The Yamazaki distillery is Japan's oldest commercial whisky distillery. It was opened by Shinjiro Torii, the founder of Suntory, in 1923 in Yamazaki on the outskirts of Kyoto, Japan’s ancient capital.
The location was chosen because of the excellent water supply in the area. The climate is also diverse with relatively cold winters and hot, humid summers, which makes it suitable for the production and maturation of whisky. The distillery is located near a notable Shinto shrine called Minase. Historically, a famous tea master based his operation in the vicinity as the water was thought to be of outstanding quality.
For the first 10 years, Yamazaki was managed by the legendary Masataka Taketsuru, the “Father of Japanese Whisky” and the founder of Nikka Whisky. Taketsuru actually wanted to open the distillery in Hokkaido as he believed the climate there was most similar to the Scottish climate. Torii, however, feared that transportation costs would be too high and opted for Yamazaki instead.
Its first product was the Shirofuda, or “white label,” named so after the colour of the label. The Shirofuda appeared on the market in 1929. The reception was slightly disappointing; Japanese drinkers were unused to the strong taste of whisky and turned their backs on it. It wasn’t until 1937 that a whisky the Japanese would truly appreciate arrived. This was called Suntory Kabunin (“square bottle”), which is still widely sold to this day. Despite the success of Kabunin, the whisky industry was still operating at a loss, but this would change with the arrival of war.