Saturday, September 1, 2012

Finding Hokuto

Route 43 is a major road and slower alternative (below the Hanshin express highway) that connects Kobe to Osaka, and one that I have traveled on many occasions. On my recent endeavor I rode from Nada all the way to Amagasaki, and for the few that know the trek will appreciate the distance. Amagasaki was my destination, I had heard of ancient arcades that snake off in all directions and heard promise of some treasure troves. With Amagasaki locked in I decided not consume time and dart around the back streets on the way up, especially as I thought I had roamed around the majority of the streets already. But this was not the case; I was attracted to a side street off the main road that I seemed to have missed in the past. This side street led me to Hanshin Fukae station in Higashinada. Being the main access road directly to the station there was nothing; however, it was all the other side streets off this road where my luck had changed. I would have missed the liquor shop Emiya completely if it wasn't for its large Kirin beer sign hanging on the shops wall, shaped in the iconic beer can. Quite a small shop with the usual line-up I often encounter: old bottlings of Suntory’s Royal, Reserve, and Imperial, green label Yamazaki bottles, and ancient square bottles of Super Nikka. On the top shelf again the usual suspects: Hibiki, more Yamazaki and then bang! There it was. It took me a few seconds to register what it was only because I was amazed at actually coming across it...finally.
Suntory's Hokuto 12-year-old, a Pure Malt with an ABV of 40% was one of Suntory's heavily marketed official bottlings when it was released in 2004, before it sadly ceased production around 2009/2010. The brand "Hokuto" is a city with remarkable waters, it is here, in Hakushu-cho, Yamanishi prefecture, that the Hakushu distillery is located in the forest, surrounded by the Southern Alps, and amongst natural mineral water supplies. This water from the surrounding nature is what gives the quality and characteristics to the Hokuto 12-year-old and other Hakushu expressions. The black label Hokuto 12-year-old, although a standard bottling from Suntory's core range at the time, has become ever so scarce and hard to find. Some of the major Internet sites in Japan have sold out of this expression long ago and it appears extremely difficult to pick this up in the conventional way of hunting shops. It has taken me 6 months to finally come across a bottle, long enough to think I should keep it for a rainy day...but I thought what if that rainy day never comes? I gave it a few days then cracked it with a beaming smile. Keep your eyes out for the review that is coming soon.


  1. I missed my train and got stuck in a small town close to Nikko for an hour until next train arrived, so I did what I usually do and explored the local liquor shop. And to my surprise I found three bottles of Hokuto on the shelves.
    Ended up buying two of them.
    Nice find two weeks before leaving Japan after a two years stay (import restrictions was the only reason I didn't buy all three bottles).

  2. Congrats Chris - great find. Do you know if they are the first or second release Hokuto's? The first release has the word Hokuto in quotations while the second release has none. Plus the first release label has a background picture of only the forest while the second release has a a picture of the Hakushu distillery plus a bit of the surrounding forest. Slight difference in taste also. I will be doing a back to back on both releases one of these days. Enjoy..well done.

  3. According to your description it's a first release, with the Hokuto in quotations below the kanji.