Yamazaki is arguably the most well-known Japanese whisky. It was the first distillery built in Japan, and has produced some of the finest whiskies in the world.
Shinjiro Torii founded the Yamazaki distillery near Kyoto in 1923. The site was chosen for the pure water source and diverse climatic conditions, ideal for whisky maturation.
Yamazaki was born out of Torii’s desire to produce the country’s first whisky in the Scottish tradition. Despite stiff opposition, Torii invested his family fortune in the distillery build. During this time, he enlisted the help of Masataka Taketsuru to create the first Japanese whisky: Suntory Shirofuda. The dismal reception was the final nail in the coffin for this tumultuous partnership and Taketsuru famously went on to found the other great Japanese whisky producer, Nikka.
Yamazaki’s next whisky was significantly more successful. Suntory Kakubin, released in 1937, is one of the best-selling and most well-known Japanese whiskies.
After Torii’s death in 1962, his son – Keizo Saji – took over the business. Saji added two distilleries to the company’s burgeoning empire: Chita, on the shores of the Chita Peninsula, in 1972; and Hakushu, in the Japanese Southern Alps, in 1973.
Yamazaki continually garners headlines and breaks records. In 2018, a 50-year-old went under the hammer for $299,000. Two years later, Suntory released a 55-year-old Yamazaki, the oldest Japanese age statement to date.
Yamazaki whiskies are made using a variety of pot stills. Some are direct fired, a practice rarely seen in Scotland today, to produce a more robust character. A variety of barrel types are used. It also contributes to the highly acclaimed Hibiki blend.