Many people have heard of, or even visited, the famed Nikka Whiskey distillery in Yoichi, Hokkaido. Weekends especially see a lot a people getting off the train from Otaru to file through the door of this little country train station where a living breathing human takes your ticket. No automated machines at this station!
The distillery tour is nice and there are two tasting rooms if you want to try Nikka’s award winning whiskeys. The first one offers the higher quality brands, but each brand tasted requires a small payment of ¥200 to ¥500 per tasting (about a half-ounce / 15 cc). The next building offers free tastings of two or three brands plus apple juice. Naturally, there is a souvenir shop where you can buy your favorite after tasting.
If you go to Yoichi, the distillery is a must-see, but don’t just go there. Afterwards, grab a taxi and head out to the Occi Gabi winery. It’s only a few minutes ride to this lovely and peaceful winery on the slopes above Yoichi.
Tasting is very reasonably priced. However, it’s unfortunate that the tasting room uses those small glasses so often used in restaurants in Japan. Small glasses definitely don’t do the wine justice. When we tasted four of the wines I was less than impressed by any of them. The two whites and two reds we tasted were just “okay” as far as I was concerned.
However, we had a bottle of the Cuvee Cabernet with lunch and served in a proper wine glass it was much, much better than what we tasted in that little wine glass. As I learned a long time ago a proper glass, designed for the wine you are drinking, truly makes a difference. At ¥3,800 per bottle it is more reasonable than most Japanese red wines, but like most Japanese red wines, it’s still a bit overpriced compared to all the good imported wines available in Japan. Small production lots and high overhead adds to the price, I suppose.
The restaurant in the same building as the tasting room is excellent. This is the place to have lunch in Yoichi. The courses are priced very reasonably (we had the B course for ¥3,500) and the food is as good - or better - than any 3-star restaurant. Since the menu may change from time to time, have a look at their website to see the current menu (Japanese only).
Getting there from Sapporo.
Take the train to Otaru (reserved seats highly recommended as there are a lot of tourists going to Yoichi these days.
Change to the local train from Otaru to Yoichi (no reservations possible).
From the Yoichi train station, it’s a short walk to the Nikka Distillery and there is an English-speaking tourist office on the way on the left hand side of the street. Stop in there for information and free Internet access.
11:00〜17:00 shop & tea
11:00〜17:00 lunch (last order, 15:30)
17:00 - 20:00 (last order 18:30)
**Dinner - reservations required up to one day prior
Open every day, year-round