Learn about Nikka Whisky
Nikka is the second-oldest whisky maker in Japan and the second-largest. It was founded in 1934 when Masataka Taketsuru founded a whisky distillery in Yoichi, Hokkaido. Today the company also has another whisky distillery in Miyagi. Nikka also makes shochu, wine, brandy and other drinks. In total it has seven factories, distilleries and breweries in Japan, as well as the Ben Nevis distillery in Scotland.
The history of Nikka is closely intertwined with the history of whisky in Japan, as Masataka Taketsuru, its founder, was instrumental not only in founding Nikka, but also in kick-starting Suntory. Masataka was born in the coastal town of Takehara (now Takehara City) about 60km from Hiroshima. His family owned a sake brewery and had been in the business since the early 18th century. Masataka’s father wanted him to continue the trade, and Masataka did in fact intend to do so, studying chemistry at a university to prepare. He was, however, interested in more than just sake, and when he got a chance to study in Scotland, he took it.
In 1918, Masataka embarked alone on his long voyage to Scotland. In this distant land, the young Japanese man would learn the secrets of whisky-making, and here he would also meet the woman who would become his bride.
Masataka enrolled at the University of Glasgow and became the first Japanese ever to study the art of whisky-making. He took chemistry courses at the university and apprenticed at distilleries, learning first-hand from craftsmen and training as a blender — he would later become known as a master blender.
In 1920, Masataka returned to Japan with Jessie Roberta (Rita), whom he had married earlier that year. After joining a company aspiring to make genuine whisky, he succeeded in producing Japan’s first whisky. Masataka’s vision of whisky was formed by his experience in Scotland, and he knew that the right environment was essential. However, it was becoming apparent that in order to produce whisky as he felt it should be produced, he would have to become independent.
Thus in 1934, Masataka established Nikka Whisky and built its first distillery in Yoichi, Hokkaido, which — though inconveniently located — he had always considered to be the ideal Japanese whisky-making site, similar in many ways to the Scottish town where he had studied.
Masataka established Nikka because he was determined to introduce his fellow Japanese to the joys of authentic whisky. In the following decades, as his company developed and whisky became a fixture in Japan, he remained relentlessly passionate about quality. Never did he allow it to be sacrificed in favor of efficiency. In that sense, Masataka Taketsuru, Father of Japanese Whisky, a sake brewer’s son, never truly left his roots.
The young Scotswoman who in 1920 embarked with her Japanese husband on a long voyage to Japan adopted the ways of the distant land. She steadfastly supported her husband throughout their marriage, as he built Nikka and made it flourish, until her passing in 1961. Rita and Masataka Taketsuru are buried together in Yoichi.