Latest added in the Whisky news category

I’m back

I’m back in the office and hitting the ground running. I’m testing a new blogging app for my Blackberry with this post, so I’ll keep this one brief given that I’m typing with my thumbs. Stay tuned…

Tasting two Glentauchers

Glentauchers 1991 (43%, Gordon MacPhail, +/-2009) – Glentauchers 16 yo 1990/2007 (46%, Duncan Taylor, NC2, cask #14434)

A Karuizawa verticale: stairway to heaven? (what a cheap headline)

Karuizawa 13 yo 1988/2001 ‘Vintage’ (59.3%, OB, cask #7683) – Karuizawa 15 yo 1987/2003 ‘Vintage’ (60.2%, OB, cask #2114) – Karuizawa 15 yo 1986/2002 ‘Vintage’ (59.1%, OB, cask #4988) – Karuizawa 1985/2009 (60.8%, OB, No.1 Drinks Company, cask #7017) – Karuizawa 1982/2009 (56.1%, OB, No.1 Drinks Co for TWE 10th Anniversary, First Fill Sherry, Cask#2748) – Karuizawa 21 yo 1981/2003 ‘Vintage’ (58.6%, OB, cask #2409) – Karuizawa 32 yo 1976/2009 ‘Noh’ (63%, OB, No.1 Drinks Company, sherry butt, cask #6719, 486 bottles)

Tasting four Highland Park exclusive to travel retail

Highland Park 1998/2010 (40%, OB, travel retail, 1l) – Highland Park 1994/2010 (40%, OB, travel retail) – Highland Park 1990/2010 (40%, OB, travel retail) – Highland Park 21 yo (40%, OB, travel retail, 2009)

Tasting two Glen Mhor

Glen Mhor 1982/2009 (46%, Berry Bros Rudd, cask #1231) – Glen Mhor 1975 (60.9%, Cadenhead’s, white label, cask #931, +/-1993)

Dating Suntory Old bottles

A 1950 Suntory Old

I have a feeling this post is going to disappoint some people. I get a lot of questions emailed to me and posted as comments here about the age and value of Suntory Old bottles. There are Japanese whiskies with older traditions, but I think the emphasis on age on this whisky’s label raises hopes.

The first thing to clear up is that, although some bottles of Suntory Old have the date 1899 printed on them, none are that old. Suntory dates itself to 1899 but all bottles of Suntory Old date from 1950 onwards.

There are several generations of Old, reaching right up to the present day. Despite its name, it is not a particularly long matured whisky. It is a mid market blend (below Hibiki in Suntory’s blended whisky pecking order but above Kakubin and the bargain basement Torys.) There are various ways to tell younger bottles from older version. Early bottles had the slogan: “A Blend of Ancient Whiskies”. That was still on the bottle until at least 1868. Even after Kotobukiya changed its name to “Suntory” in 1963, the Suntory Old bottles appear to have continued to bear the “Kotobukiya” name. One way to tell really old Olds from 1960s versions is the addition of technical information at the far left bottom and far right bottom of the main label.

I am not sure when exactly things changed but, by 1994, ” the label was different. The “Ancient Whiskies” were dropped in favour of “A Blend of the Choice Whiskies” and the main title on the whisky changed from “Suntory Whisky” to “Suntory Old Whisky”. The line “Mild and Smooth” had also been added to the label by 1994 and the neck label had a completely different design. In 2006, there was another redesign, as you can see below:





The “Extra Special” bottle:

This bottle is owned by a reader of Nonjatta in Brazil and I must admit it has got me scratching my head. I have called it “Extra Special” because those words appear in the middle of the label and I have not seen them on other versions of Suntory Old. The owner says his family were given it by a Japanese diplomat in the 1980s. I have had questions from other readers about this particular bottling. Unfortunately, I have not been able to pin it down to a very precise time period.

I do know that a bottle similar to this was marketed abroad by Suntory and there does appear to have been a “Discover Suntory” campaign in the U.S. in the late 1960s that featured this brand. I say this because of this magazine advert:

It features our “Extra Special” bottle. This photo appears to be from the same campaign and its owner told me that his 1967 dating is based on a clear July 2, 1967 date on his slide mount (I have also dated the TWA campaign in the same picture to the same period). I think I can tentatively conclude from this that the “Extra Special” version of Suntory Old was sold abroad around 1967. It is almost definitely post 1964, because it is not described as being made by Kotobukiya, which was Suntory’s company name before that date. The “Kotobukiya” name is echoed on the label, however: the kanji in the middle is “kotobuki”, which has meanings associated with congratulations, happiness and long life (the same kanji is featured on a lot of neck labels for Suntory Old).

We have a fairly firm start date for this type of Suntory Old in the mid-1960s and some evidence from the marketing that it might have been exported in quite large amounts (perhaps even specifically made for foreign markets). What I don’t know is when it stopped being distributed. The fact that the owner of this bottle thought it was given in the 1980s raises the possibility that it was produced over quite a long period.

There is one more detail that I should point out on this bottle which may or may not date it later than 1967. On the reverse of the bottle there is raised lettering on the bottle which says “A blend of the choice whiskies”. If you look higher up in this post you will see that that phrase is featured on a mainstream bottle of Suntory Old in 1994 but not on its equivalent in 1968. I don’t know when exactly Suntory started using that phrase, instead of referring to “ancient” whiskies as it had done earlier, but it may indicate that this is a later bottling. There may have been early “Extra special” bottling with the ancient description but I have never seen one. Another explanation might be that the change from “ancient” to “choice” may have been initiated on the “Extra Special” bottles and later carried over onto other versions. Here is the raised lettering:

WhiskyCast Episode 239: February 14, 2010

English farmers send barley north to Scotland, and sooner or later, the Scots send it back as whisky. The Nelstrop family has been growing barley for decades, and decided to change that formula. The first English single malt whisky in more than a century is now available from the family’s St. George’s Distillery in Norfolk. In the news, the finalists have been selected in the Spirit of Speyside Festival Whisky Awards, Malt Advocate Magazine announces its 2009 award winners, and tasting notes for a rare Glenfiddich single cask bottling.

One thing you can do while I’m away for a few days.

For those of you on Facebook, become a fan of Malt Advocate magazine. You can find the link here.
We’re just getting going, but we picked up 1,000 fans just in the past week. When I get back, I’ll be very active there too. Plus, you can post up your own thoughts on whatever (whisky related) [...]

A few days R & R, a server upgrade, and then back at it with several new whisky reviews

All the awards have been announced. I hope you enjoyed my posting them up here on WDJK before they are published in the next issue of Malt Advocate (which will mail in about three weeks). The purpose of doing this was to allow for thoughtful discussion and interaction between whisky enthusiasts worldwide. I hope you enjoyed [...]

Not much life on Mars

The warehouse at Shinshu

Katatomo-san has an elegiac post about the Mars Whisky distillery at Shinshu. He visited in January and found that one of the two pot stills could not be used because the copper had in places got too thin and posed a safety hazard. I am not sure which of the two stills it was or of the condition of the other still but my understanding is that whisky distilling is a thing of the past. A stock of matured whisky is still being sold but is, of course, declining. Katatomo-san was told that the grain whisky used in Mars blended whiskies was imported.

The photograph and all the information in this post are taken from