The vast island of Hokkaido is known for its cooler weather and amazing snowscapes, but it also has rolling fields of golden wheat and pure waters. Coincidentally (or perhaps not), all of these elements are essential for making delicious whisky. That’s why the founder of Nikka Whisky chose the small town of Yoichi, Hokkaido, to be the home of his world-class whisky.
To the whisky concessioner, the high-quality of Japanese whisky is no secret, so luckily, the award-winning distillery offers free tours and tastings. In 2018, Nikka won “World’s Best Blended Malt” at the World Whiskies Awards. This wasn’t the first time Nikka Whisky was in the international spotlight. The Hokkaido-based distillery, which now has other locales in Japan, delivers a drink that takes pride in continuing the traditional Scottish methods of whisky making.
Nikka Whisky would not be the empire that it is today without many years of hardships. Masataka Taketsuru, a son of a sake brewer in Hiroshima, Japan, studied chemistry in university to continue the family business. In 1921, he was given a rare opportunity to study whisky making in Scotland for two years, bringing back an extensive knowledge behind the art of distilling, as well as a Scottish wife named Rita. The couple experienced many obstacles in both their industry and their international marriage, a taboo in Japanese society at the time.
After starting and running the hugely successful brand, Suntory, as well as Japan’s first whisky distillery for 13 years, Taketsuru and Rita moved to rural Hokkaido where they began their own business. And, thus, Nikka Whisky was born. Today, Nikka still prides itself in the traditional methods of distilling, continuing the same methods Taketsuru used with little change.
Touring the distillery
Yoichi Distillery, located about 30 minutes by train outside of Otaru city, is a pocket of European charm, with over 132,000 acres of land. A self-guided tour of the entire premise of the distillery takes about one hour, where the whisky-making process is explained all while the smell of oak barrels sting your nose. Many of the original buildings, such as Masataka and Rita’s house, are open for exploring.
At the end of the tour, visitors are given three samples of various alcoholic beverages. For those who are not of age, apple juice and other non-alcoholic drinks are also available. Finish off your tour with a quick visit to the gift shop where Nikka Whisky chocolates, bottles and memorabilia are for sale. An exclusive whisky tasting is also available for ¥1,000, which allows you to taste more expensive whiskies.