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Secret stories about “Pot-still” of Yoichi distillery

This article is about Yoichi distillery(余市蒸溜所) in Hokkaido, Japan.
This article is 2nd and focuses on the story of “Pot still”.

If you have not read this article yet, please read it at first.

Secret stories about Japanese whisky : Yoichi distilleryThis article is about Yoichi distillery(余市蒸溜所) in Hokkaido, Japan. ...
The summary of this article is following sentences in the box.

1. The heating system of Yoichi’s pot still is direct heating by coal combustion. It is one of the rare ways.

2. Pot still is attached to “Shimenawa” which is traditional.
It has history and interesting story.

The secret of pot still

This distillery’s highlight is pot still*1.
Please see this photo.


*Explanation:What is pot still*1?
Pot still is the facility to distill alcohol from liquid which fermented malt and water.
Alcohol is distilled and comes out from the top of neck portion.
Alcohol is turned from gas to liquid and then it will be stored in the barrels.



Look! The worker is adding the coal to stove under the pot still.
Does he control the fire and heat temperature for distilling the alcohol from pot still?

Yes, he does.

Direct heating by coal combustion is very old way. It is already rare.
One of the highlights of this distillery.

Almost distilleries have changed to pipe heating which insides through one of the heat transfer liquid.
It is more controllable and the quality is robustness.

On the other hands,Yoichi distiller didn’t change from direct heating to pipe heating because  thinks this way gives the whisky to tastier.
!According to Yoichi distillery, the difference is very slightly before whisky is matured in the barrel.
After maturing in the barrel, it makes a big difference.

Is it true?

Direct heating is very high temperature at the bottom of the pot still.
Raw materials are scorched at the bottom of pot still and then smoky flavor adds to whisky.

And also high temperature promotes Maillard reactions between sugar and amino acid.
As a result, direct heating imparts caramel notes.

On the other hand, pipe heating doesn’t contribute such scorching and reactions.

According to a book “大人が愉しむウイスキー入門(In hiragana is Otona ga tanoshimu “whisky” nyumon)”, written by Seiichi Koshimizu(輿水精一) who is legendary master blender of Suntory, “Yamazaki” and “Hakusyu” which are both owned by Suntory were changed facility from direct heating to pipe heating but they changed the facility from pipe heating to direct heating again in the 1980s.


I assume Suntory also noticed it, but it took a long time.Because the effect of direct heating was not confirmed by a new pot, they noticed it after some years at least.

In this part, Nikka whisky who is the owner of Yoichi had a keen sense about taste.


What is the zigzag at the top of pot still?

Their pot still has another interesting story as well.
Please see next photo.



I noticed zigzag at the top of pot still!
I saw it at “shrine” which is one of the Japanese traditional religion facility.
Is it the same?

Yes, it is. It is “Shimenawa”(=しめ縄).

This meaning is a sacred area.
It is like borderline.
We can see “Shimenawa” at the entrance gate of the shrine.

According to one of the hypothesis, rope means “cloud” and white zigzag means “thunder”.
It means thunderstorm.

The thunderstorm is very important because Japanese make rice historically. Thunderstorm gives rain strongly. Water is necessary to grow rice.

This nature phenomenon is worshipped.



I understand about “Shimenawa”.
However, is that related to whisky?

This root came from Japanese Sake breweries culture.
First of all, t is concerning Japanese sake brewery.
Masataka Taketsuru imported this culture from Japanese sake brewery.

I need taking about the origin of Masataka Taketsuru (竹鶴正孝) who launched Yoichi distillery.
He was born into a family of Japanese sake brewery.

The name of the brewery was Taketsuru shuzo(竹鶴酒造).
“Shuzo” means brewery.

Taketsuru shuzo exists now.
The following photo is Taketsuru shuzo today.


(Quotes from Wikipedia)


When Shuzo finish to make Japanese Sake, they decorate “Sugidama”(杉玉) at the entrance.




So it made by cedar. And it is also installed “Shimenawa”.
Historically, Japanese sake is related to the religion of shrine.
Japanese sake is important for shrine as well.

Masataka Taketsuru had been learning this culture as a child of a Japanese sake brewery.

I think it is unique culture of Japanese sake brewery for the people in other countries. Especially, for whisky distillery.

However, this sense is not so strange for Japanese.
Not only good quality sake but also everything’s which came from nature is grace. It is to be appreciated.
This feeling is rooted in Japanese custom.

This article’s conclusion is the following.

1. The heating system of Yoichi’s pot still is direct heating by coal combustion because they are considering the taste of whisky.

2. Pot still is attached “Shimenawa” which is traditional.
It was imported from Japanese Sake brewery culture by Masataka Taketsuru.

座右の銘は「冗談のなかに真実あり。真実のなかに偽りあり。」 あなたに新たな発見や楽しい時間を過ごすという価値を届けます。