Akkeshi Distillery: Visit Report (May 2023)

Whisky Distillery
Whisky Distillery
Akkeshi Distillery

Introducing a report on the May 2023 visit to the Akkeshi Distillery, a whisky production facility in Akkeshi-cho, East Hokkaido, Japan, which has been producing whisky since 2016.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of Japanese whisky, and Japanese whisky is gaining momentum throughout Japan. In particular, in the last decade, perhaps due to the global popularity of Japanese whisky, the construction of small craft whisky distilleries has increased rapidly, and the number of whisky distilleries has exceeded 80 in Japan.

Among such craft whisky distilleries, there is one that started operations early (in 2016) and has become a distillery that is known not only for the high quality of its whisky, but also for its solid and honest distillery management. It can be said that it is the No. 1 distillery in the craft Japanese whisky category.

In May 2023, “BAR Shinkai”, the owner of this site, visited the distillery to see the latest situation of the Akkeshi distillery with our own eyes.

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From Tokyo to Akkeshi Distillery

We left Tokyo for the Akkeshi distillery on May 21, 2023.

We planned to arrive at the distillery at 1:00 p.m., so we gathered at Haneda Airport at 7:00 a.m. and headed for Akkeshi via Kushiro according to the following schedule.

  • 7:00 Gather at Haneda Airport
  • 7:40 Flight (Haneda Airport 7:40 → Kushiro Airport 9:20)
  • 10:00 Car rental pickup
  • 11:30 Lunch at Conchiglie
  • 13:00 Arrive at Akkeshi Distillery

You can take a JR train from Kushiro Airport to Akkeshi, but we recommend you to arrange a rental car so that you can move around freely from Kushiro to Akkeshi and within Akkeshi Town.

After transferring from Haneda Airport to Kushiro Airport, the group will board the rental car that has been arranged in advance and head for Akkeshi-cho. It takes about 1 hour from Kushiro Airport to Akkeshi-cho.

2. roadside station “Conchiglie

There are several spots that you must visit when you visit Akkeshi-cho.
One of them is “Michi no Eki Akkeshi Gourmet Park  Terminal Konkirie “.

https://www.conchiglie.net/

Konkirie is a roadside station with an observatory from which you can view the entire town, a restaurant and café where you can enjoy Akkeshi whisky and oysters from Akkeshi, and a souvenir store where you can buy goods from the Akkeshi Distillery.

Unfortunately, it is not possible to purchase bottles of Akkeshi whisky at Conchiglie. If your timing is good, you can apply for the lottery for the next release of the Nijushisekki series. (However, if you win the lottery, you will need to come back to the Conchiglie to receive your bottle.)

Before visiting the distillery, we first had to eat.
We went to “Oyster Bar Pitrescu” on the 2nd floor of Konkilier and tucked into oysters from Akkeshi.
Not only raw oysters from Akkeshi, but also many other menu items using oysters from Akkeshi are prepared.

Furthermore, here you can also drink hard-to-find Akkeshi whisky at very affordable prices.
Although the 24 Season Series was not available in all its varieties, some of the more recently released products were available for order.

You can also order “Akkeshi-Blended whisky: Oyster Lullaby,” which is an Akkeshi-cho exclusive whisky. This is a very rare whisky that is only distributed to restaurants in Akkeshi-cho, so you should definitely drink it when you visit the town.

After the meal, you can enjoy “Akkeshi-whisky soft”, which is soft ice cream with a drop of Akkeshi-whisky at “Oyster Cafe” on the first floor for 500 yen.

At the store on the first floor, official goods of the Akkeshi Distillery, such as coasters and key chains, are available.

3. arrival at Akkeshi Distillery

After finishing the meal at Conchiglie, the group headed for their destination, the Akkeshi Distillery. It takes about 6 minutes by car from Conchiglie to the distillery, but there are no specific directions around the distillery, so we drove carefully with Google Maps.

3-1. distillery facilities

Akkeshi Distillery is the first whisky distillery in Japan to be certified under HACCP (Hygiene, Accident, and Critical Control Points), which means that the distillery is held to a very high standard of hygiene. Unfortunately, the general public is not allowed to enter the distillery on the tour, but can only see the facilities through a glass window.

The distillery’s website has a virtual tour that allows you to experience the atmosphere of the distillery through a 360° virtual tour, so please visit here.

https://my.matterport.com/show/?m=mKBGFQy43P1″]

1) Malt milling

At the Akkeshi Distillery, 1 ton of barley is used per brewing process.

(2) Saccharification (mashing)

The milled malt is mixed with hot water and sugared while stirring with a rake (stirrer) so as not to break the barley layer.

Fermentation

Six fermentation tanks (washback) are used. Yeast is added and fermented in stainless steel fermentation tanks for 5 days.

4) Distillation

There are two distillers (pot stills). The first distillation (wash still) is 5,000 liters, and the second distillation (spirit still) is 3,600 liters.

The pot stills are made by Forsyth in Scotland and are straight-headed onion-shaped, similar to those of some distilleries on Islay.

On the fifth day, the mash is distilled in the first distiller and about 23% alcohol is extracted (low wine).
The low wine from the first distillation is mixed with the feints from the previous day’s redistillation to obtain approximately 69% alcohol (spirits).
The remaining portion is used as feints for the next day’s redistillation.

5) Storage and aging

There are both dunnage-type and rack-type storage facilities, and currently up to the fifth maturing cellar is available. 3-2.

3-2. maturing environment

At the Akkeshi Distillery, as in the whisky making process on Islay, water through peat layers is used as the brewing water, and the distillate is matured daily in a cool, humid, and sea-breezed environment.

In Akkeshi, a natural phenomenon called “sea fog” occurs, and it is said that the fog, which covers the area with the scent of the sea, gives the barrels in the aging room, which do not face the sea, the scent of the sea and the rocky shore. The scent of sea mist is said to be strongest in July and August, when kelp fishing is at its peak.

3-3. thoughts on whisky making

The staff at the Akkeshi distillery all started with no experience in distilling, so they follow the textbooks and follow the rules thoroughly, and they believe in raising the quality of the original whisky by improving the quality of the processes in which human hands are involved.

The distillery also aims to produce “All Hokkaido whisky” and “All Akkeshi whisky” using local barley, local peat, and Mizunara oak barrels made from local Mizunara oak.

Mr. Katsuyuki Tatsuzaki, the director of the Akkeshi Distillery, has a message on the official website that expresses his thoughts and attitude toward whisky making at the distillery.

The most difficult part of making whisky is actually to make it properly.
That’s more than 150 weeks. One week is less than 1% of the time. We make no compromises at all in the production process to ensure that each and every week is a perfect one. We strictly manage all procedures and records, and make whisky like a straight line. This is a daily attitude that we value as engineers.

(Quote: Blender’s Attention Blender’s Attention [Akkeshi Distillery] )

Every day, without allowing any compromise, we strictly manage our procedures and records to produce blister-free whisky. These words may sound obvious at first glance, but continuing to do such obvious things may actually be the most difficult thing to do.

The most difficult thing to do is to keep doing the same thing day in and day out with sincerity. This may be what supports the high quality whisky production at the Akkeshi Distillery.

During this visit, I was able to catch a glimpse of how Director Tachizaki’s approach to whisky making is being firmly spread by the younger employees. The growth of young whisky makers makes us expect more development of Akkeshi Distillery in the future.

4. stay at Hotel Gomi

After the distillery tour, we moved to Hotel Gomi where we stayed for the night.

There are several lodging facilities in Akkeshi-cho, but the only lodging facility that visitors to the distillery should book is ” Hotel Gomi”.

https://travel.rakuten.co.jp/HOTEL/4800/4800.html”]

Hotel Gomi is located in front of JR Akkeshi Station, where you can enjoy seafood from Akkeshi for dinner. A total of 10 dishes, including 5 oyster dishes and 5 seafood dishes from Akkeshi other than oysters. Seasonal grilled fish is also exquisite.

If you just want to enjoy seafood from Akkeshi, it may not be that different from other accommodation facilities, but Hotel Gomi has an even bigger attraction.

As you can see from this picture, we have a wide selection of whisky from Akkeshi.

Not only the Twenty-Four Season series, but also other private and limited edition bottles, and many other bottles that will please connoisseurs.

But not only that, they also have a large selection of rare whiskies from Japan and other countries besides those from the Akkeshi distillery, which you can enjoy at the restaurant in Hotel Gomi to your heart’s content.

5.

How to make a reservation for a visit to the Akkeshi Distillery

There are two ways to visit Akkeshi distillery.

5-1. tour of Conchiglie

The roadside station “Conchiglie” introduced earlier offers a tour of the Akkeshi Distillery.

The contents are as follows, and the fee is 4,000 yen per person.

  • Guided tour of the grounds of the Akkeshi Distillery
  • Tasting of Akkeshi whisky at “Oyster Bar” in Konkiriye (one of 24 types, Oyster Lullaby)
  • Present of wooden key ring with logo of Akkeshi Distillery

https://www.conchiglie.net/tour/tour6″]

5-2. tour of Hotel Gomi

Actually, Hotel Gomi also offers a tour of the Akkeshi Distillery. However, it is limited to hotel guests only.

The manager of Hotel Gomi, who has a close relationship with the Akkeshi distillery, will give you a guided tour of the distillery. You may be able to hear interesting information about the distillery that you cannot usually hear (?).

For details, please contact Hotel Gomi directly.

Hotel Gomi
TEL: 0153-52-3101

https://www.akkeshi-town.jp/kanko/shukuhaku/gomi/

6. Akkeshi-cho, a town with a wealth of attractions

Many people know that Akkeshi-cho, located in the east of Hokkaido, is famous for oysters, but there are many other attractions in the town besides oysters.

This time, due to time constraints, we were only able to see Bekanbeushi Marshland and the Akkeshi-Ohashi Bridge, but we will introduce some of them including them.

6-1. Bekanbeushi Marsh

Lake Akkeshi and Bekanbeushi Marsh was recognized as a registered wetland under the Ramsar Convention in 1993, and it has rapidly attracted attention.
The Bekanbeushi Marsh is also highly regarded academically, with the Ohoro, Obetsu, Bekanbeushi, and Chiraikaribetsu Rivers flowing through it like blood vessels, and red-crowned cranes nesting there. Nearby is the Waterfowl Observation Center, where visitors can watch seasonal birds and red-crowned cranes raising their young on a screen in real time as they fly to Lake Akkeshi and the marshlands.

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6-2. the Akkeshi Bridge and Oyster Island

The Akkeshi Ohashi Bridge opened in September 1972 as the first marine bridge in Hokkaido. Before the construction of the Akkeshi Ohashi Bridge, transportation was provided by the Japan Highway Public Corporation’s ferryboat “Akkeshimaru,” and before that, people and other vehicles were transported by town-operated ferryboats.

On Lake Akkeshi, there is an oyster island (officially Bentenjima) and a small Benten shrine. Although the date of the shrine’s founding is not certain, it is recorded in the Kansei 3 (1791) record, and there is also a record that a festival was held there in 1820.

(Image exhibit: Akkeshi-ohashi Bridge and Oyster Island | Ten Sightseeing Sceneries | For Visitors | Akkeshi-cho, Hokkaido )

6-3. Cape Aikappu Misaki, a place of love and romance

The original name means “ai-kappu” (the top of an arrow) in the Ainu language, and also means “impossible or unreachable” because of the unreachability of the arrow.

The view of Daikoku Island, Kojima, and the ChikushiKoi Coast below is a magnificent sight.

In 1992, the “Bell Arch of Love Bell” was completed at Cape Aikappu, and is popular among visitors as a bell to make their wishes come true.
The path to the cape is surrounded by trees and can be enjoyed as a forest bath.

6-5. whale watching in Shiretoko Rausu

Although it takes about two hours from Akkeshi, the manager of the Hotel Gomi, who also gave a stamp of approval, recommended whale watching in Shiretoko Rausu, saying, “If you have the time, you should definitely go.

The fee is 8,800 yen, but be sure to experience the excitement of dolphins and whales that appear close to the sightseeing boats running in the Shiretoko Sea.

http://rausu-cruise.com/wp/

https://www.e-shiretoko.com/

6-4. Kushiro Marshland

On the way back from Akkeshi, take a little detour to Kushiro Marshland National Park.

Kushiro Shitsugen National Park is the largest national park in Japan consisting of peat grassland wetlands. The park is a valuable habitat for a variety of plants and animals, including the red-crowned crane, a special natural treasure. It is a registered wetland under the Ramsar Convention, and almost the entire area, including the wetland area, is currently designated as a national park.

(Image exhibit: Kushiro Marshlands National Park|Sights|HOKKAIDO LOVE!

There are a number of observatories in the national park, so be sure to visit them to admire the magnificent scenery.

7. Lastly

Akkeshi Distillery and Akkeshi Whisky have continued to produce high quality whisky with sincerity and diligence since its operation, and the result is highly regarded as a rare whisky that is difficult to obtain even today.

Furthermore, the beauty of Akkeshi is not only the whisky, but also the abundance of fresh seafood such as oysters, and the many sightseeing spots in the surrounding area created by the great nature. I think there are only a few whisky distilleries in Japan that offer so many attractions.

I have visited Akkeshi distillery three times in the past. At first, my purpose was only to see the distillery and taste the whisky, but as I visited more and more times, I became more and more interested in the “surroundings” of the distillery such as the natural environment surrounding the distillery, tourist spots, Hotel Gomi, local fishermen, lumber companies, and so on. I also became interested in the “surroundings” of the distillery.

The magnificent nature and natural environment are wonderful, and Hotel Gomi’s hospitality and whisky selection are outstanding. And the fresh seafood in Akkeshi is exquisite.

If you are tempted to visit Akkeshi after reading this article, please enjoy not only the Akkeshi distillery but also the many attractions in the surrounding area. I am sure that your love for Akkeshi Distillery will deepen even more.

この記事を書いた人
Ryuhei Oishi

Bartender at bar Shinkai Toranomon, born in Hokkaido.
After working at a restaurant in Tokyo, became a certified sommelier by the Japan Sommelier Association.
I became interested in Japanese whiskey, of which he had little knowledge, and started working at bar Shinkai. I went to distilleries to talk to the distillers and joined JWD to share their passion and information as a bartender.

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