Is it a secret that the best whiskeys in the whole world come from Japan? Actually, that is a well-established reality and Japan has been outranking famous Scotland! Japanese precision is a strong reason for that and they have a justified reputation for being strict and consistent in almost everything they do. Yes, there is a good share of success also because of the untouched nature, but still, you need to know how to use this advantage and make it sustainable. The complex philosophy and the whole image of this whiskey motivated us to dig a little deeper. To see beyond the glass of extraordinary whiskey from Japan, here is our review of HIBIKI Master’s Select.
Reading on will give you an insight into the HIBIKI history and philosophy of Suntory distillery With that, you’ll get to know why their HIBIKI whisky is that extraordinarily perfect.
Hibiki history starts with an enthusiastic Japanese man, Shinjiro Torii. Torii finished his schooling at age thirteen and entered into an apprenticeship at a pharmaceutical wholesaler in Osaka, which carried Western liquors. There he mastered mixing techniques and he developed a sophisticated palate and nose. In 1899, he rented a modest house and started pursuing his dream. He founded the Torii Shoten store in Osaka, Kotobukiya. immediately, his Akadama Sweet Wine became a huge success and was sold in large amounts.
By 1907, the company was well established, but he didn’t stop there. His dream was to make the finest whiskey with the essence of Japanese nature and hand-crafted by artisans. His wish was to create a subtle, refined and yet complex whiskey that would suit the Japanese taste. Inspired by the process of traditional Scottish whisky, but set on totally different terrain and climate, he chose the region of Yamazaki, on the outskirts of Kyoto.
Finally, in 1923 he invested his family fortune and pursued his dream of building Japan’s first whisky distillery. The Yamazaki Distillery, Japan’s first whiskey distillery, is on a special location, where one of the purest and softest waters of Japan originates from. Yamazaki. Here, Katsura, Uji and Kizu rivers converge, providing a unique misty climate and one of Japan’s softest waters. Equally important, temperatures and humidity create ideal conditions for cask aging, known as the signature “Suntory Maturation”.
His first Japanese whisky was the Suntory Shirofud, launched in 1929. Sadly, it was poorly received by the market and failed due to its imitation of smoky Scottish whiskies flavors. From this experience, Torii learned that he needed to satisfy the delicate Japanese palate if he wanted to make a successful Japanese whisky. His search for the best Japanese blend was successful with his Suntory Kakubin whisky. This one became the heart and soul of Japanese whisky and the country’s number one seller. After World War II, Kotobukiya changed to the name of Suntory, as it is known today.
Later on, Suntory cultivated the growth of Japan’s whisky culture by opening Torys bars throughout the country. The way to drink whisky was revolutionized by introducing the “Highball” (mizuwari in Japanese). To point out, this drinking style is popular even today and some whiskies are perfect especially for drinking in a Highball. To explain, a highball is a cocktail with one part whiskey and four parts soda water. As a result of this emerging trend, whisky consumption went through the roof. Despite all the money and fame he got, Torii stayed humble and a man of principle. However, he devoted 30 percent of corporate profits to social welfare projects.
After Shinjiro’s death
Shinjiro Torii died in 1962 and his successor was his adopted second son, Keizo Saji. Keizo built a distillery dedicated to the highest-quality Japanese grain whisky on the misty, calm shores of Chita Peninsula. This distillery uses rare production techniques and makes three types of grain whiskies. To sum up, the heavy-type grain whisky, distilled through two columns, the medium-type through three columns, and the clean-type through four columns. At the start, they were using whiskies from this distillery as the “dashi” (or broth) that enhances the harmony in Suntory’s renowned blended whiskies. Later on, after many years, they achieved an unrivaled sophistication and complexity. As a result, we have the incredible range of flavors in The Chita Single Grain Whisky.
Pushing the Boundaries
Keizo didn’t stop there. Instead, he wanted to achieve his father’s quest to push the boundaries and produce the best whiskey on the world. For the 50th anniversary of the Yamazaki Distillery, he built The Hakushu Distillery. This is one of the highest distilleries in the world, standing amidst the deepest forests of Mt. Kaikomagatake in the Japanese Southern Alps. Mountain water there is extremely purified and soft due to the filtration of rain and snow through granite rocks. There are four seasons and the changes between them are slow, which makes perfect conditions for maturation. Keizo honored the memory of his father and succeeded in his quest by presenting to the world some of the truly excellent whiskeys. In 1984, the Single Malt Whisky Yamakazi was released and it was a great success.
Birth of the Hibiki
Only five years later, the HIBIKI blend came out. Important to realize, it is not only Japan’s most highly awarded blended whisky, but it is also among the most prestigious and honored whiskeys in the world. Keizo also produces his new style type of whisky in his beloved Hakushu distillery, the Suntory Single Malt Whisky Hakushu. This whisky is fresh and immature on first taste but then it reveals fruity flavors with a lot of complexity. There is a subtle taste of smoke on the finish, which his father had envisioned, but Japanese weren’t ready for this at that time.
Nowadays, the company “is in the hands” of Torii’s grandson, Shingo Torii. He strives to continue his grandfather’s and father’s dreams to challenge what a Japanese whisky could be. Most noteworthy, he released Suntory Whisky Toki, which is a blend of carefully selected whiskies from the House of Suntory’s globally acclaimed Hakushu, Yamazaki and Chita distilleries. It presents the modern and heritage in one spirit.
On official site of Suntory, you won’t find the name Masataka Taketsuru anywhere, but let us tell you something about him. He is supposed to be the main actor in the success of Torii’s whisky. He was the third son of a sake brewer and early on, he became interested in western alcoholic beverages, especially in Scotch whisky. In 1918, he went to Scotland to study the process of making proper Scotch whisky. While studying organic chemistry in Glasgow he visited many distilleries. Seems like Scotland was his life destination.
There he met the love of his life, Jessie Roberta “Rita” Cowan. After their wedding in 1920, Masataka and his Scottish bride moved back to Japan. He brought back with him two notebooks filled with notes on the whisky distilling process. His plans to establish a distillery went south, due to the post-WWI depression. In 1923, he found Shinjiro Torii and saw an opportunity to reach his life goal. Above all, he wanted to produce the best Japanese whisky.
Later, he was transferred away from his distillery to a beer factory in Yokohama owned by Torii. This wasn’t a pleasant transfer for him, but he stayed in the company for a while. After all, he had accepted the obligation of remaining there for at least 10 years. In fact, that’s a big commitment. In 1934, Masataka resigned from Kotobukiya and established his own company, called Dainippon Kajuu KK. The company set up in Hokkaido, the northernmost big island in Japan, where the climate is most similar to that of Scotland. In 1940, he introduced his first distilled whisky, Nikka Whisky. Here, you can read our review of this blend.
This is a short Hibiki history, so you can have some idea about this great spirit. Extraordinary men take extraordinary actions to reach their mission and they find joy in fulfilling it. Creating art doesn’t take place only on a canvas, there are many possible different areas. After all, there is always room for perfection and thanks to these men and their pursuit, we now can choose from some of the finest whiskeys on earth. To achieve this, there must be something greater in the background, the harmony that rounds up every step. Their philosophy and work with nature made the foundation to reach the stars. In conclusion, Hibiki history is rich and inspiring. Maybe you will respect it more next time when you will buy it.