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Whisky amongst the trees

Suntory's two main malt distilleries are conveniently located within easily-reachable distance from the major Cities of Osaka (Yamazaki Distillery) and Tokyo (Hakushu Distillery). Unsurprisingly, given the boom in Japanese whisky's popularity over the past 4 years, both offer tours. Yamazaki will be covered in the future issue, but this month the focus is on the picturesque Hakushu, which I was lucky enough to tour. 

The Hakushu Distillery is located about 2.5hrs away from Tokyo by train, nearest to Kobuchizawa Station, which can be reached on a JR (Japan Rail) pass. You know you've arrived at the right place when you visit the station shop - a small unassuming convenience store, with a huge display of Suntory products, including Yamazaki and Hakushu bottles in all sizes! 

 

A 10-15min shuttle bus or taxi fare ride brings you to the distillery, which is uniquely located in the heart of a huge, stunning alpine forest. It truly is a breathtaking setting - set right amongst the trees, there are small paths to take you from each building, and you really feel like you've stumbled across a secret distillery hidden amongst the trees. I always found Hakushu to have a slightly earthier, perhaps even slightly herbal note when compared with Yamazaki, and seeing the distillery in person helped me understand why this might be!

As Yamazaki's younger sibling (Hakushu was founded 50 years later in 1973), Hakushu's core range echoes that of Yamazaki (NAS, 12yo, 18yo and 25yo) but with quite different spirit. This is partially due to the altitude - at 700m, Hakushu is one of the world's highest distilleries, which results in a lower pressure and temperature distillation. 

Tours are conducted in Japanese but with audio guides available for other languages. Whilst they do cover all aspects of production, and take guests through many parts of the distillery from mashing and fermentation through to distillation and maturation, they're not as in-depth as some of the enthusiast-focused tours held by some Scottish distilleries. There are no cask tasting nor in-depth discussions of wood management, for example. 

 

Guests are given the opportunity to explore a maturation warehouse though, and it's quite an experience. Unlike a traditional dunnage warehouse, the warehouses at Hakushu (which are enormous) have casks stacked 8+ rows high, placed by an automated / mechanical racking system. It's quite a sight, although not quite as traditional as the warehousing at Yamazaki. 

The main highlight though came at the end of the tour - in the form of the tasting! Whilst a dram of 12 and 18 were provided, the tasting bar also offered the 25yo, Hibiki 30, and a number of single cask Chita / Hakushu / Yamazaki whiskies at incredibly reasonable prices. It is definitely worth spending some time enjoying a few incredible drams after the tour (if you're not driving). If you feel like something Scottish, the tasting bar also had a range of Suntory owned / distributed drams, including Macallan, Glenfiddich and Bowmore. 

For whisky lovers holidaying in Tokyo, and indeed even those with only a passing interest, a tour of Hakushu is highly recommended! 

三得利Suntory兩間最主要麥芽威士忌酒廠都位於頂尖城市易於到達的距離內—山崎鄰近大阪,白州則在東京附近。在最近四年隨著日本威士忌在各地興起,兩間威士忌毫不意外都提供酒廠導賞團,山崎我會在之後的期數介紹,但今期我會主要集中景觀優美的白州酒廠。

 

白州酒廠只需從東京乘搭兩個半小時火車便到達,最近是從小淵澤車站下車,你可以透過JR Pass乘搭。當你在車站看見一間毫不起眼的便利店你便知道你已到達目的地,由於店內放置不同大小容量的山崎和白州威士忌陳列擺設!

 

之後乘搭穿梭巴士或的士大約十至十五分鐘便到達酒廠,沒想到目的地位於廣闊壯麗的高山森林的中心。不少小徑會引領你到達不同大廈,就如從樹林中偶然發現一間秘密釀酒廠。我經常認為白州與山崎比較的話會多一點泥土和香草氣息,而置身於酒廠環境令我明白大致原因!

作為山崎的弟弟(白州在1973年成立,遲山崎50年面世),白州的主要系列與哥哥呼應 (NAS、12年、18年和25年),但兩者酒質卻不一樣,海拔佔其中一個原因—白州是全球其中一間最高酒廠,因而產生較低的壓力和溫度蒸餾。

導賞團以日本介紹但亦有其他語言的語音指南。當廠安排全面製作方面導賞,從糖化、發酵直至蒸餾和熟成俱備,雖然不及有些威士忌酒廠的重點導賞團那般深入。沒有木桶品鑑或深入的木材管理討論。

但是賓客有機會到熟成倉庫內探索,是一個特別體驗。有別於傳統的墊料倉庫,白州的巨型倉庫堆積超過八行高的木桶(由機械貨架系統),這場面也頗壯觀,雖然不及山崎的倉庫那般傳統。

 

整個導賞團最觸目之處就是尾站—品鑑,品鑑酒吧除了供給少量 12年、18年,甚至25年,響30年和多款性價比高的知多、白州和山崎單桶威士忌。當結束參觀,這裏絕對值得讓你享受數款上等酒款(假設你不用駕車)。如果你是蘇格蘭威士忌的愛好者,品鑑酒吧同樣提供一系列三得利擁有或代理的酒款,包括Macallan、Glenfiddich和Bowmore。

不論是喜歡到東京旅行的威士忌愛好者,或是其實只有對威士忌少許興趣人士,這個白州導賞團絕對是非常值得向你們推薦!