I’ve always wanted to go to Kyoto for one reason, to visit the Yamazaki Distillery. I love Scotch and I have always been fascinated with whisky, ever since Yamazaki whisky was named the best whisky in the world in 2014, I got curious about how Scotland lost its reign to Japan when it comes to whisky.

The surrounding foliage in the Yamazaki Distillery looks amazing during sakura blooms and autumn season
The surrounding foliage in the Yamazaki Distillery looks amazing during sakura blooms and autumn season

I’ve been so psyched to finally get the chance to tour the first whisky distillery in Japan but alas, when I got there, the day tour for the whisky manufacturing process is full and I would have to wait for another month to book my ticket in. So, if you will visit the famed Yamazaki Distillery, you better book a month ahead as they only allow 20 visitors daily and the waiting list is always full. But in consolation I was able to go inside the museum, have whisky tasting, and drop by at the gift shop.

The gift shop
The gift shop
You can buy Yamazaki labeled whisky glasses in the gift shop
You can buy Yamazaki labeled whisky glasses in the gift shop
Cute Yamazaki Distillery collectibles
Cute Yamazaki Distillery collectibles
A bottle of Umeshu; The Suntory Single Malt Whisky Yamazaki Distillery Limited that you can only get from the distillery, too bad one person can only buy one
A bottle of Umeshu; The Suntory Single Malt Whisky Yamazaki Distillery Limited that you can only get from the distillery, too bad you can only purchase one bottle a person

Inside the museum, you’ll learn about the history of Japanese whisky and Shinjiro Torii, the man who pushed the limits to create Japan’s first whisky. The art of making whisky has long been perfected by Scots and it seemed like an impossible feat for Japan to create this product but Shinjiro Torii pushed for an idea that made Yamazaki whisky the brand it is today. Torii was a pharmaceutical wholesaler who started with just selling a sweet red wine called Akadama Port Wine in his first store the Torii Shoten in Osaka. In 1921, he expanded his business and eventually changed his store name to Kotobukiya Limited where he set the foundation of creating Japanese whisky. In 1923, armed with the knowledge that he learned from the production of Scotch whisky, Torii sought Yamazaki, a suburb of Kyoto, to build his first distillery.

A little bit of Yamazaki Distillery history in the museum
A little bit of Yamazaki Distillery history in the museum
Vintage advertising of the Suntory products
Vintage advertising of the Suntory products
Second son of Shinjiro Torii and the one who built the second distillery, Hakushu Distillery; The brands portfolio under Beam Suntory
Second son of Shinjiro Torii and the one who built the second distillery, Hakushu Distillery; The brands portfolio under Beam Suntory
One of the first Suntory whiskies made in the distillery
One of the first Suntory whiskies made in the distillery
Distinct whisky bottles that is still part of the Suntory market today
Distinct whisky bottles that is still part of the Suntory market today
Now that’s what I call a whisky flight!
The bottles of Yamazaki over the years copy
The bottles of Yamazaki over the years

Just like tea and wine, the main players in creating good whisky is good water and good soil. Torii sought Yamazaki, a suburb of Kyoto that has both good soil and water, to build his first distillery. Fast forward to today, the distillery produces the best bottles of liquid gold in the market. In 2014, Yamazaki surprised the world and marked the first year that a Japanese whisky claimed the title of ‘Best whisky in the world’ with its bottle of Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013.

I’m not so found of Japanese whiskies as I find some bottles too spicy for my liking but learning more about its heritage made me respect the brand. One highlight of the Yamazaki Distillery is the Whisky Library that made me tipsy just by looking at it. It houses thousands of whisky bottles from different parts of the globe, it’s a dream library for whisky connoisseurs and whisky lovers.

Yamazaki Whisky library houses over a thousand bottles of whiskies around the globe
Yamazaki Whisky library houses over a thousand bottles of whiskies from different distilleries locally and abroad
The Whisky Library contains different samples from different distilleries globally
The Whisky Library contains numerous samples of Scotch
This barrel structure contains the world's greatest whisky
This barrel structure contains the world’s greatest whisky bottles
Of course the main part of the collection was from the Suntory portfolio
The Yamazaki bottle that surprised the world, the Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013
There's a huge distilling equipment that guest can walk into in the middle of the library
There’s a huge distilling equipment that guests can walk into in the middle of the library
The second floor of the museum
The second floor of the museum features the manufacturing process of whisky
The Hibiki portfolio copy
The Hibiki portfolio from House Suntory– a highly awarded blended whisky in Japan and in the world
After the tour you can sit by the library and drink as much flights as you can afford
You may order different flights from the tasting room, best to try the ones that is only available in the distillery
You may order different flights from the tasting room, it is best to try the ones that is only available in the distillery
You can drink different drams of whisky from the tasting room that is not limited to just Suntory's bottles copy
You can drink different drams of whisky from the tasting room that is not limited to just Suntory’s bottles

After touring the museum, visitors can partake of the whisky tasting counter. Since you’re inside the distillery, every shot is 100 percent cheaper than drinking your usual flight in a speak easy bar.

NOTE: Yamazaki Distillery will be closed on July 19, August 23 to 25 and September 13, 2016 due to maintenance. 
For online reservation visit http://www.suntory.com/factory/yamazaki/inspection/distillery_tour/

A publishing industry veteran who is the former creative director of PeopleAsia magazine and former lifestyle editor of The Standard newspaper. She was introduced to the wonderful world of spirits during her stint as executive creative director of digital agency DigitalFCB, where she led a team that created campaigns for some of the biggest liquor brands in the country. A lover of scotch and a curious spirit who is obsessed with the colorful world of mixology, she directs DrinkManila’s overall editorial content.

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