Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Japanese Drams of Yesteryear (1): Suntory Za 40% abv

Suntory released the blended whisky "Za" to the market on September 5th, 2000. The blend was the concoction of Suntory's now chief blender Seiichi Koshimizu, and was promoted as being a "whisky made to accompany Japanese-style meals". According to Suntory the blend however never really took off and was a slight check in progress for the now renowned chief blender. There is further insight into the naming and bottle design in the original Japanese press release here.

Nose: Odd and peculiar initially with overpowering aromas of baked white fish meat. In fact it carries an association of the sea in general in a moderate way: soft dried kelp and mellow hints of brine. This subdues after a handful of minutes (luckily, as I'm not keen on the fishy note). Things change direction ceremoniously with old tatami mats, pickled onions, celery, and peeled whole potatoes - guess you could say it is quite vegetal. Best left to sit for 10-15 minutes if you can be patient (I'm sure you can) as it will take the edge of things then, lovely cedar begins to break through - Japanese cedar bathtubs.

Taste: Cedar and lots of it (again, cedar enzyme bath). Much more appealing here then the nose, and without any of the baked fish elements. Aromatic mild peppercorns with mild culinary spice, mellow dried peel (orange/grapefruit), and lavender. Interestingly subtle suggestions of lightly salted licorice. Low key bitterness.

Finish: Mild pepper on celery with a slight bitter note of grapefruit.

Comment: You'll either enjoy it or not. I must say however, it is actually half descent as a highball. There are extra flavours coming out with the help of carbonated water. I can't help but wonder if the shape, packaging, and brand name diminished this blend? Nevertheless, a good historical experience.


  1. I would not have thought that bottles of 'Za' are still around, Clint. This was particularly interesting to read as 'Za' featured prominently in the 'Professional' episode about Koshimizu-san. After reading your tasting notes I am not surprised though that this did not take off. Interesting post, nicely complemented by Suntory's original press release.

    1. Bottles of 'Za' can still be found readily, Pierre. Well that is to say at most small mom & pop stores, and the stores I frequent anyway. There still seems to be a big surplus in Kobe however I'm not sure about other parts of Japan. Thank you for pointing out the fact 'Za' featured in the 'progressional' episode. I was originally going to mention that in the post but decided not to in the end. It is, as you know, a great insight into 'chief blender'.