We had the possibility to spend a few days in Japan in early March, and took the opportunity to visit one of the Suntory whisky distilleries in the mountains of Kaikomagatake, Hakushu distillery.
The distillery tour started by entering the distillery grounds at the bottom of the mountainside, and receiving your visitor pass. Drivers and underage participants had their own pass, for clarity, as Japan has a zero alcohol tolerance for drivers.
I’ve never walked up to a distillery through protected forest grounds, as the Hakushu distillery is nestled inside a forest on a mountainside. The grounds also have a bird sanctuary, and you could hear the sounds of nature all around you, even in the early springtime.
The tour itself started from the main building of the Hakushu distillery, which also houses the distillery shop. Unfortunately for us we were not able to buy any of the normal Hakushu single malt whiskies from the shop, as they were all out, but we were able to obtain something else. More on that later.
The tour was well planned, and even those who did not speak Japanese could be involved with an audio guide in English. It made us feel more welcome, and our tour guide was also fluent in English. The numbers throughout the tour told us which audio recording to use to describe the various parts of the whisky process, and the numerous distillery manufacturing and storing areas (e.g. warehouse).
Below are the photos taken throughout the tour, with image descriptions of that particular part of the tour. Click the individual images to view the larger images.
Overall, the experience was fantastic. It was a great opportunity to visit this distillery, and we are grateful for our friends for organising this trip all the way from Tokyo. Truly, the travel from Tokyo to the distillery itself is a part of the tour, with the grand sceneries with mountains and passing mountain towns.
In the end I was able to buy a limited edition Hakushu single malt whisky, a special bottling only available at the Hakushu distillery. See the photo below – the shape and size of the bottle was very convenient, and well designed. The taste was bright and well balanced, and I’m sure it is a great reflection of the overall quality of Hakushu whiskies. The mountain water is surely going into good use.
So if you are around Tokyo and have time to spare, have a look at the Hakushu distillery and book a tour. Weekends are the most popular time, so for a more relaxed time choose Friday or Thursday, for example. Trainhopping from Tokyo might take you 3-4 hours depending on your location, and a bus takes about 4 hours from Shinjuku. Still, it’s worth the trip, especially if you combine it with a hot spring (onsen) visit overnight.