Situated on the JR Kyoto line between Osaka and Kyoto, the Suntory Yamazaki distillery is a popular destination for serious whiskey-philes and casual imbibers alike. Built at the foot of leafy, rolling hills a short walk from JR Yamazaki station, the distillery is a picture of tranquility in nature. It is in this idyllic setting that Suntory produce their award winning Yamazaki single malt whiskeys.
Having already visited the remote though outstanding Nikka Yoichi distillery on Hokkaido, I was excited to check out the very accessible Suntory operation. My tour started shortly after I arrived and was conducted entirely in Japanese, having virtually no grasp of the language I was supplied with an easy to use audio headset in English. The tour covered the entire whiskey production process with the highlight for me being the heady aroma of wood and spirit in the well stocked cellars. At the conclusion of the tour there was a short, free tasting session for the 10 and 12 year old Yamazaki single malts along with a few nibbles. There was also a well stocked bar where older expressions of the distillery (amongst others, including Macallan and Glenfiddich) can be purchased by the glass for a very reasonable fee. Finally be sure to make a quick stop at the gift-ware shop before leaving to pick up a set of the famous Japanese round ice cube makers for just 400 yen.
Free tours run every hour from 10am to 3pm weekdays and 10am to 12pm on weekends, except over the New Year holiday period. There is no need to book however there must be at least 2 visitors per tour. All tours are conducted in Japanese although audio guides in English are provided on request.
Words and photos by Chris Connor
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