Although it may not be your first thought, Japan has some of the best whiskey in the world and is home to the multiple world-class distilleries that produce it.
When it comes to most whiskey enthusiasts they know well-made brands. So, for this reason, they are often more likely than not willing to make trips around the world and specifically to Japan to sample the finest whiskey on offer and to visit the distilleries where it is made.
Although Scotland is a country that normally comes to mind when thinking of great whiskey, Japan is actually a very popular country for whiskey enthusiasts.
Ever since the end of the 20th century, the popularity of whiskey has steadily been increasing in popularity across Japan. It has quickly become a favorite drink not only of the Japanese but also of the many tourists that visit the country every year to sample it. In fact, Japanese whiskeys are some of the most acclaimed in the world.
However, despite its world-recognized status as a great whiskey producer, Japan still relies on a few well-kept secrets shared only among its traditional distilleries that make these whiskeys.
The whiskey production process in Japan, although somewhat similar to that in the West, has its own unique differences, making it a point of intrigue and a few trade secrets among the Japanese.
Suntory Yamazaki Distillery
This distillery is found in the Osaka prefecture and was first opened in 1923 by Shinjiro Torii who is famously known as the godfather of whiskey in Japan. This distillery is the oldest distillery in Japan and can be found at the base of Mount Tennozan.
This distillery is home to the “world’s best whiskey” which is the 12-year-old whiskey. Given this title in 2003 at the competition “International Spirits Challenge”.
In addition to the 12-year-old aged whiskey, the distillery also makes 18 and 25-year-old versions. The water for these whiskeys is taken from the Mountain at whose feet the distillery stands.
Because this is one of the most famous distilleries in Japan, as well as the oldest, tours can quickly be booked up. So, if you have your heart set on visiting then ensure that you book your place well in advance of your trip.
Suntory’s Finest Whiskey
Yamazaki 12 Year Old from Suntory might be considered the pinnacle of the brand’s single malt collection. It’s perhaps the most well-known Suntory whiskey lineup, and it used to be rather simple to come by (The average cost per bottle is approximately $200). This single malt has a scotch-like flavor profile yet is uniquely its own.
Fuji Gotemba Distillery
Another great distillery that lies at the foot of a mountain is the Fuji Gotemba distillery which sits at the base of Mount Fuji. This distillery is actually the oldest in Japan, making it a very popular choice for tourists. Owned by the Kirin group more commonly known for their beer.
This distillery makes 12 million liters of alcohol each year. Due to its production demand, there is also an onsite cooperage (barrel making) and bottling station. Luckily there is enough room for all of these different aspects of whiskey production as the distillery is located on 1.7 million square feet of land.
The tour around this distillery includes a tasting session. A trip to this distillery is made even more perfect thanks to the fact that it is located close to five pristine golf courses. So, if you are looking for a getaway to relax then this is the perfect distillery to visit.
If you are looking for a distillery tour that is guaranteed not to be as busy then consider arranging a trip to the Chichibu distillery. There are no set tour hours at this plant, so you will need to phone in advance to make your booking.
However, the original owner’s grandson bought the property and remaining alcohol in 2007 and now opens up to tourists and continues on his family’s tradition. This particular distillery is now famous across the country thanks to its experimental nature. This unusual approach to whiskey has gained fans from across the globe.
Located approximately two hours outside of Tokyo, Chichiby distillery is well worth a visit due to the many different malts that it has available for you to sample.
If you find yourself up in the north of Japan, in Hokkaido to be more specific, then consider arranging a trip to the Yoichi whiskey distillery. Founded by one of the godfathers of Japanese whiskey, Masataka Taketsuru, this plant is now owned by the Nikka company.
Taketsuru’s original plant remains much unchanged today and allows you a great insight into the running of traditional distilleries.
In fact, many of the pieces of equipment in use when the distillery was opened in 1934 are still being used today. It is worth noting that the guided tours of the Yoichi distillery are not conducted in English but there are headsets available in English so that you can truly soak up everything that the plant has to offer in spite of the language barrier.
You can even try some of the whiskey produced at this plant on the guided tour and some of the best ones to keep an eye out for are the pure malt 17 and the pure malt black. These two whiskeys are sure to put a smile on your face.
Final Thoughts On Exploring Japanese Distilleries
If you are a whiskey lover then you are certainly in need of a trip to Japan. There are many whiskey distilleries dotted all over the country, so no matter which region you decide to visit, there is a great plant not too far from you.
You may choose to visit a distillery based on its history, such as Japan’s oldest distillery, or due to its presence in the world of whiskey today, such as the world’s largest plant.
Most distillery tours throughout Japan will also have a sampling of their product, although in some cases this may be for an additional cost so that you can really get a feel of the place.
Many tours are booked up in advance so if you have your heart set on touring a particular distillery make sure that you book your tickets well before your trip.