On a snowy December day, we visited Yoichi Distillery for a free, self-guided tour around the property. Fresh powder was coming down on the already snow-covered buildings as we walked around the Distillery and into their whisky museum. Yoichi Distillery is located in Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan, 30 minutes from Otaru. The town of Yoichi is quiet and coastal and well known for its fruit production, namely apples.
Founded by the father of Japanese whisky, Masataka Taketsuru, Yoichi Distillery was established in 1934. The Distillery’s proximity to the sea gives their whisky a slightly salty character and the pot stills are still fired by coal. Yoichi whisky is also unique in that its maturation process partly occurs in Japanese oak or mizunara casks, which gives it a distinct flavor.
Taketsuru previously worked at Kotobukiya, now known as Suntory, and helped build Yamazaki Distillery in Kyoto. His love for whisky was influenced by the Scotts, which led to him becoming the first Japanese person to study the art of whisky making at the University of Glasgow. In 1920, he moved back to Japan with his Scottish wife Rita.
Taketsuru chose Yoichi for the location of the Distillery because it was the only region in Japan that mimicked the environment of Scotland. During the 1930s, Nikka Whisky was originally Dai Nippon Kaju or Great Japanese Juice Company, which utilized Yoichi’s famed apples to create apple juice and apple brandy. Their first blend of whisky released in 1940.
At the Distillery, visitors can follow the signs denoted in English (guided tours are only conducted in Japanese) to see the brass pot stills being heated. On the particular day we were there, the snow was a quiet blanket that left some of the attractions closed. Inside the museum, display casks showed the life cycle of whisky. A whisky club is located in the back where visitors can pay to try every single Yoichi whisky on the premises.
The tour ended with a visit to the Nikka Kaikan building where three pours of Yoichi libations were offered for free. Taketsuru NAS, Super Nikka, and an apple brandy were the samples of choice, with apple juice and oolong tea as palate cleansers.