Visting Yoichi is more than simply visiting a distillery, it is a pilgrimage in honour of Japan’s godfather of whisky Masataka Taketsuru. Taketsuru specifically chose a location in remote Hokkaido for his distillery as it offered the closest match with the conditions he found when studying whisky-making in Scotland. In that sense, getting to Yoichi is quite an effort (best to take a plane to Sapporo and then a train/bus combination to Yoichi) and one is rewarded with a unique experience. The experience relates the distillery itself as much as it does to its surroundings.
Founded in 1934 the distillery-complex sits in the small seaside-village of Yoichi seemingly like a mediaeval castle. The stone-wall portal appears to hold off intruders rather than invite visitors and one has to ‘inscribe’ at a reception room that exerts the flair of an old-school post-office. From there on things get more relaxed, very relaxed actually. One is free to roam most of the buildings (many seem unchanged in the past 70-80 years) and most buildings on the large area are well signed in Japanese and English. Ample information is provided about most steps of the mashing, distillation and whisky-maturation process in dedicated buildings. One can watch one of the last coal-fired still-house in action. Masataka Taketuru and his wife’s humble house is a spot not to be missed before entering the dedicated degustation/museum part of the distillery. Here a great number of Nikka whiskies can be sampled, as well as a broad range of international bottlings. It does strike thought that most of the rare Nikka bottlings are only for display and it appears that many of the vintage Single Casks are no longer available for sampling (for that you’d need to go to the Nikka Bar in Sapporo).
At the end of the tour one can head towards the shop that has a mix of distillery-only limited releases (at exceptional prices) as well as some touristy items that celebrate the life of Mr Taketsuru and his brand Nikka.