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Nikka & Sensei Taketsuru

The Daily Shot!

Part 4 of 4 on Japanese Whisky

Japan’s first whisky distiller, Masataka Taketsuru, was a master artisan. As the son of a sake brewing family, one might say it was in Taketsuru’s blood to change the Japanese spirits scene. After all, it takes a hellava conviction to travel halfway around the world (in 1918!) to Scotland and learn the craft of distillation. Something bigger must have guided the man…

Upon returning to Japan, he produced the countries first whisky for Suntory (yes, the biggest competitor) before parting ways due to a disagreement on the spirit's flavor profile. Taketsuru’s love for whisky was deeply engrained in the Scottish tradition. That good smoky, peated taste was essential…smooth palate sissies be damned!

In 1934 Taketsuru identified Yoichi, Hokkaido, as the ideal location for a distillery and set up shop. Ideal because it reminded him of the Scotland towns he once worked in. 6 years later the first Nikka Whisky was the delight of peat, loving Japanese fans.

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Having a Scot-influenced whisky wasn’t enough for Taketsuru. In 1967, he had Coffey stills imported from Scotland to make the whisky. The Coffey stills are still active today and located at the Miyagikyo Distillery (Nikka’s second distillery).

Enough with history lesson…the Nikka whisky, man?!

The man the started it all obviously had much respect and admiration for the Scot spirit. If you are a Scotch lover, Nikka may become your next best friend. For your next trip to the store, here are a few Nikka Whiskies to know…

2 Single Malts: Yoichi, the original Taketsuru whisky. Miyagkyo, produced at the second distillery.

3 Pure Malts: Taketsuru Pure Malt, 17, and 21 year. A whisky blend from both Yoichi and Miyagkyo distilleries.

3 Blended Whiskies: Nikka Whisky from the Barrel, The Nikka, and Super. These are a blend of malt and grain whiskies.

2 Grain Whiskies: Nikka Coffey Grain (mainly corn) Nikka Coffey Malt (all barley). These highlight the use of the famed Coffey stills imported from Scotland.

Side shot! Nikka also makes a Coffey Gin and Coffey Vodka. I met Nikka’s gin distiller in March at the Portland Craft Distiller’s Conference. Talk about dedication…Tanaka knew very little English but would sit in the front row of every session, listened intently on each topic (while likely having no clue due to the speed of the dialogue), and then spend hours afterwards translating the discussions back to Japanese. Do you think he may have learned a thing or two from Taketsuru?!

Boom! Another shot of knowledge!