Kampai! Tasting whisky and a guided tour of Suntory Yamazaki Distillery

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If you still think that traveling around the Japan will cost you an arm, a leg and a kidney, then you’re not looking hard enough. There are free tours available in the country, most of which will give you a taste of Japanese culture–which can be in a glass of whisky.

Located in the outskirts of Kyoto, the Suntory Yamazaki Distillery holds guided tours within their facilities without charge. The tour provides an hour-long look into the process by which the “best whisky in the world” is distilled.

Whisky Library

While you wait for your scheduled tour to start, you can look around the Yamazaki Whisky Library

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The tour is conducted in Japanese, but there are audio guides in English, Chinese, and French as you walk through different parts of the distillery–from the mash house and fermentation room, to the distillation room, and finally to the aging warehouse where the whisky in the casks “breathes and slumbers through the cycles of four seasons.” The maturation takes 10 to 20 years. It’s a painstaking process that has produced the world-renowned whisky, all thanks to its founder Shinjiro Torii who began building the distillery in 1923 in Yamazaki for its soft, natural spring water and damp climate.

The Still Room

Still House

Warehouse

The Warehouse

At the end of the tour, the mostly Japanese group was led to a dining hall where different single malt whiskies were ready for tasting. I’m not much of a whisky drinker and my husband made reservations to the tour more out of curiosity (and the free whisky in the end), but I think he was also looking forward to repeating the line of comedy great Bill Murray: “For relaxing times, make it Suntory time.”

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The heavyweights

The heavyweights ready to knock some of us out

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The natural spring water Yamazaki whisky uses

After the tour and the sampling, head off to The Barrel, the Yamazaki Factory Shop

After the tour and the tasting, you can head off to The Barrel, the Yamazaki Factory Shop

To know more about the tour, visit the Suntory website. Tours are usually held daily unless there is a scheduled plant maintenance. Reservations are necessary and accepted up to the day before the tour. Reserve your place on a tour by calling +81-75-962-1423. It’s a Japanese number and we only had our hotel in Osaka make the reservations for us a few days before the tour date.

How to get to Suntory Yamazaki Distillery: Click here for the map.  From Osaka: (1) JR Osaka Station to JR Yamazaki Station (of JR Kyoto Line), about 25 minutes; (2) Hankyu Umeda Station to Hankyu Oyamazaki Station, about 40 minutes. From Kyoto: JR Kyoto Station to JR Yamazaki Station (about 15 minutes)

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Torisei (left door), Yamamoto Honke sake shop (center), and the sake brewery is right next door

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About another free tour: There must be something in the water of Kyoto. The ancient capital of Japan is home to many sake breweries and we also took a free guided tour of the Yamamoto Honke Sake Brewery, which is located a few train stops away from Fushimi Inari Shrine. I wrote about it for in-flight magazine, Smile (link here). After the tour (yes, there was free sake sampling, too), have dinner in its restaurant, Torisei, which has some of the best chicken skewers you’ll get to taste. Just be ready for the long line of locals.

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9 thoughts on “Kampai! Tasting whisky and a guided tour of Suntory Yamazaki Distillery

  1. Great photos. The brewery and the surrounding streets look nice and relaxed. I can picture myself savouring a whisky there (no more than one since I’m light-weight when it comes to drinks). There’s an interesting story connected the brewery.

    • Hi Jason! Thanks for the link, didn’t know that story on Japan’s whisky industry. 🙂 Btw, finally got to watch The Guest last night–it was like an 80s thriller (esp the soundtrack) I kept thinking Cindy Lauper or Freddy Krueger was going to appear in the last scene with the maze/smoke in the gym. I enjoyed the movie (loved Dan Steven’s acting…made me forget his role in Downton Abbey) but the ending with the daughter Anna going “What the f*ck?!” yes, my thoughts exactly!

      • Dan Steven’s acting was really good. It made me forget about Downton Abbey as well (not that I watch it…) I loved that ending as well! It’s so perfect, isn’t it. Everybody in the cinema burst into laughter at the moment.

      • My mother does so I have seen glimpses of it but I’m too into anime to give Western television too much time. The only show about English aristocrats I watch is JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure:

        😉

  2. Hi.

    I’m a student and planning to travel to Japan this coming spring. Friendship Tours sent me a list of requirements as a student applying for a Japanese visa. I already got all the necessary requirements:
    passport
    NSO birth certificate
    visa application form
    2×2 photo
    guarantee letter and affidavit of support from my brother
    ITR and bank certificate of my brother
    itinerary

    I am just worried that I planned not to purchase my roundtrip ticket yet. I just want to at least make sure that I have the visa before booking that airfare. Is it okay to just indicate in the visa application form the airline that I am planning to take going to Japan? I am really worried like most of my friends booked their tickets before applying and said that they attached their airfare tickets to their application. PS this is my first time to travel in a country with visa but I was able to to take trips in Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Singapore.

    I hope you can help me ease this feeling on my visa application.
    Thank you and God bless you.

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