Only a few short years ago, the term ‘Japanese Whisky’ was unheard of. Japan was known for a lot of beautiful and well-crafted products, but not whisky. Japan became famous a long time ago for its sake, a spirit made from fermented rice. Rice is plentiful in Japan and therefore making gorgeous variations of spirits using rice as a base was a no-brainer.
And yet now Japan is known for whisky, usually scotch, which is a product that is created with grains, water, and peat. And the country has truly taken the world by storm in creating its own whisky. One of those whiskies is Suntory Whisky Toki, which has become a staple on many bars in representing this genre of scotch.
It’s impossible to ignore Japanese whisky as one of the main players in the whisky game now, so let’s talk about Suntory Whisky Toki specifically, where it came from, how it’s made, how it tastes, and what it mixes well with!
The word “scotch” itself as an adjective is defined as “Scottish” or from Scotland. As a noun, it is a whisky made in Scotland. Scotch whisky comes from one of the five regions in Scotland which produce vastly different versions of scotch. Those regions are Speyside, Lowlands, Highlands, Campbeltown, and Islay.
Scotch is made with malted barley, but its mash bill can also contain other grains. It is aged at least three years in an oak barrel. Scotch is often a blend of different barrels to produce the best taste, but their age must be noted on the bottle according to the youngest whisky in the blend.
You will see the term “single malt” often on a scotch bottle, this simply means that the product comes from only one distillery.
A History of Japanese Whisky
Being a small island, Japan doesn’t have a ton of space to grow grains and harvest oak for aging. So what exactly makes a Japanese Whisky, how did Japan begin making it, and why is it so good?
Firstly, we need to address the genre of scotch, which includes addressing the choice in spelling the word “whisky” without an “e”. Whisky without an “e” was a choice made a long time ago for Scottish distillers, while their neighbors in Ireland chose to spell whiskey with the “e”.
America followed suit for the most part, with obvious exceptions, as there always is. At this point, it comes down to the distillery’s preference more than anything else but is most certainly a nod to the Scottish roots of whisky development.
I like to consider the fact that Japanese Whisky and Suntory Whisky Toki specifically spells the word “whisky” without an “e” is a respectful nod to the Scottish roots of their product. I believe wholeheartedly that this was intentional.
But the question is: can you consider a scotch made in Japan a true scotch? And the answer is yes. Of course, the answer is yes because we do call this a Japanese scotch, not something entirely unique from scotch.
The big thing to remember here is that Japan does not have the volume of natural resources that Scotland does when it comes to producing the barley, oak, and peat to create a scotch with ingredients solely from Japan.
So what do they do? They import! That’s right, while barley is planted and grown in Japan, most of the Japanese scotch process begins with importing whatever ingredients the specific distillery requires for them to produce scotch. Therefore, the ingredients in a Japanese scotch are largely in fact Scottish.
The Suntory Whisky Distillery
While Japanese whisky is relatively new on American shelves, it has been made in Japan since the 1920’s. Shinjiro Torii started the first Japanese whisky distillery in 1923, intent on bringing the nuances of a traditional scotch to the Japanese market. He opened Yamazaki that year and began his life’s work.
The House of Suntory Whisky now has three distilleries: the original that opened in 1923: Yamazaki, Chita, which opened in 1972, and Hakushu, which opened in 1973. All three are full operationally today and Yamazaki and Hakushu are both available for tours and visits!
While many distilleries import their ingredients, Suntory is not transparent in where all of their ingredients come from. It is clear however that Suntory utilizes the iconic, pure, water source for all of their whiskies.
Their website says: “water resources are considered Japan’s “most precious” for quality and pure essence. The region of Yamazaki is origin to one of Japan’s purest waters.”
Water is obviously an important element of any whisky, which is just one reason why Kentucky excels in making whiskey. (There is a natural limestone shelf in Kentucky that filters and purifies the water.)
Meanwhile, in Hakushu, the water used in that distillery is from rain and melted snow, which is naturally filtered as it drips through ancient granite rocks around the distillery. This creates a natural softness and of course, purifies the water naturally as well. It’s absolutely poetic!
The entire concept of Japanese whisky was to utilize natural Japanese resources with a blend of imported ingredients, to create a soft whisky for the Japanese market. Palates vary with culture and regions of course, so Japan had to be introduced to the peaty, smokiness of whisky in the early 20’s when Suntory began distilling.
The first Suntory whisky was Suntory Shirofuda, which translates to “white label” in English. It was released in 1929 and was poorly received by the Japanese market. The smokiness that the distillery was aiming to recreate failed miserably. But this didn’t dissuade Torii from pushing onward towards his goals.
By 1937 he had released his second iteration of a Japanese whisky: Suntory Kakubin, which translates to “square bottle” in English. This whisky was received tremendously well, and was soon the best-selling spirit in Japan!
And Torii never looked back!
Suntory Whisky Toki
Suntory Whisky Toki was released in 2016 but is the fourth in the line of Suntory Whiskies available today. Before Suntory Whisky Toki, the Suntory Whisky House gave the world their Yamakazi, released in 1984, then Hibiki in 1989, Hakushu in 1994, and Chita in 2015.
You can see from the timeline that this whisky house is in no rush to put our product for profit. They take time to craft their whiskies, waiting for the results of their distilling to be just right.
Suntory Whisky Toki is described on the website as being a blend of new innovation with traditional ways. Their mission in creating Suntory Whisky Toki was to make a scotch “groundbreaking and timeless”. Let’s discuss how it’s made and how it tastes next!
The Suntory Whisky Toki Process
Suntory Whisky Toki is a blend of several of the House of Suntory Whisky’s whiskies. It is comprised of malt and grain whiskies from all three distilleries: Hakushu, Yamazaki, and Chita.
Suntory isn’t super transparent about mash bills or processes for their Toki but we do know that in order to be considered a scotch, a whisky must be aged at least three years. So that means we at least know the Toki blend of scotch’s youngest scotch featured is three years old. The other blends could be much older and may differ from batch to batch.
While Suntory whiskies released before their Toki focused on malt from the Yamazaki distillery as the main ingredient to highlight in their tasting profiles and mash bills. Toki on the other hand highlights the malt from the Hakushu distillery, which has been aged in American oak.
We also know that grain whisky from the Suntory Chita distillery is utilized in the Toki. And finally, the Toki blend is finished with the addition of single malts from the Yamazaki distillery, which have also been aged, but in both American and Spanish oak.
Suntory Whisky Specs
- 43% alc./vol.
- 86 proof
- Aged at least three years in oak barrels
- Blend of several selected Japanese whiskies
- Color: light gold
The Suntory Whisky Toki Bottle
Even though it’s pretty new on the market, the Suntory Whisky Toki bottle has become a staple on many bars and liquor store shelves. Not only because it is cost-effective, but because its shape is easily identifiable: rectangular with the largest side front and center.
The label only wraps around most of the front of the bottle and most of the right side. The front reads: “Suntory Whisky Toki” in large, thick font, with “Suntory Whisky” in black and “Toki” in red.
The only other red coloring on this label is a small Japanese word, which I cannot translate, sadly. I imagine that since there is a larger black Japananse word above the red, perhaps the black word is “Suntory” and the red is “Toki”. But who am I to say?
Beneath the English “Suntory Whisky Toki” is smaller font in black saying “from the house of Suntory Whisky established 1923” and then beneath that, descriptors of what the bottle contains: Japanese Whisky.
On the side of the bottle is a smaller representation of “Suntory Whisky Toki” and the Japanese script with a short description of the tasting notes of the whisky.
The bottle stands out for its minimalism and simplicity. Furthermore, the very shape takes up space without needing to be an awkward or obtrusive bottle. It’s a screw top, making it easy to open and close, though once you open this bottle, it will be difficult to close!
Suntory Whisky Toki Tasting Notes
The nose on the Suntory Whisky Toki is so subtle, upon the first sniff, you could even say it isn’t there. This nose is quiet, but you do get a really lovely sense of the oak barrel with a very soft buttery creaminess on the end. Very enticing!
Due to the color, I knew this would be a lighter whisky. And oh boy, is it light! I would not recommend a cube in your Toki, it could make you miss all the gentle nuances.
The buttery nose comes through on the palate as well, with hints of surprising ginger and fruit. I get green apple quickly because soon that beautiful oakiness comes back.
Overall, there is peatiness in this scotch, but it doesn’t overtake the whisky. The peatiness serves more as an element of the taste, not so much the main focus. To me, it is cigar smoke and leather, and it comes through more on the end of the palate and the finish than anywhere else.
The finish is all spice and oak. It makes a great first impression and keeps me coming back for more. I could not quite identify one of the flavors I was getting and then saw on the website, it described the finish with white pepper.
White pepper! This was the description I was searching for, most definitely. The white pepper for me is what I’m left with, aside from the desire to have more Toki!
I’d certainly enjoy this neat because I think a cube tends to overtake the subtle smokiness. If you’re not that into the peat though, definitely add a cube! Now, let’s talk about how it mixes!
How the Suntory Whisky Toki Mixes
This was a whisky born to mix with. While it sips wonderfully, it is an ideal scotch for cocktails. You’re going to see it featured on a lot of bar menus because it’s a quality and cost-effective scotch to mix with. It’s a bartender’s dream scotch for mixing really.
The Suntory Whisky Toki blends well in a shaken or stirred drink. I made an egg white drink with the Toki using lemon and honey as well and it came out wonderfully. It also makes a beautiful Penicillin, which is a classic scotch cocktail with lemon, honey, and ginger.
Looking for a stirred drink? I’d make this with a Rob Roy, or a Manhattan with scotch instead of bourbon or rye.
The Toki is light enough that it won’t overtake a cocktail with the peaty, smoky flavors. Still, those signature notes of a scotch are present in a cocktail. It offers a lovely balance to any drink whether it’s shaken or stirred.
Comparable Whiskies to the Suntory Whisky Toki
- The Singleton of Glendullan 12 Year has the beautiful green apple notes that you will also find in the Suntory Toki. Cost-wise, it will be almost exactly the same as the Suntory Toki as well!
- Glenlivet 12-Year-Old Scotch is also going to have the fruity notes and lighter body of the Suntory Toki. Most bottles you’re going to find will be about ten dollars more than the Toki though.
- Nikka Whisky is a beautiful and complex Japanese Whisky. Full of fruit and citrusy notes, this is going to be similar to the Toki with a lot more depth, roundness, and richness. I’d consider this more of a sipping whisky. It will be about twice as much as the Suntory Whisky Toki however, consider yourself warned!
Suntory Whisky Toki Pros and Cons
- Mixes well
- Sips well
- Can’t beat that price! I paid only $35.99 for a bottle in Rhode Island
- Very light peatiness for a scotch drinker
- I’d love to know more about the mash bill
- For only about ten dollars more you can get a richer scotch
Suntory Whisky Toki FAQ’s
Answer: Yes it does but it is a very light scotch without a heavy peatiness to it either. So if you’re looking for smoke and richness, look elsewhere.
Answer: Yes and no. I’d recommend this to a scotch drinker who enjoys trying new scotches. If you’re buying a scotch for someone who only drinks one brand, their brand loyalty may outweigh their adventurous side.
Answer: Suntory Whisky Toki is owned by Beam Suntory.
Answer: It is a blend of several scotches, all made in different Suntory-owned distilleries in Japan.
Final Thoughts on the Suntory Whisky Toki
It’s very exciting to see the Japanese whisky market finally hitting American shelves! I love trying new things and I love seeing how other locales adjust to their limitations to create amazing interpretations of traditional spirits.
The Suntory Whisky Toki is a cost-effective, solid representation of a Japanese whisky. While I wouldn’t add a cube to it, I would enjoy it neat and it really sings in a mixed drink.
Overall, I’d recommend this scotch to any scotch drinker willing to try something new, light, and refreshing!