The world of Japanese whisky just received a star power boost that’s cooler than any celeb-backed tequila brand. House of Suntory announced a new partnership with Keanu Reeves and directors Sofia Coppola and Roman Coppola to celebrate its 100th anniversary. And of course, there’s some expensive, limited-edition whisky on the way as well—specifically, two new 18-year-old single malts from Yamazaki and Hakushu.
At a swanky event in New York City last night, the details of this new collaboration were revealed and Reeves and Sofia both made appearances. The roots of this partnership date back decades to Coppola’s 2003 film Lost in Translation, in which Bill Murray plays an actor who travels to Japan to appear in a “Suntory Time” commercial. The new short film is called Suntory Anniversary Tribute, and is a snapshot of the history of Suntory featuring Keanu Reeves (who appeared in an ad campaign for Suntory Reserve in 1992) set to Joan Jett’s cover of “Crimson and Clover.”
And later this summer, Reeves will appear in Roman Coppola’s new docuseries, The Nature and Spirit of Japan, which will explore the connection between Japanese whisky and craftsmanship. “I’m honoured to partner with Suntory Whisky again 30 years after our Suntory Reserve campaign,” said Reeves in a statement. “I’m a huge fan of Suntory Whisky, so it’s very special to collaborate in honour of this milestone anniversary. My admiration for the whisky goes beyond tasting the whisky. It is the elevated Japanese craftsmanship and attention to every detail that makes Suntory Whisky so special. As an actor honing and perfecting my own craft, sharing this process in a docuseries is a thrill.”
If you thought bottles of Yamazaki 12 and Hakushu 12 were difficult to get ahold of these days, the pair of limited-edition whiskies released to commemorate the centennial will likely even be more elusive and expensive. We got to sample them both last night, and they are pretty fantastic. The first is Yamazaki 18 Year Old Mizunara, which is matured entirely in Japanese mizunara oak. This type of wood is notoriously difficult to work with but has been a staple of Japanese whisky maturation dating back to WWII. Mizunara oak-matured whisky is a component of many of the blends and single malts from Suntory, but it’s rare to find a whisky aged solely in it. There is rich fruit, spice, and some incense on the palate, along with some herbal notes like lavender and thyme.
The second bottle is Hakushu 18 Year Old Peated Malt, aged in a variety of casks to showcase the peated barley used in this whisky. The nose has notes of candy and a hint of smoke. On the palate, the peat increases along with notes of grape, watermelon, vanilla, and even a bit of saline. “Hakushu and Yamazaki whiskies are gifts from our past handed down by generations,” said chief blender Shinji Fukuyo in a press release. “It is fitting to release limited editions as part of this incredible milestone, as they represent our relentless pursuit of quality and symbolise our promise to carry our philosophy on for the next one hundred years and beyond.”
The Yamazaki and Hakushu distilleries are currently closed for renovations and are scheduled to reopen this fall. Suntory is investing nearly US$80 million into the distilleries, betting on the continued popularity of not just its whiskies but the Japanese whisky category overall. And House of Suntory has a new global membership programme—you can sign up here to be the first to know about new whisky releases, events, and more.
Yamazaki 18 Year Old Mizunara will be available later this month for US$1,500 (but don’t be surprised to see it listed for much more than that), along with the new Yamazaki 12 bottle with a commemorative label design (US$185). Hakushu 18 Year Old Peated Malt will be available for US$1,200 (ditto for this bottle), as well as a special edition Hakushu 12 for US$185.