There is nothing more prestigious in the Whisky world than the title of Master Blender. It means you have a palate and nose developed enough to create internationally renowned blends.
This is the title that was bestowed on Shinji Fukuyo in 2009 by Japanese distillers Suntory. He is only the fourth person to have ever held this position within the company.
Suntory was established in 1899, so to only be the fourth Master Blender is truly an accolade.
Shinji finds his Whisky roots in 1984 when he first began working for the legendary company in their Hakushu Distillery, based in the Toribara region.
It didn’t take long for people to notice just how talented he was, and in 1992 he was transferred to the blending department of Yamazaki Distillery. This distillery was opened in 1923 and was Japan’s first commercial Whisky distillery.
Shinji thrived in the blending departmentand within four years was sent to learn more from the Scots, and even to show them a thing or two about the art of distillation.
From the years 1996-2002 Shinji worked in Scotland at the University of Heriot-Watt and Morison Bowmore.
At Heriot-Watt he worked in the International Centre for Brewing and Distilling. This is a reputable institution that works for the improvement of the industry and Shinji’s played an important role here.
He also worked at Morison Bowmore Distillers Ltd., a subsidiary of Suntory. His place here shows how important he was to Suntory, as they trusted his expertise across the globe.
From 2002 he returned to Japan to take up the position of Director of the blending department.
This began his rise to the much coveted position of Master Blender, which he was awarded in 2009. Under this title he is responsible for every bottle of Whisky, blended or single malt, that is released from Suntory distilleries.
And considering how well the brand does at spirits awards all across the world, every year, almost without fail, it is a testament to just how good Shinji is at his job.
Despite his time living in Scotland and working in Scottish institutions, Shinji maintains that Japanese Whisky should not be called Scotch. Japanese Whisky finds its roots in the distilling of Scotch and the first creators were inspired by the way Scotch was made.
But Shinji attributes the success and superiority of Japanese Whisky to convergence of three rivers outside the distillery.
This gives the water a soft texture and makes it incredible pure. As the distillery’s main water supply, it is no wonder that Suntory is of such a high quality.
Shinji is very particular about the barrels he chooses to create new blends from, believing that every barrel is different and as such, recipes must be changed every year.
This sounds like a lot of hard work, but when you love what you do it becomes easier!
We would all love the chance the be a Master Blender, even if it was just for one day, but the job requires dedication and perhaps most importantly, a pretty strong sense of smell.
Shinji’s appointment as the Master Blender for such an excellent brand speaks highly of his abilities and I think the constant awards won by Suntory really do speak for the Master Blender themselves!