In 1918, Masataka Taketsuru traveled from Japan to Scotland to discover ways to make whisky. Whereas there, he studied on the College of Glasgow, turned an apprentice at a variety of Scotch distilleries, and met a woman.
When Taketsuru returned to Japan in 1920, he not solely got here with the primary directions in Japanese on make whisky, he additionally introduced again a Scottish lady named Rita Cowan, who was now his spouse.
The 2 had married only a few months earlier in Scotland, regardless of sturdy opposition from each their households. It’s a narrative that sounds a bit like a cleaning soap opera, a lot in order that one Japanese tv station developed it and inadvertently helped trigger a scarcity of Japanese whisky within the course of.
From September 2014 to March 2015, Massan aired in Japan, a cleaning soap opera miniseries specializing in the lifetime of Taketsuru and his spouse. Episodes had been simply 15 minutes lengthy and aired at eight a.m. Their target market: housewives.
The present was successful, a lot in order that there was a run on whisky domestically in Japan. And in late 2014, Suntory’s Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013 was named “best in the world” by Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible, prompting curiosity in whisky from patrons overseas as properly.
After which there was an issue.
On the time, most Japanese whiskeys on the shelf had been bought with age statements. As an illustration, you may choose up a 12-year, 15-year, or 17-year of your favourite malt. The factor is, somebody needed to estimate the demand for that whisky all these years in the past. Within the early 2000s, Japanese whisky was in severe decline, and nobody deliberate on a whisky award or a preferred cleaning soap opera occurring down the road—positively not in the identical 12 months. There merely wasn’t enough whisky to keep up with the demand.
When all that occurred, a variety of in style Japanese whiskeys had been taken off the cabinets, or moderately, they weren’t restocked as soon as they bought out. Later Japanese whisky releases began to go on sale, most of the time, with out an age assertion.
Not having an age assertion offers a whisky maker a bit extra flexibility in what it releases. With the intention to be bought, a whisky must be aged for no less than three years in a barrel. However by releasing whisky with out an age assertion, distillers can create blends that embrace a superb little bit of that three-year-old whisky blended with older inventory, serving to to make that older inventory final a bit longer.
Whereas we’re probably nonetheless just a few years away from seeing one other 17-year Japanese whisky, distilleries have been ramping up manufacturing to assist meet the brand new elevated demand.
On the middle of all of it is Nikka, a whisky that Taketsuru launched after his return to Japan from Scotland.
Taketsuru went to Scotland for the corporate Settsu Shuzo; nonetheless, it was pressured to desert its whisky aspirations shortly after his return, because of the financial situations after World Conflict I.
In 1923, Taketsuru—who was the one Japanese man with sufficient know-how to make whisky on the time—was recruited by the corporate Kotobukiya (later renamed Suntory) to supervise the development of its distillery. In 1929, the primary Japanese whisky, Shirofuda, was launched.
When his contract with the corporate ended, his spouse, Rita, inspired him to open his personal distillery. He discovered an space of Hokkaido surrounded by mountains and close to the coast—and with a local weather much like that of the Scottish Highlands—the place he may arrange store, opening Nikka’s Yoichi distillery.
Whereas ready for liquid from the distillery to age, Taketsuru began a juice firm, Dai Nippon Kaju—described then as a “nice Japanese juice firm”—to make ends meet. Nikka launched its first whisky, aptly named Nikka Whisky, in 1940. Nonetheless, the corporate’s identify wasn’t modified to Nikka, a shortening of that juice firm identify, till 1952.
And there’s not only one Nikka distillery. The corporate makes whisky at two distilleries in Japan: the Yoichi distillery, which makes use of coal-heated pot stills and steam-heated pot stills; and the Miyagikyo distillery, outfitted with Coffey stills. Miyagikyo was accomplished in 1969. Each distilleries create uniquely completely different liquids, blended collectively for a few of Nikka’s releases, and bought on their very own for others.
Whereas Taketsuru handed away in 1979, at age 85, his legacy continues at each Suntory and Nikka. We’re most likely nonetheless just a few years off from seeing the outcomes, however each manufacturers have ramped up manufacturing to stop one other Japanese whisky scarcity in future, particularly now that the world has fallen in love with Japanese whisky—in a lot the identical approach that Masataka and Rita fell in love as he was studying make it.
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