Yoichi is the last distillery in the world to have coal-fired stills. These used to be common but the penultimate one at Glendronach in Scotland transferred to steam heating in 2005
Country - Japan
tel +81 (0)135 23 3131
Tours of Yoichi Distillery are available by request only. Visitor centre and whisky museum open daily to public. Free entry.
How to pronouce Yoichi? yo-ee-chee
The Yoichi distillery is the only whisky distillery on the northern island of Hokkaido. The island is the same size in land area as Scotland, has the same population and is said to have the most similar climate than anywhere else in Japan. The distillery is located in the small fishing town of Yoichi, surrounded by mountains on three sides and the sea on the other. Yoichi is regarded as the most picturesque distillery in Japan and its proximity to the sea means that its whiskies gain a slightly salty character during maturation, making it the perfect accompaniment to sushi. Hokkaido is the only part of Japan to have a peat-like substance to burn under the malted barley, although most peat is still imported from Scotland. Another difference with this distillery than any other in Japan is their use of Japanese oak for maturation. This oak is called mizunara and is much more porous and susceptible to leaking than American or French oak. Therefore, they only partly mature the whisky in mizunara oak so that it imparts its unique flavours before transferring to a more traditional cask. While Yoichi whisky has always been popular in Japan, it gained worldwide recognition when a version of its 20 years old won the most prestigious prize of ‘Best Single Malt’ at the World Whisky Awards in 2008. This was the first time a Japanese whisky had won such an illustrious award and sparked the world’s current high interest in the product.
Yoichi was founded in 1934 by the legendary Japanese whisky figure, Masataka Taketsuru. He decided to leave the Suntory company and the Yamazaki distillery that he helped to establish, and build his own distillery. The site that he selected was on the northern island of Hokkaido and was his original choice as the site for Yamazaki. Taketsuru believed it the island had the closest environment that he could find to a Scottish one. He had visited Scotland and studied whisky making techniques before supervising the setting up of Yamazaki. The original name was the Hokkaido distillery and had a capacity of just 150,000 litres per year. Production began in 1936 with their first blended whisky released in 1940. Taketsuru’s Dainipponkaju Company was re-named as Nikka Whisky Distilling Co. Ltd in 1952. The first single malt from the distillery was released as the Hokkaido 12 years old, but not until 1984. Nikka became a subsidiary of the Asahi Brewery Company in 2001 and they re-named the distillery Yoichi. Asahi also took control of Nikka’s other distillery at Sendai and re-named it as Miyagikyo.