You might or might not have noticed one of the more interesting whiskies in our inventory, the Glover 22 Year Old. The accompanying box is so large that it makes the bottle look tiny on the pic, although its actually a normal size 700 ml bottle.
So who is this bloke on the front of the bottle? You’d be forgiven for not knowing the answer to that question. Largely unknown in the West, Glover is though like Rita Taketsuru , wife of the founder of Nikka held in high esteem in Japan. He was awarded the order of the Rising Sun by Emperor Meiji in 1888, the first foreigner to receive this honor. His house in Nagasaki, the Glover house attracts some two million visitors a year, some of Japan’s largest companies, namely Mitsubishi and Kirin Breweries consider him to be one of their founding fathers. His daughter drew the Kirin logo you see on the Kirin beer cans and the legend has it that she was thinking of his beard while doing so. His story is in short, very interesting and it is only fitting that he finally has a whisky named after him and that this whisky, should be a blend of the best from Scotland and Japan, virtually guaranteed to become a rare collectors item.
So who was this man? And what’s so great about the whisky?
Thomas Blake Glover was a Scottish merchant and an adventurer, born in Aberdeenshire in 1838. Already in childhood he seems to have had something of a businessman in him as he became known for doing deals with nearby fishermen and timber traders. His family was far from rich, it had the means to send its oldest son to University, but Glover being the 5th of 6 children had no chance of going there. Instead he took a job as a trainee shipping clerk and soon caught the attention of the trading company Jardine Matheson, if you have ever read the Asian Saga novels of James Clavell a la Shogun and Gaijin you might recognize the name, and in fact, one the the characters in Gaijin is based on Glover.
In any case the trading company was so impressed with the young Scotchman as to send him to China at the age of 18. He spent the next two years there on the not-quite-so-noble mission of selling opium. It was however in Japan were he made his fortune and fame.
He arrived there in 1859, only 21 year old. The country was just being opened up to foreigners, the Tokugawa government was still in power and the at the time had a reputation for being dangerous for foreigners, as young angry Samurai had a penchant for attacking and chopping off foreign looking heads. This however did not deter Glover. He was made head of a newly established office of a British trading company in Dejima, a small artificial islands were foreign traders had been kept during the Tokugawa era, he got busy and as well as working in the green tea business, he build a small real estate empire there as well. He also had the first Western style house in Japan built as his residence. This house, aptly named the Glover House gets 2 million visitors a year nowadays.
But he didnt make his fortune by selling tea; political tensions were high in Japan and people wanted weapons, so, Glover being the opportunistic tradesman that he was founded the Glover Trading Company which was essentially a glorious name for selling weapons to enemies of the government. By the 1860s he had become the largest arms dealer in southern Japan, supplying the unruly domains of Choshu and Satsuma with guns and powder. He also helped a few radical young samurai to get out of Japan in 1863 and make their way to the West where they educated themselves on Western technology and civilization. They included Ito Hirobumi the main author of Japan’s first constitution, Prime minister and statesman, and Inoue Kaoru, long time foreign minster.
Glover and his fellow traders had an interesting position at the time, the British government knew of their dealing but choose to stay aside, patiently waiting to see how winds blew. Very soon, Britain would unofficially side with Choshu and Satsuma. While all this was of course illegal, luckily for Glover his side really did come out on top in the short civil was of 1868-1869. A new government with the Meiji Emperor was formed and Glover, having helped the current government in winning the civil war was in good standing.
As the new government did not need his weapons anymore he turned to coal mining, this adventure did though end in bankruptcy, so he started working for a man named Yataro Iwasaki, head of the Iwasaki business, later renamed Mitsubishi, by now one of the largest corporations in Japan. On the side he tried out all sorts of businesses, including brewing beer which eventually evolved into Kirin Brewery company, the largest alcohol beverage maker in Japan. He also imported the equipment necessary to start a slip doc in Nagasaki in 1868, the first of its kind. He later sold his share of the enterprise to the government and it eventually ended up in the hands of Mitsubishi which Glover worked for as an advisor for some 40 years.
Glover spent the rest of his life in Japan. He died in 1911 at his home in central Tokyo. His legacy? Well, his home in Nagazaki attracts two million visitors a year, there is even a statue at him in in the city. He is also held in high regard by by Mitsubishi, and is credited is one of its founders. A company named Aberdeen Assets offers a scholarship named in his honor. The BBC made a documentary about him, his biography was published in 1993, translated into Japanese and he has had some media treatment in the West in the past few years. It is only fitting that a blend of the best whisk from Scotland and Japan should be named in his honor.
So lets turn to the whisky itself which is blended. 65% is from Hanyu in Saitama, Japan, 35% originates in Longmorn, Moray, and an additional 1% comes from Glen Garioch in Aberdeenshire.If you havent heard about Hanyu, its about time you did. Whisky from it is as prestigious as they get, founded back in 1626, it was owned by the same family for some 20 generations. In the 1980s Hanyu decided to get into whisky making and focused on single malt with the aim of making its products as similar to Scotch as possible. Unfortunately, Japanese drinkers were more into blended whisky and Hanyu whisky, while being top quality stuff, did not really make much commercial sense. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2004 most of its stock was taken over by Ichiro Akuto, yet another member of the family who founded his own distillery called Venture Whisky.
The stock from the Hanyu distillery is highly priced among collectors and whisky experts and the Scotland based independent bottler the Adelphi Selection managed to get its hands on a barrel.
Having acquired a highly priced commodity they decided to do something different from “all the others.” So, instead of just bottling a cask from the Hanyu distillery and send it out like all the others do, why not blend it with a little Scotch? And that is what they did. Taking their Hanyu whisky from a refill ex-sherry hogshead and blending it with whisky from the Longmorn distillery, aged in an American oak ex-Sherry hogshead, then finally they added a dip of Scotch from the Glen Garioch distillery from a Spanish oak ex-Sherry butt. The results? Quite amazing they say.
Hanyu whiskies are along with Karuizawa as rare as whisky from Japan can get, there are only a few casks left, and bottles tend to fetch a fortune at auctions. Most notably last summer in Hong Kong where a collection of 54 bottles sold for more than half a million USD (that’a over 9000 USD a bottle). You can rest assured that the Glover is heading into that direction, perhaps not into the five figure range but as Hanyu is a silent distillery, bottles from there can only become more rare as time passes.