Japan’s first and oldest malt whisky distillery was established in 1923 by the founder of Suntory Whisky, Shinjiro Torii. Considered the birthplace of Japanese whisky, Yamazaki is nestled in the outskirts of Kyoto, where the Katsura, Uji and Kizu rivers converge, providing one of Japan’s softest waters and a unique climate for whisky maturation.
Decades in development
Shinjiro started business with the Torii Shoten shop in Osaka from where he launched Akadama Sweet Wine which became incredibly popular. In 1923, Shinjiro defied a unanimous protest of his company directors to invest his family fortune in building Yamazaki. The distillery’s first release, Shirofuda (white label), was similar in style to smoky Scotch whiskies and was poorly received when it was introduced in 1929. Undeterred, Shinjiro continued to strive for a whisky that would suit delicate Japanese palates. Suntory Kakubin (square bottle) was created in 1937 and proved much more popular – in fact the expression is still in production some eight decades later with an enduring tortoise shell style bottle design. Over the following decades, Suntory released a number of new expressions to international markets including Suntory Old Whisky, Suntory Royal, Suntory Red, and Suntory Reserve, but it wasn’t until 1984 that Yamazaki was finally released as a single malt.
The rising star
Today Yamazaki is the bestselling single malt whisky in Japan and is sold in more than 25 countries around the world. From its introduction as a 12-year-old bottling, the Yamazaki range has grown to include a number of expressions including 10-, 18-, and 25-year-old variants, the non-age statement Distiller’s Reserve, limited edition cask-finished releases and vintage bottlings. The range has made an impact on international spirit competitions too, with the honour of being the first Japanese whisky to be awarded a gold medal at the IWSC in 2003.