When whiskey is mentioned, the trio of Scotland, Ireland and America comes to mind. However, a new one has been added to these three countries in recent years, Japan!

So much so that, from the whiskey sources I follow, to the tastings I have attended, from the many whiskey connoisseurs to the new acquaintance with whiskey, I see that Japanese whiskeys are constantly on the agenda.

In fact, although they have been on the market for many years, we have witnessed that the popularity of Japanese whiskey has skyrocketed in recent years. I will address the reasons for this in a different post.

Despite being so popular, unfortunately there are very few sources about how Japanese whiskeys came about and therefore not much is known. However, this emergence has a very enjoyable story reminiscent of a fairy tale. In this article, I would like to share with you this whiskey story that I have heard and read many times without getting bored from different people and sources.

For all information on Japanese whiskeys you may take a look at my article. .

The Origin of Japanese Whiskeys

While the story of Scottish whiskey has been shaped by dozens of brands and many different names that we cannot count, two names are behind the Japanese whiskey's arrival today:  Masataka Taketsuru and Shinjiro Torii.

Shinjiro Torii (Left) & Masataka Taketsuru (Right)

Studied chemistry in Osaka and is particularly interested in fermentation and distillation. Masataka TaketsuruAfter graduating, he started a liquor company in 1916. Settsu ShuzoIt starts working in . Settsu factory head Kibei AbeSends Taketsuru to Scotland, who is distinguished by his ambition and hard work on his research of western liquors and whiskey.

It should be noted that Taketsuru comes from a family that has been producing sake since 1733. Sake is a Japanese drink made from rice.

in 1918 ScotlandGoing to , Taketsuru attends training courses in Organic Chemistry at Glasgow University, and then reinforces his knowledge by working at Longmorn and Hazelburn distilleries.

Returning to Japan in 1920, Taketsuru enthusiastically took up what he had learned in Scotland. Settsu Shuzhe isHe wants to apply in . and start his whiskey production plans.

Taketsuru and his wife Rita, whom he met in Scotland

Unfortunately, things don't go quite as Taketsuru wanted… Settsu Shuzo company, which was having financial difficulties, decides to postpone its whiskey production plans to a later date. Not wanting to wait for this uncertain date, Taketsuru offered his resignation and said goodbye to Kibei Abe, who sent him to Scotland (1921), with great embarrassment.

After a while, Taketsuru's path became a business man whom he had met before and whom we can cite as another father of Japanese whiskey. Shinjiro Torii intersects with. Shinjiro Torii, who comes from a fairly wealthy family, Kotobukiya (in later years suntory He is the founder of the company.

Sharing the dream of making Japanese whiskey, the two decided to collaborate and in 1923 near Kyoto, Japan. Japan's first whiskey distillery the one which... YamazakiThey set up.

Taketsuru and Torii have a slight disagreement over the location of the distillery. While Taketsuru thinks that the distillery should be further north as it resembles the Scottish climate, Torii looks at the issue more commercially and wants a more accessible location logistically.

Japan's first real whiskey is produced at the Yamazaki distillery and presented to Japanese whiskey lovers in 1929: Suntory Whiskey Shirofuda (White Label)!

Suntory Whiskey Shirofuda (White Label)

However, this whiskey, which is not matured enough and does not suit the Japanese palate due to its peaty character, is not commercially successful. Both Torii and Taketsuru are not happy with this situation...

After more than 10 years, Taketsuru leaves Kotobukiya to set up his own distillery and produce his own whiskey (1934).

Of course, setting up a distillery is not easy at all. Taketsuru first needs to find an investor. After a few months of searching, sought-after investors are found. But it will not be easy for Taketsuru to convince the investors...

Taketsuru calms investors' concerns about the high cost and time it takes before the first whiskey is produced and hit the shelves, saying it will produce cider first, and thus dainippon cashew (later named Nikka) company is established.

Taketsuru is located on the island of Hokkaido, located in the north of Japan, as the location of the factory. yoichi finds the region suitable. Yoicihi, which has a climate very similar to that of Scotland, was a region Taketsuru had in mind when establishing the Yazamaki distillery.

Nikka Yoichi Distillery

Apple juice production begins at the Yoichi factory as planned. But unfortunately, Taketsuru's premium apple juices with high nutritional value are not in demand enough in the market and this of course does not satisfy investors at all.

Thereupon, Taketsuru, with the materials at hand, cider and apple brandy wants to produce. With the approval of the investors, necessary equipment such as a retort is quickly procured and wine/brandy production is started.

Nikka Cider

Nikka cider becomes very successful and becomes a very popular drink in Japan.

Taketsuru, e.Simultaneously with cider and brandy, it secretly starts producing whiskey from investors.

Whiskey production is made in stills purchased for wine and brandy production. Local barley and peat from the bottom of the Yoichi river are used as the main materials.

Investors learned of Taketsuru's "whiskey project" during their 1939 trip to the Yoichi factory. Of course, investors resent Taketsuru for unannounced production. But that resentment remains to some extent, as the company is doing very well due to wine and brandy sales, and investors are liking the whiskey produced.

The whiskey Taketsuru has been dreaming of for years is finally ready. This whiskey was produced in 1940. Nikka Whiskey takes its place on the shelves with its name.

Nikka's first whiskey: Nikka Whiskey

founded by two names suntory and Nikka their brands become whiskey brands that are known and appreciated not only in Japan but all over the world.

Started by Masataka Taketsuru and Shinjiro Torii “Japanese Whiskey Revolution” In the following years, it continues to grow with new Japanese whiskey brands and distilleries.

Next time you drink a Japanese whiskey, don't forget to raise your glass to Taketsuru and Torii and greet them respectfully!


You may also like;

For my articles where I explain basic information about whiskey…

For all my Japanese whiskey tasting notes…


Ian Buxton, Paul S Hughes (2015). The Science and Commerce of Whiskey, Royal Society of Chemistry.

*I trust his knowledge of Japanese whiskeys, which I consulted while researching for my article and answered all my questions. Semih ArslanThank you very much.

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