Whisky Distilleries

The Good Old Fettercairn Distillery

The Fettercairn Distillery (Picture Credits: www.panoramio.com)

Fettercairn distillery is situated in the Grampian foothills in the Howe of Mearns. Fettercairn means “the foot of the mountain” in Gaelic and reflects the ideal location for a whisky distillery. Natural ingredients are aplenty for the distillery – ice-clear Grampian mountain spring water and barley growing from the fertile soil surrounding the distillery allows this distillery to create stunning whiskies from its stills and barrels.

History of Fettercairn Distillery

The history of Fettercairn is as complex as most of the distilleries found in the region. Alexander Ramsay, the owner of the Fasque estate, founded Fettercairn in 1825 by converting a corn mill into the distillery. He lost his wealth in a few short years and sold everything to Sir John Gladstone. His son was the four-time British Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone. The distillery remained with the Gladstone family until 1923 and was mainly run by tenants. Thereafter, the distillery was almost mothballed by new owners Ross & Coulter (1923-1927) and James Mann (1927-1939) before it was sold to Associated Scottish Distillers (ASD), the Scotch arm of National Distillers of America in 1939.

ASD closed in 1954 and the distillery was sold to a private owner – Mr Tom Scott Sutherland. Finally, in 1971, it was bought by Tomintoul-Glenlivet and both distilleries joined the Whyte & Mackay umbrella in 1973. It remains with the company since.

The Emblems of Fettercairn Distillery

The emblems of Fettercairn (Picture Credits: www.tripadvisor.com)

Some emblems of Scotch whisky distilleries have a history behind them, and Fettercarin’s is no exception. The unicorn in the Fettercairn logo is part of Alexander Ramsay’s clan crest. The unicorn represents purity and strength and is also a symbol of Scotland since the reign of King Robert III.

The huge, red sandstone archway that stands at the entrance to Fettercairn is another symbol. It was built to commemorate the visit of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1861.

Whiskies from Fettercairn

Fettercairn has an interesting whisky range. It mainly contributes to Whyte & Mackey’s blends but is also bottled as a single malt. The Fettercairn label gains some popularity since 2009 when more efforts are put into single malt bottling. Currently, the Fettercairn Fasque and the Fettercairn Fior are available as official bottlings.

The distillery also has older bottles such as the Fettercairn 875 which was produced in the 1970s for the Italian market. Such bottles are rare and hard to come by in present day.

Fettercairn Distillery Today

Fettercairn continues to be one of the many distilleries that contribute most of its whisky into blends. While we believe that the fate of the distillery may continue as such, there is a chance that more of its whiskies may make its way into single malt bottling in the future.

A Relatively Short History on Allt-A-Bhainne

The Allt-a-Bhainne Distillery (Picture Credits: www.whisky.com)

The Allt-a-Bhainne distillery produces the whisky for the Chivas Brothers blend and currently belonged to the Chivas Brothers. It has a relatively short and undisturbed history but having been mothballed once, it is an interesting distillery to explore.

History of Allt-a-Bhainne distillery

Seagram built this lesser-known distillery in 1975. The Canadian drinks company also owned Chivas Brothers back then. The company built Allt-a-Bhainne to cater to the rising demand for blended whiskies such as the Chivas Brothers and other popular blends owned by Seagram.

During the economic downturn, Seagrams ran into problems and sold off its assets to other drinks company, primarily Diageo and Pernod Ricard. Pernod Ricard took over Allt-a-Bhainne and Chivas Brothers in 2001. They promptly inaugurate the distillery into the Chivas Brothers brand. The distillery mothballed in 2003 for some unknown reasons but reopened in 2005 by the Chivas Brothers to produce whisky for its blends.

Uniqueness of the Distillery

Working on Distillation in Allt-a-Bhainne Distillery (Picture Credit: www.scotchwhisky.com)

Allt-a-Bhainne distillery stands out as an oddball in Speyside mainly because of its modernistic design among the rest of the fanciful distilleries. It is located in the Fiddich Glen, near to Dufftown. The name meant “milk on the burn (steam)” in Gaelic.

The distillery’s design is extremely functional in order for it to be run with minimal staff. All its equipment is located in a single large room with the mash tun at one end and four stills at the other end. The distillery currently produces 4 million litres of pure alcohol per year for the blend production of Chivas Brothers.

It has no official single malt bottling as it is mainly a workhorse for the Chivas Brothers blend. Nonetheless, you can find single malt independent bottlings that carried the Allt-a-Bhainne name such as the one we tried from Gordon and Macphail.

The Distillery Today

Allt-a-Bhainne distillery remains as a workhorse for Chivas Brothers and its liquid goes into Chivas Regal, Passport and 100 Pipers. Due to its nature as a small, productive distillery, it is not open to the public and has no visitor centre since it is not looking at expanding its name and produce to the world.

 

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Dufftown Distillery (Formerly known as Dufftown-Glenlivet Distillery)

Picture Credits: www.whisky.com

Dufftown, Scotland is an amazing place. It has the highest concentration of distilleries in Scotland that its name is synonymous with Scotch whisky. It was said that Dufftown earns more capital for the UK Government per head of population than any other towns in the UK. Dufftown distillery is one of the nine distilleries. There were 7 previously, promptly a popular rhyme that goes, “Rome was built on seven hills, Dufftown stands on seven stills”.

History of Dufftown Distillery

The Dufftown-Glenlivet Company founded Dufftown in 1895. It was formerly called the Dufftown-Glenlivet distillery. Old bottles under the Dufftown-Glenlivet are still in the market. In 1897, Mackenzie & Co acquired the distillery and kept it for the next 40 years. Arthur Bell and Sons purchased the distillery in 1937. It marked the beginning of Dufftown distillery’s association with blended whiskies. Most of Dufftown’s whiskies go into the Bell’s whisky blend, as it still is today.

In 1974, the distillery expanded its stills from 2 to 4, and again from 4 to 6 in 1979. This quick response to a rise in demand contributed to Dufftown’s reputation as one of the most best-functioning distilleries in Scotland in terms of production. In 1985, United Distillers acquired Dufftown distillery. They were in turn, acquired by Diageo. In 2006, the appearance of the Singleton of Dufftown signalled some changes in the distillery.

Dufftown Distillery

Picture Credits: www.tripadvisor.com

The Dufftown distillery is one of the most cramped distilleries in Speyside, Scotland, largely due to its haphazard expansion. The site was converted from a mill and space was limited. Nonetheless, the expansion allows the distillery to produce 5.8 million litres of pure alcohol every year. The distillery has a full lauter mash tun of thirteen tonnes, 6 stills, and 8 warehouses with almost 100,000 bourbon barrels and sherry cask of malt whisky. The malting house closed down in 1968. Dufftown distillery now sourced its malts from a Diageo-owned industrial malting site.

Dufftown distillery is closed to the public but it is possible to tour the facility if you ask the distillery nicely in advance!

Dufftown’s Whisky

Picture Credits: www.spiritsociety.ch

Dufftown distillery produces whisky as a component for Arthur Bells and Sons’ blended whisky. In 2006, it joined the Singleton family. As a result, single malt from Dufftown begins to surface in the market. The Singleton of Dufftown 12 Years released in travel retail in the same year. The Singleton of Dufftown 15 and 18 Years Old followed after. In 2014, there were 2 special releases – Singleton Tailfire and Singleton Sunray.

Dufftown Distillery Today

We believe that Dufftown distillery will continue to be part of the blending for Arthur Bells and Sons in the near future. However, with the success of the Singleton of Dufftown, it is possible that this amazing distillery may divert more of its spirits for the single malt market in the future. We hope to see more from Dufftown distillery in future!

Royal Brackla Distillery – Once the favourite of the King

Picture Credits: geograph.org.uk

The Brackla distillery, or more commonly known as the Royal Brackla distillery is not always wearing the prefix “royal”. It was given to the distillery by the King of United Kingdom, King William IV in 1833. How did it come about and what happened between those years and now?

History of Brackla Distillery

Captain William Fraser of Brackla House founded the Brackla distillery on the Cawdor Castle estate in 1812. He was a hugely unpopular man, but his whiskies were received as one of the best in its time. King William IV came to hear about it and tried it personally. He loved it so much that he decreed the whisky to be his chosen drink in the Royal Court in 1833. The King granted a Royal Warrant to Brackla Distillery. That warrant gave the distillery the permission to add a prefix “Royal” to its name. Therefore, Brackla distillery became Royal Brackla distillery since 1833.

Royal Brackla distillery is one of the three distilleries in Scotland to ever bear the prefix. The other 2 distilleries are Royal Lochnagar (active) and Glenury Royal (mothballed).

William Fraser passed the distillery to his son Robert Fraser in 1852. He disposed it to the firm Robert Fraser & Co in 1878. The firm promptly changed its name to the Brackla Distillery Co Ltd the following year. The distillery remained with the company until 1919.

Royal Brackla in the 1900s

Picture Credits: www.potstills.org

John Mitchel and James Leith of Aberdeen bought the distillery in 1919 and sold it to John Bisset & Co Ltd of Leith in 1926. The Distillers Company Ltd took over John Bisset & Co in 1943 and the distillery went along with it. Shortly after that, the distillery closed down due to the restriction on the use of barley for distilling during World War II.

Royal Brackla distillery reopened in 1945. During this time, it became closely associated with blends. The distillery closed again in 1964 to 1966 due to renovations and rebuilding, where the owners changed from direct firing of the stills to internal heating. The distillery also expanded the number of stills from 2 to 4 in 1970 and built new warehouses in 1975.

Royal Brackla distillery closed again in 1985 but the whisky remained on site where they continued to mature and use for blending.

The Royal Brackla distillery reopened in 1991 with John Bisset & Co Ltd getting the license to the distillery in 1992. It remained with them till 1998. During the short period, 2 expressions were released – a semi-official 10-year-old by Fauna & Flora and a 20-year-old UD Rare Malt.

In 1998, the Royal Brackla distillery was sold to John Dewar & Sons – the subsidiary of the Barcardi. The distillery released an official bottling of Royal Brackla in 2004 and that was probably the end of it. Nonetheless, older bottles released during the 1970s and 1980s are available. One such example is our review of the Royal Brackla 12 Years Old.

The distillery continued to be a producer for the Dewar house blends such as Johnnie Walker and the various Dewar blends all through the 1990s.

Royal Brackla Today

Picture Credits: www.forbes.com

Dewar announced a surprise for Royal Brackla’s fans in 2014 with a range of single malts that released in 2015. Among them were the Royal Brackla 12, 16 and 21 years old. The originally closed to public distillery are also open to the public with distillery tours. We believe that more plans for Royal Brackla may be underway. Let’s wait for it!

 

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The Amazing History of Glenfiddich

Picture Credits: www.glenfiddich.com

Glenfiddich is the world’s best-selling single malt owned and produced by William Grant & Sons in Dufftown, Scotland. Better known as a Speyside single malt, Glenfiddich clinched the most awards at the International Spirits Challenge so far. It is one of the few Scottish distilleries that are family-owned with its current owner being the fifth generation of William Grant’s descendants.

History of Glenfiddich

Picture Credits: www.glenfiddich.com

William Grant was a visionary of his time. For 20 years, he harboured the dream to “make the best dram in the valley”. He realised his dream in the summer of 1886, where he, together with his 7 sons and 2 daughters, set out to build the distillery by hand, with only one stone mason to help. It was completed one year later.

Picture Credits: www.glenfiddich.com

William named the distillery “Glenfiddich”, which is Gaelic for “Valley of the Deer” and a stag became the distillery’s symbol. The first drop of spirit ran on Christmas Day, 1887. It was a memorable day; one that paved the way for Scotland’s single malts.

William’s grandson, Gordon Grant joined the family distillery in the 1920s, when Prohibition was in full swing. Instead of halting distillation, he increased whisky production. Due to his insights, Glenfiddich was one of the 6 operating distilleries in Scotland with fine, aged whiskies, ready to be sold, after the Prohibition ended.

In 1957, Charles Gordon (William’s great grandson), built an onsite infrastructure that included having coppersmiths onsite to maintain their copper stills. A dedicated cooperage followed in 1959. These 2 infrastructures proved to add strength to Glenfiddich as it made them self-sufficient later. Almost at the same time, Glenfiddich also launched its now-iconic triangular bottle, which houses all their liquids up till today.

Growing the Glenfiddich Brand

The 1960s to 1970s were tough years for whisky distilleries. Many of the smaller, independent ones were either bought over or closed down. William Grants & Sons increased the production of their whisky and introduced both advertising campaigns as well as a visitor centre in order to survive the tough years. This period effectively marked the “birth” of modern-day single malt category as the company decided to market single malt as a premium brand in its own capacity.

It is interesting to note that William Grant & Sons are also one of the pioneers to package its bottles in tubes and gift tins. They also understood the importance of duty-free markets for their whiskies. These marketing strategies worked for the brand, and it grows to become the best-selling single malt in the world today.

The Glenfiddich Ranges of Whisky

Glenfiddich whisky is produced at its distillery in Dufftown, Speyside. They take water from the Robbie Dhu springs and use various oak casks sourced from the Caribbean and America (Rum and Bourbon) as well as sherry butts from Jerez, Spain. The distillery has 28 hand-made copper pot stills and a team of coppersmiths maintain them on site. Glenfiddich has an extensive range of whisky from the core to the rare and the experimental.

The Core Range

Picture Credits: www.glenfiddich.com

The core range includes their signature 12 YO, 15 YO, 18 YO and 21 YO. Each whisky is finely crafted to their individual taste profiles. The core range is popular and is enjoyed by many whisky drinkers around the world.

The Special Edition

Picture Credits: www.glenfiddich.com

The special edition range consists of expressions bottled for a reason. For example, Glenfiddich Snow Phoenix was created in 2010 after warehousemen worked 24/7 to rescue maturing casks in minus 19-degree Celsius after extreme snow collapsed some of their warehouse roofs. Snow Phoenix was the result of the marrying of the finest of those rescued casks.

The Rare and Vintage

 

Picture Credits: www.glenfiddich.com

The rare and vintage collection is Glenfiddich’s most exclusive and oldest single malt whiskies. The distillery auctioned these bottles for charity and broke records all over the world.

The Cask Collection

Picture Credits: www.glenfiddich.com

The Cask Collection is Glenfiddich’s global travel retail edition. They represent the family’s pioneering and innovative spirits.

The Experimental Series

Picture Credits: www.glenfiddich.com

This ground-breaking series of single malt whisky is the proof of the family’s philosophy of freedom and possibilities. Both of these expressions came from collaborations between Malt Master Brian Kinsman and someone outside of the distillery.

Glenfiddich Today

William Grant & Sons continues to bring exceptional whiskies to the international market with their Glenfiddich creation. There is no doubt that future generations of the family will continue the proud tradition of Glenfiddich and bring it to greater heights. We look forward to more amazing creations from the distillery in the future.

What you should know about the Springbank Distillery

Picture Credits: www.springbankwhisky.com

The Springbank Distillery is a family-owned single malt whisky distillery located on the Kintyre Peninsula on Scotland’s west coast. It established on the site of Archibald Mitchell’s illicit still in 1828. It is one of the last surviving distilleries in Campbeltown, a place that once housed more 30 distilleries.

Short History of Campbeltown and Springbank Distillery

Picture Credits: www.springbankwhisky.com

In 1591, Campbeltown was first associated with whisky in official records. By 1601, it became a popular whisky smuggling centre as well as the place to produce illegal whisky. The Mitchell family (founders of Springbank) moved to Campbeltown as settlers from the Lowlands with skills as maltsters in 1660s.

Archibald Mitchell became a partner at Rieclachan Distillery in 1825 and was later joined by his brother Hugh Michell. When the laws were eased with the registration of whisky distillery, the Mitchell brothers founded Springbank in 1828. Built on the site of Riechlachan Distillery, Springbank became the 14th licensed distillery in Campbeltown.

The family continued to expand their whisky outreach. In 1834, Archibald’s sister, Mary Mitchell, founded Drumore Distillery. By 1837, Archibald’s sons, John and William Mitchell, took over the distillery. The two brothers worked to expand the family’s whisky business, with William founding Glengyle Distillery in 1872.

The family still owned many of the distilleries today. Currently, the 5th generation of the family is in charge at Springbank. He is the great, great grandson of Archibald.

The whiskies of Springbank

Picture Credits: www.springbankwhisky.com

The distillery produces three types of peated and unpeated malt whiskies. Most of them are single malts that are sorted into one of the three distinct brands of Springbank. A small percentage are sold to large blenders or made into Springbank’s own blended scotch labels.

The three distinct brands of Springbank single malts are

  1. Springbank Single Malt
    This is possibly the most popular variation that bears the namesake of the distillery. The standard bottling is a 10 years old that is medium-peated and distilled 2.5 times. It is bottled at 46% abv. There are also cask strength Springbank bottles of 12, 15, 18 and 21 years old. This brand also releases wine cask editions on a regular basis.
  2. Longrow Single Malt
    Longrow is a name that was taken from the mothballed distillery founded by John Ross in 1824. Springbank revived the brand and bottled the first Longrow in 1973. The standard bottles are no-age statement editions, heavily-peated and doubled distilled. Nevertheless, there are some rare age-statement bottles such as the 16 years old. Longrow also has a Red edition that uses a different type of wine casks each year. Longrow won Best Campbeltown Single Malt at the 2013 World Whiskies Award.
  3. Hazelburn Single Malt
    This is the newest edition to the Springbank Distillery. It is also named after another mothballed distillery in Campbeltown. The liquid is first distilled in 1997 and bottled as a 10 years old. A 12 years old expression was released in 2009. Hazelburn is a non-peated, tripled distilled whisky.

Springbank’s whisky making process

Springbank is the only Scottish distillery that completes 100% of their production process on site. They malt 100% of their barley using the traditional floor malting methods. They also used many old pieces of machinery that were preserved and maintained over the years.

The whisky making process for Springbank is as follows:

  1. Malting – Traditional floor malting methods are used in this stage. Barley is steeped in cold, clean water and allowed to swell up to 3 days. After that, it is laid out in a 6-inch deep even layer on the malting floors where the Springbank team turns it at regular intervals.
  2. Kilning – Once the malt is ready, they are moved to a kiln where they will be dried over a peat fire, hot air or a combination of both, depending on the brand being produced. Kilning takes between 30 to 48 hours.
  3. Milling – When kilning is completed, the barley is crushed into a fine powder called grist.
  4. Mashing – Grist is then placed into a mashing tun where hot water is added. This process extracts all the sugar into a liquid. The team rakes the liquid 3 times during mashing.
  5. Fermentation – The liquid drained from the mash is known as wort. It is transferred to wooden wash backs and yeast is added to convert the sugars into alcohol over a period of 80 to 110 hours of fermentation.
  6. Distillation – The liquid from the wash back passes through the 3 copper stills of Springbank – the wash still, the low wines still and the spirit still. After that, the liquid is transferred to the spirit safe when the stillman monitors the progress. The different brands go through different distillation processes to differentiate their distinctive styles.
  7. Cask Filling – The new spirit is then transferred to empty casks specially selected for Springbank.
  8. Maturation – The new casks are then sent to the dark, moist warehouse and left for a minimum of 3 years in maturation. Most whiskies are matured for a longer period under the watchful eyes of the Distillery Manager.
  9. Bottling and Labeling – All Springbank whiskies are non-chill filtered with no artificial colours added. During bottling, the team inspects the whisky at key stages to ensure the consistency of high quality and correct labelling.

Choice of Campbeltown

Springbank is indeed a great choice if you are looking at sampling Campbeltown whiskies. WhiskyGeeks have tried 2 rare whiskies from them. One of them is a Longrow 16 Years Old while the other is a Springbank 8 Years Old. Both are exceptional!

 

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Visit to Yamazaki Distillery Part Three

In Part One, we brought you some history of Yamazaki through its museum. Part Two consisted of the actual distillery tour.  In Part Three, let us bring you back to the museum to see the different whiskies made by Suntory.

All the whiskies ever produced by Suntory (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

The impressive display above caught our eyes as soon as we walked in. It showcased all the major whiskies produced by Suntory over the years. We couldn’t get a good shot of this display even with our wide angle lens, so we settled for a paranoma instead.

Old Whiskies of Suntory

Quiet little corners are often the best places to seek for treasures. We found a treasure cove behind some pillars and discovered the various old whiskies from Suntory!

Akadama Port Wine – The Sponsor of Yamazaki Distillery

The Akadama Port Wine imported by Kotobukiya (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

Torii-san imported the Akadama Port Wine by the name of Kotobukiya back in the 1920s. This Spanish port wine was popular among the Japanese.  The profits from the wine went towards the founding of the Yamazaki Distillery. In a way, we can say that Akadama Port Wine was one of the sponsors of Yamazaki Distillery.

Shirofuda White Label – The first ever Whisky produced by Suntory

Shirofuda White Label (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

This was the first whisky made by Suntory. It was a failure because it did not capture the hearts of the local community, but it was the reason why Suntory became better.

Old Whiskies from Suntory (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

 

Suntory Old Whisky (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

These are some of their really old whiskies made at Yamazaki Distillery. Rare aniques on their own, they are made more special by the roles that they had played in making Suntory and Yamazaki Distillery the way they are today.

Tory – the popular post-war whisky (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

Tory Blended Whisky was a special whisky that played a huge role after World War 2. Produced by Suntory, it was the number one favourite whisky for many of the Japanese population – both men and women – after the war. It was so well received that bars named “Torys” popped up all over Japan.

The Birth of Yamazaki 12 Years Old

Story of the Yamazaki (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

This section is the most crowded as visitors clicked their cameras and crowded around the display. The birth of the Yamazaki 12 Years Old generated a lot of interest for all visitors alike.

Birth of the Yamazaki (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

One of the Yamazaki 12 years was prominently displayed in the museum, with a simple write up of how it came about. There was also a flavour profile for some popular Yamazaki produced by Suntory.

Flavour Profile of the Yamazaki (Credit: WhiskyGeeks)

The Mizunara Cask

For us geeks, the Mizunara cask generated more interest as we were keen to see the difference between this and other casks such as the Sherry and the Bourbon.

The Mizunara Cask (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

During WW2, mizunara was used due to scarcity of sherry and bourbon. The challenges to use the mizunara were tremendous. Leakage, astingent woodliness that created bad whisky were all part of the reasons, but Suntory eventually figured the best way to use the mizunara as a second or third refill for a distinctive Japanese flavour of sandalwood and Japanese incense.

The Whisky Library

We head down to the highly anticipated whisky library after we have settled our curiousity for old whiskies and the mizunara cask of Yamazaki.

The Whisky Library at Yamazaki (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

This is the famed Yamazaki Library. There are about two rows of such shelfing with tons of whiskies sitting on them. It was impressive at first look, but it became disappointing when we noticed many repeated whiskies. Nonetheless, we did find something of interest.

Auchentoshan Whisky (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

 

Laphroaig Whisky (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

 

Macallan Whisky (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

There are Scotch whiskies in the library. We are not surprised given the history of Yamazaki. Torii-san had started the distillery based on knowledge from Scotland.

Other interesting finds include new make spirits and a selection of young Yamazaki.

New Make Spirits (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

 

A selection of 4 YO, 8 YO and 12 YO Yamazaki (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

The End of the Tour

We ended the tour with a drink at the bar, but it was nothing fancy. We left the distillery shortly afterwards to head back to Toyko. It was an interesting tour, even if we felt a lack in enthusiasm in their whole presentation. Our opinions shouldn’t stop you from visiting the distillery though. It is a personal experience for everyone!

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Visit to the Yamazaki Distillery Part Two

We left off in Part One where we were recalled to the meeting point of the distillery tour. We were given English audio guides as our tour will be in most part Japanese. The audio guides also come in other languages – Chinese, French, German and other major European languages.

Yamazaki Distillery Tour Starting Point (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

We were invited to explore the space within the starting point of the tour after gathering our audio guide. We managed to take a picture of the space before it was crowded and that’s what it looks like from the picture above! Nice, clean space with artful designs set to give visitors the maximum comfort.

Mini Casks at the Starting Point (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

 

Samples of whisky from Yamazaki Whisky Library (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

There are also miniatures casks on display as well as sample spirits from Yamazaki very own whisky library. More about the whisky library later. For now, let’s go explore the facilities!

The Distillery Tour Starts

The actual production house is of course, away from the main visitor centre but once we got there, the amazing aroma of malt drifted through the air and into our nose…making all of us go “mmm”…

Station 1: Mashing House and Fermentation Room

Credits: WhiskyGeeks

The first station was the mash house where malted barley is produced for fermentation. Malt whisky is made from selected two-rowed barley and water. The selected barley is germinated and dried to produce malt, before it is finely grounded and mix with water in a mash tun. The enzymes in the malt will break down the starch contents into sugar. Once that is completed, the mixture is filtered to obtain clear, unclouded liquid called wort.

The temperature in the mash house was high due to the ongoing mashing. The smell of malted barley was rather heavenly though, and we would not have left the station quite as quickly as the tour guide wanted us to if not for the heat.

The Mash Tun (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

Once the filtered wort is collected, it is transferred to the washbacks, and yeast is added to the wort, starting the fermentation process. The yeast converts the sugars in the wort into alcohol and carbon dioxide while generating “wash”, the distinctive flavours that define whisky.

Temperature in the fermentation room was just as high, if not higher. The sweet smell of sugar was distinctive here, and many of us agreed that it kinda smell like fresh bread due to the yeast in the room.

The wooden washbacks (Credit: WhiskyGeeks)

Station 2: Distillation

Next, we walked on to the distillation room, or what they called the Still House.

The Still House (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

Distillating the alcohol “wash” generated by fermentation is an art on its own. The shape and size of the stills plays an important role in the characteristics of the final “new make” spirit. This character of the “new make” spirit will then influence the way it takes to the casks during maturation.

Yamazaki Still Pots (Credit: WhiskyGeeks)

You can see from the picture above that the stills are of different shapes and sizes. The difference in the tilt of the angle, the size and the shape produces different kind of new spirits. The distillation process happens twice to produce a high alcohol content “new make” spirit.

Distillation in Process (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

At Suntory, they make use of different stills to produce different flavours of “new make” spirit. As you can see above, the new make are labelled for easy identification.

Collecting the alcohol (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

This is how the “new make: spirit is collected. The clear liquid shown here has a high alcohol concentration. If it makes the cut as a premium “new make”, it will make its way into a cask for maturation into whisky.

Station 3: Cooperage

Coopering is part of the whisky making process. Being equally important when compared to the spirit itself, it certainly deserves a station of its own.

The Cooperage Process (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

Coopering refers the the making of a cask and how each step of the cooperage experts will influence the eventual cask that they make. The casks used by Suntory are all hand-made, which makes the process even more challenging. We are sorry that the picture is rather blur as the bright light on top of the signage at the darken warehouse had made it difficult to take a good, clear photo.

The different casks on display (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

These are some of the casks that were on display. The tour included education on the different names of the casks such as butts, and hogheads. We will write another article on the different names of the casks soon!

Station 4: Warehouse

This was the defining moment of the distillery tour! Casks upon casks of maturing whisky stood before our eyes, and we got to say that it was just pure delight to walk in and smell that lovely, familiar aroma of wood and whisky.

The Yamazaki Warehouse (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

Just look at that! Rows and rows of maturing whiskies…Our hearts were so full at that moment we though it could burst. Here’s an upclose picture for you.

Close-up look at the casks (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

Notice the different years on the cask? The years tells you when the new make spirit was distilled and poured into the cask. There are plenty of casks with different years, from 1970s, to 1980s and the 2000s. None of them, however, were as exciting as the very FIRST cask ever filled at the Yamazaki Distillery!

The first ever cask by Yamazaki (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

Remember the replica we shown you at the extrance? The picture on top shows you the real deal. The real No. 0001 cask made and filled in 1923. All of us were so excited that we were told to tone down so as not to disturb the harmony of the maturing whiskies. It was a tough fight to just take this picture because of the excitement generated!

End of the Tour but not end of the story

We ended the tour with a tasting session. We will not be a spoil sport and revealed what you will taste at the session. To find out, go for the tour when you head for Japan next time!

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Visit to the Yamazaki Distillery Part One

Yamazaki Signboard (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

The Walk to Yamazaki Distillery

Geek Choc and Geek Flora visited the Yamazaki Distillery in early June this year for a tour of its facilities. The above picture was the first thing that greeted us when we reached the outer visitor post of the Yamazaki Distillery area after a relatively long walk from the train station of Yamazaki. Simple and clean, it is typical of Japanese Zen, but the distinct Yamazaki brand is stamped all over it.

After changing our tickets for the appropriate visitor passes, we walked past a beautiful forested area filled with tall trees, blooming flowers and a giant pot still!

Giant Pot Still outside of Yamazaki (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

The Yamazaki Distillery

This greeted us when we reached the distillery after a 5 minutes walk.

Yamazaki Distillery Visitors Centre (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

The simple yet imposing building stood majestically against the backdrop of forest, flowers and small streams. The simplicity of the building built up our curiousity, making us want to explore it immediately. Some of the other visitors we met along the way echoed the same sentiments and rushed through the doors. We lingered a little at the doors, taking some memorable pictures such as this.

Replica of Yamazaki first 9 casks from 1923 (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

These casks are a replica of 9 actual casks that were made when the distillery first opened in 1923. You can see the year as well as the cask number on them. Impressive as it is, the real ones are even more impressive! You will get to see it later in the warehouse in Part 2 of this series.

The Yamazaki Museum

Moving through the distillery doors, we were greeted with more majesty.

The imposing staircases of Yamazaki Visitors Centre (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

This staircase is part of the museum of Yamazaki, where we get a look into the history of Yamazaki as well as the different whiskies that were made over the year. If you take a closer look at the picture, you can see the original name of the company that founder Shinjiro Torii-san owned. The name Kotobukiya was later changed to Suntory, where it remains till today. From this staircase, we turned left to go into the museum as we still have some time before our tour would start.

The museum is a large, sprawling area where visitors can wander at their own pace without someone to hurry them along. There are lots of artefacts lying around, with information about almost everything that is Yamazaki and Suntory.

History of Yamazaki (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

Here are the small wordings on this board. “I want to make a Japanese whisky that fits for the delicate palate of the Japanese people.” The Suntory founder, Shinjiro Torii, followed his passion and built Japan’s first malt whisky distillery, ‘Yamazaki Distillery’. His passion and challenge have been continually passed down to the master craftsmen.”

History of Yamazaki

The old Yamazaki Distillery (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

There is also a picture of how Yamazaki Distillery used to look like in 1923, a rather imposing building back in its own days.

Moving deeper into the museum, we read about the history of Yamazaki, the choice of the Yamazaki site, and the history of the family. As the history is already told in a previous post, we will showcase some of the pictures we found instead.

Shinjiro Torii – Founder of Yamazaki Distillery (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

 

The second President and Master Blender of Yamazaki, Keizo Saji, the son of founder Torii-san (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

 

The Story of the 3 Generations (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

 

Old Map of Yamazaki Distillery (Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

We were recalled to the meeting point of the distillery tour at this point, so let’s head over for the distillery tour in Part 2, where we bring you the secrets of Yamazaki.

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The Interesting History of Japan’s Whisky Pride – Yamazaki

Suntory Yamazaki Distillery from afar (Picture Credits: www.kansai.gr.jp)

Japanese whisky is popular ever since the Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013 won the prestigious Whisky of the Year award in 2015. Yamazaki shot to fame overnight and the distillery receives much attention since then.

What happened between the years when the distillery just started and 2015? What has caused this Japanese distillery to excel and produce whiskies that are now world-famous? We dig deeper into the story behind the successful Japanese brand.

The birth of the Japanese Whisky Industry

Shinjiro Torii, the founder of Yamazaki and the founding father of Japanese Whisky (Picture Credits: www.suntory.com)

The history of Yamazaki is literally the history of the Japanese whisky industry. It is the first whisky distillery (oldest of course) in Japan. The founding father of Yamazaki, Shinjiro Torii-san, was essentially the father of the Japanese whisky industry.

Back in 1920, Torii-san was a successful businessman. He imported European wines into Japan in the name of his company, Kotobukiya. He also produced plum-based dessert wines and liquers. Torii-san learned about Scotch whisky production methods and aspired to create a whisky that was suitable to the Japanese palate. He sent his co-worker, Masetaka Taketsuru to Scotland to learn about the traditional methods of whisky production and the whisky trade. Taketsuru-san spent three years in Scotland, married a Scottish woman and learnt the whisky trade before coming back to Japan to share his knowledge with Torii-san.

Torii-san’s 3 concerns – high quality spring water, unique climate and humidity as well as transport ease (Picture credits: www.suntory.com)

In 1923, both men went in search for a perfect place in Japan to settle down and build the distillery. Torii-san chose the site at Yamazaki, a rural village which lies between the cities of Osaka and Kyoto. Taketsuru-san chose a site on the northern island of Hokkaido. The final decision was the Yamazaki site. It fitted Torii-san’s three major concerns – exceptionally high quality of spring water, unique climate and humidity and its ideal location for transport in Japan. However, Taketsuru-san did not agree and he left Yamazaki after serving his 10-year bond. Taketsuru-san started his own distillery Yoichi at his original site of choice later on.

The History of Suntory and its first whisky

The first ever Japanese whisky made by Suntory (Picture Credits: WhiskyGeeks)

Torii-san’s company, Kotobukiya, funded the building of Yamazaki Distillery. It began producing whisky in 1924 under the skillful management of distillery manager, Taketsuru-san. The very first whisky was introduced to the Japanese population in 1929. Before releasing the whisky, Torii-san changed the name of Kotobukiya to Suntory (a name that rhyme with his own Japanese title “Torii-san”). Suntory was the name of this whisky but its nickname “Shirofuda” (white label) was more famous. Unfortunately, the Japanese market was not receptive of the new whisky and Torii-san had to try again.

In 1932, Taketsuru-san left to set up his own whisky distillery – Yoichi. He started production in 1934. We will dedicate another post for Yoichi later.

The birth of the first popular Japanese Whisky

The popular Kakubin Whisky by Suntory (Picture Credits: www.suntory.com)

The masterpiece of Suntory is not the Yamazaki, but Kakubin. Released in 1937, 14 years after founding of the distillery, it was made with a variety of matured casks. Each cask added their unique characteristics and flavours that catered to the Japanese palate. The whisky took the name of the tortoiseshell shaped bottle it is housed in and is still well-loved by many today.

Yamazaki distillery continued to expand the Suntory brand in the 1940s and 1950s, introducing various other Suntory whiskies. In 1961, Keizo Saji, the son of Torii-san took the reins of the Yamazaki distillery. Saji-san became the second president cum master blender of the company. He began the building of the Hakushu and Chita distilleries in the 1970s. We will speak more about them in later posts.

Saji-san was credited with the distillery’s move into single malt whisky production.

The birth of the Japanese Single Malt Whisky – Yamazaki

The Yamazaki first portfolio – 12 Years Old and 18 Years Old (Picture Credit: WhiskyGeeks)

 

Yamazaki 12 years old single malt was released in 1984. Back then, the mass market was more interested in blended whiskies. However, the Yamazaki 12 years old captured the hearts of the Japanese people with its rich flavours.

The distillery launched the Yamazaki 18 years old in 1994 after the success of the Yamazaki 12 Years Old. It was received with great fanfare by the market and is one of the most popular whisky today.

Innovations and Improvements of Yamazaki Distillery

Pot Stills at the Yamazaki Distillery (Picture Credit: WhiskyGeeks)

From the 1980s, Saji-san also moved towards innovation in order to improve the distillery’s production. The distillery invested heavily into research and development in the late 1980s. Saji-san’s main aim is to increase the production and variety of malt whisky at the distillery. In 2013, the distillery expanded once again and added 4 more stills to its production line, making a total of 12 stills and increasing production by 40%.

Expansion into the wider world

Beam Suntory – the global gateway for Suntory and Yamazaki (Picture Credits: www.beamsuntory.com)

In 2014, Suntory, as the parent company, bought the US-based Beam Inc and created the world’s third largest spirit producer, Beam Suntory. After the merger, Yamazaki’s fame grew internationally as it is now easier for Suntory to distribute Yamazaki to US and the world.

World Famous Award-Winning Yamazaki

Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013 (Picture Credits: Whiskygeeks)

2014 also marked a shortage of stocks in the whisky industry and prompted the first release of ageless whisky. It became a popular way to fuel a new interest in the whisky industry. Yamazaki followed the same trend and released both the Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve and the Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013. Not every distillery met with great success in the release of ageless whisky, but Yamazaki outdid itself. Whisky expert, Jim Murray, awarded the Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013 as the “World Whisky of the Year” in his Whisky Bible 2015. This caused a great furry from the market and everyone rushed to buy the whisky. The interest turned the bottle into a limited edition with eye-popping prices in the secondary market.

Yamazaki Today

Yamazaki is a brand that continuously innovates to outdo itself. Its future is bright in the world of whisky. While its home market might not always prosper, Yamazaki can leverage on its connection with Beam-Suntory to become one of the world’s famous whisky brands.

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