Yoichi Distillery. Hokkaido's bold, peaty malt made by the sea.
Yoichi. This is Masataka Taketsuru’s first venture out on his own. He left Suntory knowing exactly where he wanted to build his first distillery. It would be on the shores of the Yoichi Bay where they have cold winters, a significant amount of snow and as much clean water as they wanted. If you look at a map and you see where Yoichi, Hokkaido is, you can see how close you are getting to Russia- it’s cold. Yoichi is a small village about 3 hours away by bus from Sapporo. I have added a picture below of the windy, coast hugging bus ride I took. They describe Yoichi as having a harsh and rich nature and as I mentioned for Miyagikyo, Taketsuru truly believed that nature was the cradle of whisky. This area of Hokkaido reminded Masataka of the Scottish Highland distilleries on the coast. The distillery officially began production in 1934.
I’ll be honest, this was probably the most difficult distillery to navigate with no English help. The contacts I had been put in touch with were very helpful over email, but no one was actually on site. They did arrange for a nice lunch before the tour and then beyond that I was able to explore by myself. This also means I was told not to enter certain places I was trying to get in to. This includes the kiln and malting floor. I will be able to go in to some technical points and then can share my awesome tasting note for the awesome Yoichi 15 Year Old Single Malt.
They are buying most of their malt from maltsters and bringing it in for production. Yoichi’s characteristic and flavor profile is supposed to be much heavier than Miyagikyo. The production process to make the Yoichi single malt is focused on being bold with peat, smoke and some sea notes from it's coastal location. This meaning that the barley is slightly peated and the shape and coal fired pot stills are a very particular shape. You can see the pot stills are shaped very similar to Longmorn. Taketsuru actually worked in Scotland at Longmorn and wanted to bring this style of distillation to his first distillery. To this day the stills are coal fired to help give the heavy, burnt flavors you will find in the single malt. All of their warehouses are dunnage style. Yoichi also plays an essential role for Nikka’s blends. Especially Pure Malt, which you can find on shelves in the States now.
I have already listed my Pure Malt tasting note in the Miyagikyo story, but after checking my notes, the flavors I was getting at Miyagikyo were very similar to my notes at Yoichi. This was interesting to see. Here is my tasting note for Yoichi 15 Year Old Single Malt. It is aged in a combination of barrels, but clearly has sherry influence on it. Highland Park fans would adore this sherry, smoke situation. Nikka Yoichi 15 year old won a gold medal at the 2009 and 2010 International Spirits Challenge.
Nikka Yoichi Single Malt 15 Year Old – 45% ABV
Holly’s Tasting Note..
Nose: Sherry, nuts, cashews, toffee.
Palate: Dried cranberries, old oranges, spice, oak pepper, slight peat, but sherry takes over.
What’s great about Nikka’s two distilleries are the extreme difference of flavor profiles. Miyagikyo being bright and fruity and Yoichi coming in with a smoke and peat flavor. There is no doubt that any of the Yoichi single malts are going to be worth your time trying, but unfortunately in the states they are very hard to come by. Even the non-age statements. If you get a chance to try one, do it!