Yamamoto Honke's webstore. Head on over if you're interested!
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