Six Old School Japanese Whiskies from Decades Past

Aaron Gilbreath
9 min readJan 9, 2020

Great new Japanese whiskies abound, but bygone eras were filled with equally interesting blends and experiments.

Old school, 90s style Japanese whisky

Everyone who loves Japanese whisky knows it’s difficult to get any of the aged whiskies that earned Suntory and Nikka world renown. No more 10, 12 or 15 year old Yoichi and Miyagikyo. No more Hibiki 12 or 17 or easy-to-find Hakushu 12. For now, these whiskies’ production has been halted or entirely discontinued. I wrote about how that happened in a James Beard Award-nominated story at Longreads. Now let’s tour the deeper past, to see bottles produced before Japanese whisky was well-known outside of Japan and became a hot commodity.

There is no single source of information or graphic that lists all the vintage Japanese whisky lines and dates they were produced. Information from inside Suntory and Nikka is scant. Many of the blenders who worked on 70s and 80s blends have probably retired or died. The best timeline is arguably the chronological display of bottles at Yamazaki distillery. Stefan Van Eycken’s book Whisky Rising is the second best source of information. Whiskybase contains a wealth of info but inconsistent production dates. By chance, I bought a printed 1999 Suntory Product Index that helps sort certain details. Details about bottles that came and went remain hazy. Here’s what I’ve gathered about a few cool bottles:

PS: If you have information about when these brands were produced and distilled, I invite you to share this info in the comments section. Let’s get this as accurate and detailed as we can.

Suntory Royal 60

1959–1970s?

Royal 60 was first sold in 1959, to celebrate the 60th annivesary of Suntory’s founding in 1899. Distilled entirely at Yamazaki, Suntory bottled Royal 60 for many years after that 1959 anniverary date, keeping the big 60 on the attractive gold label, and packaging it in a square squat bottle with a fancy T-shaped…

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Aaron Gilbreath

Essayist, Journalist, Burritoist. Longreads Editor. Writing: Harper’s, NYT, Slate, Paris Review, VQR, Oxford American, Kenyon Review. 3 nonfiction books.