Whiskey Review: Suntory Toki – The Whiskey Wash

Editor’s Note: This whiskey was provided to us as a review sample by Suntory. This in no case, by our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review. It should also be noted that by clicking on the purchase link at the bottom of this review, our site receives a small sponsorship payment which helps support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.

There is no space here to detail the whole the story of the manufacture of Japanese whisky, the reasons for its growing international popularity or its scarcity. But it’s a great place to talk about one of the pillars of Japan’s strong whiskey scene and one of the most recognizable Japanese blends available to American consumers: Suntori Toki.

The art of mixing is at the heart of Suntory brand history and distillation philosophy. Founder Shinjiro Torii apprenticed at a pharmaceutical wholesaler in Meiji-era Osaka where he learned about Western liquors and the art of blending. Opening his own business as a supplier of imported and fortified wines, Torii cultivated an ambition to create Scottish-inspired whiskey from Japanese ingredients, aged in the climate of Japan.

He chose the location of the Yamazaki distillery, which opened in 1923, to take advantage of the particular climate and the fresh waters of the Katsura, Uji and Kizu rivers converging on the outskirts of Tokyo. After an initial run that turned out to be too smoky and scotch-like for popular consumption in Japan, Torii released the Kakubin (“square bottle”) which caught on and became wildly popular.

As the company grew, it was renamed “Suntory” (from the English “sun” and an anglicization of the name Torii) and actively developed the culture of whiskey drinking in Japan, popularize the highball of whiskey in the post-war years and the promotion of the international reputation of Japanese distillation on the world stage. Suntory mega-acquisition de Beam in 2014 made it one of the world’s largest manufacturers of distilled beverages. Today, the original Yamazaki Distillery continues to produce and also houses Suntory’s Whiskey Library, a collection of over 7,000 unblended spirits.

Suntory’s entry level for foreign rather than national consumption is Toki, which means “time” in Japanese. Credited to third-generation master blender Shingo Torii and released in 2016, this is a blend comprised of Suntory’s signature lines featuring single malts from Yamazaki and Hakushu distilleries and single grain from their Chita distillery.

The concept of time is obviously relevant to aged spirits, but it’s also a gesture to the blend of old and new that Japanese whiskey represents. Japanese whiskey is a young category compared to the Scottish distillation traditions that inspired Shinjiro Torii at the turn of the 20th century. Whereas from the perspective of Japanese culinary tradition, whiskey itself is the newcomer. Either way, adapting the whiskey to use available ingredients and suit the palates of the Japanese isles rather than the British isles is an exciting innovation, a blend of traditions.

Suntory Toki (image via Beam-Suntory)

Tasting Notes: Suntory Toki

Vital Stats: No age statement given, 43% ABV, average retail price $40

Appearance: Distinctive light straw color, visibly clear.

Nose: A round malty sweetness with a chamomile-like grassy quality that lingers on the fringes

Palace: Big impression of grains with honey, butter and dried fruits. Crisp with a slight minerality, it resembles the whiskey-cousin of a refreshing lager. The sweeter fruity aspects of the flavor linger on the finish while the mineral flavors transition into a slight tingle of ginger spice.

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