Update 15.2.2010: More on dating Suntory Old bottles
There is a story behind this whisky bottle. It was recovered near a submerged World War II tank in the Marshall islands by this chap. The Marshalls were fought over by the Japanese and the Americans in the war and there are relics from that fight scattered all over the islands.
Was this bottle left by a Japanese serviceman during the war? It had obviously been down there a while and Japanese officers were prodigious whisky drinkers. In fact, Nikka's Yoichi distillery was designated a naval installation during the war and given privileged access to supplies to make sure it pumped out enough of the stuff. Here is a close up, with the Suntory embossing clearly visible:
That might have been the way it happened, but the round, embossed bottle has a distinctly post war Japan feel about it for me. I asked the fellow who found it what is written on the bottle. You can see the "Suntory Whisky" clearly enough in the photo but he tells me the slogan curling over its shoulder is "A Blend of the Choice Whiskies". I hate to be a spoil sport but my feeling is that this is a bottle of "Suntory Old Whisky". Suntory "Old" was first released in 1950. It has had several rebrandings since then but the bottle shape has stayed constant. It seems to fit the shape of the bottle in the water:
Recovered bottle and 1950 bottle
I think we can date it a bit more precisely than that. The early bottles in this line bore the slogan: "A Blend of Ancient Whiskies". That was still on the bottle until at least 1968. The first bottle with "A Blend of the Choice Whiskies" I have found is the 1994 "Suntory Old Whisky - Mild and Smooth". Was it chucked in the water by some Japanese tourist? (Update: Unlikely, says the chap who found it: "There are no Japanese tourists out here. For that matter there are no tourists out here from anywhere. The only way to get out here is if you work or are from here.") Was it bought by a local or was it washed ashore after being jettisoned from some cruise liner or perhaps it floated all the way from Japan itself? It is a different kind of story from the romanticism of a doomed Japanese soldier taking a final sip before meeting his fate but it is symbolic in its own way: of Japan's rampant post war prosperity.
I suppose I had better drink the whisky after that long shaggy dog story. I don't have any of the "Suntory Old Whisky - Mild and Smooth" to hand, just the relaunched 2006 version:
The Suntory Old Whisky
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. Though a blend, it is too pricey to qualify for the Mizuwari Death Match.
40 per cent
Price (April 2007)
700 ml - 1,504 yen
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
All pictures of the recovered bottle used with the permission of Island Life.