He may not be a household name in Denmark, but Masataka Taketsuru is known as the father of the Japanese whiskey industry. Ahead of the title is a long story about the union of the hardworking Japanese tradition and the experienced Scottish whiskey market.
Taketsuru later traveled to Scotland in 1918 to study Scotch whiskey distillation at the University of Glasgow in Scotland, thus learning a lot about whiskey. Then followed a developmental journey that ended with Taketsuru setting up a malt whiskey distillery on the Japanese island of Hokkaido. Nikka, which Taketsuru named the company, is today the second largest whiskey maker in Japan, and the whiskey can be purchased in over 140,000 locations in Japan. Whisky.dk brings Japanese whiskey closer to you.
Masataka Taketsuru was the first Japanese to study the art of whiskey in Scotland. He returned to Japan as a trained whiskey producer and joined Suntory, founded in 1899 by Shinjiiro Torii. Torii loved the west and the sun is an important symbol for the Japanese, so he took "Sun" and added an English version of his name, Torii, which then became Tory. For starters, Torii worked as a wine merchant and sold exclusive imported Spanish wine. His vision was to create Japanese whiskey for the Japanese. The Yamazaki Distillery, located outside Japan's old capital of Kyoto, started construction in 1923 under Taketsuru's leadership and it was completed in 1924 and the first whiskey was ready for bottling in 1929. Taketsuru wanted to make smoked whiskey by Scottish model, but Torii did not permit it. There were several additional things they did not agree with, and that resulted in Taketsuru quitting in 1934 when his contract expired. Over the years, Taketsuru had prepared and had planned his own distillery and he had managed the financing. He had searched for a Scottish-like climate and nature and found it on the northernmost island, Hokaido, in an area called Yoichi. He founded the company Nikka Whiskey Distillery Co. Ltd. and quickly started making whiskey. Already in 1940, the first bottles were sold. In 1969, he built another distillery in Sendai or Miyagikyo to meet demand. During his time in Scotland, he met Rita who later travelled to Japan and married him. Taketsuru died in 1979, aged 85.
There are more than 10 distilleries in Japan, but production is completely dominated by Suntory and Nikka, which together have about 85% of the market. Out of that 85%, Suntory has 70%. Suntory is one of the world's largest liquor producers with 22,000 employees in more than 176 companies. Their turnover is approx. 500 billion and 217 million bottles are sold annually. Japan also owns Yamazaki and Hakushu, which has the world's largest production facility. In Scotland, Bowmore, Auchentoshan and Glengarioch have been purchased. Nikka owns Ben Nevis in Scotland.
Almost all of its malt is imported from Scotland - of which a great deal is smoked. Barrels are bought from the USA and Spain. Some Japanese oak barrels are also used. The climate is different in Japan. The summers are much warmer, and the whiskey is thus more affected by the oak barrels because it matures faster. The aroma becomes cleaner and fruity and less malty than Scottish single malt.
Japanese whiskey manufacturers do not exchange dishes with one another as they do in Scotland. Blended whiskey consists of whiskey from one and the same producer + Scottish. Instead, pot stills, heating methods, dishes, yeast types and smoke are varied.