09 Jan Tour Japan’s top whisky distillery
I’m sitting with a group of people in the back of the crowded Tachinomi Marugin bar in Tokyo’s bustling Ginza district. The air is thick with cigarette smoke mingling with the savory tinge of grilled yakitori (Japanese skewered chicken). An after-work crowd has settled in to do some serious drinking, and the beverage of choice here is the highball. Another round arrives, along with some grilled chicken hearts and mystery meatballs, and a hearty “kanpai!” (cheers) resounds above the din.
The highball, a light and refreshing whisky and soda cocktail, is ubiquitous all over Japan, and the whisky of choice is often a Suntory expression. Suntory is the biggest whisky producers in Japan, operating three distilleries. Yamazaki, just outside of Kyoto, distills a range of single malt and blended whiskies. Its sister distillery, Hakushu, is located high up in foothills of the Japanese Alps, about a three-hour drive from Tokyo. And Chita, in the Aichi Prefecture, is responsible for producing the grain whisky used in many of Suntory’s blends. The new Whisky Toki, available only in America, is a blend of malt and grain whisky from all three distilleries.
Though Chita is not open to visitors, Yamazaki and Hakushu offer tours and tastings daily. Each has its own distinct take on Japanese whisky, which is uniquely different from the Scottish or American versions. Suntory was Japan’s first distillery, founded in 1923 by Shinjiro Torii. The goal was, and still is according to global brand ambassador Mike Miyamoto, to make whisky that is “light, subtle, yet complex.” Japanese whisky draws its inspiration from Scotland, where Suntory gets its malted barley. But the whisky’s flavor and history are unmistakably Japanese, with a focus on light, drinkable single malts and well balanced, complex blends that complement Japanese cuisine — and yes, make for a perfect highball.
Browse the gallery above for a sneak peek inside Suntory’s distilleries where you can learn more about Japanese whisky on a visit. Reserve a tour and tasting online or by phone in advance.