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Here you’ll find various pieces of whisky scribblings with no other connection with one another except I don’t know what to do with them….

WHISKY IN EDINBURGH

“Let mirth abound, let social cheer invest the dawning of the year” , Robert Fergusson 1750-74

For all its artful science whisky making can be condensed into three words: – mature distilled beer. Well actually if we return to the first spirit produced in Scotland, probably accidentally when the condensed vapour of some boiling alcoholic mix was discovered to be curiously tingling on the tongue and mysteriously uplifting to our protagonist’s mood, the concept of maturing out the rough edges was yet to come. So essentially the primitive distiller would recognise the sights, tastes and aromas in a modern stillroom but the wider picture of a global beverage produced on a gigantic scale treated as a serious industry with state of the art technology would be beyond our ancestor’s ken.

So it is that the story of brewing and distilling in Scotland’s capital has evolved from near alchemical research through the preserve of the royal apothecary, a private past-time, the development of a true industry, the run away boom of Victorian years, the near fatal blows of greed, war and recession, then the eventual recovery years up to most recent times with the industry’s rationalisation and current healthy state if not centred, as it once was, in the board rooms and bonds of Edinburgh and Leith but not always distant from ‘Auld Reekie’.

Travelling back in time distilling would have been the preserve of those powerful centres of study and science – the monasteries. At this stage the elixir would be used for its tonic like properties and not for its pleasurable qualities. As the practitioners found themselves looking for a role in the open community their skills at the alembic saw the dark art of the water of life more commonly enjoyed by the masses.

However for the capital the right to distil was bequeathed exclusively to the surgeon-barbers in 1505 as they were given “an associated monopoly of making and selling within the city” under King James IV’s reign. In this formative period of surgical development whisky would have been valuable as an anaesthetic.

Being a seat of crown and court as well as a centre of population Edinburgh naturally had a market for all sorts of alcoholic restorations, be it low strength beer to sanitise the water (Edinburgh‘s hard water was ideal for brewing pale ales, the first IPA being made at the Holyrood brewery), imported French wine or Dutch genievre or uisge beatha. In the time of the enlightenment there was heavy drinking on the High street, conspicuously by those of ‘high rank and official dignity‘. Much business was attended to in the taverns and oyster cellars found down closes off the Royal Mile with a deal being sealed over a draft or dram. Indeed so significant was the brewing industry in Edinburgh that it turned from a small scale seasonal winter employer to an activity within large breweries all year round. By the early twentieth century Edinburgh employed nearly half of all people in the trade in Scotland. In 1900 there was an incredible 14 breweries in the Canongate area alone with a further ten in other parts of the city. Thirty years earlier it was said that the South back of the Canongate was more famous for breweries than any other street in the UK.

The common view of the smuggler being the reserve of highland hideaways can be contrasted with the urban scene. In 1777 there were 200 convictions for illicit distilling while an estimated 400 illegal operations compared to 8 licences. With ease of access to market through the warren of streets and closes and the tell tale smoke plumes being indistinguishable in the reek from a thousand lums Edinburgh truly was a hotbed of distilling dissent. For example in 1815 a still was discovered in and arch of South Bridge while another was discovered in the cellar of the Free Tron church. An earlier incident illustrates the popular feelings for smugglers. In 1736 two Fife smugglers were to be executed for stealing money from a Collector of Customs. Despite a near successful assisted break out from Edinburgh’s Tolbooth one of the pair eventually fled but his colleague had no such luck. The town magistrates ordered the City Guard under the command of one Captain Porteous to ensure the culprit was publicly hanged as an example of their attitude towards disobedience. After the hanging in the Grassmarket the gathered crowd showed their dissatisfaction with such justice by stoning the soldiers, their Captain duly himself fired into the crowd and commanded his men to follow. Several in the crowd died as a result. However after trial Porteous himself was sentenced to death for his actions. At the final hour it was announced the execution was to be delayed, fearing a reprieval the mob saw to it that Porteous would not live, armed they overpowered the city guard and broke into the Tolbooth before carrying out their will. This was not the end of the matter as concerned by a possible Jacobite insurgence the parliament of London fined the city of Edinburgh and expelled its Lord Provost.

At all times the port of Leith (incorporated within the city of Edinburgh in 1929) played a critical role, contributing its worth as a centre of expertise in shipping, engineering, storage, blending (not just of whisky but tea and coffee) and latterly bottling. During the 1880s Leith was Scotland’s premier port for handling grain. While earlier in 1822 six ports, including Leith, were allowed to store whisky under bond thanks to a shake up in the rules and regulations governing the strict control of production and excise. Some of the other ports – Glasgow, Aberdeen and Dundee also went on to become significant bases for blending. The relaxation of the monitoring of warehousing came at a time when changes in legislation sought to promote the legal trade and discourage illicit production. In the 1850s the rapidly expanding rail network saw shipment by sea and canal being replaced with this cheaper and quicker mode. It is no accident that the two greatest Edinburgh distilleries share their names with rail lines- North British and Caledonian. Leith station and the various goods yards were instrumental in the blossoming of the area as a storage and blending centre. At this time Lowland distillers greatly benefited from the ease and low cost at which locally sourced coal could be brought to them. The building of warehouses in Leith would secure the future development in related services such as administration, coopering and the transport infrastructure. Dilution and bottling under bond was permitted first in 1864 for export then for the domestic market in 1867. Having enjoyed customs free trade with France many Leith importers handled chateau bottled wines and cognacs. Their familiarity and experience in dealing with the concept of a ‘brand’ was to be useful when blending and marketing became significant. Subsequently many merchants expanded their businesses to include bottling and promotion all the time underlining Leith’s role as the premier location for the industry and whisky’s significance as an employer. Further progress was made in 1863 when changes in the licensing laws allowed merchants to sell directly to the public. Ultimately however the problems associated with overcrowding and the dangers of such vast stores of flammable stock were eventually to persuade companies to withdraw their stores and related businesses to alternative sites purpose built on cheap land outside the city in modern facilities.

Further advances came in 1853 with the Forbes-Mackenzie act which allowed the vatting of duty unpaid stock, this meant casks from different vintages from a particular distillery could be combined. Early pioneers of the art of mixing, particularly Andrew Usher Jr. (b. 1.5.1826, d. 11.1898) of O.V.G. (Old Vatted Glenlivet) fame and James Sanderson (later to create VAT 69), developed skills of ironing out variations in the character of individual casks while augmenting quality through judicious use of stocks created a consistent product. Being allowed to blend without first having to pay duty removed a great financial burden and permitted a more conducive flow of stock and cash from bond to market. One of twelve children Andrew Usher was born into an Edinburgh family of wine and spirit merchants and joined the company with his brother in 1845. His father, A. Usher Sr., had moved from the Borders to Edinburgh in 1813 and eventually became the agent for the Glenlivet distillery. He has been credited with the inaugural blend in 1860 although this is difficult to prove. It is from this date, thanks to William Gladstone’s Spirits Act, that the mixing of spirit from different distilleries was permitted under bond for the domestic market. Now the balancing of the traditional, expensive, variable and flavoursome malt whisky with the modern, light, cheap and consistent grain was possible. A year before the passing of the Spirits Act Andrew Jr. purchased the Sciennes distillery in order to guarantee stocks of malt for blending and swapping within the trade. His success was apparent: his warehousing of the 1870s and 1880s were amongst the largest maturation stores in the world. It was around this period when Ushers pioneered whisky exports to Japan. Another of his legacies is the Usher Hall on Lothian Road. He left £100,000 (approximately £30M today) to build a music hall for the citizens of Edinburgh. Work started in July of 1911 on the hall which could accommodate an audience of 3000. Another of his accomplishments was the co-founding with John Crabbie and William Sanderson of the North British grain distillery in the 1880s and was indeed its first chairman. Continuing the family involvement in the drinks industry his sons became brewers in the city’s Merchant Street. The philanthropic ideal was also a trait- Edinburgh University’s John Usher Institute of Public Health was initiated in 1902 thanks to the Andrew Jr.‘s brother’s generosity.

One of the darkest hours for both Scotch whisky and Leith came in 1898 with the collapse of the Pattison company. The 1890s whisky boom can be put in perspective quite simply: in 1891/92 there were 2 million gallons of warehoused whisky, by 1898/99 that figure had swollen to 13.5 million. So great was the demand for blended whisky production and investment continued to rise year after year. The public bought shares in new and expanding companies as the drink soared in popularity. Unfortunately buoyed by seemingly endless optimism some companies over-stretched sound business principles and the temptation to keep increasing stocks ultimately led to over provision. The worst case was that of the Pattison brothers. Thanks to the company’s value being based on a fraudulent balance sheet and much credit being raised on over-valued assets the publicly limited business (Pattison’s Ltd.) was found to have assets only worth half of it’s liabilities. The brothers were found guilty of fraud and imprisoned. The effect was to ruin many investors and undermine many mores’ confidence in the industry. Many companies felt serious financial repercussions and some distilleries were forced to close. The speculator’s bubble was burst and the industry would not return to the pre-bust levels for fifty years. Pattison’s opulent offices can still be seen on Commercial street in Leith and are currently used as a restaurant.
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Historically there were very many companies involved in the whisky industry which could call Edinburgh home. Mostly small businesses as time passed most either folded or were consumed by larger concerns. Of the more significant examples are names still familiar today like Ballantines. George Ballantine’s first premises was in the Cowgate although his business moved to Candle Maker Row in 1831 when he was 23 years old before shifting five years later to an address on South Bridge. The company owned a retail outlet on Princes street between 1895 and 1938. However not all companies chose Edinburgh as their base. For example the significant businesses of Buchanan-Dewar and John Walker decided registering their offices in London was a move more likely to impress investors.

However the most significant address of all was 14 Torphicen Street home to the ‘Leviathan’ that was Distillers Company Limited, (DCL). Starting trading on the first of May 1877 the company had its roots in various initial attempts by grain whisky producers to share production and sales in such a way as to avoid unhealthy competition. The business was to grow in influence to the point it became the fourth largest firm in the country. The merger between six of the most significant Lowland grain distillers was eventually to include the major blending firms: Haig, Dewars, Buchanans, Johnnie Walker and latterly White Horse whose ancestry dates from 1650 – the Burgess of the Canongate owned a house which stayed in the Mackie family until 1919 and gives its name to the famous brand. By 1930 the company owned one third of all working distilleries in Scotland as well as most of the major brands. The business expanded and diversified to become the biggest in the industry. Chairman Henry Ross was a strong influence as he guided the company and acted as a pilot through good times and bad. He donated the Ross bandstand in the Princes street gardens to the city and it is with some irony that the stage has been used to host temperance meetings. Today the company has evolved into what is the world’s biggest drinks company- Diageo.

Other businesses in Edinburgh associated with whisky include: The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), currently (2012) celebrating its centenary the organisation represents the majority of companies within the industry and promotes the interest of its members at home and overseas. Originally The Edinburgh and Leith Wholesale and Spirit Association the group evolved first into the Scottish section of the Whisky Association then finally the SWA in 1942. The Scotch Whisky Research Institute at Riccarton takes a scientific approach to the understanding of how whisky is made. Close by Heriot Watt University offers a world renowned degree course in Brewing and distilling. Amongst the many retail outlets both on and off licensed are Scotland’s oldest independent bottler – Cadenheads, The Scotch Malt Whisky Society and The Scotch Whisky Experience visitor centre.

THE DISTILLERIES

Caledonian (originally and briefly called ‘Edinburgh‘) 1855 – 1988. Commissioned by three partners as a grain distillery malt whisky was also produced here in the 1890s. Graham Menzies left his Sunbury distillery when it proved too small for his needs. Buying out his two business associates in the scheme he became sole owner in 1880. In 1884 the company merged with DCL. Nearly 6M litres of spirit was lost in 1940 after being hit by a bomb. Today the distinctively tall still house (it housed the largest Coffey still in Europe) remains as private housing as well as several other remnants such as warehousing facades, malting floors and a probable boiler house. Most obvious is the listed chimney stack. Across from the Haymarket station the site was substantial being as it was the second biggest facility of its day. The distillery was finally closed in 1988 and was partially demolished in 1997.

Canonmills 1780 – 1840. Built by James Haig who was sequestrated in 1788 after trade restrictions virtually cut off the main (English) market for the product which would likely have been rectified into gin in London. It was subsequently, in 1790, taken over by one of the great distilling families- the Steins. Relations between the Steins and Haigs were good and so in 1825 the distillery returned to the original fold but was finally closed in 1840. Latterly the maltings were used by a brewery. Demolished in the 1970s to allow building of contemporary housing the site is at Glenogle Road by the Water of Leith adjacent to the Colonies district. In June 1784, at a time of widespread famine in Scotland, Canonmills was mobbed by hungry crowds hoping to liberate an imagined store of grain and vegetables. Soldiers were required to defend the distillery, two ringleaders were punished by public whipping and transportation. Distillers were subsequently praised for their contribution to farming, the nation’s revenue and the general welfare of the populace in an attempt to enlighten the masses to the contribution to the greater good of the trade as well as the protection of their business.

Croftanrigh (AKA Abbeyhill) 1820 – 1852. The original owner went bust in 1823. Distilling did not recommence until 1846 after a continuous still was installed. The buildings were later used by St Ann’s brewery and are currently employed by Historic Scotland as a works facility for Edinburgh castle. The malting floors and pagoda topped kiln are externally perfectly preserved. Originally the name was ‘Croftangry’ but was spuriously changes to ‘Croftanrigh’ (‘house of the king’) to suit the regal neighbourhood.

Dean 1881 – 1922. Converted from a flour mill the distillery occupied a cramped location on the Water of Leith barely 100 yards downstream from the Sunbury distillery. After several changes of ownership the distillery suffered a common fate in that it was acquired and shut down by SMD (DCL) in the post WW1 era. Today on the north bank of the river two very early 19th century mill buildings are now converted into residences. These buildings were employed probably as malting floors and grain stores when Dean was operational. Across from these elegant solid structures the remaining parts of the facility are used as offices and as such their original purpose is difficult to identify.

Edinburgh distillery (also known as ‘Newington’, ‘West Sciennes’ and ‘Glen Sciennes’) was converted from a brewery in 1849 by Alexander Pearson. He was sequestered in 1850 and the distillery was acquired by Thomas Duncanson & Co. in 1851 who also failed 5 years later. Come 1859 it was purchased by  A. Usher & Co. Usher sold to Scotch Malt Distillers (SMD) in 1919 via the DCL subsidiary J. & G. Stewart, from this point the brand O.V.G. featured ‘J. & G. Stewart’ on the bottle label. The distillery’s final closure came in 1925. The granaries, maltings and warehousing were at the colossal St. Leonard’s complex adjacent to the North British railway. Little if anything is now left of Sciennes the buildings being demolished in the 1980s and replaced with flats. The distillery was located at the very end of the Meadows towards West Preston Street.

Edinburgh distillery (formerly known as Sunbury until 1851) Est. circa 1813 by James Haig it was probably the biggest distillery of its day utilising 6 stills. A Coffey still was licensed 4.1.1849 by Graham Menzies & Co. who took a share in the business in the mid 1830s. After building the nearby and vast Caledonian distillery in 1855 Menzies, who had bought out the Haigs, passed the distillery on to the Steins. The company was dissolved in the late 1850s. Visiting the site today there remains a warehouse once again converted to homes as well as a mews of similarly red brick buildings perhaps previously stores, work houses and offices associated with the distillery. The location of the site is downstream in the lee of Belford bridge by the Water of Leith very close to the remains of Dean distillery.

Leith distillery (AKA Bonnington) 1798 – 1853 was purchased by John Haig in 1804. Converted from malt production in 1835 Bonnington was one of the first distilleries to house a Coffey still. The substantial works occupied an area between the Water of Leith and Bonnington Road. Perhaps latterly employed as a sugar refinery there remains a substantial brick built bond converted to offices and flats.

Lochrin 1780 – 1860 was set up by John Haig thanks to financial assistance from his uncle James Stein the owner of Kilbagie distillery, the largest of its day. After two occasions of bankruptcy (1788 and 1810) the distillery finally left the family fold when sold to the owner of Glasgow’s Loch Katrine Adelphi distillery in 1848 and was eventually closed in 1860. The site was at the Lochrin basin at the end of the Union canal.

North British. Commissioned in 1885 by a consortium of merchants in a co-operative format the distillery is the last in Edinburgh and is still, uniquely, joint owned. It is located behind the Heart of Midlothian football stadium in the Gorgie area of town and first produced spirit in September 1887.

Yardheads, (AKA Lochend and Leith) Est. by Alexander Law in 1824, failed in 1829 due to financial strain related to credit difficulties, all told the distillery had six different owners in its 60 year history. Closed in 1884 it occupied a site now home to Leith’s ‘Banana flats’. On Great Junction street former warehouses of Crabbies still stand and are currently residences.

Other distilleries appear to have existed on the outskirts of Edinburgh including:  Balerno, Craigentinny (bankrupt in 1794), Musselburgh (Fisherrow), Dalkeith, South Queensferry (Dundas Castle/Glen Forth). Within the city Canongate and Coltbridge distilleries require further research for proper inclusion on a definitive list. Of course there is also Glen Kinchie near Pencaitland in East Lothian.

Further reading:- The Scottish Whisky Distilleries by Misako Udo, Scotch Missed – The Lost Distilleries of Scotland by Brian Townsend, The Whisky Distilleries of The United Kingdom by Alfred Barnard.

“Unrestrained scope was given to the delights of the table”

“And thou, great god of Aqua Vitae!
Wha sways the empire of this city,
When fou we’re sometimes capernoity,
Be thou prepar’d
To hedge us frae that black banditti,
The city-Guard.”

Of the women of the Canongate :- “sly drinkers, taking on debt, dressing by instalments, deceiving their husbands and many of their offspring are rickety ill bred brats”

 

 —————————— JAPANESE WHISKY—————————

‘The blessing of nature and the wisdom of man.’

Unlike the Scottish and Irish whisky industries the Japanese can trace the start of their production back to a clearer date. Although will that date be the turning of the first turf at the first distillery site, or the moment the first spirit runs off the still, what about the first bottling? Perhaps it should begin with the first action to set the ball rolling. This is harder to pin point.
We know western influence in Japan sped up after a trading agreement led to American goods being brought in to the country in the mid 19th century. From this point unusual products like beer and bread became known and as we have since seen the Japanese are masters of assimilation usually followed by improvement. Foreign spirits were known as ’yusho’ with gin making an impression as early as 1870. For whisky this initially meant a very loose translation of the imported Scottish article. After 1912 and a reversing of high taxes and tariffs applied to domestic spirits as compared with imports it was not long before business men saw an opportunity to make a Japanese whisky. What was needed was an individual with production knowledge. Enter our hero, Masataka Taketsuru, a young scientist from a family of sake producers. As a chemist he was first employed in 1917 by Settsu Shuzo, a spirit making company. The company’s owner, Kihei Abe, decided to send his gifted employee to Scotland to study the science of whisky making. At this time the Japanese economy was in good shape thanks to the demands set on the allies’ industries during the first world war requiring assistance from abroad.
Having first studied in Glasgow, but not sitting exams, Taketsuru sought tutelage from production expert J. A. Nettleton in Elgin. Unfortunately due to Nettleton’s high fees Taketsuru had to settle for five days work experience at Longmorn distillery in April 1919.  Following this he enjoyed a further two weeks at Bo’ness distillery then finally a five month spell at Hazelburn distillery in Campbeltown commencing in January 1920. His guide at Hazelburn was recently instated and introduced a laboratory at the distillery to assist in the improvement of the plant’s apparently uninspiring product. This must have pleased the young Japanese chemist, especially since his question to the manager of Longmorn: ‘is there any distillery in Scotland where a microscope would be used?’ was met with the reply ‘no, I do not think so’.
Returning to Japan, with a Scottish bride, Taketsuru found his situation was not ideal. His employer wished not to make ’proper’ whisky but was content to make an ’ersatz’ style. Further, due to the end of the war Japan’s economy had slowed and his company were unable to afford the high costs of producing the real thing even if they wanted. Meanwhile Shinjiro Torri, the nephew of a ‘foreign drinks’ maker, had an idea to employ a Scottish distiller within his company (later to be known as Suntory). With Taketsuru looking for work the gap was filled and a ten year contract was signed in 1923.
Almost immediately the two had disagreements. Taketsuru saw the northern island of Hokkaido was the ideal location for a distillery thanks to its coastal situation and cool climate- in keeping with his experiences of Scotland. However his employer was concerned with the island’s distance from the main market and the overheads involved with such a far off site. Thanks to the proximity to Kyoto, the local transport network and proven water quality Yamazaki was chosen to host Japan’s first distillery. After a devastating earthquake  building started in 1923 being completed in November 1924. The following year Taketsuru had to return to Scotland to seek advice from his mentor, now at Cragganmore distillery since the closure of Hazelburn earlier that year. Despite detailed studies and scientific methods of investigation Taketsuru had yet to master the drying stage at the end of malting as well as the complexities involved in still firing. Problems solved the first whisky was released on the first of April 1929.
Just before the first release Torri bought a brewery and put Masataka in charge. Perhaps he was unhappy with the direction Masataka was taking his product, the initial release ‘Shirofuda’ was not popular due to its full character, and wanted to remove him from direct involvement with production. Alternatively it could have been the case that Torri wanted his son to take a more important role within the company. Whatever, Masataka was further from his goal of creating a whisky comparable to what he had seen in Scotland.
Waiting until his contract ended Masataka set out on his own. Backing came principally from three respected business men, two of which probably got to know Masataka thanks to his wife Rita’s job teaching English.  This time Masataka got his way, thanks again to good connections some cheap reclaimed land was made available in Yoichi on Hokkaido. Nearby both peat and barley were available but a grace period was honoured and initially only apple cider was produced, it was felt leaving your sponsor to set up a rival firm was just not cricket. Whilst trading under the name ‘Nihon Kaju’ (changed to ‘Nikka’ in 1952) difficulties due to a lack of experience, high cost and complications of shipping the apple drinks to market the business failed. Turning to whisky it still took six years of losses before the first whisky was sold in 1940. Once again it took a war to bolster business. Luckily for Masataka Japanese military officers liked a dram and with imports stopped his brand was in favour.
However by the 1950s Masataka’s sponsors were concerned the business was not performing. The feeling that his devotion to following the Scottish lead was unrealistic, lower grade ‘whisky’ was cheaper and more popular, tastes at the time were less discriminating. Around this time two elder share holders sold out to Asahi brewers. With 51% of shares the new owners forced in a light whisky which became the second best selling in the country.  A parallel can be drawn here with Suntory’s experience, the follow up to their unpopular and heavy first release became, and still is, very popular: ‘Kakubin‘.
Come the 1960s and Nikka’s first coffey still was installed at the Nishinomya bottling plant ‘Tochgi‘. This was followed in 1969 by the company’s second malt facility at Sendai, later called Miyagikyo. At the time the biggest distillery in the world and intended to make a more Lowland style although heavily peated versions are made. Their well received Nikka Coffey malt is also made there.
It was after his death, in 1979, that Masataka Taketsuru’s commitment to making Scottish whisky came full circle- in 1989 the company bought Ben Nevis distillery. During this year the company’s growing interests also included the purchase of a cognac distillery. Throughout his career he seldom compromised, for example waiting ten years for the Scottish to introduce the steam heating of stills before using the method himself shows his respect for his teachers.

‘Whisky! I don’t eat much, I get eight hours sleep and for the past 40 years I’ve been drinking a full bottle of good whisky every day’–Masataka Taketsuru

Some notes:-

Karuizawa malt and Kawasaki grain distilleries are owned by Sanraku-Ocean (aka Mercian since the 1990s after the company’s successful wine business). The company accounts for around 4% of the Japanese whisky market. Karuizawa is currently mothballed, it insisted on using Golden Promise barley and mostly used sherry casks for maturation. Unlike Nikka and especially Suntory the distillery is small and concentrated on making only one style of whisky: a big slightly peated make through small stills.

Kirin-Seagram also holds a 4% share. Kirin tied in with the former Canadian company Seagram and benefited from access to its partner’s nine Scottish distilleries. This allowed the make from Gotemba distillery to be mixed with malts imported from Scotland, in the mid 80s the majority of bulk exported Scotch was shipped to Japan. Gotemba was opened in 1973 and conversely makes a light malt and a heavy grain. Like other Japanese distilleries it sits at high altitude (620m). The present incarnation of the owning company inherited the Four roses Bourbon when Seagram divested its drinks interests.

Suntory claim about two thirds of the market. Their empire stretches overseas to include production of spirit in Brazil, Mexico and Thailand as well as owning Bowmore, Auchentoshan and Glengarioch. The company also owns a 25% stake in Macallan, with other interests stretching from ice cream to the Encyclopedia Britanicca.  Not unlike Teachers the company had a chain of ‘pubs’ throughout Japan ensuring their product was very accessible while promoting loyalty. Yamazaki distillery doubled in size in 1958 and while malting stopped in 1972 (currently all malt is imported- mostly from the UK) production continued to expand after both 1980 and 1989 saw further increases in capacity. The distillery temporarily ceased production in 1987/88 to allow work to progress. There are now six pairs of stills, all different shapes and sizes which along with varying methods of heating and condensing, angles of lyne arms, yeast and barley strains, peating levels, cut points, maturation wood choices and environments, two mash tuns (one wooden, one stainless steel) not to mention the permutations of matching wash and spirit stills the range of possibilities for flavour is very broad. All this is due to the small number of distilleries in Japan and also to the lack of reciprocal trading between producers making comprehensive blending difficult without innovations during distillation. Other developments include producing malt spirit via continuous stills, producing grain spirit through pot stills and even bamboo filtering is used for one variant- a la Lincoln County process oriental style. In 2009 Yamazaki single malt was the 8th best selling single malt in the world even only on account of domestic sales.
Suntory’s second malt distillery Hakusha was once there world’s biggest boasting a yet unparalleled 55 million litre capacity and storage for 800 000 casks, all this at 700m above sea level.
In 2003 Suntory decided to push exports, thanks to a down turn in popularity of Japanese blends in the  1990s the part played by malts in the strategy is significant, much in the way Scotch whisky has seen a development in the interest of single malts. A mark of the company’s determination to succeed in the west is perhaps the launch of its blend Hibiki 12yo in Europe before release in the home market.

The remainder of sales are shared between Nikka and twenty other companies, the latter accounting for again 4% of business. Included in these smaller firms is Takar Shuzo who in 1986 were the first Japanese company to take direct interest in Scotland with the purchase of Tomatin distillery as well as the Antiquary blend. Tomatin was at one point the largest malt distillery in Scotland. When the partner in the business Okura sold their 20% stake they were replaced by Maruben. There is also the new Chichibu distillery. Ichiro Akuto, whose family started in the drinks trade in 1625 as sake brewers, wanted to replace the distillery built by his father in the 1980s but demolished in 2004. His new still is performing well and there are plans to use local barley and peat to produce a 100% Japanese whisky. He uniquely used Quercus Mongolica (Mizunara/water oak) for the wash backs as well as maturation. The wood has a reputation for leaking and since Hokkaido’s forests were cleared for pasture the species is now rare in Japan.

FIN