2015/09/12

For Peat's Sake


The Scottish castle looking building of the linked post was one of the places we planned to visit on this trip to Hokkaido.   It is the site of the original Nikka Whisky Distillery, founded in 1934 by Taketsuru Masataka.

Masataka was born to a family which had distilled sake since 1733, but in 1918 he went to Scotland  to study chemistry at the University of Glasgow.  He also worked in a number of whisky distilleries while there and in 1920 married Jessie Roberta "Rita" Cowan of Middlecroft, Kirkintilloch.

Rita and Masataka in 1920
Returning to Japan with his bride, he helped establish a whisky distillery for a company which would later become Suntory.     He started Nikka in 1934 and sold its first whisky in 1940.   The reason for choosing Yoichi, Hokkaido as the site for his distillery was that he thought that the location most resembled Scotland in its climate.  The fact that Hokkaido has plenty of peat - burned to dry the barley and thus add flavor to Scottish whiskies - may have played a role in that decision as well.  Oh, for peat's sake, why would a person want to live in a climate like that of Scotland?   Give me the tropics any day.


K with the barrel head sign inside the entrance.
Whisky is not of particular interest to either of us, but I decided to take K up there because she had enjoyed watching an NHK Asadora (morning drama) called "Massan" which was based on the lives of Masataka and Rita.  Because of the drama, the distillery has become a popular destination for Japanese tourists.  Tour buses roll in and out all day long.  Visitors can stroll around the original distillery buildings on a self-guided tour (with signs in Japanese and English) or take a guided tour at specified times during the day.   Admission is free.

The original buildings make for an interesting tour, while on the adjacent land, Asahi runs the modern distillery.

Still life?  Ahem.   From these stills, the whisky was decanted into large vats in the next room, and ultimately, into oak barrels for aging.  A large screen at the entrance to this room plays a video showing how these stills were operated.

Inside one of many warehouses, there is a display of aging barrels along with audio-video and step by step  displays showing how barrels are made and what the pieces look like at each step.

After visiting an aging room, K seems hardly to have aged at all. ;)

Named for Rita, this was the management office in the center of the plant.


The Taketsuru home.   Originally built in 1935, it was rebuilt by Yoichi town after WWII.  Short commute, eh?


 K inside the Nikka Whisky museum, which is filled with personal and distillery artifacts.  There is also a bar in there where you can purchase whisky samples.

Some of the photographs and other memorabilia on display.

The Taketsurus.



At end of the self-tour, K went into the sampling room and had free samples of whisky and the apple wine which they started producing while waiting for the first single malt whisky to age.

Pandabonium at the monument to Masataka Taketsuru

In July of 2015, Nikka Whisky won several awards at the International Spirits Challenge in London, including Distiller of the Year and the Best International Blend Trophy along with six gold  medals for individual products.

Rita passed away in January of 1961 at age 64.  Masataka passed in 1989.

We had lunch at the distillery restaurant which was quite good.   Our timing was just right as some tour groups were arriving just as we were leaving.   We then visited the gift shop before heading to the train station to go to our next stop - Otaru City.

The distillery as seen from the Yoichi train station.

JR Yoichi parking lot.
Sittin' at Yoichi Station, got a ticket for my destination....

All aboard!
つづく (to be continued)

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