I remember the first time I had Yamazaki 18 -- I was tasting it alongside some other whiskies, including the Yamazaki 12. I am terrible with tasting notes but I remembered the 18 year being a more complex, "intensified," and "concentrated" version of everything I loved about the 12 year despite the same ABV.
I am writing to ask what other whiskies seem to get that significant of a jump in "quality" (for lack of a better phrase) after some years. I was thinking about picking up the Highland Park 18 as I like the Highland Park 12 and if the jump to the 18 is akin to what I experienced when comparing the Yamazaki 12 to the 18, I'd gladly give it a shot.
I don't think you'll find QUITE the same transformation in aroma taste between the 12-year old and 18-year old versions of the Highland Park as you did in the case of the two Yamazakis, which are, in many respects, so dramatically different from one another. Certainly though, the HP18YO still offers a richer and ultimately more rewarding profile than the 12YO.
Offhand, Glenfiddich and Glenlivet immediately spring to mind as a pair of prime examples of how further maturation (along with greater impact from Sherry cask utilization in both these cases) can significantly impact flavour spectrum, depth and smoothness.
And many island whiskies, from the more lightly smoky and seashore-imbued to the heavily peated ones, seem (to me, at least) to shift rather radically with extended maturation as well (think Bowmore, Lagavulin, Old Pulteney, Springbank, Talisker, etc.).
Yes... You will find clear changes from 12 to 18 years of age in the whiskies from just about any producer. However, the 'palpable' result of such changes will cover a fairly wide range.
My view is that the differences in any distillery's wood regimen for its variously aged expressions will have as much (if not more) of an influence on the bottlings as the actual differences in maturation periods.
Sometimes there is a jump in quality, sometimes not. In the case of the Yama which uses 3 different casks in the maturation, I suspect it's the amount of extra time the 18 has spent in sherry casks. Also the Japanese are quite fanatical about cask quality.
Extra time x cask quality most probably equals the extra richness and complexity you have found in the 18. Mind you, it sure comes at a cost. Personally like TTD I find the 12 and 18 very different beasts, the 12 more closely linked(by design) in style to the Japanese desire to distil whisky that can be enjoyed with Japanese food.
Moving on I'm not a fan of HP12 and I do believe that the 18 is a fair bit better, though that may not be saying much. Still not outstanding for the $150 it costs in Australia and with Talisker 18 costing $120 it's a no brainer which one I'll buy every time.
Not an 18YO, but I think Glenlivet Nadurra at 16YO and cask strength is a big lift in quality over the 12(which is still pleasant) and just an oustanding whisky in almost any company.
Another one is Glenfarclas 15. I think this is way better than the 12. I also prefer it to the 21YO, so an example where for me extra age doesn't equal better quality.
I have no affiliation with HP other than as a big fan of their products and style. Lately I was impressed with the 16 YO Travel Retail bottling and rather dissappointed with the 1997 (also Travel Retail).
Upon re-reading I very much agree with what TTD wrote. To me as well, there is a bigger difference in style between the 12 and 18 year old Yamazaki's than there is between the 12 and 18 year old Highland Parks. However, I think there is such a big difference in quality between HP 12 and HP 18, which I think Pickleydoo ought to know. Glenfiddich is a good example of this too.
I agree that the casks have at least as much influence on the resulting whisky as the length of the ageing does.
I recently tried a 20 years old Tamnavulin that had been aged in refill hogsheads, and it tasted as fresh and lively as an 8 year old whisky. A nine year old Macallan from a Sherry Butt tasted way more mature. Not that this proves anything but at least it hints at the above.
Macallan 18yo vs 12yo
Talisker 18yo vs 12yo
And - not quite the same, but I'll put down Old Pulteny 17yo vs 12yo as well - I'm not really a fan at all of the 12yo, but the 17yo is absolutely awesome.
However, I think you have to be careful about the old adage of "age = quality". This is definitely just not true in a lot of the cases with whisky. One of my favourite distilleries is BenRiach: the 12, 16 and 20yo all kind of share the same flavour profile. I find the 12yo a bit young, the 20yo perhaps a bit too austere, but the 16yo just hits the money of enough of a brash character of the 12yo with just the right amount of mellowing from the 20yo.
Caol ila 12 vs 18yo is another example: the 18yo is definitely more mature and has mellowed, but the 12yo definitely has more character. Which is better? I think it really depends upon one's mood at the time (or just pick up the DE or CS versions instead!!! )
And then look at Glenfiddich: I think you'll see that most people really like the 15yo Solera - even better than the 18, 21 or even most of the standard 30yo bottles.
However, the best part is just trying them all to find out which you like!
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