The best part of the new remote distillery tours is the special box they send you for the whisky tasting.

Ever since the pandemic hit Japan last year, Suntory’s Yamazaki and Hakushu distilleries have been closed to the public. That means their popular distillery tours have also been put on hold, but thanks to the Internet, the tours have taken a new form, and are now being offered online.

This newfound opportunity to tour two of the world’s best distilleries from the comfort of your own home has proven to be so popular with the whisky-loving public that tickets have been continually selling out every time they become available.

Our Japanese-language reporter K. Masami, who’s visited the Yamazaki distillery twice in the past, was one of those whisky lovers looking to join the tour, and after months of trying to secure a ticket, she was finally able to book a place on the virtual tour to Hakushu,the distillery she’s yet to visit.

What makes these online tours so popular isn’t just the fact that you get to enjoy a virtual tour of the holy grounds where the spirit is made, but the fact that it comes with a whisky tasting at the end. Everything you need for the whisky tasting is sent to your door, packed in a beautiful box that includes a 180-milililitre bottle of whisky and a specially marked tasting glass.

▼ As Masami had chosen to “visit” the Hakushu distillery, she received the Hakushu tasting set.

▼ This image of Hakushu welcomed her immediately.

▼ And there was the beautiful tasting set.

The tasting box is delivered to participants’ homes shortly before the tour date, which is conducted online via Zoom. Once Masami’s tour time arrived and she sat down at her computer to join it, she felt a flutter of nervous excitement in her belly. She may not have been physically there at the facility itself, but the sense of anticipation at participating in the group event felt remarkably similar to being there.

As the tour started, Masami was introduced to the beautiful scenery surrounding the Hakushu Distillery, which is famous for being located in a mountainous area. A tour guide then began to speak, taking her through parts of the distillery in real-time and explaining the process involved in making the tipple she was about to drink.

The tour comes with a “question function” that allows participants to ask questions, as they would if they were physically there, and Masami was pleasantly surprised to see so many people actively chatting away in the chat section. People were able to share their impressions of the tour in a much freer way than they would if they were all together in real life, and the guide was able to pick up and comment on people’s remarks, which highlighted the fact that the tour was taking place in real-time.

After the tour, it was time to get down to the highly anticipated tasting, so Masami opened her box and poured some of the whisky into her glass…

And took out the sheet for jotting down tasting notes, which had been included in the box sent to her.

Following the instructions provided on how to best appreciate the whisky, she took a sip and felt the heat of the spirit hit her tongue as the liquid travelled smoothly down her throat. Despite having enjoyed Hakushu on multiple occasions, the online tour really made Masami appreciated the whisky in a whole new light. With her senses heightened, she was able to taste all the nuances of the drink in a way she never had before.

She jotted down her thoughts and impressions and then added the now-empty bottle of Hakushu to her mini bottle collection.

▼ Masami loves Hakushu…and collecting the mini bottles.

Once the tour and tasting had wrapped up, Masami was pleased to report that the experience truly exceeded all her expectations. She was surprised at how much fun it was, and gave us her top three reasons as to why it was so special.

  • You get to see the state of the distillery in real-time, so it feels as if you’re really there
  • You can enter places that are usually off-limits on a real tour
  • You get to feel close to the guide and the participants as you actively exchange thoughts and opinions

While the tasting sets are currently limited to people within Japan at the moment, there’s hopes that they may soon be available to people overseas as well. With 60-minute tours priced at 3,300 yen (US$30.31), which includes the whisky tasting set and delivery, this was a great experience that made Masami even more keen to visit the Suntory distillery in the mountains one day.

It also inspired her to pick up a full-size bottle of the Hakushu 12 Year, which made its triumphant return to stores last month, after nearly three years off the market due to skyrocketing global popularity.

Related: Suntory Tours
Photos © SoraNews24

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