The advent of Japanese whisky has been widely attributed to Masataka Taketsuru who began his whisky pilgrimage in 1918, when he journeyed to the illustrious liquid’s spiritual heartland, the Celtic nations. Masataka’s family ran a sake brewery, still in operation today, and as such he was taught the skills of alcohol production, furthering his education at the University of Glasgow where he studied chemistry. This and his apprenticeships at Scotch whisky distilleries afforded him a great depth of knowledge about production and blending. In 1920, Masataka Taketsuru married Jessie ‘Rita’ Roberta Cowan and the couple lived for a few months in Campbeltown. They travelled to Japan later that year.
In 1934, Masataka established Nikka Whisky and his first distillery was built in Hokkaido and named Yoichi. The area was well-suited to whisky production, though its location was remote. In 1969, a second distillery was founded, Miyagikyo Distillery, or Sendai Distillery as it has been known. Its first whiskies were sold as Sendai Single Malt and it was not until Asahi Brewery’s acquisition of Nikka in 2001 that the Miyagiko Distillery was expanded to cope with national demand. The Nikka range includes the single malts from the pair of distilleries as well as a range of vatted and blended malts.
However, soaring demand for Japanese whisky began to outstrip supply, and in early 2019 it was announced that Nikka was axing Nikka 12 and temporarily suspending the Coffey Grain and Malt whiskies. 2019 was also the first year that the Yoichi plant started distilling in January, as opposed to the traditional four-month distilling seasons from March until June and again from September to early December, in an effort to increase production.
The Miyagikyo distillery also announced an expansion in early 2019, to be completed by 2021, along with the news that Nikka has procured many more casks to age whisky from the distillery, boosting storage by 40%.