Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A visit to Yoichi

Yoichi Distillery was founded in 1934 by Masataka Taketsuru. Masataka spend 1918-1920 in Scotland learning whisky making, and after returning to Japan with his scottish wife Jessie Roberta Cowan better known as Rita Taketsuru they decided to start their own company and start producing whisky up north on Hokkaido, which has a climate more similar to the scottish than the rest of Japan.
 Yoichi is one of two malt whisky distilleries owned by the Nikka Company, the other is Miyagikio. Yoichi has a capacity of approx. 2.000.000 liter
 Yoichi, named after the village where it sits in its center, is located in this quiet coastal village around a 1 hour train ride west from Sapporo. Don't expect the Shinkansen, leaving the train I felt more like being part of the first scene of Once Upon a Time in the West. The distillery is located a couple of minutes walk from the station, on the banks of the river running through the town.

The visit to Yoichi free. It's a visit more than a tour. You are left to yourself when touring the distillery grounds, with the option of joining a guided tour that departs every 30 minutes. Japanese only, so I did the self guided tour. You get a guide leaflet and are allowed into a range of buildings around the distillery. In these buildings there are small displays and short videos to be seen. You get into the tun room, still house and warehouse no. 1 amongst. They have shielded or separate areas for the tourists to stand in. Other parts of the disitllery are display areas about coopering, kilning and the life of Masatake and his wife and other things related to the distillery.
 The distillery is build in what I would describe as a scottish japanese fusion style and is very pretty. The most interesting part of the production is the still room, as the stills are fired by shoveling coal into a furnace beneath the stills!!

Yoichi Still Room

On the ground is a big tasting rooms, where you have the chance to taste 10yo Yoichi and 17yo Nikka blend. Two very different whiskies, and both very delicious. Beside the tasting room, there is a whisky museum, which is mainly in Japanese, telling you about whisky, the history and a lot of the links to Scotland. Mainly in japanese. As my japanese is not that good I spend most of my time in the bar that is located halfway through the museum. Here you have a chance to taste more or less the full range of Yoichi and Nikka, beside a few scotch. This includes the distillery only whiskies available at the distillery. And this is quite a huge range. 4 casks strength versions of 12yo Yoichi, differentiated by their flavour profile. The couple I tried was named "Wood and Vanillic" and "Salty and Peaty"). Beside this there 5 single cask expressions available, 5, 10, 15, 20 and 25yo. Added to this there is a big range of more regular Yoichi and Nikka whiskies, adding up to more than 20 different expressions. As the 25yo single cask is sold at a price of 900 Yen (52Dkr/6£/9$ approx) for 1½ cl, the prices are managable..

The only downturn to the bar, is that chlorinated water is served with the whisky. I thought it was very chlorinated and couldn't dream of adding this to the whisky. A local (well, he was from Sendai) standing next to me in the bar, said he couldn't notice any chloride, but also stated he was probably used to it from his home.

The distillery-only bottling shop 

There was also a restaurant, a visitor center, a gift shop and a single cask shop at the distillery. One thing I really liked is that all bottles were available as 18cl versions without any price markups. Somethings I really whished other distilleries would do. All in all one of the best visitor experienced I have tried when you just step in from the street. I wish my japanese were better or more info was available in english. The few people around the ground I tried to talk to found it very hard to communicate with me :-)

But I tried getting a few quesions through with somewhat limited success!


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