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Chichibu 2: The Sequel

Great news for fans for Chichibu whisky: Chichibu’s second distillery is now producing more Chichibu for the world! Recently, Daniel, a friend of mine, visited Chichibu in January of 2020 and spoke with Yumi about Chichibu 2!

The unique feature of Chichibu

Chichibu 2020 Washbacks. Photo Credit: Daniel Wen

Each washback contains 10kg of yeast which undergoes fermentation for 4 days, compared to an industry standard of 48 hours. This longer fermentation time allows for slower lactic acid bacteria fermentation that contributes to the character of Chichibu’s new-make spirit. The cut of the heart of the distillate is also not just determined by measurements, but a human nose to ensure that the new-make spirit smells clean!

 What about Chichibu 2?

In Chichibu 2, the washbacks are wooden as well but made of European oak instead of Mizunara oak. Unlike Chichibu 1, Chichibu 2 has directly heated stills which could possibly produce a new-make spirit that is more robust and complex. I mean, there has to be a reason why Glenfarclas stuck with direct heating even after trying steam coil distillation. Chichibu 2 will use the same yeast as the original distillery but the fermentation time in Chichibu 2 is slightly longer.

Unfortunately, at the time of this article (March 2019), Yumi cannot answer how different the two Chichibu new-make spirit tastes. Production and testing started in October 2019, so adjustments may still be ongoing, and data might need processing.

One thing is sure, Chichibu 2 will produce 5 times the capacity of Chichibu 1! Currently, Chichibu 1 stands at a capacity of 60 000 – 90 000L of Pure Alcohol annually. That will mean more Chichibu to go around… in about three or more years.

More about Chichibu 

Chichibu sources spring water from the nearby Arakawa (荒川) river. The water is clean and soft, suitable for fermentation and dilution.

Barley

Bags of malted barley in Chichibu distillery 2020. Photo Credits: Daniel Wen.

Chichibu distillery is currently using barley from various sources. 70% is from Crisp malts in the UK, 20% is from Europe, and 10% is local Japanese barley! The grist ratio is at an industry standard of 70% grist, 20% husks and 10% flour.

The peated expressions of Chichibu currently use peat that comes from northeastern Scotland, in between the Highlands and Speyside.

Casks in Chichibu

The team at Chichibu also creates a unique Chibidaru cask. The Chibidaru is comprised of Mizunara cask ends (the circle) with American white oak staves.

Chichibu

Mizunara cask at Chichibu distillery 2020. Photo Credits: Daniel Wen.

Mizunara (above) is somewhat porous and loses whisky quick. But this innovation minimises leakage and while still providing Mizunara flavours. Chibidaru casks are also smaller than the standard bourbon barrel. This small 130-litre cask offers a greater surface area to volume ratio than the standard barrel. Due to its smaller size, these Chibidaru casks rest atop of the casks in the warehouse. This position exposes the cask to a slightly higher internal temperature with more temperature fluctuation due to its smaller size. *flashbacks of heat transfer lectures* The combination of small cask size, higher average internal temperature and increased variation allows Chibidaru casks to mature whisky faster.

In most stacks of casks, the wee Chibidaru casks will be on top with 2 rows of 200L bourbon barrels below it, and the bigger 480L sherry butts at the bottom. Chichibu is also very experimental with the casks they use.

Rum Cask, 2020. Photo Credits: Daniel Wen

On the left are some Chichibu whisky sitting in Barbados rum barrels. Click here for more information on rum!

There was even an ex-tequila cask spotted in the warehouse! Unfortunately, that cask that I spotted 3 years ago is still maturing.

 

The near future of Chichibu

As mentioned earlier, Chichibu is using local barley, and Chichibu local barley might take a while to reach markets. Although the distillery intends to use more local barley, it is improbable that the distillery can move to use 100% local Japanese barley, especially with their plans of increased production.

Talks are underway to use local peat sourced from a company that is approximately 1km away from Chichibu distillery. Imported peat will still be the primary source for the foreseeable future.

The team at Chichibu hopes that the new distillery will push increase production. This would alleviate pressure off the first distillery, which can start doing unique experimental craft whisky. But look out, there may be a plan to do direct retail in the future if production allows!

Big Boss is Hosting a CNY Party! What should You Bring?

The Lunar New Year is all about feasting and visiting relatives and friends while feasting…Hmm…that explains the growing waistline, doesn’t it? Well, that’s not all! The Lunar New Year is also a time when all young people play dodgeballs. What? Yes, dodging questions about marital status and baby-making plans!

You may think that this is all that is about the Lunar New Year, but wait, how about that awesome party that your big boss is holding? Some of these parties are not just a party, my friends; it could be a party that every department, or perhaps every colleague tries to outdo one another based on what they bring to the party!

So, if you are heading to one of these parties, what should you bring?

Oranges and Red Packets

Oranges and red packets (ang baos) are two of the most vital things to bring when heading to such a party. This is essential if your boss is old-school and believes in a traditional set-up for the party. Even if you are heading for a pool-side party, the oranges and red packets will still do a lot of good! Well, unless you are single, then be prepared to receive red packets!

Whisky

If you want to impress your boss, whisky is one of the best choices you have. It might be cool to bring a bottle of wine to the party, but nothing impresses more than a bottle of whisky. The question is, what whisky should you bring? Let us share some suggestions with you!

Macallan Edition No. 3

The Macallan Edition No. 3 is a sweet and floral whisky that is easy to drink. It is also an affordable bottle that doesn’t break your pocket. Besides, Macallan is a famous brand, so even the uninitiated, non-whisky drinkers will recognise the brand. This bottle is going to help boost your reputation, especially if your boss loves whisky!

Taketsuru 21 Years

Next in line is a Japanese whisky that is so popular that prices are shooting higher and higher. The Taketsuru 21 Years Pure Malt is a blended whisky with some of the best Japanese single malts in it. It appears that both Yoichi and Miyagikyo are both parts of the blend! While this bottle may be a little more expensive, you can share the cost with a small team if you want to impress the big boss that your team knows what to bring for a CNY party!

Glenfiddich IPA

You have probably tried the Glenfiddich IPA and love the way the gentle and malty whisky sways its way down your throat in the sexiest of ways. We think that this bottle is perfect if the gathering does not require you to bring a big gift along. It is also ideal if you want to bring a bottle on your own and do not want to spend too much money. Glenfiddich is a big brand name with the best-selling whisky in the world. Bringing a bottle from a famous distillery can earn some brownie points too!

Glenlivet 12 Years Old

If you think that an aged Scotch is necessary, bring along the Glenlivet 12 Years. It is an easy-to-drink whisky that is floral and pleasing to the nose and palate. If you are willing to splurge a little more (good bonus, perhaps), go one level higher and aim for a Glenlivet 15 Years old. Both bottles will win hearts and souls with their excellent spirits. Of course, they will bring you higher regards from both the bosses and your colleagues!

Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve

If all else fails, there is Yamazaki to the recuse. The Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve is one of the most popular Japanese whiskies that is still relatively affordable. Unlike the Yamazaki 12 Years old, the Distiller’s Reserve edition is easier to find and does not cost as much as a 12 Years old. Bringing a Yamazaki bottle to the party is likely to make you a favourite among all the party-goers, especially if they love the delicate and floral taste of Japanese whiskies.

Have a Lovely Party!

The weekend that is coming up is going to be busy with all the parties! We hope that this little post will help you choose a bottle of whisky to bring and hope that it will bring you good fortune and the best of luck in the new year!

Slainte!

 

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Whisky Review #30 – Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013

This is the single expression that propels the Yamazaki brand and Japanese Whisky to fame. Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013 is a no-age statement and was matured solely in oloroso sherry casks. Only 18000 bottles were produced for this expression. This single malt whisky is also produced from malts that created the flavours of the Yamazaki brand. Coupled that with the maturation in oloroso sherry casks, and you get a rich, complex whisky.

In 2015, whisky expert Jim Murray named this 2013 expression of Yamazaki as the World Whisky of the Year with a whooping score of 97.5! It was also the same year that none of the Scottish distilleries made it to the top five! Since then, the Yamazaki brand and Japanese Whisky gained a major foothold in the industry. The rest of the world finally took notice of this Asian giant that has slowly creeped up behind the Scots. Even Jim Murray said that the Scottish whiskies “fell flat” in his books. 2015 was certainly a “wake-up call” for the Scottish brands.

Jim Murray described this whisky as “rich and fruity”, with a nose of “exquisite boldness” and finish of “light, teasing spice”. In addition, he said,”If anyone wants to find out roughly what the first Macallan 10 year old I had in 1975 tasted like, then grab a bottle of this …” Wow! That certainly felt like gold.

Unfortunately, the whisky was sold out so quickly that we were not in time to grab one in the primary market. Prices of this expression sky-rocketed in the secondary market. Surprisingly, the bottles found in the secondary market were sold out pretty fast as well. At present, only selected shops across the world still have stocks of this expression. The price, of course, is crazy.

We are sad that we are unable to taste this exquisite whisky but we hope to taste it in future!

What about you? If you have tried the Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013, why not share your experience with us here?

Awards

World Whisky of the Year 2015 – Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible

Tasting Notes – Not Available

Comment:
Geek Choc: “I remember back in 2010, I tried my first Yamazaki 12 years, and that made me realized that Japan is not only about sake. Subsequently, I managed to get hold of a bottle of Yamazaki 18 years from DFS, and WOW, I was really awed by the quality of the liquid. If I have the chance, the Sherry Cask is a must-try for me!

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Whisky Review #29 – Yamazaki 25 Years Old

Yamazaki 25 Years Old is a luxury bottle from the range of Yamazaki whiskies. It was released in 1999 and is still in production today. It has 12,000 bottles yearly. Yamazaki 25 years old is aged completely in sherry casks, which is a delight for sherry lovers! Similar to Yamazaki 18 years old, this expression of the 25 years old has won numerous awards. However, the drawback from this expression appears to be its inconsistency in its production.

Awards

Best Japanese Single Malt – Winner, World Whisky Awards 2014
Japanese Single Malt 21 Years and Over – Gold, World Whisky Awards 2014
Best Japanese Single Malt – Winner, World Whisky Awards 2013
World’s Best Single Malt – Winner, World Whisky Awards, 2012
Best Japanese Single Malt – Winner, World Whisky Awards 2012

Tasting Notes

Colour: Dark Amber
ABV: 43%

Nose: Strong sherry with rich dark chocolate at first nose. Red dates, raisins and prunes come after. Burnt campfire wood with hints of apples tops the nose after a while. (17 points)

Palate: Sweet sherry and chocolate at the beginning but astringent wood and extreme spice raid the palate soon after, overpowering all the sweetness that came before. (14 points)

Body: Decent balance with sweet sherry and chocolate. Unfortunately, the astringent wood and extreme spice is also presented in the nose, palate and finish. Nonetheless, a balance whisky that can be enjoyed by those who like oaky wood spice. (30 points)

Finish: Long and dry finish with bitterness that comes from the astringent oaky wood. (14 points)

Total Grade: 75 points

Comment:
Geek Flora: “I have heard various comments about the inconsistency of the production for the 25 years old. The dram that I had definitely did not come from one of its award-winning bottles. I had high hopes for this expression, but was solely disappointed that it did not live up to its reputation.”

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Whisky Review #28 – Yamazaki 18 Years Old

Credits: WhiskyGeeks

Yamazaki 18 Years Old is released in 1994, 10 years after the success of Yamazaki 12 year old. It was received with much anticipation by the industry. This legendary whisky is a classic and up till today, it is highly praised for its complexity and flavours. Yamazaki 18 years old has received numerous awards, but the most prominent ones are a gold award in the World Whiskies Awards in both 2014 and 2016 as well as Best Japanese Single Malt in 2015.

The price and rarity of Yamazaki 18 years old has steadily increased with the number of awards it won. It is no longer a bottle that you can easily find in duty-free stores, not even in Japan. You can find it on the secondary markets, but at a crazy price.

Awards

(1) San Francisco World Spirit Compeition 2005 – Double Gold
(2) International Spirit Challenge 2007 – Gold
(3) World Whiskies Awards 2014 – Gold for Japanese Single Malt 13 – 20 years
(4) World Whiskies Awards 2015 – Best Japanese Single Malt
(5) World Whiskies Awards 2016 – Gold for Japanese Single Malt 13 – 20 years

Tasting Notes:

Colour: Copper
ABV: 43%

Nose: Rich fruit cake on Christmas Day comes to mind as you take in the nose. Raisins, apples and cinnamon sticks coupled with dried dates are mixed with woody oakiness, some sulphur and a pleasant smokiness. (17 points)

Palate: Smooth and mellow, with strong raisins and red fruits on the palate before the oakiness and smoke comes in to balance it off. Hint of a rich, sinful chocolate cakes comes in towards the end. A perfect mix of sweet and spice. (17 points)

Body: It is a well rounded whisky that is rich and flavourful. The smooth velvety feel in the mouth feesl luxurious. (30 points)

Finish: Long, lingering finish of a luxuriously rich chocolate cake, raisins, light peat and some wood. (16 points)

Total Grade: 80 points

Comments:
Geek Flora: “I love the Yamazaki 18 years old because of its rich fruity notes. The hints of chocolate adds appeal. Even the wood and light peat is pleasant. Nonetheless, it is still another whisky that I can live without, especially when the price  has risen considerably since it started bagging numerous awards.”

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Whisky Review #27 – Yamazaki 12 Years Old

Credits: WhiskyGeeks

The Yamazaki 12 years old is the flagship single malt whisky of the Yamazaki Distillery. Released in 1984, it remains the best selling whisky in the distillery. Due to the shortage of aged whisky in recent years, the Yamazaki 12 years old is getting harder and harder to find in retail shops or duty-free stores. Most of the time, you can only find it in the secondary market.

Despite the popularity of the Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask (the winner of the Best Whisky in the Year in 2015), the 12 years old is still a great choice for most whisky drinkers. Its relatively mellow notes makes it a pleasant drink on most occasions.

Tasting Notes:

Colour: Gold
ABV: 43%

Nose: Rich tropical fruits with hints of orange hits first before butter cookies and honey toast makes an entrance. Makes a pleasant nose. Feels like a breakfast cereal. (15 points)

Palate: Tropical fruits and buttery cookies melt on the palate as you chew on the whisky. Citrus notes mix with vanilla and a dollap of honey softens the spice that comes in shortly after. (16 points)

Body: A decent balance with a light body and a velvety feel (29 points)

Finish: Medium finish, notes of sweet malt accompanied by toast, tropical fruits and a slight spice. (14 points)

Total Grade: 74 points

Comment:
Geek Flora: “I drink the Yamazaki 12 years old for some years now. It is getting harder to find, but I can live without it. I enjoyed it as a simple drink that is great for after dinner or a gathering with friends.”

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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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