A leading Japanese distilling company is to release a limited-edition Rolling Stones whiskey to mark the half-century since the band's first public performance.
It will be made by Suntory, which began producing whiskey in the Yamazaki district of Kyoto in 1923. Today, its subsidiaries include Scotland's oldest distillery, Bowmore on the island of Islay, as well as Auchentoshan and Glen Garioch.
Suntory will produce just 150 of the special Rolling Stones 50th Anniversary bottles, modeled on the band's distinctive tongue and lips logo. Like tickets to the Stones' concerts, the whiskey will not come cheap. Suntory is planning a retail price of 500,000 yen ($6,300) for each 700-ml crystal bottle.
The contents of the limited-edition release will reflect the band's 50-year history, combining whiskeys from different decades. A 1962 Yamazaki represents the year the band was formed, while a 1971 pays tribute to the introduction of the tongue and lips logo. A 1972 Yamazaki malt has been chosen as the year that “Exile on Main St.” was released (the album is significant to Suntory because it includes “Rocks Off,” a song used in its commercials). The other whiskeys in the blend will be a Hakushu malt and a Chita grain, both from 1990, when the Stones made their first trip to Japan.
In 2010, Suntory was named the first Japanese "Whisky Distiller of the Year" at the international Icons of Whisky awards. The judges cited the role the company had played in establishing the tradition of whiskey drinking in Japan.
The Rolling Stones could hardly be called traditional – or could they? Mick Jagger will be 69 this month and Keith Richards will reach the same age in December. Drummer Charlie Watts is 71, while Ronnie Wood is the baby of the band at 65.
The Stones turned out last week to launch a photographic exhibition at Somerset House in London which also marks the 50th anniversary of their first gig at The Marquee Club in the British capital. The line-up back then was Jagger, Richards, Brian Jones, Ian Stewart, Dick Taylor and Tony Chapman.
With rumors swirling of a tour to celebrate the group's golden anniversary, Richards said they had met up for "a couple of rehearsals" recently for the first time in five years. "There's things in the works; there's nothing so final that I could say," he told the BBC in an interview filmed at the exhibition.
Suntory has already capitalized on the band's popularity in Japan by launching a range of "Stones Bar" alcoholic drinks in June. Plastered with the tongue and lips logo, they include a Rolling Hop beer, a Rolling Gold cocktail and highballs, designed to be drunk in "clubs, darts bars and karaoke establishments."
The Rolling Stones limited-edition whiskey – a high-level addition to the Stones Bar range – will go on sale on October 30.
Chris Bunting, author of "Drinking Japan," reports that Suntory has a history of releasing "innovative bottlings."
"For instance, there is an annual bottling of premium whisky to mark the new year in the Chinese zodiac, using beautiful ceramic bottles in the shape of the relevant beast – rabbit, dragon, etc.," he told Wine-Searcher. "There have also been some really beautiful releases using bottles designed by eminent potters, and even some of the normal blended bottles are quite striking."
So just how popular is whiskey in Japan?
"Whiskey has been incredibly popular in Japan since the war," says Bunting. "Indeed, you could say it was the iconic drink of the boom years. It went through a bit of a dip in the late 1990's and early 2000's, but it is once more a very trendy drink among young people – particularly in whiskey highballs, which is the alcohol fad of the moment here."
"Drinking Japan," by Chris Bunting, is published by Tuttle at $24.95. You can learn more on the author's website: www.drinkingjapan.com.