I tried to write everything that I experienced at Hakushu into one post, but I felt like it was dragging and I started to skip things. So instead of trying to brain dump all into one post, I decided to break this little adventure up into sections.
I am very lucky to have a lovely wife that is from Japan – well let me back that up a little bit; I am extremely lucky to have my lovely wife. And it is nice that I get to travel to Japan from time to time. Fortunately for me part of her family is originally from Yamanashi Prefecture (山梨県）, if you don’t know where that is think Mt. Fuji and there you have it. Specifically they are from Kofu （甲府） the capital of Yamanashi. But now there is another reason for you to know about Yamanashi…it is also home of Suntory’s Hakushu （白州）distillery.
We decided to make a last minute drive to Kofu on a Wednesday morning. This is a pretty decent drive, about 3 hours with the standstill traffic that we hit going through Tokyo. It was a particularly bad time to travel in Japan as it was the Obon holiday and everyone was traveling. We finally did reach Kofu at about 1pm and Hakushu was still another painfully long 40 minute drive. It was going to be a close one as we would probably arrive around 2pm and I assumed the distillery would close at about 4:30-5pm. Was there going to be enough time to get a tour in, walk around the grounds, hit the gift shop and most importantly do some tasting??? “Red mist” is a racing term for when you have a temporary lapse in judgment when trying to pass another car, I had the whisky equivalent. So once we hit Kofu, I unceremoniously dropped the kids and inlaws off with the local family; probably with less grace and couth than was expected and required. Dispensing with formal greetings, I hurried back into the car and my wife and I made a B line to Hakushu. I knew I was going to pay for this less than stellar showing of courtesy later, but I was deep into a serious case of the whisky mist – I can worry about it later!
With little complication (we only got lost once) we made it to Hakushu Distillery. At first glance, I was amazed by the scenery. It was a natural green forest situated amongst the soaring mountains of the Southern Alps of Japan. It was a very tranquil and peaceful place. A small creek runs down the hill under the foot bridge that is at the start of the path leading up to the distillery.
After wondering up the winding path we reached a clearing and immediately spotted the almost iconic walkway linked twin roofs. I had always thought it housed a component of the distillery that actually produces whisky – in actuality it houses the whisky museum. we took a quick stroll through the museum which detailed the history of the Suntory company as well as the history of the Hakushu Distillery. Founded in 1973, it is Suntory’s second distillery – the original being Yamazaki (山崎）in southern Japan (I hope to make it there soon). Yamazaki is widely regarded as Japan’s first true whisky distillery, founded in 1924. It is very interesting to see the difference of accounts regarding the establishment of Yamazaki. No mention of Taketsuru Masataka (竹鶴 政孝) was in the narrative of the founding of Yamazaki. Taketsuru Masataka is the founder of Nikka Whisky (ニッカ ウイスキー） and has a long an interesting history with whisky. The museum also proudly displayed the numerous international awards that different Suntory expressions have won throughout the years.
After going through the museum I joined up for the guided tour of the distillery. I will go through the details of the tour in my next post. Below are some additional pictures from the distillery grounds before I went on the tour. Enjoy and thanks for your patience! Here is Part II.