In 1923, Suntory founder Shinjiro Torii built the Yamazaki Distillery, which soon produced Japan’s first malt whiskey. One hundred years later, the multinational drinks company that bears his name, Beam Suntory, is celebrating this centenary with the release of Arraya new blended Scotch whiskey that is its first new scotch brand in five years.
Talk about things that come full circle. It was Suntory that was primarily responsible for importing Scottish distilling methods to Japan, and it now exports its own vaunted blending methods to the old world. (This isn’t the first time Beam Suntory has embarked on a transcontinental collaboration. It previously teamed up Jim Beam master distiller Fred Noe with Suntory head blender Shinji Fukuyo to create Light Bourbon).
The idea behind Ardray – a portmanteau blending the Gaelic words “ard” for “high” and “ray” for “light” – was to create a scotch blend similar to what Torii tasted in his own research into the category . well over a century ago. The difference, according to Calum Fraser, Beam Suntory’s head blender for scotch, was that these blends would have had a richer mouthfeel and a long, lingering finish.
To achieve this goal, Beam Suntory has sourced malt and grain whiskeys from its own portfolio of Scottish distilleries, which includes Laphroaig, Bowmore and Glen Garioch, as well as its third-party partner, the Edrington Group, which includes The Macallan, Glenrothes and Highland Park distilleries under his umbrella. These whiskies, aged a maximum of 20 years and representing a large part of the Scottish terroir, have been aged largely in old bourbon and European oak barrels seasoned with sherry.
Reflecting the almost microscopic attention to detail that characterizes the Japanese blending industry, the Scottish team responsible for Ardray started with a blend of 5% malt and 95% grain, then worked its way up to 95% malt and 5% cereals. grain, working in 5% increments. Every time the team thought they had found a winning combination, they would create a mix in 1% increments within 15 percentage points, without neglecting any element (or in this case, a mix of scotch).
As part of a team of journalists invited by Beam Suntory to experience Ardray in its natural habitat – Edinburgh and the Scottish Highlands – last spring, I had the chance to taste this blend first-hand. The spirit, bottled at 48% ABV, features a nose that evokes in equal measure damp, earthy malt and sweet orchard fruits, with a solid peat background reminiscent of a semi-recently extinguished chimney . It is indeed rich on the palate, with a buttery and creamy texture that rolls pleasantly on the palate and leaves in its wake flavors of grilled peaches, wood spices and caramelized vanilla before finishing with a definitive touch of peat but sweet that lingers lazily with warming spice.
As one of our activities during the trip, we were invited to play the role of blender and blend four different whiskeys representing the constituent elements of Ardray: a matured ex-bourbon grain blend, a blend of matured ex-bourbon malt and a blend of matured ex-bourbon peated malt. and mixed malt ex-European sherry aged in oak barrels to form a coherent whole. I’ll just say that my iteration – titled “Yardra” and heavily comprised of malt aged in ex-European oak sherry casks – won’t put Beam Suntory mixers out of business.
We also had the opportunity to test what Beam Suntory has billed as Ardray’s “Perfect Serve,” a method that requires a high-quality rocks glass, Julep strainer, and ice sphere. The trick, as we were told, was to place the Julep strainer on the rim of a rocks glass, place the ice sphere in its cup-shaped bowl, then pour the alcohol directly over it. said ice cream, which would then be thrown away. once casting is complete.
The end result would be a glass of “pure” whiskey that nevertheless passed through the ice to reach its final destination – something like the scotch equivalent of water flowing down an ice-covered mountain peak. The time taken to pour the whiskey over ice was crucial to its success: group tests suggested that a pour time of eight seconds was sufficient to cool the whiskey slightly without diluting its taste, while a pour time of of 15 seconds or more introduced more water than was desirable for a sipping spirit priced at $85.
Ardray blended Scotch whiskey was released on June 5, with an initial rollout in New York, Los Angeles, London and Shanghai. Although Ardray is limited to these regions at the moment, anyone living outside of these regions shouldn’t worry too much: the whiskey is mixed via a double solera processensuring that a large quantity of this first version mixture exists to guide the next batch.