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SB meets… Hiromi Ozaki, Nikka Whisky

The chief blender of Japanese whisky Nikka on the release of the company’s long-awaited age statement and the importance of teamwork.

Hiromi Ozaki, chief blender of Nikka Whisky

What do you enjoy about being a whisky blender?

When blending for new products, I create the formula based on experience. However, things don’t always go as planned. There is always a new discovery, and this is what I enjoy. Also, once a year, it is fascinating to see how the unique whiskies distilled in the past are maturing. Imagining how to make use of these unique batches is very exciting.

What are the key roles of a blender?

Nikka blenders have three roles: maintaining and improving the quality of existing products; developing new products; and preparing a variety of whisky for the future. Various whiskies that we are using today for maintaining existing products and developing new products are our great assets inherited from the past. While we taste and evaluate dozens of whisky samples on a daily basis, we also need to figure out types and amounts of whisky that will be needed in the future and pass them onto the next generation for sustainable growth.

It is important to develop new and unique whisky to be used in future product development.

As chief blender, how do you inspire your team?

Encouraging and inspiring our team is both important and challenging. I show the team how I am excited and motivated, provide them with challenging tasks, create opportunities to listen to direct consumer opinions, and listen to senior blenders’ experiences.

Where do you look for inspiration when creating whisky?

While evaluating how our whiskies are maturing, I imagine how these could be used in the best way possible. Then, it is a matter of trial and error to create the ideal whisky. Sometimes, the inspiration comes from meeting bartenders and consumers.

Whisky making is clearly a team effort. How do you work with the marketing team, for example, to bring their ideas and visions to life?

I agree that team effort is key for success. From past experiences, I have learned that there are two ways to start developing a new brand or product. The first is ‘starting from customers’ needs or wants’, which is normally led by marketing, and the other is ‘starting from our seeds’, in which we blenders enhance more creativity and freedom. Cross sectional teamwork will guide us to a breakthrough to satisfy the requirements from the marketing side and make the most of our seeds.

Aged whisky stocks are in high demand, but low supply. How are you working to build more stocks?

We have been investing in our production facility to rebuild the stock since 2017. The recent release of the long-awaited age statement, the new Yoichi 10 Years, represents good progress, even though the supply is still limited. We know that our customers want more but it is a must to control the speed of the growth while we are distilling at full capacity and waiting for the whiskies to mature enough.

Which new products or innovation are you working on?

We recently released Nikka Discovery 2022, a pair of single malts, Yoichi and Miyagikyo Aromatic Yeast. This Nikka Discovery is a series of limited editions and will continue next year. We are now working on the 2023 formula and hope to surprise whisky fans around the world. It is also time to consider what could be done for the 90th anniversary in 2024.

How would you describe Nikka in three words?

Persistence, challenge and honesty.

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