The Japanese discovered whisky for the first time in 1853, when the fleet of American Commodore Matthew Perry reached Tokyo Bay. As of the end of 19th century, the Japanese had tried to recreate this spirit from rice and corn, but the first attempts were far from convincing.
Masataka Taketsuru, founding father of Japanese whisky
As the Taketsuru family owned a sake brewery (fermented rice spirit), Masataka Taketsuru had always been fascinated by the world of whisky. On a journey to Scotland, he took classes in Glasgow University being the first Japanese ever to learn the art of whisky making. In 1918, he was hired by the company Settsu Shuzo to produce the first Japanese whisky, but the company went bankrupt in 1922 following the stock market crash.
The Yoichi Distillery
A few years later, Masataka Taketsuru established his own distillery on the Northern island Hokkaido, North Japan, which share a similar harsh and wet climate with Scotland. He built the Yoichi distillery in the respect of Scottish traditions, and opened its doors in 1934. The distillery used traditional techniques, distilling whisky in small stills heated by a charcoal fire, imparting to the whisky a powerful, spicy character and a full, smooth body. The smoky notes of Yoichi originate from the local peat lands, while the ocean breeze brings out an iodine taste to the spirit.
Birth of the Nikka Group
During the first years of the whisky maturation in oak casks, Mastaka Taketsuru established the Dai Nippon Kaju company (“the great juice manufacturing company”) to develop a secondary activity with local apples from Hokkaido. In 1952, the group became Nikka, a diminutive of NIppon and KAju. With the growing success of the Yoichi whisky, Masatataka Taketsuru built a second distillery in 1969, Miyagikyo, on Honshu Island.
The Miyagikyo distillery
With its crystalline waters, hills and peaceful forests, the Miyagi region contrasts with the harsh climate of Yoichi. After three years looking for an ideal location, this is where Masataka Taketsuru built the Miyagikyo distillery in 1969. The whisky manufacturing process of this ultramodern distillery is completely computerized, with very precise control over the steam heating the stills to obtain the most pure, elegant and smooth distillate. The shape of the stills, quite tall with a second buoy-shaped hole on top of the main body allows the heavier elements to cool and roll down the sides, enabling the finest, floral aromas to rise.The distillery owns also two “Coffey” column stills, imported from Scotland and which original production enters in all of Nikka’s blended whiskies, such as the famous Nikka From the Barrel.
The Masataka Taketsuru spirit
10 years after the completion of Miyagikyo distillery, Masataka Taketsuru deceased at the age of 85. As a true founder of Japanese whisky, his spirit is still influencing the Nikka blenders team in the whisky manufacturing process. Nikka knew how to popularize whisky in Japan right from the start, and holds now a prime position amongst world’s distilleries, with an extremely refined, fruity and oaky style with citrus fruit aromas.