In recent years Japanese labels have been all the rage among whisky connoisseurs, with product shortages and intense demand as distillers in the island nation snapped up award after award, gold medals and even the most coveted World’s Best Whisky title.
I have long been a big fan, have written extensively on the trend for years, and have visited Japanese distilleries in person, but while many of the accolades have gone to Japan’s stellar single-malts, I have personally maintained that Japan is even better at blends. I still hang on to Scotland’s vaunted Macallan as my favorite single malt, but when it comes to blended whisky, nothing I have tried at any price compares to Hibiki, from Japan’s largest distiller, Suntory, whose highly acclaimed Yamazaki distillery was the country’s first in 1928 (Trivia: while not named directly in the film, Hibiki was the whisky Bill Murray’s character repeatedly drank at the jazz bar in the Park Hyatt Tokyo while playing a celebrity pitch man for Suntory in Lost in Translation).
Now Suntory has just released a unique new blend with Japanese roots in this country and I cannot wait to try it.
Suntory World Whisky Ao is new here, and it was previously sold only in Japan, which has been mostly shuttered due to COVID for the past few years, and at select airport duty free shops. But this month it hits shelves in Canada, Taiwan, Singapore, and Korea – and it is currently rolling out to retailers in this country.
The product is a first for the spirits giant, a global fusion blend of whiskies from seven distilleries in five different countries, all owned by Suntory Group and located in some of the world’s most famed whisky – and whiskey – regions: for the former spelling there’s Japan, Scotland and Canada, while the extra “e” includes Ireland and the U.S.
Suntory World Whisky Ao, meaning blue, is named for the oceans that connect these whisky producing continents and islands. In keeping with this theme, it comes in a special five-sided bottle, and even the calligraphic lettering was written with an intent to represent the whiskies’ global origins and Japanese connection.
Ao was created by 5th-generation Suntory Chief Blender, Shinji Fukuyo, who selected the included liquids to showcase the company’s best signature elements. As he a said in a release, “Ao is an exceptional whisky which, through the art of Suntory blending, allows you to enjoy the unique characteristics of each of the five major whisky-making regions.” The blend brings together the Scotch flavors of Ardmore and Glen Garioch, Ireland’s complex Cooley, smooth Canadian whisky from Alberta, and one of America’s most beloved spirits, Jim Beam bourbon. These are combined with products from two prestigious Suntory distilleries in Japan, Hakushu and Yamazaki, one of the world’s most coveted and collectible spirits.
I’ll be trying it soon, if not here than in Japan where I am headed to ski next week, but I wanted to get all you whisky lovers out there the info as soon as possible, as there are not many new releases like this and it sure to be in high demand. The good news is that for a (partially) Japanese whisky, it is fairly reasonably priced, with a suggested retail of $55 for a 700ml bottle (43% ABV). According to the company, Ao has “notes of vanilla, tropical fruit and cinnamon, it is the distinctive climate, fermentation and distillation processes in each whisky-making region that give the whisky its unique taste.” These are the Suntory tasting notes:
Nose: profound vanilla, pineapple-like fruitiness on top, a creamy sweetness and depth with a lingering woody aroma
Palate: smooth and sweet mouthfeel, gradually followed with smokiness and cinnamon-like spiciness
Finish: sweet and smoky, spicy and woody, a many-layered complexity
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