Bacchus’s Trip in Tohoku “Seeking the Alcohol You Can’t Drink Anywhere but Here”

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Written by  Yuge Takahisa

The trip to Tohoku’s gateway station, Sendai Station, takes about 90 minutes on the Shinkansen from Tokyo. If you walk a bit past Sendai’s main city area, you can find many delicious varieties of alcohol born from the rich nature of Tohoku.
This time, I took a trip to both a distillery where you can sample whiskey for free and Miyagi Prefecture’s one and only winery.

Miyagikyo Nikka Whiskey Distillery

The guides will show you around for free!
The guides will show you around for free!

Introduction to the Facility

The Miyagikyo Distillery opened in 1966. It was built by Masataka Takesuru, known from the NHK television drama “Massan.” The Miyagikyo Distillery is Nikka Whiskey’s second distillery, after the Yoichi Distillery in Hokkaido.

The distillery is 25 kilometers to the west of Sendai City. It is settled in a lush green valley between the Hirose River and Nikkawa River. When the owner of Nikka, Takesuru, first came to the Nikkawa River, he drank of the “Black Nikka” whiskey he had brought along as he confirmed his inspiration; it said that he decided there and then to construct a distillery at that location.

Despite being nestled in the chilly mountains of the Tohoku Region, the average temperature around the distillery throughout the year is about 2 ℃, and the clear weather both keeps the storage barrels from drying out and seals in a rich aroma. The distillery uses water from the pure Nikkawa river, which flows through the Zao mountain range, to make its whiskey. Even when compared to all other distilleries in Japan, the Miyagikyo Distillery uses water with low hardness (published values). As this water contains almost no components that could hinder production, it is an ideal location for making whiskey.

Visitors to the Miyagikyo Distillery can explore the distillery and sample its whiskey for free. The distillery gets around 320,000 visitors annually, and it seems that, out of that figure, the number of Taiwanese tourists is on the upswing. Larger groups who wish to visit need to make a reservation, but groups of under 10 can visit without needing to reserve a space.

The color changes with the age of whiskey.
The color changes with the age of whiskey.

The facility’s guides explain the process of making whiskey in an easy-to-understand way. As part of the tour, you can see aging whiskey within different barrels. Depending on the year, the color of the whiskey changes.

Tasting Corner

Finally, after the tour it’s time for the tasting! At the tasting corner, visitors can taste one cup each of three varieties of whiskey at no cost. First up, I drank straight “Super Nikka,” which was made here in this facility. It had a strong and clear whiskey flavor. Next up I tried a highball mixed with carbonated water. The guide taught me how to properly enjoy a delicious highball, so I tried drinking it that way.

Tasting Corner
Tasting Corner

Here you can try whiskey in any of four ways: straight, water-diluted, on the rocks, and highball.

You can also sample apple wine in addition to whiskey.
You can also sample apple wine in addition to whiskey.

The delicious way to enjoy a highball I was taught goes “1, 2, 3.” For every 1 part whiskey, add 2 pieces of ice, and dilute with 3 parts carbonated water. I found this balance really delicious, so be sure to try it yourself!

Shop

The distillery’s shop also deserves a special mention, as it sells whiskey that you can’t buy anywhere else. You can also taste different whiskeys here and buy those that are your favorites (tasting fee required).
The whiskey here also makes great souvenirs!

Whiskey made here in the distillery.
Whiskey made here in the distillery.
Miyagikyo Distillery exclusives. Rare whiskey that you can only buy here!
Miyagikyo Distillery exclusives. Rare whiskey that you can only buy here!

Be sure to check for the latest updates on the distillery’s hours and facility access via its homepage.

Miyagikyo Nikka Whiskey Distillery

Address
1 Nikka, Aoba, Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture
URL(English)
http://www.nikka.com/eng/

Sendai Akiu Winery

Moving on, next I visited Akiu Winery, the only winery in Miyagi Prefecture.
The Akiu Winery is a new facility that just opened in 2015.

As it is a newly established winery, its grapevines are still fairly small. The facility has a café, so you can easily enjoy lunch or dinner here. They also sell wine glasses, dishes, and snacks that pair well with wine.

Akiu Winery – Attached Restaurant
Akiu Winery – Attached Restaurant

Miyagi Prefecture’s Wine and Food

I asked the owner about the winery’s history. The owner is a former architect.
“After the great earthquake of 3/11, I thought hard about what I could contribute with this land. I decided to do something for the area, and the result was the start of this winery.
I started with a desire to pair wine made from local-grown grapes with food made from locally-sourced ingredients, creating a marriage between well-matched food and wine both made in Miyagi Prefecture,” said the owner.
“We grow 12 varieties of grapes here. I’d love for you to enjoy a marriage between our wine and food.”

Stylish dishes and trinkets are sold as well.
Stylish dishes and trinkets are sold as well.

I could truly feel the owner’s passion. As for the wine tasting, the cider made with apples from Miyagi Prefecture was very refreshing and went down easily. I recommend their rose wine. It was very smooth with a pleasant flavor.

The owner explained their wine.
The owner explained their wine.
From left to right: white, red, rose, and cider.
From left to right: white, red, rose, and cider.
Cheers! I had a fun time.
Cheers! I had a fun time.
These stylish bottles are patterned after a map of Miyagi Prefecture.
These stylish bottles are patterned after a map of Miyagi Prefecture.

Please see the following URL for more details.

Sendai Akiu Winery

Address
6 Nishi Biwahara, Yumoto, Akiu-cho, Taihaku-ku, Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture
URL(Japanese)
http://akiuwinery.co.jp/#vision

I introduced two facilities this time around, but there are many more Japanese breweries than just these.

The Tohoku Region has delicious water thanks to its abundant nature. Good-quality water is essential for creating delicious alcohol, and I would love if you visited the Tohoku Region to taste these carefully crafted drinks!