The Fascinating History of Nikka Whisky: From Scotland to Japan

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History of Nikka Whisky

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Nikka Whisky, a name synonymous with Japanese whisky excellence, has a rich and captivating history that spans continents and generations. As a whisky enthusiast, I’ve always been intrigued by the stories behind the brands I love, and Nikka’s tale is one of passion, perseverance, and the pursuit of perfection. Join me on a journey through time as we explore the fascinating history of Nikka Whisky and its place in the Japanese whisky landscape.

The Father of Japanese Whisky: Masataka Taketsuru

  • Early Life and Education
    • Born in Hiroshima, Japan in 1894
    • Family involved in sake brewing for generations
    • Studied organic chemistry at the University of Glasgow in Scotland
  • Apprenticeship in Scotland
    • Learned the art of whisky-making at Longmorn, Hazelburn, and Bo’ness distilleries
    • Gained expertise in pot still distillation, blending, and the use of ex-sherry casks
    • He met his wife Rita Cowan, a Scottish woman who would become his lifelong partner and supporter
  • Return to Japan
    • He brought back the knowledge and passion for Scotch whisky to his homeland
    • Worked for Kotobukiya (later Suntory) and helped establish the Yamazaki Distillery

“Masataka Taketsuru is the father of Japanese whisky. His journey from Japan to Scotland and back again, and his dedication to creating authentic whisky, laid the foundation for the Japanese whisky industry as we know it today.” – Dave Broom, renowned whisky expert and author

The Birth of Nikka Whisky

  • Establishing the Yoichi Distillery
    • Taketsuru left Kotobukiya in 1934 to pursue his vision
    • Founded Dai Nippon Kaju Co., Ltd. (later renamed Nikka Whisky)
    • Built the Yoichi Distillery in Hokkaido, modelled after Scottish distilleries
    • Yoichi’s location was chosen for its climate, similar to Scotland, and access to pristine water and peat
History of Nikka Whisky
  • Early Challenges and Triumphs
    • Faced financial difficulties and cultural obstacles in the early years
    • He persevered with the support of his wife Rita and his dedication to crafting authentic whisky
    • Released the first Nikka Whisky in 1940, marking a milestone in Japanese whisky history

Expansion and Innovation

  • The Miyagikyo Distillery
    • Established in 1969 to expand Nikka’s production capabilities
    • Located in the Miyagi Prefecture, known for its pristine water and natural beauty
    • Produces a distinct style of whisky, different from Yoichi’s bold and peaty character
    • Miyagikyo whiskies are known for their elegance, fruitiness, and floral notes
History of Nikka Whisky
  • Introducing Coffey Stills
    • Imported Coffey stills from Scotland in the 1960s
    • Used to produce high-quality grain whisky, a key component in Nikka’s blends
    • Coffey is now iconic in Nikka’s lineup, with expressions like Coffey Grain and Coffey Malt
    • These unique expressions showcase the versatility and innovation of Nikka Whisky
History of Nikka Whisky

Glossary

  • Malt Whisky: Whisky is made exclusively from malted barley and distilled in pot stills.
  • Blended Whisky: A whisky made by combining various malt and grain whiskies.
  • Peated Whisky: Whisky is made from malted barley that has been dried over burning peat, imparting a smoky flavour.
Nikka’s Classic ExpressionsTypeKey Characteristics
Yoichi Single MaltSingle MaltPeaty, smoky, and robust
Miyagikyo Single MaltSingle MaltFruity, floral, and elegant
Taketsuru Pure MaltBlended MaltRich, complex, and well-balanced
From the BarrelBlended WhiskyIntense, flavorful, and highly acclaimed

“Nikka From the Barrel is a blended whisky that punches well above its weight. It’s a perfect example of Nikka’s mastery of the art of blending, delivering a rich, full-bodied, and deeply satisfying dram.” – Jim Murray, whisky critic and author of the Whisky Bible

Where to Buy Nikka Whisky

Nikka Whisky vs. Other Japanese Brands

  • Unique Flavor Profiles
    • Nikka Whisky is known for its diverse range of expressions
    • Yoichi whiskies offer a bold, peaty character reminiscent of Scotch
    • Miyagikyo whiskies provide a lighter, fruitier, and more delicate flavour profile
    • This diversity sets Nikka apart from other Japanese whisky brands like Suntory and Yamazaki
  • Tradition and Innovation
    • Nikka Whisky combines traditional whisky-making techniques with modern innovation
    • Continues to experiment with new blends, finishes, and limited editions
    • Maintains a strong commitment to quality and authenticity

Taketsuru’s Legacy

  • Passing the Torch
    • Masataka Taketsuru passed away in 1979 at the age of 85
    • His son, Takeshi Taketsuru, took over as the head of the company
    • Nikka Whisky continued to thrive and innovate under Takeshi’s leadership
  • Awards and Recognition
    • Nikka whiskies have garnered numerous awards and accolades
    • Yoichi 20 Year Old named “Best Single Malt” at the World Whiskies Awards in 2008
    • Taketsuru Pure Malt 17 Year Old named “World’s Best Blended Malt” multiple times
    • From the Barrel is consistently praised for its quality and value

“The Nikka Distillery…is already producing Japanese whisky that might be mistaken for a good sauterne-cask malt. Watch this space.” – Michael Jackson, Whisky Magazine Issue 2, 1999

Nikka Whisky Today and Beyond

  • Continuing the Tradition
    • Nikka remains committed to the principles and techniques established by Masataka Taketsuru
    • Combines traditional craftsmanship with modern innovation to create exceptional whiskies
    • Offers a diverse range of expressions, from single malts to blends, catering to various tastes
  • Experimenting with New Frontiers
    • Nikka continues to push boundaries and explore new territories in whisky-making
    • Recent experiments include the use of Mizunara oak casks, known for imparting unique flavours
    • Limited editions and special releases showcase Nikka’s creativity and innovative spirit
  • Global Popularity and Influence
    • Nikka Whisky has gained a dedicated following worldwide
    • Played a significant role in putting Japanese whisky on the map
    • Inspired and influenced other Japanese whisky producers, elevating the industry as a whole

The history of Nikka Whisky is a testament to the vision, passion, and determination of Masataka Taketsuru, the father of Japanese whisky. From his early days in Scotland to the establishment of Nikka and its growth into a global brand, Taketsuru’s legacy continues to inspire whisky lovers and shape the landscape of Japanese whisky. As we raise a glass of Nikka Whisky, we not only savour the exquisite flavours but also pay homage to the remarkable journey that brought this liquid gold to our lips.

About the Author

Pasito Tola is a seasoned whisky enthusiast with over a decade of experience exploring the world of whisky. His passion for Japanese whisky, in particular, has led him to visit distilleries, attend tastings, and interview key figures in the industry. Pasito’s expertise and engaging writing style make him a trusted voice in the whisky community.

History of Nikka Whisky Sources

  1. Nikka Whisky Official Website – The Founder
  2. “Nikka Whisky: A Journey from Scotland to Japan” – The Whiskey Wash

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Best Whiskey Guide or its affiliates.

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