We at dekantā have been in contact with an industry insider, Nakai san asking him to share with us his views on the many aspects of Japanese whisky. This time, he tells us a little bit about Suntory old and its connection to Japanese snackbars. Lets give him the word:

You’re familiar with Suntory Old, right? If so, you may have read about its history, too. However, you may be unaware that snack bars are another aspect of its history that we bartenders connect to Suntory Old. Allow us to provide a quick insight into the story of Suntory Old and Japanese snack bars!

By the mid-1970s, people had acquired more money, and as a consequence, after parties became increasingly popular, with individuals going out for food and drinks, then moving on to a bar and party. If you’ve ever visited Tokyo, it’s likely that you’ve noticed snack bars; it was around this time that they acquired their status. One of the reasons for snack bars being so popular was that karaoke boxes were often installed inside them (we Japanese are mad for Karaoke, in case you hadn’t noticed).

However, most imported whiskies were too expensive in the mid-1970s – a result of both the exchange rate and the high taxation on imported alcohol. Suntory relished in the opportunity to market Suntory Old as the perfect bottle for what we Japanese call ‘bottle keep’. This means that you could visit a bar, buy a bottle, and then leave it there for your next visit. Perfect! This proved extremely popular, and when it came to whisky, Suntory Old was a superstar in this regard.

By the 1980s, however, ‘genuine’ bars entered into circulation and surpassed the popularity of snack and karaoke bars. Import tax on alcohol was also lowered, resulting in Suntory Old gaining serious competition from Scotch and Bourbon. Nevertheless, Suntory Old is prevalent yet again – the source of this success being its zodiac bottles, which are highly regarded among collectors. The old snack bars are even rising to Japanese acclaim once again, with Suntory Old, for the sake of nostalgia, being the main item on the menu. If you happen to be in Japan, or are on your way here, why not pencil in a visit to a snack bar, and order Suntory, just to experience some Japanese whisky history? ;)

Henry Baldvin