It’s Day 7 of our 10 day dekanta anniversary countdown, and today we’re honouring Suntory’s most popular distillery. Yesterday, we looked at Hombo Mars (if you missed that you can catch up right here), and we hope you all grabbed yourself a nice bottle at a discounted price.
Today, we’re taking a look at Japan’s most popular distillery. One that has released some world-beating expressions over the years, won many awards for their efforts and is now recognised around the globe as a leader in world whisky. Of course, we’re talking about the Yamazaki distillery.
Day 1 – Yamazaki Day
Owned by Japanese drinks giant Suntory, Yamazaki was founded back in 1923, and it was there that the first ever Japanese whisky was distilled.
It was built by the founder of Suntory, Shinjiro Torii, and he chose the outskirts of Kyoto, Japan’s ancient capital, as the location thanks to the incredibly clean and pure water supply there.
The Yamazaki distillery was initially managed by Masataka Taketsuru, “The Father of Japanese Whisky” and founder of Nikka. He had wanted to build the distillery in Hokkaido, due to the climate there being similar to that of Scotland, but his friend Torii disagreed. It would be over 10 years before Taketsuru would build his own distillery, Yoichi, on the island of Hokkaido.
The early days of the Yamazaki distillery were not as fruitful as they would have liked. Japanese people had not yet got a taste for whisky, and the strong, powerful flavours simply didn’t entice them.
For centuries, Shochu and Sake, with their fruitier, lighter flavour profiles had ruled the Japanese spirits industry, so it’s fair to say that whisky wasn’t about to suddenly become a favourite. As with everything whisky related, it would take a great deal of time and effort.
World War 2 saw Yamazaki and Suntory’s fortunes change as soldiers developed a taste for the spirit they were producing there. Sales improved dramatically and Yamazaki has been fortunate enough to be popular in Japan ever since.
The large number of years spent experimenting and producing different varieties of whisky for Japanese locals meant that those working at the distillery soon became masters of their craft. When the long-awaited Japanese whisky boom of the early 2000s eventually came, when the world got a taste for Japanese expressions, Yamazaki was perfectly placed to lead the way.
Today, the distillery has some of the best expressions ever produced in their portfolio, from the hugely popular flagship 12, 18 and 25 Year Olds, to the rare, exclusive and simply exquisite limited edition expressions released annually between 2014 and 2017.
The distillery has grown so much in popularity that even those that aren’t interested in Japanese whisky have heard the name and they have opened the door for other distilleries to follow in their footsteps and gain recognition from drinkers around the globe.
It is true that in recent times, in the face of the Japanese whisky shortage, Yamazaki has ran into some issues for the first time in well over a decade.
They have had to stop releasing their Limited Edition expressions, and significantly ramp up production in general, in order to continue releasing their famous age-statement expressions. However, the distillery has been through tougher times before and we’re convinced that they’ll see this shortage off and come out the other side even stronger as a result.
So, for producing some of the best whiskies ever made and having a hugely positive influence on the rest of the world’s perception of Japanese whisky – Yamazaki, we salute you!