Osaka: The Yamazaki Distillery

Since we spent much of our trip planning around typhoons, we had to re-arrange a bit. Originally, we wanted to stay in both Osaka and Kyoto before returning to Tokyo a few days before our flight. We decided that for times sake, it would be better to skip staying in Osaka, and just stay in Kyoto for three nights and go back and forth between the two cities since they were so conveniently close to each other.

However, the only time we actually ended up spending in Osaka was a day trip to the Suntory Yamazaki Distillery. I am going to try give a brief rundown of Suntrory Yamazaki and the distillation process, but since I am not going to even try to pretend like I know what I am talking about, this will be a short post with a lot of pictures.

The Yamazaki Distillery was founded in 1923, and in 2015 won an award for best malt whiskey in the world.

The Yamazaki Distillery offers a few free tours throughout the day (and of course you can go to the “Whiskey Library” at anytime for a tasting) you have to get there early or all in advance to make a reservation for a spot on the tours since they fill up pretty regularly. We got lucky and our friends got there early and got the last four places on the last tour of the day.

We had some time to kill so we spent it in the Whiskey Library doing our own pre-tasting. The “library” itself is unbelievable. The menu is extensive and for the quality of whiskey, not badly priced at all. There was a range of basic blends for 100 JPY a glass to the special aged kinds that went for 3,000 JPY a glass. We tried to get a variety while keeping it in the 100-300 yen range. It got us some really good ones!

My favorite was the Hibiki 12 year blend. I didn’t think I was going to be sophisticated enough to taste a difference between all of them, (truthfully there were a few that tasted so similar I couldn’t tell what made them different), but there were a few that distinctly stood out. The White Oak Cask, and Cherry Cask, had a specific flavor that was due to the cask used, and the strongest tasting one was the smoked (name) it tasted like charcoal. It was gross, but my friends seemed to like it.

The tour was in Japanese, so they gave us headsets with the English version to listen along to as we walked. The beginning of the process is similar to that of brewing beer.

Barley is dried to make malt. Malt is mixed with water and mashed. Its then filtered to produce a wort.

(The water they use is spring water from the nearby mountains)

Then yeast is added and ferments, this fermented liquid is called a wash. Depending on the container they let it ferment in (wood or stainless steel) it affects the type of whiskey that will be produced, as does the type of yeast.

It is then added to another pot to be distilled again, and this results in a clear liquid with a high alcohol content they call a “new make”. The “new make” is placed in a cask for the duration of its maturation.

This is where it gets interesting. The liquid that goes in is clear, yet whiskey is a dark alcohol.

They do not regulate the temperature of the room they put the casks in, so the end result is greatly affected by the weather conditions. Because of this, no two batches will ever be exactly the same.

Each year that it sits in the cask, 10% of the liquid evaporates. This is called the “Angels share”. And that, is the extent of my whiskey knowledge.

After the tour we got a free tasting and then we went back to the tasting room and closed them out for the evening. I think we were the last ones to leave. We tried a few different ones, including a 30-year-old one so that we could all say we drank whiskey that is older than ourselves. It was delicious, and expensive, and delicious.

I know that there must be a lot more to Osaka than the Yamazaki Distillery, but if we were to do one tourist activity in Osaka, I’m glad that was the one we chose.

4 thoughts on “Osaka: The Yamazaki Distillery

  1. I’m not a whisky person but I heard ‘Hibiki’ received a big award for the great taste. Thanks for the good information. Love to visit this place sometime.

  2. I actually saw Japanese Whiskey in the liquor store just near me the other day and I thought “Japan makes whiskey?” I’m going to have to go back and get some!

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