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Ascendance of Japanese Whisky

The people who run Japanese beverage maker Suntory are aiming to make the best whiskey in the world. They've seen their product win the top prize at a highly regarded global competition in Britain. But they're struggling to gain recognition with connoisseurs worldwide. We focus on their efforts in the first of our three part series about exploring Japanese tastes. We'll look at Suntory's strategies to be the best.

Japan's first whiskey was produced 90 years ago at the Yamazaki distillery in the western prefecture of Osaka.

The facility's distillation room has varying kinds of pot stills. Top prize-winning whiskies are produced here. Whiskies are left in wood barrels for years for aging. And the maker blends various whiskies in-house to produce its distinguished flavors.

Suntory's unique blending process --- which cannot be found in Scotland, the traditional home of whiskey --- has dramatically improved the quality of the distiller's whiskies.

Shinji Fukuyo is the chief blender. In Scotland, a single blender traditionally decides the taste and aroma of a whiskey. But Fukuyo crafts Suntory's blends with 4 other employees. The goal is to produce a perfectly balanced product.

"We can obtain greater perfection in developing and maintaining our flavors when we incorporate the expertise of a team in the blending process."
Shinji Fukuyo / Chief Blender, Suntory Liquors

Scotch whiskey is a major British industry. Japanese whiskey is already on par with Scotch, but it's still little known in the UK. Japanese whiskies lag far behind in terms of global market share. Raising their profile is key to boosting sales.

Keita Minari is a marketing specialist at Suntory's London office. Together with Zoran Peric, a senior member of the UK Bartenders Guild, he organizes more than 400 tasting events a year to promote Japanese whiskies. About 70 whiskey lovers attended this tasting. Minari and Peric want the connoisseurs to try Japanese whiskey, and then spread its excellence by word of mouth.

"Our aim is to gain more Japanese whiskey fans."
Keita Minari / Brand Manager, Suntory Whisky

Minari explains that the blessings of nature allow the maker to create the finest-quality whiskies. He stresses the importance of the water --- a key ingredient.

"The water is very good, and this place was chosen by the creator of Japanese tea ceremony, Master Sen-no-rikyu."
Shinji Fukuyo / Chief Blender, Suntory Liquors

Most of the whiskies Minari presented were sold. He wraps them Japanese-style for taking home.

"Here, people tend to ask if Japanese whiskey is delicious. We urge them to just try it.We believe if we win recognition here our whiskies can spread globally."
Shinji Fukuyo / Chief Blender, Suntory Liquors

Winning over British consumers is the test of whether Japanese whiskey can become number one in the world, both in quality and name.

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