House of Suntory launches Japan's oldest-ever whisky

By Tempus | 16 Sep 2021 | Indulge

The Yamazaki 55, originally distilled in 1960 in Shimamoto, will receive a global launch this month

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Iconic Japanese whisky firm House of Suntory has unveiled the oldest whisky ever produced by a Japanese distillery, the Yamazaki 55. 

The spirit, originally crafted in the 1960s and bottled in 2020, "celebrates the Japanese Showa era" which "represented a major period of change" for the House of Suntory, according to the distiller.

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Just 100 bottles of the expression were initially released in Japan in 2020, with this month's global launch seeing exports hit shelves in the United Kingdom, United States, China and Taiwan. In London, the Yamazaki 55 will be available to purchase in Harrods, Claridge’s and The Arts Club.

The spirit is a delicate blend of precious single malts featuring components distilled in 1960 under the supervision of Suntory’s founder Shinjiro Torii and then aged in Mizunara casks; and in 1964 under Suntory’s Second Master Blender Keizo Saji and then aged in White Oak casks. The distillery’s Fifth-Generation Chief Blender Shinji Fukuyo worked closely with Third-Generation Master Blender Shingo Torii in deploying their signature art of blending to properly reveal the exceptional depth and complexity within Yamazaki 55.

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The resulting expression features a deep amber color, while the nose features a robust aroma reminiscent of sandal wood and well-ripened fruit. On the tongue, the liquid is sweet, slightly bitter and expresses a woody quality ahead of a warm, rich finish.

“Throughout the process of blending Yamazaki 55, I used as inspiration the passage of time and ‘Wabi-sabi’ – the Japanese belief that imperfections can help to ultimately contribute to perfection,” said Fukuyo of the spirit. “While I often view other extra aged whiskies as art, I consider Yamazaki 55 to be more like a Buddhist statue: calm and mysterious, requiring time to truly enjoy the inner beauty.”

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Yamazaki 55 is presented in a crystal bottle with the word “Yamazaki” engraved in calligraphy using the technique of sandblasting, and featuring real gold dust and lacquer on the age marking. The bottle’s opening is wrapped in handmade Echizen washi paper and bound with a Kyo-kumihimo plaited cord, a traditional craft from Kyoto. Each bottle is delivered in a bespoke box made from native Japanese Mizunara wood and coated with Suruga lacquer.

Furthermore, House of Suntory parent company Beam Suntory has stated that it will donate $5,000 USD to The White Oak Initiative for every bottle of Yamazaki 55 released in this year’s 100-bottle collection, totaling $500,000 USD. The initiative is a charity committed to the long-term sustainability of America’s white oak forests, which are used in the aging process of the Yamazaki 55.