Yoichi-cho, is a small coastal town located just 30 miles west of Sapporo, with a particularly nice beach that is popular with surfers. It is a well-liked tourist destination for the Japanese during the months of July through August, when the temperatures in areas lying south of Hokkaido become almost unbearable. Aside from its beach and cooler temperatures, another attraction has contributed to a steady influx of visitors to this sleepy town. That attraction is the Nikka Whisky Distillery, which was featured on the NHK drama Massan.
Massan was a Japanese morning TV drama which premiered on September 29, 2014. It was based on the lives of Masataka Taketsuru and his wife Jessie Roberta “Rita” Cowan and their attempts to begin the Nikka Whisky Distillery. Yoichi-cho has been the home of the Nikka Whisky Distillery since 1934.
Nikka Whisky is one of Japan’s top whisky makers founded by Masataka Taketsuru, who is known as the father of Japanese whisky. Taketsuru studied whisky making techniques for several years in Scotland before bringing the trade to Japan. He was instrumental in establishing the country’s first whisky distillery, the Yamazaki Distillery near Kyoto, before he set out on his own. In 2010 Yamazaki Whisky was awarded the title of Supreme Champion Spirit at the 15th International Spirits Challenge 2010 while Suntory Liquors (originally known as Kotobukiya), the producer of the whisky, was named Distiller of the Year. Both achievements were firsts for any Japanese company.
Nikka Whisky was originally called Dai Nippon Kaju (Great Japanese Juice Company) as it started out producing apple juice, apple brandy and other apple-based products from Yoichi’s famed apples. The name was later changed to Nikka Whisky in 1952 to reflect its new (and originally intended) focus on making whisky. The first bottles of Nikka Whisky went on sale in 1940.
Today, the company operates a number of distilleries and other facilities in Japan. There are two distilleries in Japan including the Yoichi Distillery in Hokkaido and the Miyagikyo Distillery in Aoba-ku, Sendai in Miyagi Prefecture. The company also owns the Ben Nevis Distillery (acquired in 1989) in Scotland.
Nikka Whisky is currently owned by Asahi Breweries which acquired it in 2001. Nikka whiskies have been recognized among the world’s best single malt whiskies and have won numerous awards.
The original distillery in Yoichi is still fully functional, although parts of it have been converted into a working museum. The museum focuses on the history of the company and the life of its founder. In the museum you will find a tasting room that offers samples of select Nikka whiskies. Distillery staff, uniformed in blue, can be seen shoveling peat into massive furnaces to heat the pot stills.
Other buildings on the grounds house hundreds of barrels in which the whisky rests and ages. There is also a restaurant and a souvenir shop where you can purchase the various whiskies and the apple brandy produced here.
Whether you are a fan of the NHK drama or you simply appreciate the quality of Japanese whisky, touring the original distillery is a must.
The distillery is located just west of Yoichi Station on the JR Hakodate Line. Alternatively you can take the local trains from Otaru or Sapporo to Yoichi Station.
Nikka’s original office
Address: 7-6 Kurokawacho, Yoichimachi, Yoichigun, Hokkaido, 046-0003