Before you consider visiting Suntory Hakushu Distillery, be warned that the distillery is very busy on the weekends. To avoid large crowds, I thought I would book a tour for 10:30 am on a Monday morning. Despite my best efforts, there were still 10 other people on my early morning tour. The Suntory website strongly recommends that you book your tour in advance. In addition to booking a tour, you might also want to request a multilingual audio guide for English, Chinese or French commentary. The 80-minute tour, which includes a generous amount of whisky tasting, costs ￥1,000.
The first room you enter is the fermentation room. This room is filled with 4-meter-high wooden vats. In the foreground of this photo you can see a viewing window from which the fermentation process can be observed.
The next room you enter is the distillation room. It is difficult to take a good photo through the glass, but I gave it my best effort. If you look closely, you will notice that the distillery room contains a variety of pot stills. Apparently, each pot still brings out distinctive flavours in the whisky. Suntory boasts that it, “is one of just a tiny handful of distilleries around the world that work with several different types of pot still.”
To get to one of the many whisky warehouses at the distillery, you will have to board a bus. As the bus trip is quite short, I assume it is a requirement for safety and security at the facility. This was my favourite part of the tour as one gets an intoxicating aroma of evaporating whisky (the angels’ share) from the hundreds, maybe thousands, of whisky barrels.
After the warehouse tour, you are invited to taste several different grades of whisky. The tour guide gives quite an in-depth lesson on tasting, so you might want to request one of the multilingual information booklets they keep behind the bar. My favourite drink was the whisky and soda (Morikaoru Highball).
Just before exiting the facility, you walk through the distillery bar. It was tempting to try this 25-year-old single malt at ￥2,900 for 15 ml, but I had already consumed 4 drinks and I hadn’t even eaten my lunch yet! If you are a whisky drinker, you can’t miss this experience in Hakushu, Yamanashi.
You can access Suntory Hakushu Whisky Distillery from JR Shinjuku Station in 2 hours by taking an express train to JR Kobuchizawa Station on the JR Chuo Line. Once you arrive in Kobuchizawa, take the free limited shuttle bus which is available on weekends and national holidays from late March to December 24th (15 Minutes). On weekdays, take the express train to JR Nirasaki Station, board the bus from platform 3 and get off at Matsubarakami. The distillery is a 10-minute walk from the bus stop.