There cannot be any discussion of the history of Japanese Whisky —or its present day greatness — that doesn’t include Nikka Whiskies. Let's take a look at the brand's path to greatness.
Over 100 Years of History
The story of the Nikka greatness began in 1894, when Masataka Taketsuru was born in Hiroshima. His family was in the Sake Brewing business, so it would seem that he was destined to be involved in the world of spirits.
In 1918, Taketsuru went to Scotland to attend college at the University of Glasgow. A year later he would accept an apprenticeship at the historic Longmorn Distillery, beginning his journey towards whisky greatness. He would then move on to the James Calder Distillery, where he learned about the Coffey Still, a column still that allows for continuous distilling. It was invented by Aeneas Coffey in the 1800s. It revolutionized the Scotch industry and would later become an important part of Japanese Whisky.
After this apprenticeship, Taketsuru moved on to the Hazleburn Distillery for more training before finally returning to Japan. In 1923, he signed a 10-year contract to work for Suntory, becoming a major figure in the development of their whisky program. He was tasked with building the Yamazaki Distillery, and was behind the creation of the first true Japanese Whisky.
In 1934, he formed the Dai Nippon Kaju company, which made its start with juice products. The company built the Yochi Distillery in 1936 and started distilling, with the first Nikka (short for "Nippon Kaju") Whisky being released in 1940. Eventually, the company's name would change to Nikka.
Nikka Whisky: Today's Great Japanese Whisky
The first Coffey Stills were imported to Ashai in 1963. The Miyagikyo Distillery was built in 1969, and the Coffey Stills were later transferred there in 1999. With all of this history behind the brand, the culmination of the Nikka Whisky ascension to greatness would come in 2018. The Nikka From the Barrel bottling, a whisky that had been around since 1985 (and made available in the US in 2018), was named the number 1 Whisky of 2018 by Whiskey Advocate.
Today, Nikka continues to produce top-notch whiskies, including Coffey Still Grain and Malt bottlings, Nikka Days designed for highball cocktails, and Single Malt offerings from both the Yochi and Miyagikyo Distilleries. There is also a new Whisky named in honor of the company’s founder, the Taketsuru Pure Malt.