White oak

A Tranquil Trip to Yamazaki Distillery

Posted by: Ted

1 Whisky Waffle Yamazaki Visit

If one distillery can be claimed as the home of the Japanese whisky scene, then Yamazaki Distillery is the natural heir to that crown. It was, after all, the first operating whisky distillery in Japan and progenitor of the thriving world-class industry that has blossomed in the 95 years since.

2a Whisky Waffle Yamazaki Visit

Founded in 1923 by Shinjiro Torii, the distillery is located in the town of Yamazaki, a sleepy place nestled halfway between Kyoto and Osaka. Once you alight at the station, the distillery is a short walk away through the quiet streets, passing by traditional houses and shrines.


From the outside, the distillery is not that much to look at, large drab brown buildings that blend in well with the surrounding forested hills but do not inspire any particular romantic notions. The old stills dotted around the leafy grounds are a nice touch though. The location is important however, as the distillery draws its water from the confluence of three local rivers, the Katsura, Uji and Kojo, the soft waters of which Yamazaki claims helps them make a refined spirit.

2 Whisky Waffle Yamazaki Visit

In comparison to the exterior, the inside of the visitors centre is a beautiful and interesting place to be, with timbered interiors, a cutaway still and washback, and shelving supporting row upon row of bottles with hand-typed labels containing various agings of spirit made by Yamazaki and other distilleries from around the world. There is also an interesting whisky walk with information about the distillery.

6 Whisky Waffle Yamazaki Visit

Guided tours can be booked online, with a standard and a slightly longer special tour available. If you want to do the special tour you need to book early (which we didn’t) as it only runs on weekends and has limited spots. The tours are conducted in Japanese, but an audio guide is available if, like us, your Japanese only extends to a few much-overused phrases.

7 Whisky Waffle Yamazaki Visit

The standard tour, conducted on our visit by the youthful Nishiwaki and assisted by the older Tanaka, guides guests through the history and production processes at Yamazaki, taking in the mash room, the still house and the bond stores. A delicious smell of whisky permeates the facility, changing in nature depending on your location. For example, the still room with its 12 stills (there are another four somewhere else too) smells of fresh apples and lemons, while the bond store is dark and rich with the years of aging spirit.

4 Whisky Waffle Yamazaki Visit

As we walked back from the bond store we passed by a torii gate, which Tanaka amiably commented to me was over 1000 years old, which makes the distillery’s only 95 years look rather pale in comparison, a reminder that the Japanese whisky industry is still only a relatively young thing in an ancient culture.


The tours conclude in the tasting room, an open, airy space where guests sit at wooden benches to be educated in the art of drinking Yamazaki. Four glasses of whisky were presented, a White Oak Cask, a Wine Cask and two glasses of the 12 Year Old, one for sampling and the other for doing as you pleased with (as part of the tasting you had the opportunity to make a whisky highball. I declined).

5 Whisky Waffle Yamazaki Visit

The White Oak Cask and Wine Cask were presented as examples of Yamazaki’s practice of crafting a base palate of different styles that are then married together to create a final release, such as the 12 Year Old. The distillery claims that this method allows them to create products that have a subtlety and nuance of flavour similar to a blended Scotch, but are comprised of whiskies that are made entirely on site at Yamazaki.

The two spirits were indeed quite different, with the light White Oak Cask evoking honey, lemon, green apple and rose on the nose, while the dark-gold Wine Cask gave notes of caramel, marshmallow, wine gums, oak, salt, red apple and apricot. On the palate the White Oak had leather, dark honey, polished oak, beeswax, malt and a sharp, herbal finish, while the Wine cask had a dark, rich, dry fruitiness, with red apples, brown pear, sour plum and salted caramel.

3 Whisky Waffle Yamazaki Visit

A small selection of nibblies are also provided with the tasting, my favourite being the smoked nuts, which are smoked over chips made from old barrels. There are a number of friendly attendants on hand to guide you through the tasting and make sure you know what’s what.

At the completion of the tasting you are led back to the visitor centre where you have the opportunity to visit the gift shop (which has a distinct lack of Japanese whisky apart from the Chita single grain) or indulge in some further tastings such as older bottlings or distillery exclusives (I may have lashed out on the 25 Year Old).

8 Whisky Waffle Yamazaki Visit

The atmosphere at Yamazaki was relaxed and Nishiwaki delivered a crisp and professional tour that was full of interesting and informative facts… at least I presume so seeing as I couldn’t understand a word of it. The audio guide was solid though and it was easy to keep up with the tour. If you want to get a grasp on the history and character of Japanese whisky, then Yamazaki is well worth your time to visit if you happen to be in the area.

9 Whisky Waffle Yamazaki Visit


White Oak Tokinoka

Reviewed by: Ted


Japanese whisky is meant to be the best thing since sliced sushi right? A freshly caught blue fin tuna at the fish market would blush at the prices commanded by even a basic Japanese dram (if it still had any blood left that is). So why the bloody hell isn’t this one any good?

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, as I have a history of being disappointed by releases from White Oak Distillery. On my previous tasting attempt I found the Akashi NAS to be a forgettable cup of blah, while the 12yo had this weird sulphuric, mineral hot-pool vibe going on.

Needless to say, I set my bar very low when it came to trying the Tokinoka and it met my expectations with aplomb… by which I mean it would be a definite contender for winning a limbo competition, if you get my drift.

The nose is distant and it takes a really good deep sniff to actually capture anything. The eventual effect is like a walk past an orchard in summer… if the orchard was on the side of a volcano. That weird sulphury thing from the 12yo makes an unwelcome return as well as a whiff of hot metal. The palate is actually quite spicy… for about two seconds, after which you are left with a vague oiliness. It’s not terribly satisfying and the finish hints of glycerol (which I’m sure is not in there, but that’s what it feels like).

Hard-core Japanese whisky otaku may as well give the Tokinoka a try for the lolz. Everyone else, just grab yourself a good cup of green tea, you’ll feel a lot better afterwards.

Tokinoka 2


White Oak Akashi + 12yo

Reviwed by: Ted

White Oak Akashi vs White Oak 12 Year Old

Akashi White Oak

Just a quick review hastily scribbled down at the bar about two whiskies out of Japan. Founded in 1888, White Oak Distillery is one of the lesser known distilleries outside of its home country, only selling to the local market until 1984. Apparently though, White Oak was the first distillery in Japan to gain an official license, pre-dating Suntory and Nikka, the two major players in the Japanese whisky scene.

White Oak releases are less common in Australia, particularly aged releases. Luckily the bar that I am currently at had the presence of mind to have not one, but two of them hiding on the top shelf, prompting this on-the-spot review. The two White Oak examples perched on the bar before me are the Akashi Non Age Statement (NAS) and the 12 Year Old.

I cannot provide much more background to the two bottles as all the information is (unsurprisingly) written in Japanese, but I can reveal that the Akashi is much lighter in colour than the 12yo, which has a nice amber tone. On the nose the Akashi is fairly insubstantial, with only a light sweetness coming through. In comparison the 12yo has a strange sulphuric tang. It’s almost smoky at first, but quickly turns chemical.

The chemical vibe continues on the palate, with a smoky sulphuric quality that tastes like the water could have been drawn from a mineral-rich hot volcanic pool on the side of a Japanese mountain. Against this the Akashi tastes lightly bitter/sweet, not venturing too far in either direction.

In conclusion, the Akashi, while pleasant, is a bit of a non-event, showing a rather bland personality. In complete contrast the 12yo is full of character, but unfortunately the sort of unpleasant character that you might meet down a dodgy alley on a dark night. While curious to try, the 12yo definitely won’t be to everyone’s tastes, and the Akashi certainly won’t turn any heads down the street. It seems that White Oak is more miss than hit, but whether it’s older releases can redeem it will have to wait for another day.

Akashi: ★

12 Year Old: ★★