Japanese whisky through 4 distilleries


For several years, the Japanese whiskey sees its popularity grow and with the many awards he won, his reputation is well established. It was in the 1920s that Japan started to market its whisky, thanks to Torii Shinjiro and Taketsuru Masataka considered as the founding fathers of whisky in Japan. Originally developed on the model of Scottish whisky, Japanese whisky has, over the years, been able to find its own style.

The Japanese discovered whisky for the first time in 1853 when the US Commodore Matthew Perry's fleet landed in Tokyo Bay. At the end of the 19th century, the Japanese tried to produce this brandy from rice and corn but the first tests are far from conclusive ...

The story of Japanese whisky begins with the journey of Masataka Taketsuru, who spent two years in Scotland after World War I to train for distillation. Upon his return, Shijiro Torii, founder of Suntory relies on his know-how to build the Yamazaki distillery in 1924. Taketsuru will take his independence to found his own company, Nikka. The real whisky boom in Japan appears after the Second World War. The Japanese start to appreciate the whisky.

In this article, we present 4 Japanese distilleries, whose reputation is already established but who win to be known by all lovers of whisky.

The essential Nikka distillery

Nikka was founded in 1934 by Masataka Taketsuru, the father of Japanese whisky. This one indeed discovered the secrets of manufacture of this drink during an initiatory stay in Scotland in 1918.

Originally from a family with a sake brewery, Masataka Taketsuru has always been passionate about the world of whisky. His trip to Scotland allowed him to take classes at the University of Glasgow and to be the first Japanese to study the art of making whisky. In 1918, he was recruited by the company Settsu Shuzo to produce the first Japanese whisky but the company went bankrupt in 1922 following the stock market crash. Masataka Taketsuru was then recruited by the Japanese beer giant Kotobukiya, later renamed Suntory, for whom he built the first Japanese whisky distillery in 1924.

A few years later, Masataka Taketsuru decided to found his own distillery on the northern island of Hokkaido in northern Japan where the harsh and humid climate is close to that of Scotland. He builds the Yoichi distillery in respect of Scottish traditions. It opens its doors in 1934 and relies on traditional methods for making its spirit with small stills heated by a charcoal fire that gives whiskeys a powerful and spicy character with richness and creaminess. Local peatlands are responsible for the smoky notes of the Yoichi, while the sea air brings an iodine imprint to the spirit.

Distillerie Nikka

During the first years of aging of the whisky in oak barrels, Masataka Taketsuru decided to create the company Dai Nippon Kaju which means "the big Japanese juice factory" to develop a secondary activity around fruit juices made from local Hokkaido apples. In 1952, the group became Nikka, diminutive of NIppon and KAju. In the face of the success of Yoichi whisky, Masataka Taketsuru decided to build a second distillery in 1969 in Miyagikyo on Honshu Island.

The distillery also has two Coffey-type stills imported directly from Scotland, whose original production contributes to all Nikka blended whiskies, including the famous Nikka From the Barrel.

Ten years after the construction of the Miyagikyo Distillery, Masataka Taketsuru dies at the age of 85. A true founder of Japanese whisky, he continues today to influence Nikka's master assembly teams in the making of the group's whiskies. Since its birth, Nikka has been able to popularize whisky in Japan and to find a place among the great distilleries of the world with products with a very fine woody and fruity style (especially citrus fruits).

Nikka from the Barrel

Nikka Coffey Malt

The Nikka tailored

Nikka Taketsuru

White Oak, the oldest distillery

As early as 1919, the White Oak Distillery, located in Akashi, on the shores of the Seto Inland Sea, obtained its distillation license for whisky and other spirits. This is the first distillery in Japan to obtain this license and according to the legend would consequently be the first to have distilled whisky.

It belongs to the company Eigashima, founded in 1679, which is one of the oldest sake producers in Japan. Later one of the most famous for the development of this traditional Japanese alcohol, it was the first to bottle sake in 1899.

The production was artisanal and reserved for the Japanese market until 1984 with the construction of a new distillery specially dedicated to whiskey distillation. Located not far from the sea, south of Kobe city, enjoying a mild and stable climate, the White Oak distillery still produces single malts in small quantities, but of increasing quality.

Akashi Meïsei

Akashi White Oak Single Malt

Akashi 5 years old Sherry Cask

Akashi 10 years old Sherry Cask

The Togouchi brand

Togouchi whisky is made by the Chugoku Jozo distillery. Founded in 1918, in the heart of a mountainous region not far from the city of Hiroshima, Chugoku Jozo began producing sakes and shochus (other rice alcohol) and turned to assembly and aging whisky when it was popularized in the land of the rising sun.

The whisky and grain whiskies used in the Togouchi are sourced from Scotland and Canada and the Chugoku Jozo distillery is responsible for aging, blending and bottling in Japan.

The Togouchi range is aged in a unique location in the heart of the mountainous West Chugoku region. Indeed, the peculiarity of aging is that it takes place in a tunnel of a length of 387 meters, dug in the 1970s, that the barrels are stored. The temperature inside is constant at 14°C throughout the year, making this tunnel ideal for aging whiskies. The spring water drawn from the mountains of the Sandankyo Nature Park is used for the dilution of whiskey during bottling.

Togouchi 9 years old

Togouchi pure malt

Togouchi 15 years old

Togouchi Kiwami

The Kurayoshi distillery

Kurayoshi Distillery is located in the foothills of Mount Daisen in Tottori Prefecture.

Near a volcano, it has a quality water essential for distilling whisky. Its position not far from the Sea of Japan allows the whisky to age more quickly like that of the island of Islay in Scotland.

Good quality water is essential for making whisky, but the aging process in casks is also an important procedure for the Kurayoshi Distillery.

Mizunara (Japanese oak) and Sakura (cherry wood) are the main materials of the barrels which allows to develop a variety of whisky production using barrels containing wine or sherry.

The Kurayoshi distillery produces Japanese whiskies Kurayoshi and Tottori.

The Kurayoshi 8 years old

The Kurayoshi 18 years old

The Tottori Blended Japanese Whisky

The Tottori Blended Japanese Whisky Bourbon Barrel

Click here to discover our Japanese whiskies range >>

Article written by Manon C.

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