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Ao, Suntory's high-end world whisky, blends whiskies from the U.S., Canada, Ireland, Japan and Scotland.KIM KYUNG-HOON/Reuters

When Japan’s Suntory Holdings bought the American company responsible for Jim Beam in 2014, a global superpower of high-end spirits was formed. Beam controlled Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark and Knob Creek bourbons alongside Canadian Club and Alberta Premium and Scotch whiskies like Teacher’s and Laphroaig. Suntory was behind premium Japanese whiskies Yamazaki, Hakushu, Hibiki, and Kakubin and Bowmore Scotch whisky.

Beyond increasing sales and distribution for the combined portfolio, Suntory chief blender Shinji Fukuyo saw another opportunity: the chance to create a company-encompassing hybrid that featured components from each of the major whisky-producing regions in the world in a single bottle.

Fukuyo seized the opportunity to blend whiskies from distilleries in the United States, Canada, Ireland, Japan and Scotland to create Suntory World Whisky Ao.

During a virtual tasting of the recently released spirit on Feb. 6, Fukuyo explained he wished to respect the individuality of each country’s style of whisky as he looked to create a blend with a layered and harmonious profile.

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Suntory's chief blender Shinji Fukuyo calls the Ao whisky "very complex."Handout

The finished product was years in the making, he explains. “It’s very complex. Totally different from any other whisky… Sweet. Spicy. Very complex.”

To help illustrate what each country’s whisky adds to the blend, Fukuyo conducted a tasting of various samples of his whisky, each missing one component. An assembled group of media and spirits enthusiasts assessed samples of the Ao blend without Scotch, without Bourbon, without Canadian whisky and so on, alongside a sample of the commercial blend.

During the tasting, Fukuyo addressed the role each plays. Scotland contributes richness and depth the blend. Irish whiskey increases its complexity. Bourbon from the United States adds fragrance and vanilla, while Canada brings distinctive rye spice and helps to round out the texture. The unifying influence comes from the Japanese component, which Fukuyo explains is a specially selected Hakushu whisky selected for its distinctive smokey character. To my taste, the balanced and flavourful style of the blended whisky makes it enjoyable served neat, but its fragrance and character was greatly enhanced when diluted with water or ice.

Ao takes its name from the Japanese word for “blue,” a reference to the oceans that join the countries represented in the blend together. Released in Japan in April 2019, rolled out to travel retail outlets in 2020, Ao was introduced in Canada last year at a suggested retail price of $104.95.

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