The Japanese enjoy whiskey. In fact there is a whisky distillery in Hokkaido that has won several international awards. So, it would be remiss of us not to taste their wares!
Like all things Japanese, there is a protocol with whisky tasting. It is right to left rather than our familiar left to right orientation in tastings! Each glass had a different offering – including blended, peaty and single malts. The last was definitely the best – according to Monsieur Contrôleur (chief whisky taster).
His opinion: It’s very good and comparable to Scotch whisky. He would consider buying Japanese whisky rather than the Scottish variety.
The fourth glass was a sample of Nikka Whiskey’s finest. Nikka Whisky is made at the Yoichi Distillery in Hokkaido. The distillery was established by Masataka Taketsuru, who chose the location because it was similar in many ways to the highlands of Scotland where he had learnt the art of whisky making. It offered a cold climate with an appropriate humidity, crisp clean air and fresh water.
According to the Yoichi Distillery, its proximity to the sea is one of the distinctive features of Yoichi, The sea breeze gives “a briny hint to the whisky during the maturation”. Theirs is a coal-fired distillation. It is similar to to the Longmorn Distillery where Masataka was first trained. Apparently, this kind of distillation process is difficult to maintain. Despite this, Yoichi has stuck to it, resulting in “boldness and a toasty burnt flavour” which are considered essential to single malt Yoichi.
The tasting experience
This tasting experience was had at a bar called “The fridge door” or bar Gyu, located in the lower Hirafu village. In essence the entrance to the bar is through a fridge door. Once inside, the experience is quite lovely. You sit in a bar, entertained by jazz music (played on vinyl) and look at out at the falling snow (if you come on the right night).
I am not a whisky drinker. My drink on the night was a warm apple beverage flavoured by white spirit and spices (cloves). It was a lovely warm accompaniment to my end of evening session. A bit like mulled wine – but nicer!
This is definitely one of the things to do in this town. The quirky bar and its atmosphere are great to enjoy.
Our visit to the Yoichi Distillery also revealed a few back story factors. Masataka married a Scotich girl callaed Rita whom he brought back to Japan. She became “more Japanese than the Japanese” in her bid to assimilate. She was also a great asset to her husband in his business activities!
Win, win, win whisky
There are wins all around here. The whisky gets the thumbs up. The distillery story gets the thumbs up as does the bar! While I enjoyed the second too, I may need to learn to appreciate the spirit!