Food & Beverage

Apr 1, 2015

Japanese Water of Life

Whisky production in Japan began around 1870, but the first commercial production was in 1924 upon the opening of the country's first distillery, Yamazaki. Broadly speaking, the style of Japanese whisky is more similar to Scotch whisky than Irish, American, or Canadian styles of whiskey.

There are several companies producing whisky in Japan, but one of the best-known and most widely available is Suntory.

For some time it was believed by many that whisky made in the Scottish style, but not produced in Scotland, could not possibly measure up to the standards of the traditional Scotch whisky distilleries. Before 2000, the market for Japanese whiskies was almost entirely domestic, though this changed in 2001 when Nikka's 10-year Yoichi single malt won "Best of the Best" at Whisky Magazine's awards.

Japanese nature offers over 6,000 varieties of plant life – twice the number found within Western Europe – and is blessed with its many expressions: deep forests, lush greens, steep mountains, and pure waters. These expressions are further heightened by the richness of the seasons. The Japanese find beauty not only in the offerings brought by each season, but in the transitions themselves-the ever-changing cycle.

Since the first World Awards, in 2000, Japanese whiskies have won awards, including top honors, in international competitions, notably Suntory. At the 2003 International Spirits Challenge, Suntory Yamazaki won a gold medal, and Suntory whiskies kept winning gold medals every year through 2013, with all three malt, and Suntory itself winning distiller of the year in 2010, 2012, and 2013.

History

Torii Shinjiro started Suntory when he opened his store Torii Shoten in Osaka on February 1, 1899, to sell imported wines. It became known when, in 1907, the store began selling a sweet tasting red wine called Akadama Port Wine. The store became the Kotobukiya company in 1921 to further expand its business. In 1923, Torii Shinjiro built Japan's first malt whisky distillery called Yamazaki Distillery.

The difference from the Scottish weather will mark the birth of the specific character of Japanese whiskies and particularly refinement, subtlety and complexity of whiskies product in Yamazaki.

Due to wartime shortage of World War II, Kotobukiya was briefly forced to stop the development of new products, but in 1946, it re-released Torys Whisky, which became a great hit in post-war Japan.

Japanese nature offers over 6,000 varieties of plant life – twice the number found within Western Europe – and is blessed with its many expressions: deep forests, lush greens, steep mountains, and pure waters. These expressions are further heightened by the richness of the seasons. The Japanese find beauty not only in the offerings brought by each season, but in the transitions themselves-the ever-changing cycle.

Products

Suntory Hibiki 12 Year Old
70 cl / 43%
A stunning 12 year-old blend from Hibiki, some of the whisky has been part-matured in plum liqueur casks. Lovely malt from Hakushu and Yamazaki, plus some aged grain from Chita, this terrific Japanese blend picked up the top prize in its category at the World Whisky Awards 2010.

Suntory Hibiki 17 Years Old
70 cl / 43%
A fantastic Japanese blend, made with aged malt and grain whiskies from Suntory's three distilleries. Spicy and sophisticated, this is great for catching people out at blind tastings. Recently awarded a Gold 'Editor's Choice' award from Whisky Magazine and picked up the top prize in its category at the World Whisky Awards 2010.

Suntory Hakushu Distiller's Reserve
A green and crunchy entry in the Hakushu Range, combining whisky of a wide variety of ages, from across the range of casks used by the distillery to create a gently smoky dram, packed with fruity flavor.

Suntory Hakushu 12 Year Old
A perennial favorite and a must-try for anyone interested in discovering Japanese whisky. Hakushu is owned by Suntory, founders of the first Japanese distillery, Yamazaki. The original Hakushu distillery was built in 1973, with another distillery building called Hakushu Higashi (west) added in 1981. 

Suntory Royal Whisky
70 cl / 43%
Suntory Royal blended whisky was first introduced in 1960 to mark the company's 60th anniversary. Light and easy to drink, this is a superb entry-level Japanese whisky.

Suntory Yamazaki 10 Year Old
70 cl / 40%
An introductory malt from Yamazaki, Japan's oldest distillery (founded in 1923). This is mild-mannered, clean, sweet malt, charming and very accessible - Speyside fans looking to try a Japanese malt should start here.

Suntory Yamazaki Bourbon Barrel - Bot.2013
70 cl / 48%
A bottle of Yamazaki Bourbon Barrel from the 2013 Cask Collection, the final year of the series. Aged in 180 liter casks which used to hold bourbon and matured in a warm moist climate resulting in an elegant and sweet Japanese whisky.

Suntory Yamazaki Puncheon - Bot.2010
70 cl / 48%
A special edition Yamazaki from Suntory, aged in a 480-liter puncheon cask, which allows the whisky to mature much more slowly than the standard 230-liter hogshead. There's no age statement, but at 48% and non-chill filtered, it's likely to be pretty tasty.

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