Whisky House Vision has been delighting Tokyo’s single malt enthusiasts for the past 24 years. Unfiltered spoke to owner Nobuhide Kobayashi and bar manager Wataru Kobayashi to find out more about this suburban gem and their passion for whisky.
What’s your background in whisky and how did the concept for Whisky House Vision come about?
NK: While I was still a teenager I started working as a barman and by the time I turned 20, I opened this whisky bar. This year will be its 24th year. When I started out, Tokyo’s malt whisky culture was just on the start line, especially if you were out in the suburbs. At that time there were only about 10 bars that had a selection of more than 100 whiskies. I was struggling a little with how to demonstrate whisky’s culture to our customers, but affordability and accessibility are key, and I haven’t changed the concept since then. It’s no more than 1,000 yen (£6.90) per glass, even for a rare whisky. Through this approach, our bar gained the trust from our customers that we offer whisky for a reasonable price and this has allowed us to last for 24 years – and hopefully for many more years to come.
Where does your passion for whisky come from?
NK: When I opened Whisky House Vision, “whisky” was just seen as a blended spirit but, from my point of view, I thought that single malt was the drink where everyone could more easily understand the differences in character between the whiskies, and I thought that the costumers would love that. The simple truth is I enjoy turning people into fans of whisky.
WK: I always think about how customers can learn to enjoy whisky, that’s my main passion as a bartender.
Tell us about the design and layout
NK: We’ve been in the same building for 24 years and our concept of “whisky is the design” hasn’t changed. Now there are 700 bottles surrounding us, and whisky lovers tell us they love this space.
What about your whisky collection?
NK: When I opened this bar it was the 90s and at that time most of the whiskies we had had been distilled in the 80s. At that time, the whisky quality wasn’t so good but as time passed, the quality of the whisky changed. So by our 10th year in business we stopped selecting what we would call “old bottles”. Also, once you open a bottle the quality starts to deteriorate. So we have a rule to offer only bottles that we opened this year. This is a small, modest rule, but for us it’s really important.
How many SMWS bottlings do you generally have?
WK: When we became the Society’s partner bar, we started with 48 bottles, and now we have about 100. Sticking to our rule of offering only whisky from a bottle we opened this year, we always have new bottles on our shelf.
What does being an SMWS partner bar mean to you?
WK: Becoming a partner bar gave a positive impression to our regular customers and at the same time it was a great opportunity to introduce the SMWS to those who didn’t know about it. The Society’s system of flavour profiles is easy to understand and helps to introduce customers to the SMWS.
What kind of reaction do you get to the SMWS bottlings?
NK: The SMWS has been bottling whisky at cask strength, unfiltered, and without adding any spirit caramel for the last 35 years. Now other bottlers are following in the Society’s footsteps and doing the same thing. But a good product has to be a natural thing. Please continue to release high quality product for whisky fans!
WK: I have the impression that SMWS bottles are for young people who are just starting to drink whisky. The code, title, and also the unique palate and nose that differs from a distillery’s official bottlings make it especially fun and interesting.
How’s the overall whisky scene in Tokyo right now?
WK: These days, there are lots of whisky events in Tokyo, so there are plenty of opportunities to try different whiskies. Our bar has a limited price per glass so lots of young people come and they really enjoy the variations of SMWS.
NK: If I compare things with the old days, there has been in increase in the number of drinkers with whisky knowledge. This clearly isn’t a bad thing but, because of the increase in knowledge, it’s making for a shortage of malt and it’s becoming harder to find. So now I want emphasis the culture and style of drinking. When it comes to this, the SMWS flavour profiles and inspiration from the bottle name reminds me about the ‘old days’. I want to pursue that way of ‘cool’ drinking.
Finally, what makes your bar a special place for whisky lovers?
WK: As a specialty bar, we have a wide enough range of bottlings to be able to satisfy any customer’s wishes. Moreover, we’re the place to come to find out more information about whatever whisky you end up choosing.
Whisky House Vision is at 1-11-8 Kayojojimamoto-cho, Musashino-shi 180-0004 Yaeuma, Tokyo, Japan. Tel: + 81 422 20 2023. See https://atcf.jp/vision
Whisky House Vision is one of 12 SMWS partner bars in Japan and more than 100 around the world where members can are guaranteed a warm welcome and often a discounted price on SMWS drams by producing your membership card. For more information, visit www.smws.com/about/venues