Suntory Is Celebrating Its 100th Anniversary With Two Ultra-Premium, Limited-Edition Offerings
Suntory is honoring its past with the release of two ultra-premium, limited edition formulations: Yamazaki 18-Year-Old Mizunara and Hakushu 18-Year-Old Peated Malt.
In 2023, Japanese whisky exists as one of the most successful categories of spirit on the planet. But just a century ago, it didn’t even exist at all. The journey began with an ambitious proclamation by Shinjiro Torii, who founded the House of Suntory back in 1923. “I’m taking up the challenge of making whisky in Japan because no one else is even trying,” he said before becoming his country’s first master blender.
Torii started by building the Yamazaki distillery 12 miles south of central Kyoto. The company he launched went on to become the biggest whisky producer in all of Japan, eventually encompassing additional brands, including Hakushu, Hibiki, and Toki. Today, Suntory commemorates its 100th anniversary with the release of two ultra-premium, limited edition formulations: Yamazaki 18-Year-Old Mizunara and Hakushu 18-Year-Old Peated Malt. We’ve got the exclusive tasting notes on both, along with words from the industry legend who crafted them.
Let’s start with the Yamazaki offering. To be clear, an 18-year-old expression from the distillery already sits on shelves as part of the brand’s core portfolio. But that one is composed of whiskies aged in American oak, Spanish oak, as well as Japanese Mizunara oak. The limited edition variation uses liquids plucked entirely from those prized Japanese barrels (something the brand hasn’t done since a super rare 2017 release, which now sells for over $10,000).
Related:Why Is Japanese Whisky So Expensive and Is It Worth the Price?
“The ultimate goal was to create a complex and sophisticated whisky by adding woody and spicy characteristics derived from Mizunara oak barrels to the rich and robust Yamazaki malt,” explains Shinji Fukuyo, 5th generation chief blender for Suntory.
Through the initial sip, it’s clear that Fukuyo has succeeded in that aim. He’s shaped a creamy, leathery liquid which, as promised, arrives upon the palate with added spice — predominantly in the form of clove and nutmeg. Their assertiveness is buoyed by a 48% ABV bottling strength, as opposed to 43% in the original Yamazaki 18. But repeated tastes reveal some rather unexpected elements: a fruity nose reminiscent of peach and a tropical-inspired finish, leaning toward toasted coconut.
Holding the dram in your hand and taking your time with it discloses multiple chapters worth of sensory experience. Which is fortunate because, with a bottle set to retail at $1500, you certainly won’t want to be in a hurry.
While the new Yamazaki 18 is all about the spice, Hakushu 18 Year Old Peated Malt is devoted to the smoke. This isn't the sort of iodine-heavy peat you'd expect from an Islay scotch, however. Just because there's smoke doesn't mean there has to be fire. Here, the beauty is in a balanced interplay between a barbecue-forward bouquet and a palate that sings with subtle sweetness; think orchard fruit kissed with wildflower honey. It goes down ever-so-gently in a rounded, 86-proof body.
"We wanted to create a peaty, smoky-yet-fruity whisky with a taste of Japanese elegance," adds Fukuyo, referring to the limited release (set to retail at $1200 per bottle). "Smokiness is a key flavor of the Hakushu brand."
Nevertheless, peat was roundly rejected by Japanese drinkers when Torii first tried tinkering with it at Yamazaki a century ago. Second-generation master blender Keizo Saji cracked the code for success in 1973 with the opening of the Hakushu distillery high in the Japanese Alps. The area's elevation and access to granite-filtered mountain water afforded a unique set of conditions, which softened smokier malts throughout maturation. Ultimately you're left with liquids more evocative of dank, forest floor as opposed to swampy, spongy bog. With a meticulously-calculated house style dialed in, the label expanded to become one of the most sought-after whiskies on liquor store shelves.
Fukuyo, for his part, is eager to usher in the next century of Japanese whisky by honoring and emphasizing hallmarks honed over the previous century. The flavors you'll ultimately uncork in either of these two limited edition bottles were blended not just because they're compelling but also because they showcase the quintessential qualities of the respective distilleries that birthed them. "Mizunara oak barrels have always played an important role for Yamazaki, and smokiness has always been a hallmark for Hakushu," he says. "So I believe the flavors I blended for the 100th anniversary are appropriate in terms of staying true to these brands' characters and their historical significance."
In addition to the 18-year-old one-offs, the House of Suntory will also release centennial editions of its popular 12-year-old Yamazaki and Hakushu flagships. Though the liquid inside these bottles will remain unchanged, outside the glass, they'll feature special illustrations paying tribute to "Monozukuri" craftsmanship. They will all be unveiled (along with a short film directed by Sofia Coppola, and starring Keanu Reeves) at the House of Suntory 100 Year Gala, hosted in New York on May 23rd.
If you weren't fortunate enough to land an invite to the exclusive engagement, take solace in the fact that you'll soon be seeing more age statement Suntory on shelves. As Fukuyo points out, the company has invested nearly $434 million in capital expenditures over the past decade — much of it earmarked for increased production and maturation capacity. So for fans of Japanese whisky, there's plenty to celebrate beyond the latest Yamazaki and Hakashu releases.
"We will continue to improve quality and create new whisky cultures," promises Fukuyo for the next 100 years of Suntory. "As a result, we will make a world where Japanese whisky is loved by consumers across the globe." Too late, the first century of Suntory has already got that goal in the bag. Perhaps it's time to take these malts to the moon.
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