Friday, August 24, 2012

An interesting Suntory Old Dusty

I've written about rummaging in my father in law's bottle pantry before. As an oenephile he has a wine cellar. He also has an "on deck" pantry where fifty or so wine bottles live, as well as his mineral water and bottles that rest upright, such as sake, liqueur and even the few odd bottles of whisky. A few years back a 28 year old single cask OB bottling of 1965 Springbank came to light. This time I rummaged a bit more and found this fascinating looking bottle of Japanese whisky:

Suntory Old Blended Whisky (and Hiroko Sherwin)
Several questions immediately present themselves: 1) Is this good whisky to enjoy now? 2) What year is it from (more or less)? 3) What the heck is it? The fill level stands at about 50%, a tax strip is partially present and an import label shows this as a USA import:

Fragment of tax strip
The bottle's bottom is singularly uninformative:

The tax strip, and use of proof rather than abv% puts it before the mid 80s according to SKU's article about dating bourbon dusties:

but the use of metric measuring is complicating to the dating.

Nonjatta, the premier blog about Japanese whisky published a post in February 2010 about dating Suntory Old bottles:

There are several generations of Old, reaching right up to the present day. Despite its name, it is not a particularly long matured whisky. It is a mid market blend (below Hibiki in Suntory's blended whisky pecking order but above Kakubin and the bargain basement Torys.) There are various ways to tell younger bottles from older version. Early bottles had the slogan: "A Blend of Ancient Whiskies". That was still on the bottle until at least 1868. Even after Kotobukiya changed its name to "Suntory" in 1963, the Suntory Old bottles appear to have continued to bear the "Kotobukiya" name. One way to tell really old Olds from 1960s versions is the addition of technical information at the far left bottom and far right bottom of the main label.

I am not sure when exactly things changed but, by 1994, " the label was different. The "Ancient Whiskies" were dropped in favour of "A Blend of the Choice Whiskies" and the main title on the whisky changed from "Suntory Whisky" to "Suntory Old Whisky". The line "Mild and Smooth" had also been added to the label by 1994 and the neck label had a completely different design.

This is a great bit of info - but unfortunately there is a huge gap between 1968 and 1994 in the information and this example was pretty clearly squarely in this gap. Furthermore, the bottle under consideration here lacks the word "Old" on the label.

Here is a site showing Suntory Old Minis that show how unusual the label without the word `Old` is - and the timing is at the cutoff between cork and screw top (see #4):

While this old minis site doesn't give a date for this label wording, it strongly suggests sometime in the late 60s or early 70s based on context. This allowed me to do a brute force search of the advertising for this period which yielded the following:

Advertisement dating the unusual label to 1973 `If You've Been There You Know`:

So, now that I had a year - I have the question of what is it?

Back on Nonjatta I find a review of the 2007 version which identifies it as a blend and gives it (barely 3 of 5 stars): Smells of marmalade and varnish with very faint earth and undergrowth notes slightly complicating things. The taste is quite nice: a very thin caramel with grainy harshness and plastics peeking through, but very suppressed. Just creeps above the two star threshold, but barely. 40 per cent
Price (April 2007)
700 ml - 1,504 yen

However, this version was different. For one thing it is 43.4% abv. not 40%. Odd percentages sound promising to me. However, at half full would it be hopelessly oxidized? I did some interview work. The bottle was received as a gift around 10 years ago and was opened around that time. No one remembers it being opened since then so it was opened, half consumed ten years ago as a 30 year old dusty and presumably not touched again until now. The proof would be in the tasting:

Suntory Old 43.4% abv Probably 1973

Color: Very light amber with gold glints

Nose: caramel, apple brown Betty, tropical blooms, butter, vanilla pods, hemp, and sherry oak. It smells like Yamazaki with old school sherry highland influence. Just killer. Close to five star territory so far.

Palate: Honey, toffee, and floral vanilla on the entry which hits solidly mid-tongue. The mouth feel is thin and light. The mid-palate expansion is spicy and vibrant with persimmon fruit, cinnamon clove heat, allspice and sherry sweetness. There is plenty of oak tannins in the turn. The finish is long and spiced with nutmeg eggnog and sherry which comes off as dark chocolate cherry. Extensive air brings some honey to the sweet and a hint of body to the mouth feel but a bit of bitter note shows on the finish - not so unwelcomely. This is excellent stuff. Solid 4 star territory.

Adding a drop of water ups the honey and spice in the nose and adds a hint of smoke.

The water thins the palate - not a good thing here as the palate was a tad thin to begin with. The spice heat, however, is amplified a bit.

A mixed bag but very close to completely awesome.

The bottom line here is that this is very tasty whisky indeed. It is clear kin to Yamazaki, but has much more sherry in the palate. It has inferior mouth feel and richness compared to Yamazaki, either as a result of having grain whisky, being a younger NAS product, or as the effect of oxidation - or some combination of the above. While I wouldn't rank it higher than Yamazaki, the ways it is different than Yamazaki are instructive. Rich, spicy, complex and sherried it has more of a classic old time Scotch feel. It's very good whisky and awefully good for a mainstream blend: more evidence that fuller flavor used to be mainstream 40 years ago. This is particularly so in light of the lackluster tasting notes for the 2007 version on Nonjatta. This old 1973 stuff is clearly better than the 2007 stuff.


These come up periodically on auction sites and tend to go for 50-70 pounds. This isn't rare stuff and it's not totally amazing, but it's interesting and quite good - perfectly reasonable at that price.


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks, Mr. Kravitz. I really enjoyed both the whisky and the mystery. Japanese whisky has richer tropical fruit flavors and a sweet buttery quality. This antique didn't disappoint. I love the time travel aspect too. I have a number of other dusty projects in the works at the moment.

  2. Just came across a similar bottle... I don't know if I should open it!!! Great post by the way!