Of Cherry Blossoms & Whisky: Hakushu Distillery

In the lap of the picturesque rolling hills of Chubu, Japan lies the patchwork city of Hakuto. The city is home to Suntory’s beautiful Hakushu Distillery, named after the eponymous township that makes up the modern day Hakuto. Established in 1973, Hakushu Distillery was later expanded to the nearby region of Hakushu East, with their distillation units clustered in this region.

Hakushu’s distillery is a traveller’s dream come true. Perched at the foot of the purple Mount Kakioma, nestled in the lush green forests of Southern Japanese Alps lies the wooden abode of Suntory’s award-winning whiskies. A two and half hour train ride from the city of Tokyo takes you to the distillery. The way to the distillery is lined with willowy pines and swooping clusters of soft, white clouds greet you as you walk up to the looming wooden gates housing ‘the forest distillery’. Built in one of the lushest alpine forests of Japan, Hakushu is perched at 700 metres above sea level, making it one of the highest located distilleries of the world. The distillery’s most famous brew, Hakushu Whiskey bears a stamp of the forests surrounding it, with a remarkably minty aftertaste, unlike most other Suntory whiskies. Whisky connoisseurs can pick up a bottle of Hakushu at The Barrel, which sells tiny bottles of the whiskey which can be taken home as souvenirs.  It also sells larger bottles, for those who want to carry a piece of the forest distillery back with them to their hometowns.

The distillery offers a free tour, although you may need to pre-book because of its popularity. A typical Hakushu tour includes a walk through whisky mashing, fermentation, and distillation, and bottling process. Take a solitary walk down the leaf strewn woody paths, for you may chance upon indigenous birds hobnobbing about the sanctuary. Bird-watching is as much a part of a trip to Hakushu as is the distillery tour. You may also step away from the guided tour session, and discover the Douglas fir washbanks, saunter about the gigantic pot stills, or just visit the old barrel house all by yourself, for when you’re in Hakushu, there’s a lot to do. The distillery has a unique non-temperature controlled barrel house, unlike any other old and famous distillery around the world. As you scan the barrel house, all that meets the eye are stacks after stacks of barrel, 12 rows high. Could there be a more magnificent sight for a whisky lover? In all probability, no!

Apart from visiting the distillery, you also want to check out the Suntory Whiskey museum for a crash course on the journey of Japanese whisky. If you’re more of a nature lover than a history geek, visit the Siesen-ryo. Located 1380 metres above the sea level, Siesen-ryo offers an unobstructed view of the splendid Yatsugatake Mountain. The site was used by Dr Paul Rush for providing Christian training to the locals. Indulge the hidden gourmet in you by digging into a local unagi (eel) eatery that goes by the name of Itutuya. Hakurto may be a city put together at the last minute by one town too many, but with Hakushu Distillery reigning in its heart, makes for a unique whisky destination that doubles up as beautiful sojourn for the traveller in you.