This is the first of several Japan-related posts in the near future. So far, I could easily say that Japan is my favourite country to visit. My first visit back in 2014 made such a wonderful impression that I have gone back every year since. I feel like there is always something to do and discover every trip back — even if it is in the same city or region. Thus begins my yearly homage to the land of the rising sun.
Since it’s winter and I’m simultaneously planning another trip early next year, I figured I’ll start with one of the best, most sulit tour in the beautiful Kansai region. Tucked in the serene and lush Yamazaki area just a couple of minutes from Kyoto and Osaka is the Suntory Yamazaki Distillery, and the birthplace of Japanese whisky (I’ll be using the British spelling throughout this post as this is the one used by the Japanese).
The tour is incredibly affordable at 1,000 yen per person (around PHP 445.00 or USD 9.00) and includes a compelling and interesting tour of the distillery, a beautiful museum, and even some whisky tasting. Let me tell you that it is absolutely worth every penny and more. Regardless if you love single malt whisky or not, this place will surely leave you appreciative of how the Japanese are able to inject their own culture, character, and artistry in their prize-winning single malts. As my fiancé, Al, and I both enjoy Japanese whisky, we were looking forward to learning more about it.
Due to the fact that these tours are fairly popular, reservations are mandatory. There are several slots (9:50/11:00/12:20/13:30/14:50) within the day for you to reserve online. These are very limited so I suggest booking in advance. Payment is cash basis and done upon arrival. By the time I booked, the afternoon slots were already full, so I had to choose the earliest one. Let’s just say drinking whisky before noon turned out to be quite the experience on its own.
The tour is comprehensive and runs approximately 80 minutes. It is also a feast for your senses. The museum is well curated and offers a wealth of information for those who are looking for a different kind of museum experience. The tour is primarily in Japanese, but they do offer a headset with the corresponding audio guide at no additional cost. Please mention this to the guide as the number of headsets are also limited. Certain areas are duly numbered to help you throughout the tour. The information is easy to digest and complements the visual and sensory experience.
The rich indulgent aromas scattered within and outside the distillery are uplifting and intoxicating. There are areas that exude warmth such as the area where the pot stills and fermentation process are located, while some areas are a bit dark and stifling such as the warehouse where various wood casks are stored. So as not to spoil the experience, I won’t be posting a lot of images from the museum and the distillery. Objectively, I think the tour and the museum will be of interest regardless of your knowledge and appreciation for whisky or alcoholic beverages. There is so much fascinating history that is presented in a way not to overwhelm you. Additionally, they even have an impressive whisky library (shown in the header image above).
Like most places in Japan, the buildings always come with beautiful serene gardens that show how the Japanese revere and love nature. A tour around the area of the Yamazaki Distillery would not be complete without visiting the gardens that showcase the pure natural mineral waters used in their whisky. This is the distinctive element in the Yamazaki distillation process. It uses superior quality groundwater where three rivers meet. I feel like the stroll around the gardens and the lovely clean air around provides that much-needed contrast from the stifling areas of the distillery. The experience also allows you to connect with the Japanese way of understanding nature.
After a refreshing garden stroll, we were led to the tasting area where carefully laden tasting flights are organized in the tables shown in the photos below. The area is well-lit, impeccably clean, and just has a warm atmosphere to it. There was a short presentation about the tasting flights, as well as some delicious complimentary snacks for you to enjoy such as nuts, biscuits, and chocolates.
They will provide you with information on the order of drinking the whisky, including the tasting notes that come with it. I wish I could remember my favourite. Since this happened about a year ago, I already forgot. But I do remember that the overall experience was just exquisite. It is best to savor and relish every sip as this whisky cannot be bought in their gift shop.
At the end of the tasting, you will be taught how to make a highball. This is a popular way of consuming whisky in Japan, and personally one of my favourite ways of enjoying Japanese whisky. I think by this time and as evidenced by my photo above, I was more than happy to drink my last glass of whisky!
After the tasting, we headed to the gift shop where serious damage began. You can purchase several souvenir trinkets, as well as most of the Suntory whisky products, including the Distiller’s Reserve. Although it was a small shop, you would just really want to buy a little of everything. There is a one-per-person limit for each type of Suntory whisky. You could honestly spend a good amount of time here because they do offer a lot of great quality items such as glasses, paper products, coasters, etc. Since we knew we were going to be carrying a lot of stuff, Al had the great idea of bringing a carry-on (shown above). Haha!
What we only realized at the end was that there was actually a paid tasting area shown in the bar inside the whisky library (photo shown above). You can order up to three (3) tastings and pay only in cash. You can only drink it in the same are as well. I do wish we were able to try the aged whiskeys and the famed Yamazaki Sherry Cask (12 years).
It then started to snow just about the time we left the gift shop. It was my first real snowfall and although I was already freezing, I joyfully headed out. It started to snow more while we headed back to the station.
Part of the excitement of travelling is being able to try new things and learn along the way. There will always be a museum somewhere in a town or city and I feel like the best way to appreciate it is to open yourself up and allow the experience to be a deeply personal one. Do not let convention, tradition, googled-information detract you from having to appreciate and understand the objects and experiences you are witnessing the way you want it to.
I highly recommend this tour to anyone visiting the Kansai region. Feel free to comment below if you have any more specific questions.