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Yamazaki, Japan's most ancient whiskey distillery

05/10/2022 Spirits

Shinjiro Torii is considered the father of Japanese whisky. In 1923, he founded the Yamazaki distillery, which is considered the oldest in Japan.

Torii, a true lover of Scotch whisky, had the idea of creating a whisky that would be true to the Scottish model but with a flavour adapted to suit the Japanese palate. To do this, he joined forces with Masataka Taketsuru, who came from a family of sake brewers and left Japan for Glasgow to learn the art of whisky making.

Located in Kyoto, on the road from Osaka to Tokyo, the Yamazaki distillery is surrounded by mountains. Shinjiro Torii chose this location for the incredible quality of its spring water, a basic element for a good whisky. Three rivers with different quantities of minerals converge here, giving Yamazaki whiskies very distinct personalities. The purity of the water is such that it is perfect for brewing tea. That is why this is where Japan’s first tea shop was also founded. 

Japan’s pure water contributes to the production of fine and delicate spirits, and has unique characteristics with each season of the year. These temperature changes result in complex and deeply flavoured whiskies.

The location of the distillery is not just perfect for the water quality. The area also has the perfect climate for whisky aging: warm and humid in summer and cold in winter. 

Shinjiro Torii also thought the location was perfect because of its links to the transport network that allowed the whisky to be taken quickly and efficiently to Kyoto, formerly the capital of Japan.

Torii and Taketsuru began to create the first Japanese whiskies of the Suntory house. Whiskies that were not just a simple replica of the Scottish model. Yamazaki whiskies are set apart with their own personality. Well-crafted, complex spirits with hundreds of nuances that make these whiskies unique.

In 1929, the first Japanese whisky, Shirofuda (white label), was released. It was very smoky and did not appeal to the Japanese palate.

In 1937, the Kakubin (square bottle) whisky was born. A very drinkable and sensual whisky that won over the Japanese palate. In Japan alone, more than 5 million cases are sold. This is the best-selling whisky, widely enjoyed by the Japanese, especially in a “high ball", a drink made with whisky, ice and soda.

Yamazaki combines quantity and quality. Not an easy task for any distillery. No effort is spared here to create whiskies with a clean and smooth character which is true to Japanese whisky, and which, for the last ten years or so have been attracting attention from all around the world.

Yamazaki is an avant-garde distillery, which has all the resources to produce a huge spectrum of styles. They have complex processes involving condensers, fermentation times, length of the alcohol’s journey, cuts or quantity of peat-dried malt, as well as other things, which allow us to see the quality and innovation involved in making their whiskies.

The distillery has approximately one million different barrels in storage. 16 stills of 8 different types (some fire-powered, some steam-powered). They produce about 7 million litres of whisky.

There are about 130 distilleries in Scotland. Each distillery usually produces only one kind of whisky and exchanges its whiskies with other distilleries. In Japan there are not many distilleries, about 10, so they do not exchange whiskies and they are encouraged to make different kinds of whiskies.

Undoubtedly, Japanese whisky has won over the world’s palate thanks to the art of Japanese craftsmanship with attention to detail and quality. Yamazaki is undoubtedly a distillery full of history and strength, which promotes the quintessence of Japanese character through its whiskies, which are pure, elegant and delicate, with a personality that wins people over and gets them talking. Have you tried them?

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