Japanese whisky is dominated by two big players Suntory and Nikka which is appropriate because the history of Japanese whisky production is dominated by 2 men Masataka Taketsuru and Shinjiro Torii. Masataka was part of a wealthy Sake making family in Japan and was sent by his employers (Settsu Shuzo) to Scotland in 1918 to learn the skill if whisky production. Settsu Shuzo had aspirations to build a distillery in Japan. Not only was Masataka to learn this, he was also to study chemistry at Glasgow University and the Royal Technical College. Masataka’s education included a short stint at Longmorn before spending a number of months at Hazelburn learning about malt whisky production. He also learned about grain whisky and the ‘Coffey’ still at Bo’ness completing his understanding.
You would understand his disappointment when returning to Japan with Scottish wife in toe when Settsu Shuzo’s abandoned their plans for a whisky distillery. This was due to the economic climate at the time and for no other reason. Masataka understandably left Settsu Shuzo and met up with the other key figure in Japans whisky making story Shinjiro Torii from the Kotobukiya company (later to become Suntory).
Yamazaki was built in 1923 against the advice of Masataka who believed another location in the North of Japan bore more resemblance to the terrain of Scotland with the Sea and surrounding mountains. However Shinjiro Torii was a businessman first and viewed the other location as too inaccessible. By now though Masataka had signed a 10 year contract and in Japan they would do the honourable thing and became the distillery manager at Yamazaki. His determination paid off and after leaving Yamazaki for the Great Japan Juice Company (laterly Nikka) he went back to his original site on the North of Japan and opened the Yoichi distillery.
Masataki had a hand in both Japanese whisky giants, Suntory now own several Scottish whisky distilleries including Bowmore, Glen Garioch and Auchentoshan through a subsidiary. Masataki’s influence lives on and Nikka are often credited with having more ‘Scottish’ style whiskies while Suntory have been developing many new ‘Japanese’ methods of production. Japan’s experimental methods have assisted in Japan’s whisky industry making huge inroads to western markets in recent years.
[product_category category=”japanese-whisky” per_page=”4″ columns=”4″ orderby=”date” order=”desc”]