It’s our 4th anniversary week and each and every day we’ll be looking at a different Japanese whisky distillery or brand that has had an huge influence on us, whisky-lovers around the world and the whisky industry in general, leading us right up to a very special launch event in Tokyo on June 10th. This is something you won’t want to miss! If you didn’t catch yesterday’s Yamazaki Day blog, you can find it right here.
Day 2 – Nikka Day
Today, we’ll be honouring yet another of the biggest names in Japanese whisky and indeed world whisky – Nikka. Click here.
The company has made an outstanding contribution to the growth of Japanese whisky over the years, leading the way with some incredible single malts, blends and stunning limited editions. Since their founding, back in 1934, they have been pioneers and had a major hand in ensuring that Japanese whisky expressions are given the credit and recognition that they deserve by millions around the world.
Founded by Masataka Taketsuru, “The Father of Japanese Whisky”, the company’s name quickly rose to prominence in Japan. Taketsuru had studied whisky production in Scotland, learning tricks of the trade from a number of great distilleries, including Longmorn and Hazelburn.
Upon returning to Japan, he was keen to teach what he had learned to those interested in whisky distilling, passing on his knowledge and setting the ball rolling on the way to the incredible creations that we see today.
Taketsuru started this process by working with Shinjiro Torii, the founder of Suntory, at his new Yamazaki distillery. He told Torii that he thought Hokkaido would be the perfect location for the distillery due to the climate there being similar to Scotland. However, Torii was worried about the cost of transporting grain and other necessary ingredients and equipment to the island in the far north of the country and he chose the outskirts of Kyoto, Japan’s ancient capital, as his base of operations.
Taketsuru would have to wait some 10 years before finally getting to produce whisky on Hokkaido.
After finishing his work with Yamazaki, having passed on all that he had learnt, he set about creating Nikka, with his first solo venture being the creation of the Yoichi distillery on Hokkaido in 1934. Here, Taketsuru introduced a coal-fired pot still, similar to the one he had learned with at Longmorn.
Still in use today, this still helps to create the bold and strong liquid that the distillery is famous for, a quality that has seen it stand among many of the best whiskies on the market, including top expressions from Suntory’s Yamazaki and Hakushu.
But Nikka weren’t finished there. The Miyagikyo distillery was added to their portfolio in 1969 as the company continued to expand and Coffey stills were installed, allowing for an entirely different style of spirit to be produced.
Having both distilleries meant that Nikka could offer the growing number of Japanese whisky-lovers two completely different types of single malt spirit, while also being able to create a plethora of other styles and flavours through their own blends.
Sadly, Taketsuru passed away in 1979, but Nikka continued to grow exponentially under the helm of his nephew, Takeshi Taketsuru, who he had adopted after the death of his father (Masataka’s brother in law).
Takeshi took the company to new heights, with the purchase of Scotland’s famous Ben Nevis distillery, in 1989, being a particular highlight.
Today, Nikka is seen as a true leader and giant of world whisky. Their powerful, bold and smoky Yoichi expressions stand apart from anything else produced in Japan in terms of their flavour profile and Miyagikyo expressions are rising in popularity by the day.
From their adored, but temporarily discontinued, Coffey Grain, Coffey Malt and Nikka 12 blended whiskies, to the hugely popular Nikka From The Barrel and the experimental limited edition single malts finished in a variety of different wood types, they are true pioneers and have firmly cemented their place in Japanese whisky lore.
Despite the current Japanese whisky shortage, the future looks bright for Nikka, and the past is simply legendary.