By Cathy Cawood
From our morning hour-long Suntory brewery visit, we head down the valley to Suntory Whisky Distillery. While the brewery is in Nagaokakyo, the distillery is a 15 minute drive (about ¥600 taxi fare) down the road in Yamazaki. We skirt alongside the bamboo forested Tenno Mountain. The road only accommodates one lane in places. Despite the heat, pedestrians and cyclists line the street near the distillery. They may be also visiting the neighboring, scenic Asahi Art Museum.
We cross the multiple train tracks twice near JR Yamazaki Station. The crossing gates close often, even as I was still bumping across the tracks. I almost hit a post, meant to divide pedestrians from motor vehicles. I am ready for a whisky, but being the designated driver, I am satisfied with the prospect of soaking up the fumes through my nose and pores. This is our third or fourth visit but the first time to drive there during the past six years of married life and of visiting my mother-in-law at her nearby Yamazaki residence during the holidays.
If you come by train, get off at either Yamazaki Station (JR Tokaido Line) or Oyamazaki Station (Hankyu Kyoto Line) and walk 10 minutes. The imposing, well-signed brewery looms on the mountainside right in front of the train crossing. Focus on getting across those tracks in one piece, especially after a whisky or two.
Well-kept grounds surround Yamazaki Distillery and will prove a delight to flower lovers. We park in a shaded spot in the spacious lot and rush to the reception near the entrance. My husband scores two free whisky glasses. How? It’s simple, he says, just click on the “free present” button on the Yamazaki Distillery (Japanese) homepage prior to visiting. That’s when our luck runs out. The noon tour is full. We had failed to reach the distillery’s reservations desk by phone that morning. Reservations and payment is required to join the 80 minute tour of the distillery; ask for the English audio guide. Our three year old son jumps and skips around, pulling my hand.
No tour, no chance to walk through the huge, dark cool storage facility where thousands of oak casks emit wonderful, pungent whisky fumes. As much as I love the tour, this time I can skip. My son cried though it last year - much more suitable to do without young children in tow. Sigh. Instead, we visit the small Whisky Museum, gift shop and tasting bar this time, in an open airy (not stinky for little stinkers) bright building. We enjoyed pulling out old whisky posters displayed in drawers near the gift shop, walking through the shop which sells such things as oak chopsticks and mechanical pencils, glass or metal flasks and shot glasses, chocolates, and of course whisky. We take the glass elevator downstairs and walk through the whisky library – glass shelves lined with golden and clear whisky from such places as Canada, Ireland, Scotland, the US; 95% are from Yamazaki. The oldest bottles I find are dated 1960. We take photos in front of the huge wooden vat and beautiful stainless still. Time for a sample at the bar. My husband orders a ¥100 flask of fresh whisky. The vapors bowl me over – 40% alcohol. He sips some genteelly, then leaves the rest in the glass. We drink up some complimentary spring water, then stroll back through the manicured gardens to our car.
The distillery tour, had we taken it, is barrier-free, and the last 20 minutes you sit down and sample chocolate, nuts, juice, water and for those of age, who are not driving or riding a bicycle, whisky. Weekday tours run from 10:00 ~ 15:00, every hour on the hour; during weekend and public holidays, tours are 10, 11 and 12 o’ clock only.
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