Japanese whisky has seen an immense surge in global demand such that several Japanese brands are among the most coveted bottles for any whisky connoisseur. Yamazaki, bordering Kyoto and Osaka, is considered the cradle of Japanese whisky and Yamazaki distillery is the country’s first commercial distillery. Liquid gold aficionados can go on a Yamazaki Whisky Museum and distillery tour to witness the process of authentic Japanese whisky making up close.
While alcohol production began in Yamazaki in the 1870s, commercial distribution started only in the 1920s, when Shinjiro Torii established the Yamazaki distillery and other small breweries in 1923, and named the brand after the place. The company later became Suntory and is currently known as the Suntory Yamazaki Distillery.
Today, Suntory whisky has an overwhelming demand from all over the world. The water and climate of the Yamazaki region make each dram of its single malt whisky worth the indulgence. The Yamazaki distillery tour provides the perfect opportunity to go behind the scenes and immerse in the manufacturing process. You can soak in the rich history of Japanese whisky at the Yamazaki whisky museum and end the day with some whisky tasting at the very site where it all began.
If you are a whisky enthusiast who wishes to go back in time, the Yamazaki Whisky Museum offers guided tours and tasting and is perhaps the perfect place to immerse your senses and witness Japanese artisanship at its splendid best.
Whisky tasting, distillation process and history — here’s why you must take the Yamazaki distillery tour
Things to see at the Yamazaki Whisky Museum
While many national museums across Japan speak of the cultural and social history of the nation, this museum speaks volumes about the rich decadent dram of Suntory whisky that the Yamazaki distillery has so carefully birthed and nurtured.
From Shinjiro Torii’s desk where he worked hard to perfect his skills of blending whiskies to rows of Suntory Whisky ‘Shirofuda’ bottles, the first authentic homegrown Japanese whisky and video clips tracing the contemporary process, the Yamazaki Whisky Museum is a treasure trove for anyone who likes connecting bygone eras with the current world.
Spread over two floors, the tour starts on the second floor with a dive into the whisky-production process and what the journey so far has been like — the journey to the present-day famed Suntory whiskies that we so love.
Guests are taken on an in-depth journey through the history of the Yamazaki distillery, the oldest malt whisky distillery in Japan, and the subsequent creation of the single malt whisky ‘Yamazaki’. Miniature models and other exhibits lined along the corridors also show the history of the production process. With innovation and development at its core, the tour also highlights the hiccups that the process faces and what can be done to make it smooth.
After a stride through the history of Yamazaki, and understanding the route from the barrels to the bottles, a full-fledged whisky library awaits one on the first floor.
Rows of rare whiskies and thousands of Suntory bottlings as well as a double-height exhibit area featuring pot stills and the washback used at the distillery elevate one’s experiences even more.
In the end, one can enjoy sampling some gourmet Yamazaki whisky along with noted drinks from across the world and stand a chance to discover that particular flavour of your liking at the cash-only tasting counter.
Spend some time browsing through the souvenir items at the museum gift shop and grab official Yamazaki whisky glasses or products made from the casks and carry a fond memory from this part of Japan.
Guided distillery tours
While visitors can freely walk about the Yamazaki Whisky Museum and absorb the information at their own pace, one can also avail the paid guided tour of the distillery and visit the production area.
A whiff of air here can transport one to a completely new world. While you might feel the aroma of sake in the beginning, it soon turns into sour notes of whisky as you progress. Guests are taken around in chronological order starting with the mashing area followed by fermentation and finally concluding at the warehouses.
In the production area, one can see real-time whisky production, and feel the very essence of Yamazaki whisky. While here, note the various component whiskies being made at various stages of the distillation process that eventually go on to make the delicious single-malt whisky the distillery is proud to offer.
The scintillating journey doesn’t end just here. Your guide then takes you through the process by which whiskies are segregated at the warehouse and stored in barrels for ageing. This process imparts the final undertones of subtle flavours and unique tastes to each bottle. You can end your tour by tasting some of the most exquisite drinks from the distillery and sipping on some fine single-malt whisky — Yamazaki.
While here, it is quite natural to find yourself lost in a spirited world. However, don’t miss out on snapping photographs and making memories for a lifetime.
How to reach the Yamazaki Whisky Museum and its timing
Located in the Yamazaki district, the distillery and museum is easily accessible by foot from the Yamazaki Station on the JR Kyoto Line as well as the Oyamazaki Station on the Hankyu Kyoto Line. The place is addressed as 5-2-1 Yamazaki, Shimamoto-cho, Mishima gun, Oskaka. Visiting time is between 10:00 am and 4.45 pm with the last entry being allowed at 4.30 pm.
The guided tour is priced at 1,000 Yen per person including whisky tasting and takes about 80 minutes. Advance reservations are mandatory and one must be aware of the days the site is closed which mainly includes the New Year’s holiday and distillery shutdowns. Tours are conducted several times a day and guests are required to reach the venue 15 minutes prior.
Albeit visiting the museum is free, prior reservations must be made for a particular time slot and date. However, if you are joining the guided tour, you need not book in advance for visiting the museum but can drop in prior to or after the tour.
(Main image: Suntory Holdings, Inc./ @suntoryglobal/ Instagram; Featured image: Jason Hong/ @jhong098/ Unsplash)
This story first appeared on Travel + Leisure India & South Asia
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Answer: Yamazaki single malt whisky is distilled at the Suntory Yamazaki distillery. Established in 1923 by Shinjiro Torii, it is the country's first commercial whisky distillery that has earned an unparalleled global reputation.
Answer: The iconic Yamazaki distillery is currently owned by the Japanese whisky label Suntory. Besides Yamazaki, it is home to some other best Japanese whiskies such as Hibiki and Hakushu. Visitors can go on a guided tour across the whisky museum and distillery to see the production process and learn about its history.
Answer: The Yamazaki whisky is produced at the Yamazaki Whisky distillery in the Yamazaki district. The perfect climate and local water make it an ideal location for the classic rich golden drink.
Answer: The coveted Yamazaki whisky is made by Suntory. It is the label’s iconic single-malt whisky made at the country’s first and oldest distillery.
Answer: Written as 山崎, ‘Yamazaki’ translates to ‘mountain promontory.’ A common surname and topographical name in Japan, the word mainly has its roots in Eastern Japan but is found in western parts as well.
Answer: As the oldest Japanese whisky maker and the cradle of the finest single malt whisky originating in the country, Yamazaki has an irreplaceable position in the history of whiskies. Founded years back, it still continues to tantalise global taste buds with its rare productions and premium quality drinks such as Hibiki and Hakushu.
Answer: Yes, Hibiki whisky is made in Japan at the Suntory Yamazaki Distillery and is considered one of the prized whiskies in the world.
Answer: Layered with fruit and Mizunara aromas, the flagship Yamazaki whisky has a profound Japanese origin. The Yamazaki 12 year single malt whisky is made from 100 percent pure barley and has an ABV (alcohol by volume) of 43 percent. It is aged in fine Mizunara casks and one might get aromas of peach, pineapple, grapefruit, clove, candied orange or vanilla. The drink is rich golden in colour and has a spicy finish.