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A story of pioneers
It was thanks to Shinjiro Torii, helped by Masataka Takesturu and his earlier knowledge in Scotland, that Yamazaki and his first malt whisky were born on the Isle of Honshu - an island which is home to Mount Fuji and crystal-clear waters winding through the heart of green hills. Yamazaki is now part of the Suntory group, which also produces the famous Hibiki and Hakushu.
Further south towards Akashi, in a company producing sake, it is the White Oak whisky which was born at approximately the same time, without claiming the title of precursor defended by Suntory. Today, the distillery does a remarkable job with its Akashi whiskies.
In 1934, Masataka Takesturu left the Yamazaki Distillery to start his own project on Hokkaido Island on the slopes of the Yoichi Hills. He thus fulfilled his dream of a distillery in Japan in a natural and wild environment with a climate and water quality reminding him of the sites of Scotland. Nikka was born.
The following decades saw the rise of Japanese whisky in the archipelago during a period of reconstruction of the country following World War II. Suntory and Nikka take a big place and clash through a great deal of innovations and marketing: Suntory launches Yamazaki 10, 12, 18 and 25 years, Hibiki and Hakushu while relying on the biggest Western celebrities including Sean Connery or Frank Sinatra for his advertising campaigns especially in the United States ; Nikka launches the square bottle of its From the Barrel and its Red (soft), White (smoked) and Black (synthesis of the two) editions.
International recognition and career in Hollywood
Japanese whisky took advantage of two phenomena in the early 2000s to make a real breakthrough on the international scene: prominence in Hollywood and awards from experts in the whisky world.
Born thanks to the knowledge acquired in Scotland, Japanese whisky has been able to push the demand for quality to new heights and innovate to find its place among the greatest. In 2001, Yoichi 10-year-old whisky won the Best of the Best award from a jury of wine and whisky experts. In 2003, 12-year-old Yamazaki won the gold medal at the International Spirit Challenge in Great Britain. Dozens of awards have since been awarded each year to whiskies from Japan.
In 2003, it was with the cinema that Japanese whisky took off in the world, and especially Hibiki. Suntory thus benefited from the success of Sofia Coppola's film Lost in Translation in which Hibiki whisky appears: Oscar for best director for Sofia Coppola, Oscar for best actor for Bill Murray, revelation of the year for Scarlett Johansson… All of a sudden, sales of Hibiki rose from 5,000 bottles in Europe in 2002 to more than 50,000 in 2004-2005, one year after the Oscars.
For amateurs and collectors
Japanese whisky enjoys a tremendous image in public opinion today. This is the spirit to discover. Stocks are very limited and the distilleries are struggling to meet the ever-increasing demand.
Nowadays, it is easier to find ageless Japanese whiskies at reasonable prices. Whiskies with an age mark are particularly sought after by collectors. Faced with the great classics, the market is seeing the proliferation of new brands and new bottlings.