A brief walk downtown, slightly of trek but well worth the effort, will lead you to an out of sight, secluded, and camouflaged establishment that you’d all wish to stumble across. By exiting east of the JR Kobe station and taking a 10-minute stroll, you will be in the vicinity of a pub-lounge called HOUJU. The translation of the bar which Mr. Iwata, the owner, kindly related means “everlasting fragrance”. Very appropriate given what’s on offer.
HOUJU complies with traditional Japanese standards by allowing you to either purchase a bottle to keep at the bar, or order individually. For those of you with adequate finance, glass cabinets filled with an array of independent and vintage bottlings tempt and surround you to invest in. Those of you who would prefer to sample malts individually are met with equally tempting expressions.
Bar HOUJU is quite a nostalgic looking place, so are the malts that line the shelves waiting for consumption. On passing you would easily mistake it for a residence if it weren’t for the bright, light blue neon sign, jumping out at you as you walked past. It could be well said that you’ve stepped back in time on entering. Thick, wooden, heavy, high back chairs line the equally thick bar that compliments the nostalgic atmosphere.
Mr. Iwata is not shy to boast about his achievements in the industry. He has been pouring drams to patrons since the age of 28 and has successfully led HOUJU into its 25-year. His knowledge of whisky is extensive; most likely being able to answer any malt related question one whishes to ask. With a friendly smile he assures me that HOUJU is a “typical retreat for a guy”. This is justified with his affection and conversations not only on whisky, but also on his passion for vintage British motorbikes. For those of you who fancy not just only the grain but also the grape, a nice selection of humidified reds from various parts of the world are on offer also. If you are ever in the port, take a walk and reward your self.
Update April,2013: This bar has since been transformed into a standard Izakaya (Japanese pub). Therefore there is no longer a wide variety of malts on offer. Enthusiasts seeking malt might like to consider another alternative.
Introduction by Clint A