Land of the rising sun

Land of the rising sun

Dave Broom gives us his tips on places to go when in Japan.

Travel 01 Nov 2007 | Interviews | By Dave Broom

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The rise of Japanese whisky has been one of the most heartening aspects of the global whisky boom.These days most whisky lovers will have tried at least one example and whisky tourists are beginning to make the long pilgrimage to the country.Whether you are visiting Japan on business, for sport or as part of a holiday you should make whisky part of your itinerary. Here’s part one of a quick guide to distilleries, bars and retail outlets to make the planning a little easier.Where to Visit Every Japanese distillery is open to visitors, but our advice would be to either phone ahead or check the website for opening times and tours.This is essential for non-Japanese visitors who do not speak the language.The Suntory and Nikka distilleries and Gotemba have tasting facilities. Special distillery-only bottlings are often available.
YAMAZAKI
+81 (0)75 961 1234
Free tour 10am - 3pm Easily reachable from Kyoto, Yamazaki is the birthplace of Japanese whisky.The distillery was built in 1923 on an auspicious site which includes a Shinto shrine and the site of the first tea house built by Sen no Rikyu, the creator of chanoyu (tea ceremony).Although the functional distillery buildings jar somewhat with the verdant setting, the visitor will soon put aesthetic concerns aside once inside.The Yamazaki stillhouse contains six pairs of stills, all of which are differently shaped.This allows Suntory to create a number of different styles for blending.The bottled malt is medium-bodied and fruity malt.There is an award-winning tasting bar.The distillery also offers wellheeled clients to join Suntory’s Owner’s Cask scheme.Hakushu
+81 (0)551 35 2212
Free Tour 10am - 3pm Suntory’s second (and largest) distillery is situated in the southern Japanese Alps, threehours by bullet train ride from Tokyo. Half-hidden in a thickly forested nature reserve at the foot of Mount Kai-Komagatake, Hakushu is 700m above sea level and the cool mountain air makes this region popular with Japanese holiday makers wishing to escape the humidity of the central plains.There are two distilleries on site, though currently only ‘Hakushu East’ is operational.As in Yamazaki its stillhouse has to be seen to be believed with an even more outrageous collection of stills on show.There’s even one spirit still with a detachable lyne arm with one pointing up and another going down. A major player in Suntory’s blends, the bottled malt is light, estery and clean with a fresh grassy/pine aroma.There is a museum on site.Yoichi
+81 (0)135 23 313
www.nikka.com
Free tour 9am - 4.30pm Japan’s most northerly distillery is situated in a small fishing port of 24,000 people on the east coast of the island of Hokkaido. It was built in 1834 byMasataka Taketsuru the co-founder of Japanese whisky and was chosen because he felt this part of Japan most closely replicated the climatic conditions of Scotland where he had trained as a distiller.(The stills, it is claimed are modelled on those at Longmorn).Once again a wide range of different styles are produced,but Yoichi is most famous for its fullbodied, complex,peaty malt.The visitor’s centre houses a museum and shop selling an extensive range of Nikka products,many exclusive to the distillery.Miyagikyo (aka Sendai)
+81 (0)22 395 2111
www.nikka.com
Free tour 08.45 - 4.40pm The collection of buildings making up Nikka’s second malt distillery are collected on a flat plain between the Nikkawa and Hirose rivers between the city of Sendai and the cherry orchards, mountain temples and hot springs of Tone.Built in 1969 it now houses a malt distillery and grain plant (home to Nikka’s legendary ‘Coffey Grain’).Unpeated and lightly peated malt is used to make a range of different styles from eight large heavy-bottomed stills with fat necks.The standardMiyagikyo make is fruity with an aromatic, floral edge that drifts into soft stone fruits.The distillery’s name originally was Sendai, but when the single malt was released it was changed toMiyagikyo.Kyo is Japanese for ‘valley’,Miyagi is the name of the prefecture so the name could be loosely translated as ‘Glen Miyagi’.Gotemba
+81 (0)550 89 4909
Free tour
9am - 4.30pm Located in the lava plains next to Mount Fuji,midway between Tokyo and Osaka,Gotemba’s distillery was built in 1973.The plant houses a malt and a grain distillery.Four types of malt from unpeated to heavily peated are used.The bottled product is very light and gentle.Although not the prettiest of distilleries, the view of Fuji-san from the rooftop terrace is spectacular.Karuizawa
+81 (0)267 32 2006
Free tour 10am- 4pm This small distillery (now owned by Kirin) on the outskirts of the town of Miyota-cho is easily reachable by train from Tokyo (and closer still to Nagano). Like Hakushu and Gotemba it is also close to an active volcano, in this case Mount Asama.Originally a winery it is now houses four small stills and makes a full-bodied style (older examples are peated). It could be the only malt distillery in the world still insisting on using Golden Promise exclusively.Where to drink Japan is home to the world’s greatest whisky bars. Fact.Nowhere else is there such an obsessive desire to collect rare bottles,nowehere else is there such high-quality service.Trouble is, for the foreign visitor, they are hard to find.As we explained last year the best way to get to the bar of your choice is to phone the bar in advance and get a map faxed across, or visit its website and print one off yourself.The map can then be given to a taxi driver, shop assistant, passer by and you will be steered to your destination.Also, remember Tokyo is vast.Organise your bar visits by district.Out with the major hotels bars tend to be on the small side. Even in the hotel bars it is not unknown to be refused entry as there are no tables available. They’re also pricey and many will apply a cover charge (but where else are you going to find these whiskies.The choice is often bewildering, so take your time over a mizuwari [Japanese whisky, ice and water] and plot the best angle of attack.Here’s a (very) small selection of some of Whisky Mag’s very top watering holes, starting with the winner of this year’s Japanese Icons of Whisky,Bar Cask.There’s nothing outside Cask to indicate that this is one of the most remarkable whisky bars in the world, just a lit white disc saying ‘Cask’ in black Gothic letters and a darkened archway. Squeeze through however and the steep stairway leads to a heavy wooden door.Beyond it, sudden,unexpected space. Your eyes begin to get used to the dim light and you note the curved wooden walkway, the long bar on the right, a few tables. There are bottles,everywhere from floor to ceiling. In fact, in one of the back rooms they are even in the ceiling.Another room houses a huge collection of bourbon.You settle at the bar, take a deep breath and prepare your mind for the impossible task of ordering the first dram. It’s well-nigh impossible. Cask currently stocks 2,500 lines, 1,500 of which are Scotch. All have been tasted by owner/proprietor Kiyoshi Shinozaki who views this as a liquid diary of his life. He educates, recommends and is a firm believer in whisky changing in the sealed bottle believing that time adds delicacy and elegance to the spirit.You might rub shoulders with politicians, the odd celeb and, definitely, whisky lovers.You might, with 2,500 to try,never leave.RECOMMENDATIONS IN TOKYO
Bar Cask +81 (0)3-3402-7373
B1Main Stage Roppongi Bld,3-9-11,Roppongi,Minato-ku,Tokyo Akasaka Grace +81 (0)3-3402-2486
B1 Tokyo Moto Akasaka Bld,1-1-16,
Moto Akasaka,Minato-ku,Tokyo Bar Argyll 3F,Daiichi Houtoku Building, 1-4-17 Nishi-Shinjuku, hinjyuku-ku,Tokyo Campbeltown Loch +81 (0)3-3501-5305
B1 Matsui Bld,1-6-8,Yuraku-cho,Chiyoda-ku,Tokyo Bar Caol Ila +81 (0)3-5428-6184
3F MST Dogenzaka,1-13-3,Dogenzaka,Shibuya-klu,Tokyo Celler Bar (Rihga Royal Hotel Tokyo) +81 (0)3-5285-1121 1-104-19,
Totsuka-machi, Shinjuku-ku,Tokyo The Crane +81 (0)3-5951-0090
1F Akebono Bld,2-3-3 Ikebukuro,Toshima-ku,Tokyo Bar Fifteen (Shiba Park Hotel) +81 (0)3-3433-4141
1-5-10 Shiba Park,Minato-ku,Tokyo Hazelburn +81 (0)3-5285-1470
B1 Hashimoto Bld,
1-6-6,Kabuki-cho,Shinjyuku-ku,Tokyo
Pick from more than 200 malts and a similarly eclectic fusion of Japanese and Scottish cuisine.Helmsdale
+81 (0)3-3486-4220 2F Minami Aoyama Mori Bld,7-13-12,
Minami Aoyama,Minato-ku Tokyo
Much beloved by the Scottish whisky trade — must be something to do with the haggis.more than 300 single malts.Bar Highlander (Hotel Okura Tokyo) +81 (0)3-3505-6077
2-10-4 Toranomon,Minato-ku,Tokyo Kernel +81 (0)3-3571-9394
B1 Suzuryu Bld 8-7-19 Ginza Chuou-ku Tokyo The Mash Tun +81 (0)3-3449-3649
202 Mikasa Bld B,2-14-3,Kami Osaki,Shinagawa-ku,Tokyo
Run by the great Toru Suzuki one of Japan’s top whisky bartenders of Japan. A must visit.Malt House Islay +81 (0)3-5984-4408
2F Kijima Bld,5-22-16 Toyotama kita,Nerima-ku,Tokyo Maxim’s de Paris Resturant +81 (0)3-3572-3621
B3 Sony Bld,5-3-1,Ginza,Chuo-ku,Tokyo Nemo +81 (0)3-3841-1650 1-11-11 Asakusa Taito-ku Tokyo Old Imperial Bar (Imperial Hotel Tokyo) +81 (0)3-3539-8088
1-1-1,Uchisaiwai-cho,Chiyoda-ku,Tokyo Bar Talisker +81 (0)3-3571-1753
B1 Fujihira Bld,7-5-12,Ginza,Chuo-ku,Tokyo
A recent straw poll of retailers and bartenders and whisky lovers had Talisker as one of the hottest whisky destinations.Guess what it specialises in?Wodka Tonic +81 (0)3-3400-547
B1 Tamura Bld,2-25-11,Nishi-Azabu,minato-ku,Tokyo
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