"While echoes of the announcement of the Yamazaki 55 Year Old may still be heard ringing in the headlines of industry news, this is far from your average new release. With even the category of Old and Rare a potential disservice, this is in fact the oldest Japanese single malt ever bottled, and a historic marriage of two special vintages.
With the fingerprints of Shinjiro Torii and four generations of his descendants upon its creation, the Yamazaki 55 Year Old is not just a unique bottled timeline of Japanese whisky’s first family, but is so limited in quantity that every appearance of once seems destined to write its own story. This is a whisky that will celebrate the past as it creates history in its own right, both in the weeks to follow and in generations to come."
Joe Wilson, Whisky Auctioneer
A tribute to the passage of time, the Yamazaki 55 Year Old began its journey in 1960. The whisky is not only the oldest expression from the distillery, but the oldest Japanese whisky in history. The rare release is comprised from casks laid down in both 1960 and 1964. The 1960-vintage was distilled by founder Shinjiro Torii and the 1964-vintage represents the year his son, Keizo Saji, succeeded him as second-generation Master Blender.
Over half a century of maturation later, the casks were carefully married together by current and fifth Master Blender, Shinji Fukuyo. The 1960s was a decade of transformational change and remains as a defining period of time for the world. A decade of cultural freedom and excitement, this whisky is a testament to this and the spirit of Shinjiro Torii when he filled that first cask in 1960.
The 1960s were also the dawn of a golden age for the Japanese whisky industry and its recognition. In 1961, Suntory Whisky became the first Japanese whisky to be approved for registration in the United States and just a few years later the new company name Suntory was first introduced to the world.
Yamazaki 55 Year Old.
First unveiled to the world in 2020, the Yamazaki 55 Year Old was limited to just 100 bottles which were sold exclusively in Japan via lottery. Over a year later, a second release of another 100 bottles were made available to other markets around the world.
This whisky is both a vatting from two vintages, 1960 and 1964, and two cask types: Mizunara and White Oak.
One of the rarest and most expensive oak species in the world, whiskies aged in Mizunara are highly sought-after. Mizunara wood is native to Japan and deeply-rooted in the country’s history. Scarcer than European and American oak, Mizunara is very expensive and hard to cooper due to its porous nature, however, results in complex notes redolent of sandalwood and Japanese incense.
The Yamazaki 55 Year Old became the most expensive Japanese whisky sold at auction after achieving a price of HK$6,200,000 including 24% buyer’s premium at a Hong Kong based auction in 2020 (GBP£583,500 / US$795,000).
“Throughout the process of blending Yamazaki 55, I used as inspiration the passage of time and ‘Wabi-sabi’ – the Japanese belief that imperfections can help to ultimately contribute to perfection."
Shinji Fukoyo, Suntory Master Blender
As you would expect, the presentation showcases the highest quality of Japanese craftsmanship and celebrates a number of traditional Japanese crafts.
The Golden Touch
Presented in a crystal bottle with the word “Yamazaki” engraved in elegant calligraphy. The emblazoned age-marking is decorated with a gold lustre of maki-e, the traditional Japanese technique of sprinkling gold powder on lacquerware.
Single Brush Strokes
The exquisite whisky is encased inside a custom, handcrafted box fashioned from Mizunara wood (the same wood in which the 1960 vintage matured). This is meticulously adorned with ink black lacquer, refined from the sap of the Urushi tree.
The opening of the bottle is wrapped in traditional Japanese Echizen-washi paper flecked with gold and secured by a Kumihimo cord hand-braided from 24 ink-black, gold, and silver strands to hold the wrapping in place
Suntory’s flagship distillery, Yamazaki was founded in 1923 by Shinjiro Torii, who is widely regarded as the father of Japanese whisky. Yamazaki started producing whisky on 11th November 1924, with the first spirit running from the stills at 11:11am.
In its early days, Yamazaki produced both malt and grain for Suntory’s blends, but the opening of the Chita distillery in 1972 allowed the company to focus on its single malt brand. In 1984, Yamazaki released their first 12 year old single malt, laying the foundations for the distillery’s success and recognition as a key distillery worldwide.
The town of Yamazaki was chosen to be the site of Japan’s first commercial distillery due to its very ‘Scottish’ climate. However, it’s not just location that has served the brand well; the unique and iconic flavour of the liquid makes Yamazaki whisky among the most desirable in the world. Due to Japan’s involvement in the Second World War, it became almost impossible for Yamazaki to get a reasonable supply of casks. Yamazaki started using ‘Mizunara Oak’, an expensive and hard to cooper Japanese wood, which at the time was used for the crafting of quality furniture. The distillery had to implement several methods to get around the wood’s difficult characteristics, resulting in flavours and characteristics that became the cornerstone of their world acclaimed malts.