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When Richard Farmer isn’t whisky-ing groups around the country, he’s busy researching for our tours to find something for everyone. For the whisky lovers, he’s following up his experience at Suntory Yamazaki with six reasons to visit Yoichi Whisky Distillery.
Almost exactly two years ago I wrote a blog about the wonders of the Suntory Yamazaki whisky distillery, located just outside my hometown of Kyoto. How time flies under the influence of a whisky haze! Now, two years later, I’ve just about sobered up enough to let you know about another great spirit-ual experience in Japan. The Yoichi Whisky Distillery is every bit as good as the Yamazaki Distillery (and between you and me, I think it might even be a little bit better!).
Here are my six reasons to visit!
1. It’s near Otaru
Compared to the Yamazaki Distillery, the Yoichi Distillery is admittedly a bit more of a trek off the main tourist trail, in the town of Yoichi in Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost main island. It’s possible to visit the distillery as a day trip from Sapporo, Hokkaido’s largest city (most famous for its winter Snow Festival), but the distillery is much closer to Otaru.
The small city of Otaru is another destination that people tend to visit as a day trip from Sapporo. But the city has so much to offer that it’s worth a one, or even two, night stay. Stay tuned for another blog dedicated entirely to the reasons why I loved this canal city so much. For now, suffice it to say that the fact that the Yoichi Distillery is just a 25-minute easy train ride from the city is a major draw for me.
2. It’s free!
At the time I wrote my last alcohol-influenced blog, this fact was also true of the Yamazaki Distillery. However from 2016 onwards the Yamazaki Distillery started charging a modest 1,000 yen fee for their tours. The Yoichi Distillery remains free to enter and, unlike the Yamazaki distillery, there are no reservations required. Just turn up and enjoy!
3. There’s a love story
The founding of the distillery has a great background story. There is some really good detailed information about the history dotted around various museum spaces and the grounds.
Its founder, Masataka Taketsuru, affectionately known as Massan travelled to Scotland in 1918 to study whisky production. While there met the love of his life, Rita. They married soon after, against heavy opposition from both of their families, and she accompanied him back to Japan in 1920. After arriving back, Massan had a hand in founding the slightly older Suntory distillery before upping sticks and moving to Hokkaido.
He chose the extremely rural, cold and mountainous region of Yoichi to found his distillery. The locale closely mirrored that of the Scottish Highlands; the perfect environment for whisky production. It’s clear from the historical accounts on display that Rita was his rock during the difficult years of establishing the distillery and it seems that the endeavour would have been impossible without her support and their work as a husband and wife team. Their story has captured the hearts of people in Japan in recent years. There was even a TV drama series made about their lives called ‘Massan’ that aired in Japan from 2014 to 2015.
4. You can explore at your own pace
Unlike the Yamazaki distillery, which is pretty much all contained in one large building, the production process at Yoichi takes place across a variety of buildings scattered around very expansive grounds. In the Yamazaki Distillery you are obliged to tour the facilities as part of a group, but at Yoichi you are free to wander around, exploring at your own pace. The grounds themselves are very scenic and the buildings evoke the atmosphere of a Scottish castle!
5. There’s free whisky
Perhaps all of the other points are made null and void by this one point. Who can say no to free whisky? In the tasting hall you can sample a variety of whiskies produced at Yoichi. The ones on offer tend to be the regular bog-standard ones, but it’s free. And its whisky. So who can complain?
6. There’s limited edition whiskey, too!
After a few free whiskies, your purse strings start to feel a little looser and the limited edition whiskies produced by Yoichi start to sound very tempting.
At the Whisky Club bar you have the opportunity to sample (for a very reasonable price) a variety of Yoichi products which are only available at the distillery. There are four limited edition single malts: Peaty & Salty, Woody & Vannilic, Sherry & Sweet, and Coffee Grain Woody & Mellow.
In the interest of research, I had to try them all, just for you my dear readers. It’s a tough life I lead. The standout for me was the Peaty & Salty Single Malt, although there wasn’t a dud among them. Rather admirably, there is no ‘exit through the gift shop’ system at the distillery It would actually be quite easy to miss the shop if you’re not looking for it. Head in and take a look at the limited edition whiskies for sale to take home, you won’t find them for sale in other regions of Japan so snap them up while you can!
As you have probably gathered, I think the Yoichi Distillery makes a great day trip for whisky lovers, and it’s an easy destination to incorporate into a Hokkaido itinerary. If you would like to incorporate a visit into your Japan itinerary, speak to one of our expert travel consultants and you can be raising a glass to Rita and Massan and downing drams in no time!