Next week I should have a few more write ups of single malts after a trip to Tokyo I am planning. In the mean time, I`m counting my pennies so I went out to buy that cheap bottle of blended White Label 007 was getting lectured about. I was waylaid by an even cheaper bottle, the least expensive of the Suntory bunch and also one of the classics: "Torys".
This is probably the oldest name in Japanese whisky. They were putting "Torys" on whisky bottles before they were even making the stuff. Below is an ad from 1919, before any Japanese whisky distillery was operating, for "Finest Liqueur Old Scotch Whisky". It is unclear whether the bottle in the picture was a Scotch whisky, or some kind of Scotch based liqueur, or the kind of ersatz Japanese imitation that was all too common in thos days (Japanese companies were not always too strict about the truth of their labels). Anyway, "Torys distillery" is scrawled across the bottle in Roman letters.
The brand we know now, however, is really a post World War Two phenomenon. Japan was desperately poor in the aftermath of defeat. People were dying of starvation. Poncey single malts were not really the order of the day. Torys was launched in 1949 with the short and too the point slogan: "It's good, it's cheap."
Whatever type of product they are flogging, Suntory are always adroit and sometimes innovative when it comes to advertising. In 1958, the artist Ryohei Yanagihara [1,2], who had joined the company four years before, came up with Uncle Torys, a hard drinking, amiable type with a tendency (like many Japanese people) to go bright red when he drinks. Yanagihara left to become an independent artist the next year but Uncle Torys stayed and became a very widely recognised icon in postwar Japan
These early Uncle Torys ads don't really fit in with the "Drink Responsibly" disclaimers of the 21st century, but they are a hoot:
Uncle Torys gets wasted:
Uncle Torys in the Wild West:
The clapping at the end of the video is a traditional Japanese thing when deals are done. The last slogan juxtaposes "Torys, a man`s drink" with Torys as a bringer of peace.
Uncle Torys in the Saloon:
Uncle Torys after work (in colour):
A more modern and boring take:
Suntory, characteristically quick to pick up on the current retro fad in Japan, have returned to the old Uncle Torys character. Can't seem to upload the current video, but you can download it here. Uncle Torys returns to the bar after years away. The owner is not too happy with his disloyalty. Harmony is restored over a class of Torys. Suntory are offering computer wallpaper for a new generation of devotees.
Torys whisky is still very cheap. I got my small 180 ml bottle for 272 yen, which is about £1.14 or $2.20. What's it like? I'm knackered tonight and I'm not enjoying the whisky, possibly for other reasons than the taste itself, so I will give it another chance in the next couple of days and then spout. In the meantime, just kick back, pour yourself a cheap whisky, and savour the excellence of Suntory marketing.