9. SUNTORY (1899)
PIONEER OF JAPANESE WHISKY
Suntory is 1st Japanese comapny which start whisky dstillation. 1st whisky distillery is Yamazaki distillery founded in 1923 together with Shinjiro Torii who is founder of Suntory and Masataka Taketsuru who learned whisky making process in Scotland in 1918-1920.
Suntory has been Japanese whisky leading company since foudning Yamazaki distillery and produced several whisky boom and lifestyle in Japan.
They have Yamazaki distillery, Hakushu distillery, Chita distillery and Omi aging cellar with own cooparage(Cask factory) today altough 4th distillery was not realized and ended as papar plan.
1923 Yamazaki distillery
Yamazaki distillery was founded as 1st whisky distillery in Japan by Shinjiro Torii who is founder of Suntory and Masataka Taketsuru who learned whisky making process in Scotland in 1918-1920.
In fact Taketsuru prefered Hokkaido, north main island of Japan because its weather is similar with Scotland but this plan was rejected by Torii because its too far from market. His dream was realized in 1934 as Yoichi distillery by Nikka which was founded by Taketsuru.
Yamazaki distillery was selected due to water quality which has been well known since 16th century. Sen no Rikyū is most famous master of "Sado" (Japanese tea way) in history and he build his tea house in Yamazaki to use its water.
It is biggest malt whisky distillery in japan today.
1973 Hakushu distillery
Hakushu distillery was founded in 1973. Suntory was planning further thier own distillery around 1970 becaue of 2 main reason.
1st reason was grown up domestic whisky market by makers bar boom in 1960s. 2nd reason was coming competition with import whisky because whisky trade had been agreed to liberalize/reduce import tax drastically from 1971/1972 at GATT Kennedy round in 1964-1967. So that they needed 2nd key malt whisky to make higher quality whisky with more flavor complex. Nikka also buit their 2nd distillery Miyagikyo distillery in 1969.
Hakushu distillery is located in forest and called Forest distillery. Their whisky flavor is smoeky and woody but very soft and clear.
In add, column still was installed in Hakushu distillery in 2013 and it is producing grain whisky in parallel. Although this column still is small and capacity is only 10% of Chita distillery which is specialized to grain whiksy production by super arospas column still.
1973 Chita distillery
Chita distillery was founded in 1973. Suntory was planning further thier own distillery around 1970 becaue of 2 main reason.
1st reason was grown up domestci whisky market by makers bar boom in 1960s. 2nd reason was coming competition with import whisky because whisky trade had been agreed to liberalize/reduce import tax drastically from 1971/1972 at GATT Kennedy round in 1964-1967. So that they needed own disitlled grain whisky to make higher quality whisky with more flavor complex. Nikka also installed coffey column still in Nishinomiya plant in 1963 and Sanraku Ocean did in Kawasaki distillery in 1968.
They chose Super arospas column still in stead of coffey column still. Because they focus on more volume market and coffey column still is inferior in productivity. Location is also selected by productivity so that it is located next to port with silos for corn material storage. Actually Chita distillery is joint company of Suntory and JA (National Federation of Agricultural Cooperative Associations)
It started to promote Single grain whisky in 2015 altough it has been suppying grain whisy for Suntory blended whisky since 1973.
Osaka Chikko plant (1919-)
Whisky distillation (1940-1970s?)
Osaka Chikko plant was built originally for bottling port wine. It started grain whisky distillation in 1940. Super arospas column still was installed in 1955.
It is currently producing white spirit distillery like gin, vodka and etc however no more any whisky production today.
Usuki plant (1947-)
Whisky distillation (1955?-1996)
Usuki plant was originally planned for air plain fuel in 1945 but strated for bottling to local market in 1947. Super arospas column still was installed in 1955 and started whisky distillation and continued even after Chita distilllery started in 1973 till 1996.
Suntory whisky story
4th distillery plan
There was 4th distillery plan in Suntory in late half of 1970s.. They purchased land in Nobechi, north end of central main island for 4th distillery in 1980 which is peak of Ji-whisky (Local whisky) boom. However they cancelled it due to drastic market shirnking in late half of 1980s.
Nobechi was converted to aging cellar and 1st building was built in 1990 and 2nd building was a few years later however it was closed in 2005 which is Japanese whisky ice age.
Omi aging cellar & cooperage
Omi aging cellar is as important as distilleries for Suntory. Because it keeps around 40% of total storage cask in Suntory and it also has cooperage (cask factory) for thier whisky. It was orginally founded in 1971 which is same period with Hakushu distillery and Chita distillery. Suntory had another 2 independent distilleries (Yatsugatake & Nobechi) but both were closed around 2005. Due to limited cellar capacity in Yamazaki distillery, most of cask filled with whisky by Yamazaki are transferred to Omi aging cellar although Hakushu distillery has enough big aging cellar to storage whisky cask distilled there.
New whisky style and whisky boom produced by Suntory
There are 2 big whisky distillery groups in Japan today. Nikka and Suntory. It issaid that Nikka plans how to sell their whisky after they make new bottle. On the other hands it's said that Suntory plans how to sell thier whisky and then they make new bottle according to their strategy.
So that most of new whisky drinking style and boom in Japan were produced and leaded by Suntory as below.
- Non peated soft mild whisky in 1930s
- Torys bar & High-ball boom in 1950s-60s
- Bottle keep style with several grade whisky along with business man title promotion in 1960s-70s
- Mizu-wari style (diluted with water) with Japanese dinner in 1970s-80s.
- 2nd High-ball boom in 2000s
Probably Ji-Whisky boom in 1970s-80s was only one whisky boom which was not leaded by Suntory in Japan. As a result of their effort, Japanese whisky market grown up with very unique points and drinking style in the world.
Torys Bar and High-Ball boom in 1950s-60s
In 1950s, major liquor in Japan was Sake and Shochu altough whisky was for limited exective person.
Suntory considered how to grow domestic whisky market and they opened many Torys bars all over Japan to serve thier whisky mainly for city business man on thier way home. Their whisky is mainly served as high-ball because Japanese are genetically not strong against alcohol and streight whisky is too strong for normal Japanese.
This strategy boosted their whisky sales drastically together with the number of thier bars. There were around 35,000 Torys Bar and Suntory Bar including direct management and franchise in its peak in 1960s.
The other whisky manufactures also opened thier own brand bars like Ocean Bar by Sanraku Ocean, Morozoff Bar by Monde Shuzo, Alice Bar by Asahi Kogyo and etc. Suntory opened not only Torys Bar but also Suntory Bar. In the end, Nikka also opended Nikka Bar. These bars were called as maker's bar.
As a result, whisky high-ball was installed in normal Japanese life as daily drink.
Whisky hierarchy and Bottle keep style in 1960s-70s
After Torys and Torys bar success, Suntory was considering how to sell uppder grade whisky. They developed several upper grade whisky and establish whisky hierarchy like Red, White, Old, Reserve and Royal along with Japanese business man promotion title.
They also focused on bottle keep style at Snack bar and Lady lounge. The guest order one bottle to drink and that they can continue to drink it when they visit next time. Bar and lounge normally keep bottle for 1-3 months.
It became common style among Japanese business men to select whisky according to his title and keep it at his favorite snack bar or lady lounge. Keeping upper grade whisky became their target of admiration with promotion in the company.
Whisky with Japanese dinner by mission Nihonbashi 1970s-80s
Suntory scooped drink at Japanese restaurant which was occupied by Sake and Japanese traditional spirits Shochu. They propose Mizu-Wari style (Diluted with water). Mizu means "water" and Wari means "diluted" in Japanese.
They started special sales promotion campagin to Japanese restaurants all over Japan. The campain was called mission Nihonbashi. It has 2 meanings, one is tow chapstick and the other is Japan bridge which is address name of Suntory HQ.
The pic is advertisment of mission Nihonbashi. Japanese restaurant chef is drinking Mizu-Wari whisky in his restaurant counter after his working. Text say that it was common to drink hot sake as the end of the day 10 years ago.
As a result, sale of "Suntory Old" was drastically increased from 1 million case in 1970 to 12.4 in 1980.
Ref data about other major whisky (Millon case)
Johnnie walker:18.8, Jack Daniel:12.2, Gim Beam:7.4, Ballantine:6.2, Jameson:5.3, Crown Royal:5.2, Chivas Regal:4.4
Suntory Blended Whisky Hierarchy
Suntory established their blended whisky hierarchy together with bottle keeping system in 1960-1980s.
It was Torys, Red, White, Kaku, Old, Reserve and Royal. (Yamazaki was released in 1984 and Hibiki was in 1989). These blended whisky is still main products of Suntory whisky however most of them are for domestic market because most of them are for High-ball or Mizu-Wari.
Suntory Blended Whisky Hierarchy
Suntory has released Essence series 4 times since 2018 as limited bottle. There are 10 different bottles as following list. Bottle size is only 500ml, it means that these are not for export. In add, these bottles are supplied only to restaurant and bar. (Not retailer for constumer) So if you see bottle during visiting Japan, please don't miss trying.
Rice whisky in 4th release are made by Osumi distillery which are normally producing Japanese traditioanl spirits Shochu in Kyusyu, south main island of Japan.
CHITA〈WINE CASK 4 YEARS FINISH〉
YAMAZAKI〈MONTILLA WINE CASK〉
YAMAZAKI〈REFILL SHERRY CASK〉
BLENDED JAPANESE WHISKY〈CLEAN TYPE〉*Hakushu main
BLENDED JAPANESE WHISKY〈RICH TYPE〉*Yamazaki main
CHITA <SAKURA CASK FINISH BLEND>
RICE WHISKY *Distilled by Osumi distillery
Bottle by Suntory