Monday, February 15, 2010

Dating Suntory Old bottles


A 1950 Suntory Old

I have a feeling this post is going to disappoint some people. I get a lot of questions emailed to me and posted as comments here about the age and value of Suntory Old bottles. There are Japanese whiskies with older traditions, but I think the emphasis on age on this whisky's label raises hopes.

The first thing to clear up is that, although some bottles of Suntory Old have the date 1899 printed on them, none are that old. Suntory dates itself to 1899 but all bottles of Suntory Old date from 1950 onwards.

There are several generations of Old, reaching right up to the present day. Despite its name, it is not a particularly long matured whisky. It is a mid market blend (below Hibiki in Suntory's blended whisky pecking order but above Kakubin and the bargain basement Torys.) There are various ways to tell younger bottles from older version. Early bottles had the slogan: "A Blend of Ancient Whiskies". That was still on the bottle until at least 1868. Even after Kotobukiya changed its name to "Suntory" in 1963, the Suntory Old bottles appear to have continued to bear the "Kotobukiya" name. One way to tell really old Olds from 1960s versions is the addition of technical information at the far left bottom and far right bottom of the main label.

I am not sure when exactly things changed but, by 1994, " the label was different. The "Ancient Whiskies" were dropped in favour of "A Blend of the Choice Whiskies" and the main title on the whisky changed from "Suntory Whisky" to "Suntory Old Whisky". The line "Mild and Smooth" had also been added to the label by 1994 and the neck label had a completely different design. In 2006, there was another redesign, as you can see below:

1950:


1968:


1994:


2006:


The "Extra Special" bottle:



This bottle is owned by a reader of Nonjatta in Brazil and I must admit it has got me scratching my head. I have called it "Extra Special" because those words appear in the middle of the label and I have not seen them on other versions of Suntory Old. The owner says his family were given it by a Japanese diplomat in the 1980s. I have had questions from other readers about this particular bottling. Unfortunately, I have not been able to pin it down to a very precise time period.

I do know that a bottle similar to this was marketed abroad by Suntory and there does appear to have been a "Discover Suntory" campaign in the U.S. in the late 1960s that featured this brand. I say this because of this magazine advert:



It features our "Extra Special" bottle. This photo appears to be from the same campaign and its owner told me that his 1967 dating is based on a clear July 2, 1967 date on his slide mount (I have also dated the TWA campaign in the same picture to the same period). I think I can tentatively conclude from this that the "Extra Special" version of Suntory Old was sold abroad around 1967. It is almost definitely post 1963, because it is not described as being made by Kotobukiya, which was Suntory's company name before that date. The "Kotobukiya" name is echoed on the label, however: the kanji in the middle is "kotobuki", which has meanings associated with congratulations, happiness and long life (the same kanji is featured on a lot of neck labels for Suntory Old).

We have a fairly firm start date for this type of Suntory Old in the mid-1960s and some evidence from the marketing that it might have been exported in quite large amounts (perhaps even specifically made for foreign markets). What I don't know is when it stopped being distributed. The fact that the owner of this bottle thought it was given in the 1980s raises the possibility that it was produced over quite a long period.

There is one more detail that I should point out on this bottle which may or may not date it later than 1967. On the reverse of the bottle there is raised lettering on the bottle which says "A blend of the choice whiskies". If you look higher up in this post you will see that that phrase is featured on a mainstream bottle of Suntory Old in 1994 but not on its equivalent in 1968. I don't know when exactly Suntory started using that phrase, instead of referring to "ancient" whiskies as it had done earlier, but it may indicate that this is a later bottling. There may have been early "Extra special" bottling with the ancient description but I have never seen one. Another explanation might be that the change from "ancient" to "choice" may have been initiated on the "Extra Special" bottles and later carried over onto other versions. Here is the raised lettering:



Update 30.7.2010: My goodness, this post is getting really dorky but I just want to note that the strap line on these Suntory Old does appear to have varied considerably over the years. Another variation is below. It is another "Extra Special" Suntory Old but I think it would be a mistake to think that the "blend of rare selected malt whiskies" means this was a vatted malt. I think Old has always been a blend and that what that strapline means is that it is a "blend involving rare selected malt whiskies". Thanks to Tim from The Whisky Exchange for the photo, who said it came from a collection in Spain with a lot of bottles from the 60s and 70s.



Update 9.1.2010: Another reader has sent in some photos of an old bottle, which I am guessing comes from before or around the same time as the 1968 bottle at the top of this post. It carries the "Extra Special" mark and "kotobuki" characters. My current theory is that these marks were associated with bottles for export, and this one was exported into the U.S., as the photos below show. The use of "Kotobukiya Ltd." instead of "Suntory Whisky" might be taken to imply that this was exported prior to 1963, when the company changed its name. However, the photos at the top of this post show a bottle dated by Suntory as being distributed in 1968 also using the Kotobukiya name. My guess is that this is a bottle from the 60s or, possibly, earlier. As the reader who sent in these images points out, the back of the bottle is subtly different from the Suntory Old I posted about above: "On the back, where the bottle you posted has the company symbol, we have the same Japanese symbol as the front label."





28 comments:

Amarjit Singh said...

This post is informative. But still it is not given here that
What is difference between various alcohol like: Single Malt, Single Grain, Blended Whiskey, whisky, vodka, gin, rum, cognac, brandy and cointreau..

I would like to share this link..hope u all like this:

http://www.venturousbikers.com/2010/02/what-is-difference-between-various.html

Nonjatta said...

Dear Amarjit
Thank you for the link. I do have to note, for the benefit of readers, that your definitions are not all correct (eg. you need to check again on single grain, check the spelling in the whisky/whiskey section, think again on all US whiskey being Bourbon, and be prepared for strong differences of opinion on your blended whisky characterisation) but anyway, that is just me being a alcohol nerd.

Kris said...

I have a bottle of Old Suntory, extra special in it's original box (on front it says One U.S. Quart), unopened that was "Commemorating the Opening of New Tokyo International Airport". The label is very fancy with some gold on it. Do you know anything about this?
Kris

Nonjatta said...

Kris, Your bottle probably dates from 1978 when New Tokyo International Airport, now known as Narita, opened. The 1 U.S. quart seems to suggest that, like I am guessing with the other "Extra Specials", this one was probably intended for an international audience. Perhaps it was sold in Duty Free at the opening of Narita.

Skinny said...

Hi,
I have a bottle of Old Suntory Extra Special 1US Quart 86 Proof. It belong to my father which he marked the date he bought it, 1977.
We have been keeping his collection since he passed 9 years ago. I am not a drinker therefore I am doing research to estimate its value today and put it on Ebay. Any indication on its value is greatly appreciated.
Thanks, Alfred

Nonjatta said...

Dear Alfred
It sounds an interesting bottle. Unfortunately, I do not know what the going rate for these bottles is.
Nonjatta

Anonymous said...

I have an unopened bottle of Suntory Royal 60 Rare Old Whisky Special Reserve.

I'm guessing it is approximately 30 or more years old but can't remember when it was presented to me.

Is it worth anything?

Dick

Nonjatta said...

To be honest, Dick, I have no idea. If it was 30 years old and you could prove it, then it would be worth something, but I have no idea how much.

Bruce said...

Hi,

I also have a 1 qt bottle of "Extra Special" Old Suntory. I received it as a gift in the mid-1970s. My bottle has a different label with special graphics. It commemorates the opening of the New Toyko International Airport.

Let me know if you want me to send photos.

Nonjatta said...

Very interested in pictures

Bruce said...

Here are the photos of my commemorative 1qt bottle of mid-1970's Suntory for the opening of the New Toyko International Airport.

http://www.si-usa.biz/suntory/1.jpg
http://www.si-usa.biz/suntory/2.jpg
http://www.si-usa.biz/suntory/3.jpg
http://www.si-usa.biz/suntory/4.jpg
http://www.si-usa.biz/suntory/5.jpg
http://www.si-usa.biz/suntory/6.jpg
http://www.si-usa.biz/suntory/7.jpg

Let me know if anyone is interested in owning this rare bottle.

bsperka@si-usa.com

Renna Fox said...

Hello Nonjatta,

I was reading your post of Dating Suntory Bottles and I felt the need to comment on them. a year or so back, my aunt was helping out remodeling a mansion in San Francisco and there was a bottle of liquors and spirits. I was allowed to take what I wanted home and i took the whole box XD. Anyways. In the box was an Old Suntory Whisky Extra Special. I was curious about it today do to drinking of this day. I was wondering how do you tell when they are good enough to drink and when their not? most haven't been opened like the Suntory. Some of the others are Creme de Coca?, creme de menthe, Faretti Biscotti liqueur, creme de chassis, Peachtree schnapps and blackberry brandy etc. Could you give me an idea? I'd also like to send a photo of the bottle, since its the one with rare selected whiskies.

With thanks,
Lauren

SUKI MIXSON said...

How about the label "very rare old Suntory Whiskey" My mother in law was Japanese.

hAMBERger said...

Did you find out any good info on the suntory royal 60 please email me at a.m.king12389@gmail.com thx

Anonymous said...

I have an unopened bottle in it's original box of "Very Rare Old Suntory Whisky" which commemorates the 1972 XI Olympic Winter Games in Sapporo. Has a luggage tag included! Anyway, any idea whether it's of value or even drinkable?

Thanks.

Ed

Nonjatta said...

Probably very drinkable. My general impression is it is unlikely to be very valuable

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the feedback...I'll post our impressions after we crack it...

Ed

Nonjatta said...

Would be very interested in your impressions. By the way, on the valuation front, I definitely have no experience doing that, so please don't take my word for it. It is just that there are so many bottles around that my gut reaction is that it is not going to attract a large valuation.

Lisa Kascak said...

We found a Suntory Whiskey bottle on the Oregon Beach a few years back. No label but the words "Suntory Whisky" raised on a brown bottle....I recently started researching to figure out how old it is. The cap on it is plastic.......my guess is that means it may not be that old- it looks cool though:) Any help would be appreciated

Nonjatta said...

As I say in the article, all Suntory Old bottles date from the 1950s at the very earliest, and the vast majority will be much much younger. They still sell the brand. However, I find the fun of these bottles is not so much the age but the question of how they got where they were found

Anonymous said...

I have an unopened bottle of Very Rare Old Suntory Whisky,760ML,43%,circa 1963 distilled at Yamazaki.Osaka, Japan in excellant condition and wish to know its value.4215

Anonymous said...

Regarding my entry of Feb 16,2013,2;44, I am reachable at General1a@verizon.net

bob jones said...

Hi folks,
I'm wondering if anyone can help me. I have a Suntory Kiezo Saji Signature bottle labeled AGE UNKNOWN. It came in a wooden box and was given to my father, Robert H. Jones a Canadian outdoor writer), by Kiezo Saji in the early 80's when my father was featured in several Suntory ads.The bottle is empty, (dad liked his Scotch). I'm curious to find any information on it and also to see if it has any value. I don't see any way to upload photos to the blog, but I can e-mail them to anybody that is interested.
My address is bjonesinottawa@gmail.com.
Thank you for your time,
Bob Jones

Elly Troutman said...

Great history. I have 2 bottles, unopened, in boxes of Old Suntory that I found in my father's garage. He was in contact daily with JAL pilots and we vacationed in Japan in 1963/64. I don't know exactly when he either purchased or received this bottle. I will take pictures. The front says Extra Special, above that it says The Final Choice of Mature Taste, it is 4/5 Quart 86 proof, Distillery at Yamazaki,near Kyoto Japan. Any info on the value or lack thereof would be appreciated or a link to where I could find out.
Thanks for your help
Elly Troutman

winston Creel said...

I have a bottle of Suntory Whisky that looks just like the early 60's bottle but mine doesns't say old just A blend of rare ,Selected whiskeys the back says imported by los Angeles california 90017 usa
there is a US revenue distilled spirits label closed over the cap.
Any Idea of the age or history behind it?

Evan said...

I recently got a bottle of Suntory Whisky on a small island in micronesia (only 4 people live there) and one says a blend of the choice whiskies which i suppose is rather new.. The other two that i have dont have a slogan on it at all and it has a totally different design on it. Just looking to see how old it could be. Thanks

vikramsamal said...

Hello

I have two bottles of Suntory whiskey where the label says Extra Special Old Suntory Japanese whiskey.Distilled and Bottled by Suntory Ltd. Could you please share more information on the same.

-Vikram

kinji yamamoto said...

Hi,
I have a friend that wants to sell to me an Suntory Whisky, in the label says: "Very Rare Old Suntory Whisky" in an gold label.
It is bottle for: "Commemorating the openning of New Tokyo International airport", my question, do you know how much is this bottle? (closed and full of whisky).

Thanks,

Kinji Yamamoto
BRAZIL