A trip to Hokkaido is a truly amazing experiences must like many things in life it can be improved with a good whiskey.

If you manage to make it up to Hokkaido a visit trip to the Nikka distillery both in Winter and Summer is a strong NisekoML recommendation.

History of the Nikka distillery

The story of Nikka Whiskey is interesting as the whiskey itself.

It started with a man named Masataka Taketsuru who was born into family of sake brewers. After trying Scottish Whiskey he become obsessed with trying to recreate the complex flavors of peated whiskey and traveled to Scotland where he became an apprentice at James Calder and even enrolled at the University of Glasgow to study chemistry.

All these things would be pretty unremarkable if the year was not 1918. Travel between the Japan and the West at this point was still very rare and it’s hard to imagine the hardships he would have endured. Not to mention he decided to Marry a Scottish lass and bring her back to Japan and live together right through the middle of world war 2.

The Nikka story is so interesting that it was made into a popular Japanese television series. The downside of that is that Nikka whiskey quickly become very popular not just in Japan but all over the world and getting your hands on a bottle of the sweet aged nectar of the God’s is now a lot harder than it used to be.

But what is really remarkable is the Yoichi Whiskey itself.

Blending Japanese attention to detail and respect for tradition with Scottish know-how developed over centuries has lead to whiskey that continues to win awards to this day. Nikka won ” Worlds best blended malt ” at the international spirits challenge in 2019. To this day ” Yoichi single malt ” remains our favorite entry level whiskey that drinks better than many other whiskeys twice the price or even higher.

Getting there

The Nikka Distillery is located about a 5 minute walk from the Yoichi train station which is about a one hours train ride from the Otaru station. If you are heading from Sapporo allow about an hours to get to Otaru then a further hour to get to Yoichi.

If you are coming from Sapporo you need to change platforms at Otaru ( end of the line ) and then change over to local train bound for Kutchan. Yoichi is the 2nd stop as you head southbound along the local line. Adding the Nikka distillery as a side trip as you get the train out to Niseko is a popular choice for some of our clients.

You can also drive and there is a large carpark but do remember Japan’s strict alcohol driving laws. Unless you have a non drinker in your group we would strongly suggest the train so you can taste until your heart in content.

A self guided tour

Entry to the Yoichi distillery is free and you get to walk around see many of the historic buildings, many of which are still in use today to make Whiskey the old slow way.

If you are very lucky you may walk in as they are smoking the peat or running the coal fired copper pots. At the completion of the walk around there is free whiskey tasting where you can taste some of their entry level whiskies.

Pro tip: There is bar downstairs that sells the really good stuff by the glass. You do have to pay for this but it’s well worth forking out a few bucks to try some of Nikka’s 17 year and 21 year old aged offerings. Sadly these are becoming increasingly hard to purchase by the bottle.

Try and allow about 2 hours to experience the Nikka distillery and not feel rushed.