Yamazaki is Japan's true whisky pioneer. It was the first ever single malt whisky distillery to be built in Japan and is located between Kyoto and Osaka. Ever since it began production in 1923, Yamazaki has led the way in Japanese whisky production. Alongside parent company Suntory (now Beam Suntory), Yamazaki has continually shaped the country's whisky culture for nearly a century. This continues today as the multi-award winning single malt range remains at the forefront of the Japanese whisky industry.
Yamazaki produces a variety of styles at the distillery. This is unusual as the majority of distilleries are known for one particular type of spirit or another. This is achieved through the stills, which can be switched to make different styles. The results help to create extra depth and complexity within the final single malts and Suntory's blended whiskies. However, most released under the Yamazaki single malt label have a soft and gentle nature with distinct floral and green fruit notes.
The Yamazaki distillery has undergone much renovation, expansion and modernisation during its history. The most recent of these was in 2013. This has resulted in a total of 16 pot stills being in operation. Unlike most distilleries around the world, these are not uniform. Different combinations of still shape and size, lyne arm angle and condenser type lead to numerous styles of spirit coming from the same stillhouse. Add to this that they also produced a smoky spirit using differing levels of peat in the malt. The number of variants is staggering. The total annual production capacity is 6 million litres.
The story of Yamazaki is really the story of the birth of the Japanese whisky industry. The man responsible is Shinjiro Torii, founder of the Suntory company and now Japanese whisky legend. He wanted to make whisky better suited to the Japanese palate. This followed a lengthy working trip to Scotland where he learned the intricacies of whisky making at a number of Speyside and Highland distilleries. He returned and invested his family fortune to build Yamazaki, Japan's first single malt whisky distillery.
Construction began in 1922 and took just one year. Production commenced in 1923 with the first releases appearing in the late 1920s and early 1930s. These whiskies were not amazingly successful, but Torii persisted. The launch of Suntory Kakubin changed fortunes and presented a more delicate style for the Japanese palate. He continued to develop whiskies that married the differing styles being producing at the distillery.
Suntory's whiskies became more popular and more culturally acceptable in Japan during the 1950s. Early on, Torii had recognised that Japanese taste and ways of drinking were different, so Suntory began creating new drinking styles. The most notable of these was the invention of the Mizuwari - a take on the classic highball with Suntory whisky mixed with water and ice.
Yamazaki appeared as a single malt brand in its own right for the first time in 1984 and grew in popularity in Japan. Suntory followed this up with the release of the Hibiki blend, which features Yamazaki, in 1989. Hakushu from Yamazaki's younger sibling single malt distillery then appeared in 1994. They also own the Chita single grain distillery, which was first released on to the market in 2015.
Yamazaki was catapulted on to the world stage in late 2014 as the Yamazaki Sherry Cask won Whisky Of The Year in Jim Murray's Whisky Bible 2015 Edition. This was one of the first times that a Scotch whisky had not been awarded such a prize. Suddenly everyone wanted a Yamazaki whisky. Japanese whisky sales around the world exploded and the rest is history. Yamazaki has gone on to score a huge amount of awards in global spirits competitions.