Suntory Whisky

One of Osaka's great productions.

Prologue

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Are you aware Osaka produces many amazing products? Things that are beyond your imagination were actually born in Osaka - for example, instant noodles and retort-packed curry, TVs and radios too. Recent productions are robots and bio technology; what a wide range of production! Among the variety Osaka has, here, we are featuring "Suntory" - one of Japan's popular beverage brands.

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In 1899, Torii Shinjiro established Suntory with hopes of spreading whisky and wine to the Japanese public. He started his store in Nishi-ku, Osaka city and ever since then Suntory has been based in Osaka. Suntory has a wide variety of products - not only wine, whisky and beer, but also tea, juice, daily health beverages as well as health foods. The company has also earned high reputation for being involved in cultural and social activities and has made significant contributions to various fields such as art and music. Let's take a close look at the roots of "Suntory" ; how whisky is made and also study the spirit of production of Osaka.

How do You Make Whisky? Find Out at The Yamazaki Distillery

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The inside of the Yamazaki Distillery where the first domestically produced whisky was born, is opened to the public. It is located near the Yamazaki station of the JR Kyoto line which is about 20 minutes away from Osaka station. From the station, head south and a 10-minute walk will bring you to the distillery. You can't miss it with the big distillery pot and the brick buildings that stand boldly. You can even see it from the train. It is obvious how popular the tour is because even on weekday morning, families, couples and college students are lined up at the reception. They offer a guided tour of the distillery which you can sign up for on the spot, or a better idea is to make advanced reservations. Besides this they also have an exhibition room and shops that you can visit freely.

Malt and Water - The Ore of Whisky

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The first room we were guided through is where the [brewing] process is done. Crushed malt and warm water (63degrees Celsius) is stirred in a gigantic pot, which is about 3 meters in diameter. After a certain amount of time, the starch of the malt is saccharized (turned into sugar) and there you have a sweet-scented malt juice. By the way, the warm water used here is of course the high quality pure natural water of Yamazaki. They refer to it as the "mother water" because it is the key to the rich "aroma" of their whisky.

The Mother of Whisky

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The next room is where the alcohol is [fermented]. Huge wooden casks where the fermentation process occurs are lined up. Take a look inside and you'll find the surface covered with white foam. This is because the yeast is resolving the sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide. The heat within the room comes from the fermentation. Sometimes you can even hear the foam popping. In about three days, the yeast is finished with its job and the lactic acid from the wooden casks start to enrich the aroma and deepen the flavor. Knowing the fact, you may realize the sour smell within the room. When the fermentation is over, the "mother of whisky" with 7% alcohol is born.

A Couple More Years to Mature

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The next stage is [distillation]. At this point, the guide will ask for all those who have a low tolerance for alcohol or feel sick to ask for assistance. The aroma of the alcohol is really strong here, so be careful, although some children handle it well because they are running around having fun and don't look anywhere near feeling sick. There are 12 distillery pots with 6 different varieties that are huge and look like gigantic tubas. Unblended malt whisky or "mother of whisky" is made in a copper pot still which is heated from the bottom for distillation. Naturally it is really hot in this room. Watch the distilled clear liquid that flows out of the pot - it's freshly made whisky called 'new pot'. The fresh whisky is preserved in casks to be matured for years where it slowly changes its color to amber.

Can't Wait Till Morning!

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The unblended malt whisky is stored in a [cellar]. There are dozens of casks lined up in the dim cellar. It is calm, quiet and a bit chilly compared to the 'heat' and 'aroma' of the other rooms. Almost as if the whisky were having a good-night sleep. 400 thousand casks in Yamazaki are all labeled by the year of when 'they fell asleep'. The very first whisky distilled here was in 1924. And the cask is actually still kept here. It may be interesting to find a cask of whisky that is the same age as you. Some of the casks were already sold as "The Owner's Cask". Just in case you might be interested, the cask prices range from between 500 thousand yen and 30 million yen. So, what will it be? A glass? A bottle? Or a cask?

Drinks Are on The House

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And last but not least, at the end of the tour is the tasting - something everyone is looking forward to. Enjoy the whisky with water or soda. You have a choice of YAMAZAKI 12 Years or HAKUSHU 12 Years. Just keep in mind that this is just 'tasting'; not a party. For those who are driving home and under age, they have juice and oolong tea too.

Quality Assurance

Q&A with Mr. Fukushi Osamu, the Quality Control General Manager.

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Q: Your Tour of The Distillery is Quite Popular, isn't it?

A: At the Yamazaki Distillery, we have about 130 thousand visitors annually. In March, 2006, The Yamazaki Distillery received the "Visitor Centre of the Year Award" held by a British whisky specialized magazine. We are proud of winning this prize because it shows that our efforts in spreading information about whisky by exhibits, tours of the production process, various events as well as the facility and staff have been highly evaluated. It is an honor because it's a prize that appreciates the meaning of what we do everyday

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Q: You Must be Grateful for The Nature of Yamazaki Too.

A: Yes. Not only the Yamazaki Distillery itself, but the beautiful nature that surrounds the distillery is another factor that pleases our visitors. The area is known for its high quality, clear water. Have you seen the lake near the cellar? Every June, forest green treefrogs come to lay their eggs. They are designated as protected species, and known to inhabit only in very clean water. So as long as they come to lay their eggs, it proves how clean and precious the nature of Yamazaki is. The nature and water is the mother of our whisky. In order to preserve it, our staffs have clean-up days and take good care of the trees of the Tennozan on holidays.

The History of Japanese Whisky / Tour Through The Yamazaki Distillery

Now that we have profound knowledge of how whisky is made, let's look around the Suntory Yamazaki Whisky Museum. Why was Japanese genuine whisky born in Osaka? Let's find out!

The Beginning of Suntory

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A photo of young Shinjiro Torii, the founder of Suntory, greets the guests at the beginning of the exhibit. All the way back in 1899, he started his business in Osaka with the strong determination to produce "whisky and wine that suits the Japanese taste". And that is how he became the first person to produce domestically made whisky. He first succeeded in producing wine and his first release was "Akadama Port Wine". It was way back in the Meiji period when western culture stampeded its way into Japan and western liquor such as wine, champagne, whisky and brandy were all new to the people. Words like "delicious" and "nutrition" were used to advertise the wine, and actually it was the first advertisement in Japan showing a photo of a naked female on its poster. The unique advertisements like these and in the newspaper helped to increase its sales. One of its posters showing an attractive female with a wine glass in her hand, came in first place at the "World Poster Exhibition" held in Germany in 1922. They test printed the poster over and over again to get the right kind of redness of the wine.

The First Genuine Japanese Whisky - Shirofuda

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Once Shinjiro set his wine business on track, his next objective was producing whisky. He traveled around to find the best quality water for whisky and in 1923, he chose Yamazaki where the construction of the Yamazaki Distillery began. In 1924, the construction was completed, and the production of Japan's very first domestically made whisky was in process. Whisky is not made in one day; it is matured in a cask for many years.

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People living around the distillery spread rumors that there was a creature in the distillery named "Usuke (sounding similar to 'whisky')" that does nothing but eat barley everyday.You can't blame them because they weren't familiar with how whisky was made, and all they saw were barely sacks and empty casks being carried in and they didn't see any products being carried out. Finally, in 1929, Japan's first genuine whisky was born. It was named after its white label; "Suntory Shirofuda" "Wake up people! The days of unquestioningly admiring imports is over!" were in the paper to advertise the new whisky.

"This is what I was looking for"

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In 1937, Suntory KAKUBIN (square bottle) was born. You can find the same whisky in stores now too. Shinjiro was really satisfied with the fine taste this whisky had, but soon after it was born, World War Ⅱ began. Although it was very difficult to gather the ingredients, the Yamazaki Distillery continued its production. As the war got worse, they would bury the casks underground to save them from the bombing. They have photos to show what it was like back then.

Things were getting rough above ground, but the whisky protected at Yamazaki, quietly continued to mature. The casks that were saved at the hardest times played a big role in quickly spreading whisky to the public during the post war.

That's Japanese whisky

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Whisky became very popular during the post war. You can imagine how popular it was from the number of advertisements that are displayed at the museum. "Torys; cheap but good whisky", "Let's live a human life", "Enjoy Torys and win a trip to Hawaii!" are just some of the copies that were used back then.

In 1961, next to Scotch, Irish, Canadian and Burbon, Suntory Whisky was approved for registration in the United States. It became the first Japanese whisky and one of the "World's five Whisky". The Yamazaki Distillery is continuing its production of Japanese whisky that was created by Shinjiro Torii which has won many prizes at world-class liquor contests and has become a part of the "World-class taste".

Souvenirs?

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Next to the exhibition room is the whisky library. The wall is entirely covered with whisky bottles. They show the unblended malt whisky that is distillated at the Yamazaki Distillery. You may have the image of whisky being amber colored, but if you look at the bottles displayed here, you see that the darkness of the amber varies. They even have clear ones too. On the second floor is a souvenir shop where you can purchase whisky that are only sold here, whisky-cakes, cookies, bacon and cheese which you can enjoy as hors d'oeuvres with your wine. The glasses and chasers are fashionable too. Something more interesting is furniture made from the whisky casks which have very cool and unique designs.

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At the round counter near the entrance of the museum, you can enjoy various whiskies in various ways... just remember they aren't for free so you'll have to pay for each drink. The bar has reasonable prices and it is popular among their guests.

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