Monday, March 12, 2012

Suntory Whiskies: America's Only Choice for Japanese Whisky (at least for now)

Welcome to day two of our Japanese St. Patrick's Week special. Today, a brief profile of the Suntory company.

Suntory is the giant of Japanese Whisky and the only producer currently exporting to the United States. The Suntory company owns two malt whisky distilleries: Yamazaki and Hakushu and also makes a number of blends.


For years, Yamazaki was the only Japanese Whisky available in the US. For that reason, to the extent most Americans are familiar with Japanese Whisky, they are familiar with Yamazaki and, more specifically, the two expressions which have been most widely sold here: Yamazaki 12 year old ($30-$40) and 18 year old ($90-$100).

Located near Kyoto on the main Japanese island of Honshu, the Yamazaki Distillery is the oldest whisky distillery in Japan. The 12 and 18 year olds are vattings of single malts aged in a number of different woods, including American oak, Spanish oak and Japanese Oak (Mizunara). In Japan, the distillery sells single malts made from just one of these types of wood, as well as sherry cask and other variations.

In addition to the 12 and 18 year old, Yamazaki briefly released its Japanese oak aged vintage 1984 whisky in the US a few years ago.

I've had all of the Yamazakis available in the US and am a fan of all three. They are good, malty whiskies that would likely please any lover of single malt Scotch, particularly those who enjoy more rugged Highlanders like Highland Park. What I'd really love to see, though, is some of the bottlings that are still reserved for Japan. I had a fabulous, well balanced 15 year old sherry cask Yamazaki that was heavily sherried but still retained a signifiant malt flavor. The Japanese oak whiskies are particularly popular and it would be nice to see another such release on our shores.


Also located on Honshu, Hakushu is Suntory's other distillery, founded in 1973. Hakushu creates a wide range of whiskies, included both peated and non-peated malts. Suntory recently released their first Hakushu in the US, the peated 12 year old ($55). I've had some Hakushus but nothing from their peated line, so I can't speak to that one. Overall, I've preferred the Yamazakis to non-peated Hakushus.


Suntory's last entry into the US market is the Hibiki 12 year old blend. A very drinkable blend, Hibiki would rank well among blended whiskies available in the US were it not for the price, which tends to be around $60 (though Hi-Time has it for considerably cheaper).

Hibiki is Suntory's top shelf blend, but they have a number of other labels that are limited to Japan. The grain whiskey is distilled at the Chita distillery, which has also done single grain expressions.

Aside from whisky, Suntory markets beer, rum and soda.

Tomorrow: Nikka Whisky


Anonymous said...

Well if you want some Sunrtory "Royal" '60 brought back from Japan just let me know! Help combine Japanese St. Patty's day with Dusty Thursday!

Tom said...

I'd recommend trying the peated Hakushu if you have the opportunity. It is incredibly light, fruity, with a nice balance of peat. It is a completely different beast than the Yamazaki 12 and 18 though, as I'm sure you know from trying the non-peated expressions.