Nikka Whisky, one of Japan's top whisky makers, has its main distillery in Yoichi (余市蒸溜所, Yoichi Jōryūsho), the neighboring town of Otaru. The company was founded by Taketsuru Masataka, known as the father of Japanese whisky, who studied whisky making techniques for several years in Scotland before bringing the trade to Japan. He was instrumental in establishing the country's first whisky distillery, the Yamazaki Distillery near Kyoto, before he set out on his own to start Nikka Whisky here in Hokkaido.
The Yoichi Distillery was built in 1934, on a site chosen for its clear water, brisk air and rich peat. Taketsuru believed that the conditions in Yoichi best resembled those found in Scotland and would be perfect for recreating Scotch whisky. The traditional distillation process that he brought over is largely unchanged today. Nikka whiskies have been recognized to rank among the world's best single malt whiskies and have won numerous awards.
The Yoichi Distillery maintains many of its original stone buildings which visitors are welcome to view. A self-guided walking tour of the grounds takes about an hour and follows the whisky making process from start to finish. Visitors can learn about the different steps taken to produce whisky from English information displays and audio guides. Some of the equipment along the tour, such as the large copper distillation tanks, is still used today. Guided tours are also available but are only provided in Japanese.
Toward the end of the tour is a museum which focuses on the history of the company and the life of its founder. Several interesting displays include photographs and household items of Taketsuru and his Scottish wife, whom he met in Scotland and who moved to Hokkaido with him to help found his business. The tour ends at a tasting room where visitors can sample various Nikka whiskies. There is also a restaurant and a gift shop.
The Nikka Whisky Distillery is located just a few steps west of Yoichi Station on the JR Hakodate Line. Yoichi Station can be reached in about 25 minutes by local trains from Otaru (360 yen, hourly departures) or in about one hour from Sapporo (1070 yen, requires a transfer at Otaru).