Sunday, September 26, 2010

Suntory Hakushu Distillery

Short note: I can feel that autumn is here. They say there are four seasons in a year but believe it or not, this is the forth season I have gone through this month! Winter and spring in Christchurch early this month, and summer followed by autumn in Chiba after I got back to Japan.

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Suntory Hakushu Distillery (サントリー白州蒸溜所) in Yamanashi prefecture.

There was a lawatan-sambil-belajar (visit-while-learning) trip organised for the international students in my university recently. It was organised by the Keyaki Club and the International Education Centre of Chiba University and this event is held twice a year - during the summer and spring break.

It would be another week to go before school reopens, so I took the opportunity to join this one-day trip.

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We were given a large blue envelope, containing pamphlets on the places we gonna visit on that day.

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They were kind enough to give each students a packet of souvenir that had a bottle of tea and some snacks.

We were supposed to gather in front of the International Education Centre by eight in the morning, but there were several late-comers, as usual. I overheard a Japanese uncle behind me telling his friend, "Shouldn't be a Japanese(refering to the late-comer), I guess?" That's how Japanese normally view foreigners - species who will never be punctual. 

In the end, it turned out that the late-comers were Japanese.

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Went across Tokyo Bay through the Rainbow Bridge in Odaiba.

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I've been to Odaiba a few times, but this is the first time I go pass the bridge not using the train, but the road.

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Tokyo Tower was spotted among the high rise buildings in Tokyo metropolitan.

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The scenery turned different once we got out of Tokyo.

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No prize for guessing what's this.

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Eejanaika, a steel 4-dimension roller coaster at Fuji-Q Highland.

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Fujiyama, which used to be the world's tallest roller coaster at 79 meters. 

There were approximately thirty students who joined the trip and of that total, two were from Taiwan, one each from Bangladesh, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. The rest of them were from China. The atmosphere in the bus made me feel like I was traveling in Beijing haha! 

Besides the international students, we were also joined by several ah pek and ah mah. They are members of Keyaki Club, comprising local people living around Chiba area who volunteer to help out in activities concerning the international students. 

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Fuji Visitor Centre was the first stop we made to have our lunch.

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Notice those uncles in green caps? We were told to look for them in case we got lost haha!

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Mount Fuji straddles in the boundary of Shizuoka and Yamanashi prefecture.

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No more snow-caps at the peak of Mount Fuji as it is the end of summer already.

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Origami made by kids which resemble the shape of Mount Fuji.

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西湖 is read as Saiko. Better avoid that lake or you may turn a psycho after visiting it haha!

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Mount Fuji stands at 3776 meters tall. How about Mount Kinabalu?

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One of the section about the relationship the mountain has with nature.

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Mount Fuji is located at a very unique geographical point, which is rare in the world. This volcano is situated nearly in the geographic middle of the Japanese islands. The Eurasian plate, North American plate, Pacific plate and Philippine plate all meet at one point under Mount Fuji.

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Several climbing trails to reach the peak.

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Thirty different types of faces of Mount Fuji.

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One of the pre-cautions to be taken in climbing Mount Fuji.

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Our group picture taken with Mount Fuji in the background.

Our journey continued by heading to the main location of this trip - Suntory Hakushu Distillery. Suntory is a Japanese brewing and distilling company group. Established in 1899, it is one of the oldest companies in the distribution of alcoholic beverages in Japan. The factory in Hakusho specialises in producing whisky.

The journey took us another hour or so before we finally reach the factory. The road leading to the factory was a narrow one, and it was covered with green bush along the way. It was not too bad when you get to see beautiful and relaxing scenery along the journey.

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"I-am-sorry" sign to tell the road users that the road was undergoing some construction and they would like to apologise for the inconveniences.

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I just love the combination of colours in this picture. Considering the fact that it was taken from a moving bus makes it an even better shot.

Just before we reached the Suntory factory, one of the uncles who joined us used to be a staff there and he gave us some introduction about the factory. However, before he started talking about the history and stuff, he began by introducing himself - in Mandarin. 

Well, I gotta be honest that his pronunciation was million light years from being accurate, nevertheless he had tried his best and at least a half-banana like me managed to understand some parts of it haha! 

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Finally, we arrived at our destination.

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A map of the "whisky forest".

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Open space for visitors to chill and relax.

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Suntory Museum of Whisky.

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The lady in light blue was our guide for the day.

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And off we go to be shown the process of making whisky.

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She explained to us the raw material used in producing whisky.

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The difference between the method in producing whisky and beer and shōchū.

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I learned something new; whisky is made of barley.

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Step #2 - Mashing. The grist of malt is mixed with the hot mother water and the fermentation process converts the starch into sugar. This is then filtered to give a rich, sweet wort. Sugar content is approximately 14%.

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Step #3 - Fermentation. In the initial stage, the yeast vigorously consumes the rich nutrients in the wort and produces plenty of fruity aroma and flavour as well as alcohol. Alcohol content at this stage is about 7%.

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At the later stage, the yeast produces rich and complex aroma as the nutrients reach near exhaustion. At the same time, the microflora in washbacks is also activated to produce unique aroma and flavour.

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How the yeast looks like on the second day.

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A closer look at the yeast.

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Step #4 - Distillation, A variety of aroma and flavours is selectively taken out and condensed via the first and second distillations, which result in a colourless and transparent new whisky (alcohol content about 70%). The toasty aroma is usually given by direct firing at 1,200 degree Celsius at the bottom of pot stills.

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The first distillation on the left and the second on the right. Different sizes and angles of the pots produce various kinds of flavour and aroma.

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Recharing process. The casks are charred again to open up the granules of the casks to restore the maturation power of the casks after having been used for a long time (30 to 40 years).

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The cask is burned until the alcohol, indicated by the presence of blue flames, are gone.

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The bark of white oak, aged more than 200 years that is used for making the cask.

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Stacks of whisky casks waiting to be charred.

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Step #5 - Maturation. The maturation time takes about 10 to 20 years, as it gradually ages to produce amber colour.

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A model showing how the casks are being prepared to be transferred to the storing space.

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Another model showing thousands of casks being stored inside a building.

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The components evaporates through the wooden cask, while outer air enters the cask and the components from the wood dissolves into the whisky. This process gives each whisky its own unique characteristics in terms of colour, aroma and flavour.

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A see-through cask to allow visitor to see how the whisky looks like.

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We sensed a very strong alcohol odour once we entered this storing building.

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That cask on the right is as old as me.

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C&C. Calvin and casks haha!

Suntory is mainly well-known for alcoholic beverages but recently, its business has expanded to other fields. The company now offers everything from mineral water, soft drinks to sandwich chains. Our next stop was another section which produces something different. 

It was located within the same area of the factory.

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No photography was allowed inside the factory.

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We were given a briefing on how the mineral water is collected and processed. One of the main source of the mineral water is the Southern Alps in central Honshu.

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The water and snow at the top of the mountains slowly flow into the ground and produces natural water after a period of time.

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The final stop that we were taken was to try on the whisky from Suntory.

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In front of the souvenir shop.

A Japanese uncle who was seated opposite to me in the hall started a conversation from me. The moment I told him I'm a Malaysian, he began his story about his trip to Kuala Lumpur forty years ago. 

Apparently, back then, the road from the airport to the city was so ulu that he spotted huge birds along the road. I wonder what kind of bird he was referring to. Ostrich? I have no idea how true is that; perhaps he was just making it up since he knew I wasn't born yet that time haha! 

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Our guide explained to us the difference between hard and soft water. Basically, hard water contains more minerals and is usually taken after we do physical activities.

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Everyone was given two glasses; the left to be filled with the bottled mineral water (soft water), which the right glass was already filled with hard water.

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Snacks and chocolate in a basket for each of us.

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The bartender showing us different kinds of whisky for testing.

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Various kinds of whisky, categorised by their years.

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I'm not a real fan of alcohol, so all I know about these is that they are whisky haha!

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Suntory mineral water has a hardness of 30mg per litre but the one on the right (Vittel) is more than 1,000mg per liter.

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The busy bartenders pouring and mixing glasses of whisky for us.

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My glass of whisky.

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Snack and chocolate. The snack was damn nice, as it has almond.

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Suntory's whisky for sale at the souvenir shop.

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Key-holders and key-chains shaped to look as the wooden casks.  

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One final photo taken before we left the factory, back to Chiba.

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Our group photo, outside the souvenir shop.

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We were so excited because everyone was given a glass and a wooden coaster as souvenir.

Guess what, this trip cost each of us only 500 yen, and that is actually for the travel insurance. Ignoring that amount, the trip is basically free-of-charge. I think there's nothing more we can ask from having the chance to join such a wonderful trip.

20 comments:

CLF said...

Suntory is my fav brand!! :D
<3 CC Lemon & 伊右衛門お茶!

bloggingupiseasyd said...

A great value trip!

D-Tourist said...

Wahh .. nice trip.. I saw a cask my age too :) Can help me buy tat cask back to M'sia ah? heheheh!!!

calvin said...

@ clf:
i personally think that calpis is the best drink found in japan xD

calvin said...

@ bloggingupiseasyd:
yup, indeed it was!

calvin said...

@ d-tourist:
1977. hmmm, that means you're 33 this year?! =P

Tempus said...

Hey nice place to go for holidays!!1 I've been thinking of brewery for my career lately too~~` but maybe getting a chemistry degree 1st... btw, do you have any idea when will the next entrance exam for the chiba university is gonna be?

calvin said...

@ tempus:
wow, having thoughts on venturing into brewery? sounds very interesting :D

the dates depend on what course you're planning to take. perhaps you can have a better idea from the university website though the link below ;)

http://www.chiba-u.ac.jp/others/sitemap/user/examinee.html

hope it helps :)

D-Tourist said...

why 33, may be 36, 35, 32, 30, 23, 17, 15, 11, 10 ..... :P

calvin said...

@ d-tourist:
haha! all the figures are possible, i suppose?
but i guess you are seven-years-old xD

D-Tourist said...

oh.. how u guess correctly :P

btw, since ur from taiping, i dun suppose you know of anyone having "Goh" surname with chinese-siamese lineage?

calvin said...

@ d-tourist:
now i know i have been communicating with a seven-year-old kid all this while haha!

there is a slight possibility that i happen to know that person. is that person someone you know?

D-Tourist said...

helping someone locate some lost relatives.. hmm... is the person's father/grandfather chinese and from Penang? Initial G.E.S.?

calvin said...

@ d-tourist:
hmmm, i am not very sure, because that person in my mind is one of my grandma's neighbour. besides, there are so many goh around lol!

perhaps you can e-mail me personally, since this topic touches on people's privacy :)

D-Tourist said...

hmm.....i guess there are loads of Goh around Taiping... it would be like looking for a needle in a sea......

calvin said...

@ d-tourist:
yup, unless you're looking for an ong, 'coz you've already found one if you do =P

D-Tourist said...

hahah.. yeah... and this Ong is easy to find since this needle will be sticking high out oversea... :P

calvin said...

@ d-tourist:
haha! yes, but that comment of yours sound a little bit wrong lol!

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