100 Years of Suntory Whisky: Why people love their Japanese whiskies
"For relaxing times, make it Suntory time."
The House of Suntory is celebrating 100 grand years of Japanese whisky—the craftsmanship behind it and the pioneering innovation that has brought it thus far. There are plenty of events lined up for the celebration but an immersive pop-up exhibition was the first to kickstart it in Singapore. Titled ‘The Legacy Continues: 100 Years of Suntory Whisky Innovation’ and held at the ArtScience Museum from the 13 to 17 July, tickets to the event sold out within the first two days they went on sale. But we had the opportunity to preview it before it opened to the public and here’s what we learned.
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The House of Suntory: The Beginning
‘The Legacy Continues: 100 Years of Suntory Whisky Innovation’ experience began with The Awakening. It all began with founder Shinjiro Torii’s dream to “create an original Japanese whisky blessed with the riches of Japanese nature and craftsmanship”. At the time, Scotch whisky was too harsh for the Japanese palate. Torii thus established the Yamazaki Distillery in 1923, making his mark as the father of Japanese whisky.
It’s the first and oldest malt whisky distillery in Japan’s history and what made it different was the concept of monozukuri, a pride in innovation, artisanal skill, and technical prowess—the foundation of Japanese craftsmanship. This value remains at the core of the spirits that the House of Suntory would then continue to produce: Hakushu, Chita, Kakubin, Hibiki and Ao, as well as Roku Gin, Sui Gin and Haku Vodka.
‘The Boom’, as the House of Suntory called it, happened between 1950 and 1969 when Japanese whiskies were elevated with the modernisation of Japanese bar culture, iconic ads and of course, more importantly, the famed Bill Murray “Suntory Time” scene in Sofia Coppola’s film, Lost in Translation.
The House of Suntory: The art of whisky making
Advertising aside, the craftsmanship and divine taste profiles of the House of Suntory’s whiskies speak for themselves. While the foundation of Japanese whiskies was still built on Scotch whisky-making techniques, the climate and waters in Japan are among the catalyst that makes the spirits stand out on their own. Fifth Generation Chief Blender at Suntory Shinji Fukuyo attests this to us in an interview that “the water and climate in Japan create slightly different aromas and flavours, as compared to Scotland”. He adds, “I also believe it’s the way Japanese craftsmanship is incredibly detailed and precise, just like how it is in watchmaking.”
To bring that to light and as part of the 100th anniversary, the brand recently released a mini docuseries The Nature and Spirit of Japan, starring Keanu Reeves and directed by filmmaker Roman Coppola. Follow Reeves on his journey exploring the areas around Suntory’s distilleries and learn how Japanese whisky culture is inspired by harmony with nature (wa), elevated by Japanese craftsmanship (monozukuri) and enjoyed as an authentic Japanese cultural experience (omotenashi),
Fukuyo shares that Scotch is traditionally smoky and peaty so it wasn’t as suitable to go with Japanese cuisine like sushi that’s more gentle on the palate. He explains that the brand values quality above all, describing their philosophy in their whiskies’ taste profiles as “creamy, soft, gentle” and “subtle, divine yet complex”. Fukuyo adds if there were any important lessons imparted by his predecessors, it was that the Chief Blender is the “last gate” to check the final product and so, regardless of cost or supply, quality should always be placed first.
To preserve his palate and nose as a Chief Blender, Fukuyo even candidly shares that he follows a strict routine on the days he has to work at the Yamazaki Distillery. His day would typically start at around 4am and he would have soba for lunch every day. “When the staff sees me walk into the canteen, they’ll start cooking soba for me. I have no other options,” he laughs.
“A blender has to make a decision with the nose and tongue so to ensure I can do that with confidence, I established some personal regulations,” Fukuyo says with a more serious tone.
The House of Suntory: The centennial celebrations
“One hundred years ago, our founder Shinjiro Torii wished to create a whisky blessed with the riches of Japanese nature and craftsmanship when he established the Yamazaki Distillery. Since then, we have always strived to honour his vision, grow stronger with each generation, and continue to refine our craft for centuries to come. House of Suntory has led the Japanese whisky industry, pushing boundaries and redefining the art of crafting exceptional spirits that are shared around the world,” said Jon Potter Managing Director for The House of Suntory.
‘The Legacy Continues: 100 Years of Suntory Whisky Innovation’ may be over but the celebrations continue. For starters, fans can purchase the House of Suntory’s 100th-anniversary limited-edition designs of the Yamazaki 12YO Single Malt, Yamazaki Mizunara 18YO Single Malt, Hakushu 18YO Peated Malt and the Hakushu 12YO Single Malt.
August and September will see the launch of the House of Suntory Masters, an exquisite series of dinners centred around Suntory’s finest whiskies and spirits, helmed by eight celebrated chefs. Guests can expect to savour even the limited centennial editions of Yamazaki 18 Years Mizunara and Hakushu 18 Year Old Peated Malt. The chosen chefs in question have crafted their skills at Michelin-starred outlets: Cheung Siu Kong of Summer Pavilion, Kenji Yamanaka of Béni and Takuya Yamashita of Whitegrass; chef-owners Yohhei Sasaki of La D’Oro, Yuji Sato of Sushi Sato, and Daniel Chavez of Canchita; and the boldly unconventional Yusuke Takada of Hanazen and Taro Takayama of Takayama.
To book tickets or learn more about the House of Suntory’s 100th-anniversary celebrations, visit their website.
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