This is the principle of Suntory founder Shinjiro Torii,
who never lost faith in himself or his products whatever difficulties he faced,
and who energetically continued to exercise his daring talents no matter how many times he was knocked back.
At a time when Western culture had not yet pervaded commonly in Japan,
his efforts to popularize Western liquor were met with doubts and opposition from all around.
In response to the doubters, he said:
“You would never know if your work might end in either triumph or mediocrity unless you try it”
More than a century later, the spirit of adventure and challenge that drove Shinjiro still lives on in Suntory’s corporate DNA.
Never content to settle for the status quo, Suntory continues to try new paths and enter new fields.
Our corporate culture rejects the idea of declining challenges by worrying about the outcome.
We never justify the sin of no challenge.
This is the attitude that has built a future for Suntory and Japanese whisky.
Shinjiro Torii, founder of Suntory and the founding of Japanese whisky, was born in 1879 in Osaka, the hub of commerce in Japan.
Like most children of his time, he left school at 13 to become an apprentice.
During his apprenticeship to a storekeeper, he studied techniques for blending Japanese sake. He later learned about foreign liquors, developing a discerning nose and palate. It was during this time that Shinjiro began to develop a flair for whisky that would one day earn him the nickname, “the nose of Osaka”.
In 1899, at the age of 20, Shinjiro set up his own shop called Torii Shoten. His keen interest in wine grew into an obsession with blending, as he bought in sweeteners and spices and immersed himself in a quest to satisfy the popular palate.
Eight years later, in 1907, he launched his very first Western liquor product; not whisky, but a sweetened wine called Akadama Port Wine. This product boosted his business enormously.
Before the First World War, Shinjiro stored alcohol for liqueurs in old wine barrels and ended up forgetting about it. Some years later he tried the liquid to check what it was, and discovered that aging in barrels had profoundly enriched the flavour.
Shinjiro said to himself "This is what maturation is all about !", and became fascinated by the mysteries of maturation. The excitement shook him to the very soul. He had wanted to try creating the perfect blend. It became his mission.
Shinjiro was determined to make an authentic whisky, but the directors of Kotobukiya (the new name of his company) were unanimously opposed. The financiers and experts he relied upon also advised him to abandon the plan.
They all believed it was impossible to make real whisky outside Scotland or Ireland. Above all, constructing a distillery would put all of Kotobukiya’s assets at risk. Yet driven by the spirit of “Yatte Minahare - Go for it!” Shinjiro resolved to take up the challenge.
In 1923, Shinjiro invested all of Kotobukiya’s assets in building the Yamazaki Distillery, which would leave its name in a history book of Japanese whiskies as the very first one in the country. Convinced that good water would generate great whisky and that ideal maturation would require the right natural environment, Shinjiro selected this site YAMAZAKI on the periphery of Kyoto from a range of potential locations around Japan.
The pure spring water that bubbles up from the bamboo groves at the foot of Mt. Tenno is said to have been close to the heart of Sen no Rikyu, Master of the way of tea. This water proved to be the deciding factor. Scottish brewing authority Dr. Moore, a contemporary of Shinjiro, declared Yamazaki’s water to be ideal for whisky.
Shinjiro sought to recruit a Scottish whisky expert, but this proved a difficult task. Around that time, however, he got to know Masataka Taketsuru, who had studied in Scotland.
Taketsuru became the first head of the Yamazaki Distillery, leading a small team comprised of a chief technician, a head mechanic, and an office manager. Shinjiro’s dream of making a real Japanese whisky took its first step toward reality.
Taketsuru left Kotobukiya in 1934, but Shinjiro forged ahead with his efforts to make a Japanese whisky.
In 1929, Japan’s first genuine whisky was launched under the name Suntory. Its nickname, SHIROFUDA, was come from the white label on its round shaped bottle. After World War II, it was called White.
Mainly consisted of a malt whisky, SHIROFUDA sold in Japan at a price similar to famous brands of scotch well known in Japan. Although Shinjiro had staked his destiny on SHIROFUDA, the market mocked his ambitions by turning its back on the product, which did not suit the subtle Japanese palate.
Distressed but undaunted, Shinjiro resolved that if demand did not exist, he would create it.
As gradually evolved over ten or more years, Yamazaki Distillery had enhanced its reserves and came to stock mature, richly flavored, and characteristic whiskies. Shinjiro himself retreated to the distillery many times to refine his blends.
“This is it! This is the rich flavor and taste that will satisfy sensitive Japanese palates”. A truly Japanese whisky had been born. And its popularity has endured. The whisky in KAKUBIN, or square-cut, tortoise-shell bottle, remains the object of affection of many whisky-lovers today in Japan.
The year was 1937. Shinjiro would turn 58. A masterpiece in the history of Japanese whisky had arrived.
The year 1973 was not only the year celebrating the 50th anniversary of Yamazaki Distillery, but also the year when Hakushu Distillery was established in the deepest forests of Mount Kaikomagatake. This was largely done to meet the demands of the Japanese people, whose palates had started growing accustomed to whisky.
Upon searching across the country for Japan’s finest water, Tameo Onishi, former chief blender and the head of Yamazaki Distillery, selected Mount Kaikomagatake. The decision on location was finalized by Keizo Saji, the second generation master blender and son of Shinjiro.
The Hakushu Distillery has been known as the ‘Mountain Forest Distillery’ as it quietly stands amidst fresh streams and lush forests. Built with the notion,
‘coexisting with nature,’ a bird sanctuary was set up to help preserve the wildlife. It is said that over 50 types of birds can be seen at the distillery throughout the year.
By preserving the natural environment around, Suntory is essentially preserving the pristine water that goes into creating the whisky.
Just as Shinjiro was, Keizo was also quite particular about the water to be used. Without the use of , high quality water, the whisky that everyone loves would not exist.
The water used for HAKUSHU passes through granite layers in the Southern Alps of Mount Kaikomagatake, offering a rare softness and purity to it.
Based on an experiment carried out at the YAMAZAKI research facility, Hakushu’s water is what allows for the smooth and subtle aroma of the malt whisky.
The difference of the water and environmental surroundings between the YAMAZAKI and HAKUSHU distilleries lead to the two different characteristics of malt whiskies.
Blended whisky, lead by Suntory Whisky, was in its prime in Japan heading into the 1980s. Despite that fact, Keizo had already begun looking ahead to the future in search for an answer. One that would come in the form of a 100% malt whisky.
YAMAZAKI, a single malt whisky, was released to celebrate Yamazaki Distillery’s 60th anniversary in 1984. It was an adventurous attempt in the era dominated by blended whiskies.
This laid the groundwork for a new era that required long-term maturing of premium whiskies.
HIBIKI, the highest class of blended whisky, was launched to commemorate Suntory’s 90th anniversary in 1989. It represents the corporate philosophy of Suntory - “in harmony with people and nature”.
In the spring of 1989, when Keizo Saji turned 70, the production and blending techniques of malt whisky reached it`s peak. Having inherited the never-satisfied spirit from Shinjiro Torii the founder, Keizo kept pushing production to new limits.
Successive generations of Suntory blenders have pursued flavors and aromas suited to Japanese tastes based on a commitment to the ideal of a truly Japanese whisky. To help them achieve this aim our distillery craftsmen and engineers first strive to create balanced, richly flavored whiskies.
A nuanced understanding of the significance of each and every whisky-making process passed down over the years is what makes new discoveries possible in each process. Repeated new discoveries have brought diversity to our whiskies.
Harnessing these whiskies, our blenders create new blends like a painter with her brush or a conductor with his baton.
The varied blends made by our blenders and the magic brought about by the lush, natural setting of the distillery combine to truly conjure flavors and aromas that satisfy whisky lovers around the world.
This evolution was untiring. Major renovations to the Hakushu Distillery in 1981 and Yamazaki Distillery in 1987 and 1988 have created highly unique distilleries, even by global measures. and we quested for further evolution in the whisky maturation process. Maturation differences produced by different casks - made of white oak, Spanish oak, Japanese oak, and other wood - produce whiskies of varying flavors, refine blending techniques, and create entirely new flavors.
With its 100 year history created by Shinjiro Torii and Keizo Saji, Suntory is now ready to take on another 100 years. The highly-acclaimed, third generation master blender, Shingo Torii, has chosen to devote his life to bringing you a richer, more aromatic bouquet.
Today, Suntory Whisky continues to astonish the world. In 2003, YAMAZAKI 12 years whisky was awarded the gold medal at the International Spirits Challenge (ISC), a competition known for their experienced panel and rigorous judging process as a very first Japanese whisky ever.
Suntory was awarded “Distiller of the Year” at the 15th International Spirits Challenge (ISC) 2010. This prestigious honor is bestowed to just one of many distillers that has endeavored to produce a vast array of high quality products. This award was a first among Japan.
Furthermore, Suntory’s single malt whisky, YAMAZAKI 1984, was awarded the “Supreme Champion Spirit” - selected as the best among the “Trophy” winners from all categories.
After 100 dedicated years from Shinjiro Torii, Keizo Saji and Shingo Torii, Suntory has finally reached the number one spot in the world.
Suntory continues to evolve and hold on to its legacy while embracing its spirit of “Yatte Minahare - Go for it!” This is the very essence that goes into the production of Suntory’s whisky, as it looks to continue to offer the same great taste ten to twenty years down the road.