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Suntory launches global blend as further lines are discontinued

Japan’s Suntory Spirits has discontinued further brands in its portfolio and announced the launch of its first global blended whisky, as the country continues to grapple with a shortage of aged whisky amid surging demand.

Suntory’s new global blended whisky Ao (碧) is named after the colour of the ocean.

‘Ao’ is a blend of whiskies from the Suntory Group’s own distilleries in five whisky-regions: Japan, the US, Scotland, Canada and Ireland, but will be available exclusively in Japan with an RRP of JPY5,000 (£33.98).

Taking whiskies from five different production regions, the resulting whisky is described as an “innovative, multi-faceted, premium blended whisky”, composed of liquid produced through several fermentation techniques, shapes and sizes of pot stills, and an assortment of casks.

‘Ao’ (碧) is a reference to the colour of the ocean, in tribute to the “crossing of oceans and seas” between the five whisky-producing regions used to make the blend. 

The bottle is five-sided to represent each region involved, and the calligraphic lettering was written by Japanese calligrapher Tansetsu Ogino.

“Suntory World Whisky ‘Ao’ brings together the world’s most highly regarded whisky regions to produce this unique and premium quality blend,” said Sho Semba, head of Suntory Spirits.

“In recent years we’ve seen a huge increase in demand from customers across the world who want to experience Japanese whisky. We are confident that whisky enthusiasts will enjoy the unique flavour that is the result of this Japan-blended whisky, which originates from around the world.”

Its release comes as the distiller confirmed the discontinuation of more whiskies from its portfolio, in addition to Hibiki 17 and Hakushu 12 last May, as distilleries continue to run out of aged stock.

The culled releases include blended whisky Shirokaku’s 700ml, 1.92l, 2.7l and 4l bottles, single grain Chita’s 350ml bottles, and blended whisky Kakubin’s 450ml bottles, all of which are available only on the domestic market.

Nikka meanwhile is discontinuing its Nikka 12, and temporarily suspending its Coffey Grain and malt whiskies, as reported by Forbes.

Discontinuations of Japanese whisky labels have been forced in recent years by a nationwide shortage of aged stocks, prompting the release of an increasing number of no age statement and blended whiskies. Suntory Spirits’s new global blend Ao, for example, has seen the distiller leverage its international relationship with Beam Suntory, its parent company, to procure wider whiskey stocks to plug a gap in supply.

The shortage of aged whisky has deepened as demand has surged in the past decade, especially at auction, with distilleries simply unable to maintain levels of aged stocks, forcing it to lean further on younger, blended expressions.

This shortage, however, is likely to naturally rebalance itself, as Japan sets aside a greater number of casks to age for use in future releases.

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