Monday, December 15, 2014

Hakushu Distillery Tour

     I wanted to post about one of the last things I get to do before I head home. There is a whiskey distillery, the Hakushu Distillery of Suntory, quite near to where I live, with the mountain nearby providing good water for the process. They give free tours of the distillery and free tastings at the end. It has been on my Japan Bucket List for a long time, but I have never wanted to do it alone for good reason. Alone, I would have no one to drive once I have had my allotted free drinks at the end of the tour--Japan is quite harsh with their legal limits for driving with.03% being the limit. One of my co-workers, Gon-san, knew I had been wanting to go so offered to take me and be my driver. How could I ever say no?!?
Suntory also has their Yamazaki Distillery near Osaka.
ENGLISH! I can finally understand what I am looking at!
The whiskey museum we poked around before our tour. In the picture above of the brochure you can see the observation bridge sticking up out of the trees.
     The museum itself was pretty amazing. It included the history of whiskey itself--dating back to biblical times--all the way to the history of whiskey in Japan. Suntory's Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013 just recently won best whiskey in the world, even beating out all Ireland and Scotland. I already knew this stuff was good, I guess I just didn't know HOW good. Once you wind your way through the three floors of the museum, there is the nature observation bridge. In Japan, nature conservationism is a very big thing and most big companies, especially ones that could potentially harm the environments they are operating in, put a lot of money into protecting it. So not only is the ground where the distillery is where they make whiskey, it is also a nature preserve, mainly a bird sanctuary.
Replica of an old style pub in the museum--doesn't look that unusual to me, but in Japan that's a novelty.
Can't have an exhibit about whiskey without a section on the U.S.
This was the size of an entire wall--people around the world had to think Americans were insane.
View of Yatsugatake, the mountain I live on, and the bird sanctuary below.
     The first stop on the tour is where the fermentation happens. These huge vats are about  ginormous --yes super precise measurement. They're as tall as a house and probably fifty feet across. It smelled like a bunch of baking bread in this whole building. The next part of the tour was where the magic happens.
Adorable tour guide that explains every step of the process--well I had my little headset for English.
Now that's a tub I want to bathe in.
On the Hakushu property there are twenty two of these huge warehouses where they store the barrels of whiskey to age. The second we walk in to the one we were touring, I was in heaven. It was like taking a shot just by breathing. This place was MASSIVE. It was about two stories tall and who knows how long, but it was just row after row after row of barrels of whiskey. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.

Just one row or column or whatever you want to call it.
And then you turned around and it went down the other way.
Found a whiskey that's the same age as me!
     The tour was pretty short, but the best was yet to come. Afterwards you go to the tasting room where our tour guide taught us the correct way to make a highball, whiskey and soda over ice, and then you get to have two complementary drinks any way you'd like. Of course I had to try even more, so after my drinks, I went to the tasting bar where you could try all the whiskeys that went into their blends. I chose the 12 year old that had been aged in a sherry cask. Suntory recently bought out Jim Beam so it was a little odd seeing an American brand being considered part of their house menu. I really wanted to try the award winning whiskey of theirs, but it was $25 for just a tasting, so I stuck to the cheaper ones.

The tasting bar--with juice for the drivers. Those men in suits clearly were not about the juice.
Highballs are pretty much my favorite drink so this was the perfect little afternoon activity.
They even gave you snacks!
My tasting--it was delicious.
End of the tour and tasting with some Christmas gifts in tow.
     After the time at the distillery, Gon-san wanted to take me to the local sake brewery. Unfortunately, they closed a half hour earlier than he thought and we weren't able to have the free tastings at their brewery. I was able to buy a bottle to take home as a Christmas gift and stop at the local sweets shop down the road. Booze and sweets--I think the Japanese have found the way to my heart!
So sad they were closed--but I probably didn't need anymore free booze anyways.
Thought I could make these cookies last until I got home. That was a laugh.
     The days are slowly winding down, but knowing I will be back helps. I have too many things left to do!

                        Until next time,

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