The Art of The Japanese People
The best Japanese artisans never add or take away, only heighten the beauty and spirit that lives deep within every ingredient. They are humble enough to acknowledge that their art can only be as great as the intrinsic richness of each ingredient. There is a surprising humility within their art, whether in the blending or the distillation. At every stage in creating the whisky, this relationship between their craft, nature and humility inspires their uncompromising pursuit of taste.
The Pioneer: Shinjiro Torii
Legendary Founder Shinjiro Torii has been embraced throughout history with many names. Nicknamed, the nose of Osaka, Shinjiro Torii is a true pioneer that paved the way to create Western-Style Liquors to suit the Japanese palate. Shinjiro is Japan’s first Master Blender and the Father of Japanese Whisky. But most importantly, what consistently drove Shinjiro was his desire to enrich the lives of the Japanese people with the spirit of Yatte Minahare – a never give up attitude for challenging market conventions and pioneering change.
He began his business with the import of Spanish wines, but failed miserably as the authentic taste of Spanish wine was too robust and foreign for the Japanese public. This hard lesson costs Shinjiro his savings and convinces him to create his first original blend, fit for the palate of the Japanese people. He names his product Akadama (Red Circle) Port Wine in tribute to the land of the rising sun. He features a red circle on the wine label to symbolize the Sun as Shinjiro believed that “sun gives life to all beings”. With the huge success of the launch of the Akadama Port Wine in 1907, Shinjiro build his first plant, The Osaka Plant in 1919.
The success of Akadama Port Wine encourages Shinjiro to bet on his dream. A dream to create an original Japanese whisky blessed with the riches of Japanese Nature and Craftsmanship (Monozukuri). Despite the resistance of his family and colleagues, Shinjiro invests his whole fortune to start construction of Yamazaki Distillery – Japan’s first malt whisky distillery in 1923. Through trial and error, Shinjiro finally succeeded in 1937, launching a Suntory Whisky that would eventually be nicknamed “Kakubin” (“square bottle”) by the people of Japan. Today, Kakubin remains the #1-selling Japanese whisky by value in Japan. **Source: IWSR 2022
The Culturalist: Keizoo Saji
Renowned Haiku poet, Second Generation Master Blender and Patron of the Arts, Keizo Saji not only inherited his father’s vision but grew the local Osaka Business into a successful leading company – Suntory. Keizo Saji was born in Osaka in 1919 as the second son of Shinjiro Torii. He became president of Kotobukiya in 1961, and officially renamed it to Suntory Limited in 1963, paying tribute to the success of Suntory Whisky (Kakubin).
Under Keizo’s leadership, Suntory grew to become not only one of the world’s leading spirits and beer company but a company that greatly contributed to enriching Japanese Culture and the Arts. It was in his first year of presidency (1961) that Keizo officially establishes “Giving Back to Society” as one of the leading pillars for Suntory, opening the Suntory Museum for the Arts in Marunouchi, Tokyo. In 1986, he built the Suntory Hall in Akasaka, as the first concert hall in the heart of Tokyo. Today, it remains to be the most prestigious concert hall in Japan. Keizo continued to increase Suntory’s contribution to cultural life, giving back one third of their profits to the betterment of society.
As Second Generation Master Blender, Keizo remained committed to his father’s vision of creating original whiskies blessed with the riches of Japanese nature and craftsmanship (Monozukuri), and built the Chita Grain Distillery in 1972 and the Hakushu Malt Distillery in 1973. 61 years from the construction of the Yamazaki Distillery, Keizo was able to launch the much awaited Yamazaki Single Malt in 1984. In 1989, Keizo commemorated the 90th anniversary of Suntory with the launch of Hibiki meaning “Resonance or Harmony with Nature”. In 1994, 5 years before his death, Keizo introduced Hakushu Single Malt and successfully completes the luxury portfolio of Suntory Whisky.
The Purist: Shingo Torii
Shingo Torii is the grandson of Shinjiro Torii and the Third Generation Master Blender of the House of Suntory. Shingo is most often credited as the man that took Suntory to the global stage. It was his undeterred commitment to quality, and his “no compromise” attitude that elevated the House to be synonymous with its award winning reputation. Shingo is said to be seldom satisfied. A purist at heart, relentless about getting things right. Shingo tirelessly commits himself to consistently better the qualities of Suntory Whisky day in and day out.
That effort paid off in 2003, when Yamazaki 12 Years Old was awarded the prestigious gold medal at the International Spirits Competition in the UK. This widely covered event changed not only the history of Japanese whisky but the history of whisky itself. 2003 finally put Japanese Whisky on the map for all whisky connoisseurs. Since then, Suntory Whisky has been named 4 times the Distiller of the Year at the ISC, making Suntory Whisky one of the prestigious offerings from House of Japanese whisky.
Under Shingo’s leadership and vision, the House of Suntory has continued a legacy of heritage and innovation, consistently challenging conventions and pioneering change with its elaborate artisanship and devotion to producing the highest quality spirits.