An hour west of Sopporo, nestled in the southeastern ridges of Shakotan Peninsula lies Yoichi. This modest Japanese hamlet- miles away from the bluegrass fields of Kentucky and Scottish highlands, is reminiscent of Japan’s one of the most highly coveted Whisky legacies surrounding Masataka Taketsuru- a man revered as the godfather of Japanese Whiskey.
Taketsuru was a descendent of a family, keen in old sake brewing. Eager to learn the art of making whiskey, he travelled to Scotland in 1918. Returning after two years with a Scottish bride, he joined hands with Shinjiro Torii, the creator of what would go on to become the present day Suntory. Both of them opened a distillery in Mishima-gun in 1924, and after some initial hiccups, they managed to give Japan its first commercial whisky.
However, Taketsuru always yearned to create Whiskey in a place that resembled Scotland. So in 1934, he along with three other investors established a rival distillery named Nikka, in Yoichi, on the northern island of Hokkaido.
Almost a century later, Nikka today, still proudly nurtures the inherent principles of Taketsuru’s vision. Here, in the lush green alleys of the distillery, ensconced within the gray brick walls, you’ll still find the old school pot stills humming aloud. Congruous to a tableau of the Industrial age, distillery workers still shovel heaps of coal into the furnace underneath the pot stills, while spiffy layers of mist drift over the maturation storehouse. The entire setting evokes a sphere of emotions, so profound that it’s easy to get lost in the whims of time. However, all this seems to remarkably bundle up, in a signature Japanese fashion, explicitly infusing every minor detail into one single entity-and in this case, it’s Whiskey!
As you move towards Yoichi, along the vast coastline hugging the Sea of Japan, you’ll quickly realize why Taketsuru counted on this town to realize his dreams. Fenced with hills on three sides and sea on the other, the town reminds of Scotland at the first glance. Once in Yoichi, it shouldn’t be tough to locate Nikka, which seems to be the only plausible reason persuading tourists to stop in the town. If you still dawdle, just follow the trails of malted barley in the air and you’ll be there- right in front of the distillery’s entrance greeted by the heritage Scottish styled buildings.
A stroll along the S-shaped promenade will lead you to the Warehouses around distillation chamber. Be ready, to get your brains ambushed by the ingenious art of traditional Japanese Whisky making. In case, if you wish to soak up more, head towards the Whisky museum that showcases intriguing artifacts or just take a peek at Taketsuru’s modest wooden home. By the time you finish recuperating from the awe of the glorious legacy of Nikka, you’ll definitely pine for the flavors that it has on offer. Nikka boasts a distinctive range of whiskies that strike a perfect balance between the intense sugary notes of Bourbon and natural wooly notes of Scotch. Thus, stay assured, you’ll certainly find something to cherish about in Nikka-made whiskies. A dram of rare Yoichi 20 year single malt is great for a purchase. With a flavor profile which is subtle yet complex, a mouthful of this malt will be enough to tickle your endorphins at the first go. One sip and you have malt, grain, forest and water, all tucked in neatly in a precise ballet of harmony and detailing.
It’s presumable that there’s not much to do in Yoichi once you are done with your jaunt. But then again, it may not have the best of earthly attractions to offer. But it has Nikka- a rare, century old legacy that will keep alluring you every time you seek an escape.