A Woman, A Man, Two Distilleries
Masataka Taketsuru, Nikka’s founder and Father of Japanese Whisky, came from a lineage of sake brewers, dating back to 1733. Taketsuru studied diligently at university as a chemist preparing to carry on the family trade, but soon took a personal interest in whisky. Masataka joined Settsu Shuzo, a liquor company with plans to produce a Japanese whisky. In 1918, Settsu Shuzo sent Taketsuru to the University of Glasgow – making him the first Japanese student to study the art of whisky making, in the ancestral home of Scotch whisky.
Taketsuru returned to Japan in 1920 with plans to produce Japan's first whisky for Settsu Shuzo. However, when Shuzo couldn’t carry out the plan, he was recruited by the founder of Kotobukiya – now Suntory - and directed to build Yamakazi and produce the first Japanese whisky. Relentlessly passionate about quality, Taketsuru used what he learned in Scotland to create the Japanese style of whisky, unique to the country. After a 10-year contract with Kotobukiya, Taketsuru left to build the Yoichi distillery in Hokkaido, where Nikka was born.
Unlike Scotland, where barrel samples are often traded between distilleries to create blended whiskies, Japanese distillers create numerous in-house variations from their own distillery’s new make spirit. In addition, oak treatment in Japan can range from first-fill American oak casks to used American barrels to former sherry butts, bourbon casks and even mizunara, an expensive Japanese oak.
Masataka established Nikka because he was determined to introduce his fellow Japanese to the joys of authentic whisky. In the decades since, as his company developed and the enjoyment of whisky became a fixture in Japan, he remained relentlessly passionate about quality. Never did he allow it to be sacrificed in favor of efficiency.