Visiting Yoichi Distillery
Yoichi Distillery is the oldest of the two Nikka distilleries. Masataka Taketsuru founded Yoichi Distillery in 1934. The distillery is located in the small town of Yoici, about 30 minutes by train outside Sapporo, on the island Hokkaido. This is almost as far north as you can get in Japan, and it is said that Taketsuru chose this location because it was as close as you could get to a Scottish climate in Japan.
Arriving by train at the Yoichi railway station Google Maps made a mess of it. We specified we were walking from the station, but were guided as if we were driving. This way we ended up basically walking around the whole distillery area (which is quite large) and arriving at the 'main entrance'. We could have just walked 300 meters straight ahead out of the station building, and entered through a gate for pedestrians. Oh well, next time we know better.
The distillery itself was a bit odd. Not one or a few large buildings, rather a small village with many, many buildings spread out over a large park-like area. Many footpaths intersected the park, leading us on a self-guided tour from numbered building to numbered building. The 'tour' was a bit boring, to be honest. There was no feel of any actual production going on. The whole area felt more like a large museum. Granted this was during their 'silent season', but still - it felt as if it was no longer in use.
We were there in August and were a bit surprised to see the summer special where you could fill your own bottle, was closed. The signs said it was still on offer, but it was all locked up.
We got three free samples as part of the 'tour'; Nikka Yoichi 10 YO, Nikka 17 YO Tsuru, and a Nikka Apple Wine. The Apple Wine had an ABV of 22 %, and was described as a blend of Nikkas apple wine and apple brandy, matured in brandy casks. The Tsuru was a Japan only bottling which was really nice.
At the back of the Nikka Museum building there was a small bar where they served about 50 different single malts from Scotland. They also had the few distillery exclusive Nikka expressions (5, 10, 15 and 20 YO single casks). Unfortunately the distillery shop was sold out of most of the distillery exclusives. This was a bit of a disappointment really. You would think they would make sure to have merchandise on hand for the many visitors in the middle of the tourist season. As it was we managed to secure a couple of miniatures, and taste a few of the other expressions at the bar.
The museum was quite interesting actually, and something of a highlight. There's certainly a lot of history here. Especially fun to see old bottles from the 1940s and 1950s, as well as old posters and TV commercials.
All in all a nice enough experience, but it felt more like a (theme) park than a distillery. We were surprised to find so many families with small children there - also in the 'cafeteria' serving the free samples.
I would love to be back there in winter sometime, to see the whole place shrouded in snow. That would be lovely, I think. We saw a few winter time pictures while there, and it looked really magical. Maybe next time, because there will be a next time. You see we have to go back to Sapporo to visit our friend Junya!
Sláinte! - Thomas