#01 The Journey
In 2014, Suntory Group teamed with Beam, Inc. to become the world’s third largest producer of spirits, Beam Suntory. As a result, the company now owns distilleries in the world’s key whisky-producing regions, inspiring a new challenge—a blend of the world’s five major whiskies.
Chief Blender Shinji Fukuyo led the Ao development team. He said he felt surprised more than anything when he was invited to join the project. “At any rate, it was something I hadn’t done. It’s hard to predict each whisky’s nature from different country’s distilleries, not to mention what they would be like blended.” He said he struggled to hide his bewilderment when he heard about the project.
#02 The Days of Trials: Journeying into Uncharted Territory
“With Japanese whisky, I understand its role, so I can start blending right away. However, this posed new challenges because the behaviors and varieties of whiskies from these countries were new to me, making it difficult to determine where to begin.”
Fukuyo’s first step was to collect samples from each country. “The process of carefully reviewing each whisky’s strengths was like baseball. Is it fast, defensive, or a good hitter?” He used this method to feel his way around the whiskies while accumulating information. It’s the foundation of the Art of Blending.
#03 Teamwork of 100 Trials and Errors
In pursuing the perfect blend, Fukuyo invited another blender onto the team. “The advantage of improving the blend while deliberating is that it allows blenders to consider composition three-dimensionally. For example, let’s say I altered the blend to bring out bourbon’s sweetness. One person may notice that, while it brings the sweetness out, the woodiness becomes overbearing.” This chemistry and a relationship of trust was indispensable for the development of Ao.
After nearly a year and a half, the team completed the recipe for the base blend at exactly the one-hundredth sample. In the next session of Blend Salon, we will delve into Ao’s individuality and the Art of Blending even further.
Chief Blender Shinji Fukuyo
Chief Blender at Suntory Spirits Ltd., Fukuyo has spent decades blending. His career started at Suntory after studying Agricultural Chemistry at Nagoya University. He worked at the Hakushu Distillery before moving to England, where he spent time at Heriot-Watt University and Morrison Bowmore Distillers. He returned to Japan in 2002 and became Lead Blender in 2003 and was awarded the Chief Blender title in 2009. His experience spans countless Suntory whiskies, including many Limited Editions.