With 2019 underway, it was just a matter of time before Suntory revealed their plans for the year ahead. The drinks giant, owner of a huge portfolio of distilleries around the world, can always be relied on for exciting new releases and groundbreaking advancements in the industry. This week they have duly delivered.
Suntory’s new “Ao World Blend”, with a release date set for April 16th, once again manages to whip up hype and and excitement among fans around the world. The Ao is not only an exciting new release, but it also signifies an important step for the industry, one that will hopefully bring a degree of transparency and honesty to a market that has experienced a tumultuous time throughout 2018.
AO World Blend
Named “Ao”, the Japanese word for “blue”, this whisky was named with the seven seas in mind. The seas link the world’s five largest whisky regions: Japan, Scotland, Ireland, Canada and the USA, and it was from their distilleries in these nations that Suntory chose liquid to be blended together to form this exciting new expression.
The drinks giant owns a whole host of hugely popular distilleries around the world, including Yamazaki, Hakushu, Laphroaig, Glen Garioch, Kilbeggan, Tyrconnell and many others. Could the blend include liquid from these distilleries? We’ll certainly be trying to detect the sources of the whisky when we get the chance to sample a dram!
A Step in the Right Direction for Japanese Whisky
Since it started gaining international attention, Japanese whisky has faced a supply and demand problem. To combat the issue, select producers started taking advantage of the lack of regulations in the nation’s whisky industry. This practice has gained significant attention in the past year, drawing controversy and calls for stricter regulation.
At present, Japanese whisky producers are able to import whisky from around the globe, add as significant, or insignificant, an amount of Japanese spirit as they desire and label the expression as Japanese whisky. With the current soaring popularity of our beloved liquid, and a shortage of well-aged spirit produced in Japan, these rules, or lack thereof, make it tricky for the customer to know exactly what they are getting and could easily foster a culture of relaxed labelling.
Not to say that these ‘world blends’ are bad whisky – arguably, they combine the best liquid of some of the greatest whisky producing nations in the world – but they’re not strictly Japanese whisky. Here at dekanta, we stock the full range of Japanese whisky, including these world blends, and, where we can, we aim to provide clarity for our clients regarding what’s in their bottle. However, due to the relaxed regulation surrounding Japanese whisky, producers are reluctant to disclose the extra contents of their products, and there are no regulations to compel them to do so.
The Ao represents a step in the right direction for the industry, as Suntory moves into the arena of “World Blends” in a big way, showcasing what can be done with spirit from around the world and highlighting the fact that you don’t have to conceal the truth in order to promote, sell and receive recognition for a well-crafted blend such as this.
In the long run, industry insiders and customers alike are hopeful that some tighter regulations are put in place to maintain the pedigree of Japanese whisky expressions. In the meantime, Suntory’s popularisation of the World Blend category should prompt others to see the benefits of transparency and the appreciation felt by customers when blenders are forthcoming about their products’ composition.
Will we now see a rise in whiskies openly described as ‘world blends’? We certainly hope so, but for now all we can do is wait for the Ao to be released and see if it has as big an impact as everyone wants it to. This, of course, will be partly reliant on the quality of the whisky itself. Thankfully it’s a Suntory creation and they are nothing short of masters of their art.