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The Japanese Art of Liquid Gold

June 12, 2018 by Jon-jon Bauyon


In 1870, a new life was born in Japan with it's first ever whisky production. Although commercially, it started with the opening of the first distillery in 1924 which is called the Yamazaki. The two best-known and most widely available are those from Suntory and Nikka. They are producing single malt, blended, and blended malt whiskies. Special bottlings and limited releases are also made available every now and then.




It was the year 1924 when the distillery opened for production. One of the reasons that Yamazaki was chosen as the birthplace of Japanese whisky was its climate. The warm and humid environment was well-suited to whisky making.

Yamazaki is the point at which Katsura, Uji and Kizu rivers meet. Surrounded by mountains, it is often shrouded in dense mist. This moist natural environment provides the ideal conditions for cask storage, and helps the whisky sleeping in wooden casks mature gradually.

The stalwart calligraphy is done by Keizo Saji, the father of the “Yamazaki” brand and the second company president, when he was serving as a master blender. It presents Suntory’s passion and the feeling of celebrating the launching of the first Japanese single malt.

Today, Yamazaki is one of the most highly sought after whisky globally.

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In the quest to create a malt whisky completely different from Yamazaki Distillery, Hakushu whisky makers kept searching for the best water for mashing. After looking all over the country, they came across "Hakushu," one of the most famous water areas in Japan. In 1973, exactly half a century after the birth of the first Japanese malt whisky distillery, Suntory established its second malt whisky distillery "Hakushu."

Making a long journey through the mountains in the Southern Alps, the clear underground water in Hakushu is soft, sharp in taste and contains the right amount of minerals. Whisky mashed using this water has a pleasant and gentle flavor, quite different from the deep, florid taste of Yamazaki.



In the fermentation process, they use only high-quality heat preserving wooden washbacks, setting to work lactobacillus and other naturally occurring conditions in the distillery, thereby creating a flavor unique to Hakushu.

Between different sizes and shapes of pot stills in the distillation process, and between various kinds of casks in the maturation (aging) process, creating a highly diverse variety of whiskies at every step of the process from mashing through fermentation, distillation, and maturation (aging).

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Hibiki was launched in 1989 to commemorate Suntory’s 90th anniversary, and has ever since been embraced as the paragon of The Art of Japanese Whisky, the very product of Japanese nature and her people. Hibiki Whisky is not only Japan’s most highly awarded blended whisky, but among the most prestigious and honoured whiskies in the world.



The Master Blender tastes over 300 malt whisky samples a day, having final say on the subtle, refined, and complex flavors of Suntory whisky.

"To become a blender at Suntory, one needs to be able to communicate with whiskies that can not speak." The words of founder Sinjiro Torii live in all Suntory blenders' minds. The Art of Blending is a continuous collaboration of blenders of the past and the future.

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Of Nikka's two malt whisky distilleries, Yoichi produces rich, peaty and masculine malt. The whisky get's it's distinct aroma and body from direct heating distillation, in which the pot stills are heated with finely powdered natural coal.

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The location was selected for whisky production because of its clean air, just the right humidity for storage, and abundant underground water filtered through a layer of peat. In Yoichi, Masataka Taketsuru saw numerous reminders of Scotland, and this convinced him that this should be the home of Japanese Whisky.

The Miyagikyo Distillery is also in northern Japan, in Sendai (lat.38 N), Miyagi Prefecture, northern Honshu. Travelling in the area one day, Masataka came upon this site completely enclosed by mountains and sandwiched between two rivers. He immediately knew that this was the perfect site for whisky distilling. Sendai's fresh water, suitable humidity and crisp air produce soft and mild malt.

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With the two distilleries combined, Nikka is capable of producing a numerous types of whisky such as blended, blended malt and single grain that captured the taste buds of many all over the world. 

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Any views or opinions in the post are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the company or contributors.

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