Compared to other Whiskies, Japan’s Kirin offerings somehow fall under the radar – internationally that is. Kirin whisky is immensely popular in Japan and Fuji Gotenba – their major distillery has been around since 1973. Only recently Kirin has received wider attention globally – in particular for their grain whiskies.
Located at the foot of Mount Fuji, the Gotenba (named after the local city) can be reached via a 90-minute drive from Tokyo. It is a distillery not set up for the idyllic scenery, but rather a large industry complex that takes advantage of the pure water coming from the nearby mountain.
We had to book our distillery tour that only allowed access to certain parts of the distillation/bottling process. It was all conducted in Japanese with an introductory video followed by a guided tour through the facility. At times the tour felt more like those I remember visiting agricultural production plans as a student. We were kept at arms-length from the actual mashing/fermentation and distillation processes via glass-windows and on gallery-level. Billboards and interactive displays both in Japanese and English made up for the otherwise ‘dry’ tour we received (we were not allowed to take any pictures). Towards the end of the tour is where the sheer volume produced by Kirin becomes evident (we were not given access to their bond-store). The bottling plant is massive with several hundred bottles being filled and made ready for dispatch in the few minutes we had a chance to look at it.
Things get a bit cozier after the tour when one is guided to the sampling room and distillery shop. It admittedly has rather the feel of an office canteen, yet the list of drams on offer is respectable (I went for a ‘tasting board’ containing 4 whiskies, including their 17yo Single Malt and 25yo Single Grain. As much as I enjoy Kirins entrly-level FujiSanroku (which can be found in most Japanese Supermarkets for 25$) the 17yo and 25 yo expressions were clearly in their own league. The shop offered a variety of excellent (distillery only) releases – including – most notably the dedicated Kirn Gotenba whisky glass!