The "Kardashian effect" that followed increased the domestic demand for Japanese Whisky as well as caused huge interest in distillery visits.
Yamazaki distillery tours that usually don’t need to be booked more than a few days ahead, are currently full three months in advance. So we decided to pay a visit to Hakushu, the more remote of the two Suntory distilleries.
It's probably also the distillery with the highest elevation in the world (700 m / 2300 ft above sea level), but definitely higher than all distilleries in Scotland that aren't more than around 350 m above sea level.
As soon as we exit the cab at the entrance to Hakushu distillery site, the signature Japanese hospitality steps in and we're directed to follow the walkway into the forest that will lead us to the guided tour's meeting point.
A few steps into the forest, the sweet smell of mash dominates the air - this is where the Whisky magic happens!
Started in 1973 as Suntory's second distillery (Yamazaki distillery was established in 1923), Hakushu produces Hakushu Single Malt Whisky as well as some of the Whiskies that are used in blending Hibiki expressions.
At Hakushu, they have a few different types of pot stills and double distill their Whisky. In combination with other factors that influence the final result, they are able to make a broad range of different Whiskies.
Before we enter the barrel house, we are advised to exit and wait outside should the smell make anyone feel bad.
The air in the state-of-the-art aging warehouse truly is filled with angels' share, we realize while listening to the explanation on maturing process at Hakushu and counting rows and rows of casks, stacked below and above us, about dozen levels in total.
We are offered Whisky served the preferred Japanese way: with the addition of ice and natural mineral water.
They prefer it with a significant addition of water or soda instead:
Half rock: twice up with a large chunk of ice
We still opted to taste a few more Whiskies neat and got ourselves a lovely Whisky line-up to wrap up the visit with: Hakushu 18YO, Hibiki 21YO, Yamazaki 18YO, and Yamazaki 25YO. Kanpai!
A quick visit to the gift shop and a plate of soba noodles later, we're on a train once again, watching the greenery of the Japanese forests pass by.