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  • Writer's pictureErnie - Ernst Scheiner

Glenfiddich. Grand Yozakura

Updated: Apr 11

Grand Yozakura. Cherry Blossom.

Awamori Finish by Brian Kinsman

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Cherry blossom festival in Hamburg

A sea of magenta colors enchanted the popular, illustrious national lifestyle influencers. Artificial “moonlight” created magical moments, like those in Okinawa celebrating the cherry blossoms in the moonlight. The New Vibe of the Gourmet Tempel Nikkei Nine formed an emotional exotic mood for an exclusive whiskey presentation of the brave new world. Host Glenfiddich Ambassador Markus Heinze eloquently led the magical German premiere of the mysterious Grand Yozakura single malt.

Exciting. A culinary prelude of sensory perceptions, accompanied by Nahe Riesling and Sonoma Pinot Noir, paved delicious approaches to Japanese-Peruvian cuisine: snow crabs, ceviche de camaron , sushi scallops, á point A5 Wagyu Ishyaki, sea bass, wild broccoli, sakura dessert Tochigi strawberries. Ryukyu melodies increased excitement and attention.

Colors and movements transported the young media avant-garde into the mysticism and magic of the Far East. A geisha cherry blossom dance generated an exquisite feudal atmosphere. Riko Sugama, an award-winning master of traditional dance, made a statement. Yin and Yang in perfection.

Staged dramaturgy. Classic lute tones of a Sanshin opened the top act. A “cherry blossom during the night” - A Spirit of Delicacy - flowed through the nose and palate. Glenfiddich's Grand Yozakura celebrated Okinawa's opulent cherry blossom splendor with Hanami . A liquid homage and culmination of the flower festival.

A basket full of ripe fruits with quinces, apricots, peaches and apples presented the predominantly young guests with complex aromas. Notes of hazelnuts, almonds, dark chocolate, coffee, toffee and dry hay mixed with hints of wine gums. The complex harmony continued on the tongue and palate.

Dominantly sweet, creamy, smooth, oily with lingering fruit and herbal associations, a touch of vanilla appeared in the full-bodied aftertaste. The surprise: Spicy, intense herbal taste was reminiscent of freshly cut ginger. Oak tannins had an astringent effect on the tongue. Actually, this phenomenon is rather atypical for a Glenfiddich single malt standard.

What happened? The distillates made from pure malted Chariot? barley, which were double-distilled in directly gas-heated Swan Neck pot stills, matured in “American oak and European oak” for almost 29 years . The ex-bourbon barrels and just a few seasoned sherry oloroso? Barrels shaped the basic character of the cherry blossom Glenfiddich.

The creator of the Grand Yozakura, Master Blender Brian Kinsman , reaped the complexity of the aroma palette that his legendary predecessor and teacher David Stewart had once founded in 1993. However, it is Brian's composition, which presents a harmoniously balanced ratio of bourbon barrel-aged whiskeys and sherry barrel-aged whiskeys, which enables an ideal recipe, as is usual at Glenfiddich.

But who is responsible for the spicy taste? Well, the whisky maker had the imaginative idea of putting his blend into Asian barrels to refine the taste. An absolute novelty in the Scottish whisky landscape.

The Scot, who started as a chemist in the Glenfiddich laboratory in 1997, found what he was looking for in southern Japan, in Okinawa. Distillers there have been distilling a rice-based awamori spirit for half a millennium. It matures in 250 liter ceramic vessels or sometimes in oak barrels for several months, years or decades. Shelved goods usually inexpensively stored in huge steel tanks. However, a long ripening effect results in a texture rich in aroma, sweeter, rounder, softer and more delicate.

“Awamori distillates over a hundred years old were unfortunately destroyed during the American invasion of Okinawa in April 1945,”

reports Heinze,

“…American Oak barrels only came along when the Americans arrived.”

Depending on the distillery, some blenders these days even use either Virgin French Oak Barriques or Virgin American Oak Barrels. The authentic “Island Sake” Awamori tastes dominantly fruity and sweet, but also strongly peppery, minerally with a sometimes very pronounced astringent spice. A wooden barrel aging enhances the result. The fresh, unprepared oak wood and its tannins gradually transform into new chemical “spicy” compounds under the influence of oxygen and alcohol.

The adventurous Brian Kinsman was extremely lucky and was able to ship a number of rare “American Oak Awamori Casks” from an unnamed Okinawa distillery to Dufftown on Speyside (rumors say 13 to 25).

“This is the first time that a single malt Scotch whiskey has been finished in such rare casks.
We constantly expand our knowledge as we innovate. For this reason it is worth taking a risk.
In the case of Awamori, we started with a very small number of barrels at a younger age.”

The current Yozakura vatting only took six months to mature in the Awamori barrels. Background: Brian Kinsman checked the progress and intensity of ripening at short intervals. He didn't want the basic Glenfiddich aroma to be overshadowed and pushed into the background by the Awamori barrels. The Double Maturation should in no way obscure the Glenfiddich appearance. He wanted to achieve a harmonious balance with the subsequent storage.

Kirschblüte. Sakura. Beginn des Frühlings.

Ein Märchenparadies der Zierkirschen.

Awamori Casks at Glenfiddich

The cherry blossom and deer logos on the barrel lids connect Okinawa with Glenfiddich. The Japanese characters stand for Yozakura, "Cherry Blossom at the evening" or "cherry blossom at night".

Photos Courtesy Struan Grant Ralph, Glenfiddich 2024

Unexpected flocculation in the mixture, which was caused by the subsequent maturation by the pre-filled oily and fatty Awamori spirits, had to be carefully filtered. Using a series of tests, Kinsman defined the ideal alcohol content of 45.1% vol . They filled the Yozakura in its natural state, not chill-filtered, into iconic triangular, crystal-clear bottles of the best glassmaking quality.

“The bottles must not show any inclusions, they must be perfect,”

emphasizes Glenfiddich Global Innovation Manager Craig Ferguson . The Strahclyde BSc graduate and engineer is equally proud of his children:

“The development of the Grand Series packaging took two years.
It was intended to reinforce and embellish the value of the experimental Glenfiddich whiskeys.”

Elegantly packaged in a smart dark cabinet illustrated with a striking cherry blossom landscape and a symbiotic integration of the typical Glenfiddich pagodas, the Japanese artist June visually and sensitively combines the contact between Scottish and Far Eastern culture. Emma Oliver, Glenfiddich Global Brand Manager from Cork, is keeping quiet about the limited number of Grand Yozakura bottlings and recipes. Details remain a trade secret:

“We deliver a hundred cases of three bottles each to Germany.”

Hawesko, a renowned Hamburg wine and spirits retailer, has set a limit of 6,000 bottles. However, a hefty price of around 1,800 euros per 0.7 liter bottle does not hinder sales.

However, a hefty price of around 1,800 euros per 0.7 liter bottle does not hinder the sale of this precious item. Markus Heinze is happy about this,

“Incidentally, the experimental series consisting of a 21-year-old Gran Reserva Rum Finish, the 23-year-old Grand Cru Champagne Barrique Finish, the 26-year-old Grand Couronne Cognac Finish and a 22-year-old Gran Cortes Palo Cortado Finish is not only popular with collectors in high demand.
It remains unique. There will not be another batch."

NB: In 2021, the world's most popular brand, Glenfiddich, sold around 17 million bottles. Annual production in 2022 was 22 million liters of alcohol.


It will be exciting for the marketing agency to see what the influencer Toni Mahfud or the model Jonas Kautenburger as well as the other 35 invited guests will say about the Giant Glenfiddich and its innovative Grand Yozakura High End Single Malt in the media on TikTok, Instagram et al.

Okinawan culture

The former Kingdom of Ryukyu was independent of the main islands until the 19th century. Geisha, singing, sounds of the Samshin led into the feudal court of the former Ryukyu Kingdom. Millions of tourists visit the island world with its idyllic white beaches. Tourists visit the island region with its idyllic white beaches. There they enjoy the spicy national drink Awamori either as a water and ice mix, as a long drink or in cocktails. Distilleries now also offer coffee or pineapple liqueurs based on awamori. The diversification of the portfolio is progressing. The variety of aromas need not be inferior to complex whiskey profiles. The Amawori rice-based whiskey variations mark a new trend. The rare maturation in oak barrels actually multiplies the aroma structures, because such Awamori spirits could easily be described as grain whiskey - single or blend. A novelty, for example, is the Kujira Ryukyu whiskey from the innovative Kumesen Syuzo distillery in Okinawa, which matured for twenty years in ex-bourbon barrels. Additional 40% or 43% ABV interpretations fill the shelves. The Ryukyu age structures are based on Scottish customs of five, eight, twelve, fifteen or older.

Glenfiddich Distillery

Glenfiddich in Dufftown is one of the few family-run Scottish distilleries. Founded in 1886, the production site is now part of the William Grant & Sons group with Balvenie, Kininvie, both locally, as well as the Grain Distillery and the Ailsa Bay Malt Distillery in Girvan and Tullamore in Ireland. The Glenfiddich brand has been known worldwide as the Scotch Malt since 1957 in the iconic green triangular bottle.

Introduced in 2005, the Block Buster and blended malt Monkey Shoulder became the most popular Scotch in bars worldwide after Johnnie Walker in 2022, according to Drinks International, closely followed by The Macallan. The whiskey, originally known as blended malt, was initially composed of the malts from Balvenie, Glenfiddich and Kinvinvie, but today other unnamed Speyside malts are likely to determine the aromas and taste.

The first Glenfiddich spirit bubbled up at Christmas 1887 through the coal-fired Swan Neck pot stills coming from Cardhu. The malt came from our own threshing floor. The Matties shoveled and turned malting barley on the malting floors until 1958. Today the huge demand for malt is supplied by the regional industrial malthouses.

As before, however, the small wash stills (9,100 l) and spirit stills (4,550 l), which have the same design and shape, were heated by the stillmen directly with coal until 1995, although some were heated with gas. The distillers have always controlled the middle cut very closely in order to maintain the intense fruitiness and purity of the new make; the average concentration was 70% vol. Striving for high alcohol yields was frowned upon in their stillhouses. Therefore, the number of stills has continually expanded over the years. In the new millennium 2000, factions in Stillhouse No. 1 five raw and eight fine spirits.

Both boiler systems fired stokers with coal, while the stillmen in Stillhouse No. 2 the five raw and ten fine fire boilers are conveniently gas-fired. In 2016, the family council decided to radically build or expand the production facilities. A Stillhouse No. 3 was built with 16 new stills - six wash stills and ten spirit stills.

They moved the old stills from Stillhouse 1 to the second part of the new building. In the former Stillhouse No. 1, two more modern, efficient English Briggs of Burton mash tuns are now operating. Further distillation equipment was added in other areas, making it a Stillhouse No. in 2023. 3 with 16 new , larger, indirectly heated stills - six 9,500 l wash stills and ten 5,900 l spirit stills - were built. The old stills from Stillhouse No. They moved 1 to the second part of the new building.

In the former Stillhouse No. 1, two modern English mash tuns from Briggs of Burton have been operating since then . A further total of 43 (16 raw and 27 fine spirits) emit around 21 million liters of pure barley spirit. However, only fifteen of them are directly heated. The character of the spirit has therefore changed minimally perceptibly. The system is gigantic: four lauter tuns and 48 wooden washbacks, each with a fermentation time of 74 hours, provide the fuel around the clock, seven days a week.

The character of the spirit has therefore changed minimally perceptibly . The system is gigantic: four lauter tuns, 48 wooden washbacks with a respective fermentation time of 74 hours (previously 72 hours) supply the fuel around the clock, seven days a week. The middle cut is now between 75 and 66.7% vol.

Distillation technique

Two lauter tuns, each holding 10.2 tons of grit, supplied the Oregon Pine washbacks in 1994. There, a Mauri Distillers Yeast fermented the 50,000 liters of wort to wash for around 72 hours (2023 74 hours). The beer with 8% vol. Fractionated raw spirit bubbles to 25% vol in five hours. In the 1990s, the Stillmen produced an average volume of between 74 and 66% vol. a (2023 75 to 65.7% vol.). The barrel strength was 63.5% vol.

Design and change

Glenfiddich is a creative major producer. In addition to the 12-year standard with a cost-effective price-performance ratio, numerous innovations adorn the shops. Brian Kinsman created a fully fruity 15 year old Solera, a Criadera vatting from Bourbon, Oloroso Sherry and Virgin Oak barrels . Bottle design and labels changed. The graphic V symbolizes the “Valley of the Deer,” Gael. Glenfiddich. It interprets the place of distillation and maturation.


What exactly is Awamori?

Awamori is a spirit that has been distilled exclusively in 47 distilleries on the Okinawa islands for six centuries. "Island Sake" (shima-zake), the national drink, is traditionally made from imported Thai long-grain, broken indica rice.

The distillers complement the classic recipe of crystal clear water and white husked rice with the territorial kōji, a special type of black fungus - Aspergillus Awamori, a watering can mold. After cleaning, the starch is converted into sugar by heating the rice under steam for one hour. Ground Kuro Kōji is then added, followed by malting. The lautering and the subsequent long “multiple” fermentation (14 to 20 days) in open steel vats with Awamori Yeast 101 as well as different yeast strains results in a “Rice Wine” with a relatively high alcohol concentration of around 18 to 20% vol.

The burners fractionate these only once in simple classic hooded kettles or in modern, sometimes vacuum, gooseneck pot stills made of steel! The oily, delicately fruity distillate - Genshu 50 to 60% vol. - with a soft texture is clean and pure, which is why the Okinawa people avoid a second firing.

Gentle filtration retains the powerful fatty acids so that the Awamori remains clear when water is added. It must not be added with sugar. The initial ripening at large producers takes place in huge steel tanks for months . High-quality qualities mature in traditionally fired small or large 250 l clay vessels. Since interior walls are not glazed, a small amount of oxygen can enter due to the porosity.

The distillers blend their premium products in a similar way to the Andalusian solera criadera process. During the maturation period, they blend young distillates with older ones in stages, just as the bodegas do when producing liqueur wines in Jerez or Montilla-Moriles.

The longer the aerobic ripening, the more complex the awamori flavor profile becomes. After at least three years it can be sold as Kuusu. The rare maturation in oak barrels multiplies the aroma structures; such Awamori spirits could easily be described as whiskey. A novelty is the Kujira Ryukyu whiskey from the innovative Kumesen Syuzo distillery in Okinawa, which matured for twenty years in ex-bourbon barrels.

The soul of Okinawa is drunk either pure in small bottles, in long drink glasses with ice and soda or as a cocktail variant to accompany meals. Innovative distilleries now produce Awamori Gin.


The production of Awamori in Okinawa


Impressions of the Grand Yozakura presentation

The New Vibe of the Gourmet Tempel Nikkei Nine in Hamburg's Four Seasons created an emotional, exotic atmosphere for an exclusive whiskey presentation of the brave new world.

Hamburg, May 16, 2023.

The author thanks Brand Ambassador Markus Heinze, Glenfiddich, for the invitation.


About the author

Ernie - Ernst J. Scheiner is the editor of the portal The Gateway to Distilleries He photographs over 150 distilleries from the inside and describes the production of the whiskeys in detail. Since studying at the University of Edinburgh, he has been interested in the subject of whiskey and has published in specialist magazines

such as Ireland Journal, the Kleinbrennerei, Whisky Passion and The Highland Herold . Features and stories appeared in the blogs whiskyexperts, whiskyfanblog and whiskyintelligence . As head of the VHS Ingelheim, and now as whisky ambassador, he leads distillation colleges, study trips and whisky culture tours to the sources of whisky.

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