Editor’s Note: This whisky was provided to us as a review sample by Beam-Suntory. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review. It should also be noted that by clicking the buy link towards the bottom of this review our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.
Have you ever watched old Suntory commercials? If not I suggest you start with this one of Sammie Davis Jr. These wild, spontaneous, and music driven commercials are things of the past. And while Suntory has moved in a very different direction with their marketing, like the ad for Suntory Whisky Toki here, they continue to make quality blends to keep quantity available. Even further than just making blends, they make their blends for specific regions. If you look at the web page for Toki you will notice it is not available in much of Asia. This is because Toki was made for the foreign palate, while they make Suntory Whisky (often referred to as Kakubin, literally translated to square bottle) for the Japanese palate.
Japanese whisky really took center stage in 2010 when Hibiki 21 years old and Taketsuru 21 years old took the top spots at the World Whiskies Awards for World’s Best Blended Whisky and World’s Best Blended Malt Whiskey respectively. This was followed with several years of a Japanese Whisky winning World’s Best Single Malt Whiskey, something that had been held only by Scotch until 2012. These series of awards have driven a large surge in demand for Japanese Whisky and, as a result, a shortage of product. While blending has always played a vital role in whisky around the world, it was the tool that would allow brands like Suntory and Nikka to keep up production as demand skyrocketed, sadly dropping many products with age statements from their line ups.
Suntory Whisky Toki is a blend of two single malts (Yamazaki and Hakushu) and one single grain (Chita). It was first released in 2016 exclusively to the U.S. market. It is important to realize the extent of Suntory’s dedication to the art of blending. Even their single malt whiskies are blended from a multitude of different distillates, with production resulting in over 100 grain and malt whiskies, all from only three distilleries. This great breadth of whisky turns into a total of five brands; Suntory, Hibiki, Yamazaki, Hakushu, and Chita.
The extent of their dedication to blending never hit home with me until visiting Yamazaki distillery and seeing their whisky library, images about midway down here. Each of those bottles documents a different barrel, with notes on the mash bill, still size and shape, barrel type, and age. They document everything and work to make a library for their blenders to pull from as well as a historical archive to reference. While many blenders in Scotland had the opportunity to reach out to another distillery for product, Japan was initially isolated. If they wanted the flavors they needed for blending they had to make them themselves.
So while we see many age statements fall away from Japanese whisky bottles we see products like Toki step up to fill the demand for these masterfully crafted products. And while Toki won’t live up to the experience of sipping on a Yamazaki finished in sherry casks or a 21-year-old Nikka, it serves its purpose of bringing the Japanese distillate to the masses all around the world.
Tasting Notes: Suntory Toki
Vital Stats: blend of single malts from Yamazaki and Hakushu distilleries and single grain from Chita distillery, 43% ABV, roughly $30 a bottle
Appearance: This is light straw in color. The whisky forms large beads that are spread out from one another around the glass.
Nose: Lemon oil and grain are apparent on the nose. Honeysuckle and caramel have a secondary note that lends depth to the smell of this.
Palate: I get a lot of sweet malt throughout the flavor profile. It has a bright citrusy quality. There are lighter notes of honey and golden raisins. It evolves nicely and leaves a subtle crisp finish. The addition of water really brings out the rich quality of the grain. Finish stays fresh and crisp. I find the flavor profile is enhanced with a light mineral water like Topo Chico when making this into a highball.