Whisky – Japan

The history of Japanese whisky is nearly similar with the story of life of Masataka Taketsuru, the founder of Japanese Whisky:

  • The first experiences with whisky happened between 1870 and 1920 in Japan.
  • After the World War I a young chemical student named Masataka Taketsuru went to Scotland to study at the University of Glasgow everything about whisky.
    • Masataka Taketsuru studied almost three years in well-known whisky distilleries like Hazelburn, Lagavulin and Craigellach before he went back to Japan.
    • He became the first Japanese Whisky Master Blender
  • 1920 After returning to Japan Taketsuru and his wife Rita (Jessie Robert) were heartbroken to find out that Settsu Shuzo, the company which invested in Masataka to learn in Scotland, had to abandon its plan to produce genuine whisky in Japan due to recessions after World War I.
  • At this time Taketsuru was the only Japanese who knew how to produce whisky, so he got an offer from another company. Kotobukiya Limited, since the 1960s known as Suntory, gave him the chance build the Yamazaki Distillery together with Shinjiro Torri in 1923. The name “Suntory” is a combination of “Sunrise” and his family name “Torii”.
  • After his 10 years contract with Suntory, in 1934,  Taketsuru decided to build his own distillery Yoichi in Yoichi at the island Hokkaido, a place which is nearly similar with the climate in Scotland*.
    • The name of the company was “Dai Nippon Kaju” what translated means “huge Japanese juice factory”
    • In the beginning the company started to sell apple juice products while preparing to produce whisky.
    • In 1936 the first pot still were installed.
    • In 1940 the first whisky was launched on the name “Nikka Whisky”, which later became the company name itself.
    • In 1952 the company got the name Nikka, which is a combination of Nippon and Kaju.
  • Since 2001 Japanese Whiskey wins every year several awards for the best whiskey in the world and is in several competitions and blind tastings better than the Scottish ones.

Climate Facts:

  • In the most parts of Japan the environmental conditions are nearly the same with them in Kentucky or Tennessee
    • Hot summers and cold winters
    • Due to the different temperatures and climate, the whisky matures at a faster rate than in Scotland or Ireland. As in America, the whisky shows more wood influence as a result.
    • Another fact, because of the extremes differences in the temperature is that the whisky experiences during maturation much faster and much greater.
  • The environmental in Hokkaido is comparable with the Isles.

Interesting Facts:

  • Blend in Japan means that at least only two whisky distilleries are involved, which are from the same company, although.
  • The whisky is normally distilled twice, as in Scotland, using pot stills.
  • Malted barley is mainly imported from Scotland. Some of it is peated. Australia also supplies barley. American oak/ bourbon casks are also imported from Scotland and America, as are sherry casks from Spain. Some whisky is matured in Japanese oak (called mizunara) that gives different flavours and characteristics.
  • Why is Japanese Whisky so expensive in Europe? Because most of the Whiskies which are produced in Japan  will never see a boarder. Since the big whisky boom in the 1970s Japanese people started drinking Whisky by themselves. There for most of the whisky produced in Japan stays in Japan.
  • Another interesting fact about Blends, as I said before, a Blend in Japan is made from only two distilleries from the same company. Therefore Japanese Companies started to buy Scottish whisky distilleries, to get a bigger range of flavours.
    • Auchentoshan, Bowmore, Laphroaig, Ardmore, Jim Beam, Knob Creek, Connemara                     → Suntory (since 2014 called Beam Suntory)
    • Ben Nevis                              → Nikka


The taste of Japanese Whisky is comparable with Scottish Whisky, deepens on the regions.  Most of the Japanese Whiskies growing in a climate which is nearly similar with that in USA, that for in this regions you’ll find really smooth Whiskies, which are floral and fruity, comparable with those from the Lowlands or Speyside.

Japanese Whisky from Hokkaido is more similar with Whisky from the Isles. Not as strong, but you will find light flavours of turf and salt in the whisky.

All in all I would say Japanese Whisky is good for those who drink the first time Whisky.

Because of the spring water which isn’t as strong as the spring water in Scotland or Ireland, the whisky is really light and full of sweet aromas from chocolate, fruits and flowers only with a light touch of turf and salt aromas.
It’s an every-day-whisky made for everyone.

Some examples:

Hakushu Distiller’s Reserve                Vol.-43%
Suntory Hakushu Single Malt Whisky Distiller’s Reserve is an elegant Japanese whisky from Hakushu a small village in mountains of Japan.
There is no age written for this whisky. But the whisky aged around 8 to 20 years in American white oak barrels.
The nose of the whisky is fresh and animated full of flavours from fruits, herbs and a hint of peat. You can find notes of melon, peppermint, cucumber, pear, grass and citrus.
The taste is full of fruitiness. You can taste honey, vanilla, herbs, mint, grapefruit, cucumber and peat.
The finish is long with light sweetness, fruits and a hint of peat.

Nikka Yoichi                                         Vol.-45%
Yoichi Single Malt is described as bold and strong. Pleasant peaty notes and smokiness originating from the traditional direct coal-fired distillation as well as a briny hint delivered by the sea breeze during the aging process.
You can say, that the taste is near to the taste of whiskies from the Isles of Scottland.

spring water

Nikka Miyagikyo                                   Vol.-45%
Miyagikyo Single Malt shows the characteristics of Nikka’s second distillery built in 1969. The founder Masataka Taketsuru chose this site in the mountains of Sendai to contrast with his first distillery, Yoichi, which is located in the coastal area. Miyagikyo Single Malt is described as soft and fruity.
Using less peaty malt, this whisky is distilled in a pot still heated by indirect steam at a low temperature. Miyagikyo Single Malt has an elegant fruitiness and a distinctive aroma with a strong Sherry cask influence.

Nikka 12y                                              Vol.-43%
A blended whisky introduced in 2014, Nikka Whisky’s 80th anniversary.
The honorable golden emblem designed by Masataka Taketsuru in 1940 and the asymmetry bottle design inspired by “Kimono” show the layers of tradition. The flavours of this whisky is designed to portray our gratitude to heritage. Using more malt whiskies than grain whiskies in the formula, this expression has malty and rich flavours, well-balanced with the softness and mellowness of Coffey Grain whisky.

Nikka Taketsuru Blended Malt             Vol.-43%
Taketsuru Pure Malt is a range of blended malt whiskies named in honour of Masataka Taketsuru, the founder of Nikka and father of Japanese whisky. These whiskies highlight the complexity and preciseness of blending. One of Nikka’s signature products to showcase our way of blending and perfecting flavours. Gentle malt flavour, fruitiness and extremely well-balanced taste make it a perfect entry point into the world of Nikka.

Nikka From the Barrel Blendet Malt    Vol.-51%
“Nikka From The Barrel” is a blended whisky created to deliver full flavours and richness of whisky “from barrels” which only blenders can sniff and taste.
The iconic bottle is designed to reflect “a small block of whisky” – embodying the rich, strong taste of the whisky within. From The Barrel is an extremely complex blended whisky bottled at 51.4% ABV. In order to deliver its richness and full flavours, the blended liquid goes into used barrels for another few months for “marriage” before it is bottled.

Yamazaki 12y                                       Vol.-43%
The Suntory Yamazaki 12y has a unique taste of wood, marzipan and pineapple, which makes this whisky great asked in the world.
The nose is full of fruitiness. You will find aromas of vanilla, marzipan, pineapple, pear, orange, grapes, apple and a hint of sherry cask.
In the taste a strong taste of oak goes hand in hand with the sweetness of a fruity sherry and malt with notes of milk chocolate.
The finish is long and creamy with notes of pineapple, chocolate and oak.
This whisky is 12 years aged in Mizunara Oak barrels.

Japanese whisky distilleries:

  • Chichibu
    • −Japan’s newest distillery about 2 hours north west of Tokyo
    • Ichiro Akuto
  • Eigashima
    • − often known as ‘White Oak’ distillery, with separate still rooms for sake, shochu and whisky
    • Akashi
  • Fuji-Gotemba
    • − lying at the foot of Mount Fuji, it is currently the world’s largest whisky distillery
  • Hakushu
    • − known as the ‚forest distillery‘. It is the highest and remotest distillery in Japan with a unique climate that is perfect for maturing whisky
    • Beam Suntory
  • Karuizawa
    • − the smallest whisky distillery in Japan which is located in a popular mountain resort
  • Miyagikyo
    • − Originally named Sendei. Used in Nikka blended whisky, with recent single malt releases starting to gain recognition
    • Nikka
  • Yamazaki
    • − Japan’s first whisky distillery opened in 1923. It has the most popular visitor centre and a world famous bar
    • Beam Suntory
  • Yoichi
    • − Japan’s most northerly distillery and the only one located on the island of Hokkaido
    • Nikka

PS: da Englisch nicht meine Muttersprache ist freue ich mich über konstruktives Feedback zum Text und der grammatikalischen Richtigkeit. Ich hoffe dennoch, dass alles gut verständlich ist.

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