Sip & Tell: Gardner Dunn of Suntory Whisky

Nov8 003

Gardner Dunn of Suntory Whisky loves his job.

“For relaxing times, make it Suntory time.”–Bill Murray’s character, “Bob Harris,” advertising Suntory in Lost in Translation

[Sip & Tell features barstool interviews with spirits industry professionals.]

You probably recognize the above quote from the 2003 film Lost in Translation starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson. Around that time, Suntory was still best known for its melon liqueur, Midori, but over the past few years, its single malt whisky, Yamazaki, has infiltrated U.S. shores and quietly stolen the hearts of many a scotch drinker. Yamazaki 12 year and 18 year, both prize-winning in blind tastings, are made at Japan’s oldest distillery, founded by Scotland-educated Shinjiro Torii in 1923. Created with the level of craftsmanship the Japanese are known for, the whisky is aged in Japanese, American, and Spanish oak casks, lending a full-bodied flavor and silky smooth finish.

Over the past year, many of NYC’s best-known cocktail bars have featured drinks made with Yamazaki, such as the “Gold Rush” at Goldbar and the “Murray Sour” at Minetta Tavern. This is mainly due to the work of Gardner Dunn, North American Brand Ambassador for Suntory Whisky.

Gardner, a mixologist who is as recognized for his creative cocktails as his off-kilter hairstyle, travels around the country for several days (if not weeks) every month. He says he’s seeing a younger crowd show interest in the brand. “Scotch used to be a status symbol, something your dad drank,” he said. “Now I’m seeing younger people wanting to try new stuff. They’re interested in hearing about the distillation and the history.”

Gardner recently got an advanced course on all things Yamazaki when he traveled to the Suntory distillery on the outskirts of Kyoto, a location chosen for its water source. The Vale of Yamazaki, hailed by famous master of the tea ceremony, Senno Rikyu, is legendary for its pure water. Inspired by the art of Japanese bartening, which includes techniques such as ice ball carving and the hard shake, Gardner set out to gather Japanese bartending tools to show to the many skilled bartenders he’s met stateside. He’s put together a “Godzilla Kit,” with tools including crystal mixing glasses with a lip, bar spoons with forks on the opposite end, and Japanese jiggers, which have a thinner and deeper design and more balanced weight than standard jiggers.

The Godzilla Kits are just one bonus in what is turning out to be an exciting year for Suntory. Later this month, the hotly-anticipated Hibiki 12-year blended whisky (aged in plum liqueur casks and filtered through bamboo charcoal) hits shelves in NYC and California, its first debut stateside.  Also, just in time for the holidays, a limited edition of 300 bottles of 1984 Yamazaki will be released, for $550-$650 a pop.

Gardner says he finds himself crafting cocktails less and less and carving ice balls more and more as he focuses on educating people everywhere about the history and philosophy behind Suntory. “Cocktails are not the goal [for Yamazaki], but it does mix very well,” he said. “It doesn’t have a lot of heat, but it has honey overtones that pair well with other spirits.”



Suntory's "Godzilla Kit." Photo by Leo Borovskiy of Lush Life Productions.

Oct31 026

Gardner pours Yamazaki at a recent "Malt Madness" tasting at Union Square Wines & Spirits

Oct31 031

Yamazaki 12, Hibiki 12, and Yamazaki 18.

Out & About: Upcoming Events


Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, ink & watercolor on paper. © 2009 The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, ink & watercolor on paper. © 2009 The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation


  • Tuesday, June 9: Museum Mile, 6 to 9 p.m., Fifth Ave. between 82nd St. & 105th St. This year’s 31st annual festival kicks off on the steps of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum with an opening ceremony at 5:45 p.m. at 89th St. & 5th Ave. Free.
  • Tuesday, June 9: Yamazaki Single Malt tasting from 7 to 9 p.m. at Louis 649, 649 9th St. Grand Ambassador Gardner Dunn will be pouring the 12 year, 18 year, and a special rare bottling not yet available. Free.
  • Thursday, June 11: Happy Hour from 5 to 6 p.m. at Hudson Terrace, 621 W. 46th St. Free well drinks, Bud, and Bud Light. Hosted by Metromix every Thursday this month, rsvp to before 3 p.m. the day of. Free.
  • Sunday, June 14 & Monday, June 15: The New York Bar Show, from noon to 6 p.m. both days at Jacob Javits Center, 38th St. & 11th Ave. More than 300 bar, nightclub, wine, and spirit exhibitors, as well as flair bartenders, cocktail contests, and demos by top mixologists will be on view. Tickets are $40 for the exhibition; $100 to attend world-class seminars.
  • The Highline is open!
  • Also, if you were curious as to what went down at the Jazz Age Lawn Party (sadly, I didn’t make it), Metromix has a stunning photo gallery of all the lovely vintage garb–sartorialists, indeed!