Touring Suntory’s Inventive Osaka Plant

Exclusive access to the home of Roku gin, Haku vodka and numerous other spirits

On the same insightful adventure that offered us access to Suntory‘s single malt whisky distilleries, we toured the brand’s mysterious Osaka plant. Unlike their other production centers, Osaka isn’t open to the public—and our access provided a unique perspective on meticulous development and execution, as well as an altogether spirited ethos. In Osaka, Suntory produces its Haku vodka, Roku gin and an array of Japan-only liquor and liqueur releases, some of which demonstrate the true exploratory spirit of the beverage powerhouse.

From a small tasting room (that features everything in the portfolio, as well as one-off explorations and regional-specific releases) to a facility tour (wearing hairnets, lab coats and hygienic booties in lieu of shoes), it’s impossible to deny the Willy Wonka-esque spirit of the destination. On these grounds, staff enact everything from hand-plucking the stems of cherries to sakura flowers and even hand-peeling bananas. Fruity scents linger. Sloshing and clanking sounds join the pleasant odors in the air.

One of the most important liquids passing through Osaka is derived from rice. In fact, distilled 100% Japanese white rice receives filtration through bamboo charcoal in the plant, ultimately producing Suntory’s delectable Haku vodka. There’s an inherent floral sweetness to the tipple, one that’s both crisp and dynamic. It’s premium, but reasonably-priced.

And then, there’s CH favorite Roku gin. It’s one of the best examples of the category we’ve tasted and that pertains to the distinct, bright and celebratory recipe. Roku features six Japan-specific botanicals—sakura flower, sakura leaf, yuzu peel, sencha tea, Gyokuro tea, and sansho pepper—bound with eight traditional gin botanicals. Suntory harvests sakura at its prime, delivering the utmost quality. Thus, the unique floral and citrus components allow the clear spirit to flourish on its own or in cocktails. All of this is emphasized by the hexagonal bottle design.

Fortunately, Roku and Haku have made their way to the US, Europe and other market. To wander through the Osaka plant, however, reveals so many eccentric products that—we tried and—should be sought out for those seeking to impress with their at-home bars. On site, we sampled Suntory’s Japan-only Hermes liqueur line and, from their creme de violette to cherry brandy, the quality components stand out. The banana liqueur tantalizes, as does the PeachFizz and even the Tomato. Unexpected fruits and vegetables come together for numerous whimsical products.

All of these drinks nod to the vastness of the Suntory portfolio, which goes so far as to include one of our favorite coffees, Boss, which has also made its way to the US (though, our preferred Craft Boss, isn’t here yet). Osaka isn’t a microcosm of this portfolio, it’s part of the braintrust powering such an exciting, experimental brand.

Images courtesy of House of Suntory