...where distraction is the main attraction.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

A Visit To Yamazaki Distillery

The Yamazaki distillery is in Oyamazaki, a quick 15ish minute train ride from Kyoto Station via the Hankyu Kyoto Line.  And from the train station it's only a 1km walk.  If you choose to go there, do not do what I did by wandering around, lost in the pouring rain, following one's own handwritten directions for over an hour.  Instead, walk from the Hankyu Kyoto Line station to the JR train station, two minutes away.  The JR station looks like this:

There is an information booth there.  And toilets.  You can find relief in the restroom and assistance at the information desk.  Not the other way around.  The info person will start you in the correct direction and provide a map.  There are also signs.  If you follow the map and the signs, within minutes the distillery will appear up ahead.

The distillery has a Japanese whisky museum and whisky library (more on the latter tomorrow).  It also offers a free tour.  There are only a few tours a day, so you might need to book via the phone number on the distillery website.  Or you can hope for the best and stand in a short line near the entrance.  Either way, be sure to tell them that you require an English tour (via audio recording).  While I was there, none of the staff members spoke more than a handful of words of English, so you'll need to keep that in mind.  Also, I had no luck booking via the phone number as I was told that the entire week was booked.  Instead, I did find success the day I showed up.

To be honest, the tour offers not much in the way of new information for knowledgable whisky folks.  It's more of a beginner's tour through the whiskymaking process.  But it is free.  Something I did learn: Though I knew that Yamazaki and Hakushu make numerous types of whiskies in each of distillery for blending purposes, the differences in those whiskies didn't just have to do with peating/non-peating and distillation times, but were also due to the usage of different yeast strains.  It was nice to hear officially from a distillery that they were playing with yeasts.  I doubt you'll hear that from (m)any Scotch distilleries.

My favorite part of the tour was the many smells throughout, especially in the fermentation room with its super fruity/beery/bakery scents.  The barrel warehouse smelled nice and musty, though I sorta think the warehouse was for show because it was mostly empty.  (Another fact: Yamazaki does not climate control its warehouses, so the temperature and humidity is what it is.)

Some casks:

Not pictured: most of my sideburns
A lovely interior garden that seemed to be a modern take on some of Kyoto's temple gardens:

Just before the tour dropped us off (next to the gift shop, natch), we got to do a tasting of the new Yamazaki and Hakushu NAS malts.  As I mentioned in Monday's post, these products do not demonstrate the distilleries' whisky well.  They are hotter (at 40%abv), flatter, shorter, and blander than their age-stated siblings.  We received them as highballs first and then neat secondly.  While they may have been better in highball form, perhaps as a cool summer drink, more should be expected of a $50-$60 malt.  But they were free pours and certainly saved me a lot of money.

The gift shop had other Beam Suntory products, but also had some non-Beam-Suntory things like Macallan.  What it didn't have much of was......Yamazaki single malt.  There was the NAS (Distiller's Reserve) thing.  And I did pick up a distillery-only malt.  It had no information on it, but came in a cute bottle and was very inexpensive, 300mL for about $12.

Oh and yes, there was a tasting room.  Er, The Tasting Room.  On Friday: The Yamazaki Tasting Room.
Note: unrelated photo