Today, we’re kicking off a very special week for us here at dekanta. A week in which we are proudly celebrating our 4th anniversary, culminating in an extremely special launch event in Tokyo on the 10th of June.
In the lead up to the big day, we’ll be honouring a different Japanese whisky distillery or brand every single day for the whole week. From Yamazaki and Hibiki to smaller producers such as Eigashima and Nagahama, each and every one of those that we are honouring has had a positive influence on the industry, produced some amazing whisky expressions and had a hand in the huge growth Japanese whisky has experienced around the world over the last decade.
Day 1 – Yamazaki Day
To start us off, 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.
Owned by Japanese drinks giant Suntory, Yamazaki was founded back in 1923, at a time when whisky production in the country was still in its infancy. It was built by the founder of Suntory, Shinjiro Torii, and he chose the outskirts of Kyoto, Japan’s ancient capital, as a 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 stated that he wanted to build the distillery in Hokkaido due to the climate there being similar to that of Scotland, but Torii disagreed. It would be over 10 years before Taketsuru would build his own distillery, Yoichi, in Hokkaido.
The early days of the Yamazaki distillery were not as fruitful as they would have liked. The Japanese 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. 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 the whisky being produced there, Yamazaki was perfectly set to lead the way.
Today, Yamazaki 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 for the excellent work they’re doing.
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 halt production of 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!