In 1899 the enterprising 20 year-old Shinjiro Torii established the Torii Shoten canned goods and wine import shop. It was the beginning of what would become the vast enterprise we know today as Suntory.
The story goes that one day Shinjiro poured spirits into an old wine cask and then forgot about it. After several years had passed, he tasted the spirits and discovered that it had a wonderfully rich flavour. Thrilled with his discovery of the wonders of the aging process, he decided to embark on a career in making whisky.
In 1923, Shinjiro Torii, the founder of Suntory and “father of Japanese whisky,” built Japan’s first whisky distillery in the vale of Yamazaki. Before long the Yamazaki distillery was successfully producing a number of high quality blended whiskies along with Yamazaki single malt whisky.
Since the launch in 1929 of Suntory Shirofuda (White Label), Japan’s first genuine whisky, the Yamazaki distillery has been producing a wide range of superb Japanese whiskies. Japanese cuisine is characterized by a delicate yet complex interchange of flavours, an expression of the Japanese taste for a subtle rather than distinctive flavour. This is the underlying reason behind Yamazaki’s pursuit for a single malt that was rich but not too smoky.
Rapid economic growth in the 1970’s raised the standard of living in Japan. Whisky consumption soared as lifestyles changed for the emering middle classes. Keizo Saji, Shinjiro’s second son, had taken over the reigns of the company and found himslef at a turning point for Yamazaki.
At a time when the mainstream taste was for blended whiskies, he anticipated that the market would develop a taste for premium whisky made from high quality malt and aged over a long period of time. His search for this ideal single malt focused on a delicate taste that was more Japanese than Scotch.
Keizo finally succeeded in making a richly-layered single malt that yielded a complex bouquet and a playful medley of flavours. In 1984 Yamazaki single malt whisky was released.
The success of Yamazaki's single malt led Keizo to invest in a major 2 year renovation of the Yamazaki distillery, which re-opened in 1989 with both wooden and stainless steel wash backs as well as directly and indirectly heated stills. This work enabled the distillery to make a wider range of malts and laid the foundation for future successes.
Yamazaki 18-year-old was launched in 1992 and Yamazaki 10-year-old in 1995. In 1998, the year marking its centennial anniversary, Suntory introduced Yamazaki 25-year-old, a premium single malt whisky crafted from carefully selected key malts. Yamazaki 50-year-old was released in 2005. Selling for one million yen a bottle, it was the highest priced single malt whisky in Japan.
Now a new chapter in the history of Yamazaki is beginning to unfold as the torch is once again passed to the third generation master blender, Shingo Torii.
In 2003 Yamazaki 12-year-old whisky won a gold medal at the International Spirits Challenge (ISC), the world’s most prestigious spirits competition. Highly praised for its “noble” aroma, it was the first time that a Japanese whisky had been awarded a gold medal at the ISC.
Shingo Torii switched to small pot stills in 2006 in order to produce a variety of high quality straight malts with a depth and richness that could withstand a long period of aging. Entering the stillhouse today, the visitor’s eye is met with an incredible array of 12 pot stills, six of them in various different shapes and sizes. The incredible versatility afforded by such a choice of malts make the Yamazaki distillery a one-stop flavour shop that could end up in a league of its own.