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《Wines of the World》Fathers of Japanese Whisky



When did you start noticing Japanese whisky? Did it begin during the last two or three years?

Did you begin to notice Japanese whisky because of a friend’s referral? Media coverage? Rarity? Or the drama series about the fathers of Japanese whisky?

Indeed, the marketing and promotion of Japanese whisky during the past 3 to 5 year have been hugely successful, with its scope and impact reaching a global level.

Even if not involved in the industry, I bet you can probably name a few mainstream Japanese whiskies and even their producers; this is a clear sign of good marketing and promotion. And many people might not know the fact that Japanese whiskies had never been mainstream in the global market.

In September 2014, NHK released the 150-episode drama series, ‘Massan’, which gives the story of Masataka Taketsuru and was aired over the course of 6 months In November, Jim Murray's Whisky Bible 2015 selected Yamazaki 2013 as the top winner of the year.

Much attention was drawn within Japan and abroad.

I believe many people would know that Suntory and Nikka are two major Japanese whisky brands, and each has a series of brands.

Suntory: Yamazaki, Hakushu, Hibiki, Chita, Kakubin and Suntory Old etc.
Nikka: Yoichi, Miyagikyo, Taketsuru etc.

I think it is no exaggeration to call the founder of Suntory and Nikka the fathers of Japanese whisky.



In 1932, the founder of Suntory, Shinjiro Torii , established the Yamazaki Distillery and recruited Masataka Taketsuru – a young man who was so passionate about whisky that he went to Glasgow University in 1918 to learn the craft of whisky making and made it his mission to bring the distilling technique of Scottish whisky back to Japan. Together, the two started from the first distilling stills and then one after another.

Yamazaki Distillery was hailed “The Pioneer of Japanese whisky" for whisky was a rarity before its time, and no one had any experience in producing whisky.

According to the records of Yamazaki Distillery, Shinjiro Torii and Masataka Taketsuru went through numerous trials and errors, including: overburning the peat or insufficient filtration after malting, causing excessive precipitate to halt the distillation process. After a variety of adjustments, the distillation process was perfected and the product was finally completed.

At the time, only a few from the upper class had the money to purchase imported whisky. Not wanting to rely on imported goods and to satisfy the delicate taste of the Japanese people, Shinjiro Torii was determined to produce whiskies that were suitable for the locals.

Unfortunately, Shinjiro Torii’s conviction conflicted with that of Masataka Taketsuru, who wanted to bring authentic Scottish whisky to the country.

A few years later, Masataka Taketsuru set up his own distillery in the coastal town of Yoichi, Hokkaido.

Hokkaido was chosen because of its similarity in climate and the natural environment to Scotland, and the Yoichi Distillery has also insisted on the traditional method of direct coal firing for distillation, producing whiskies that carry the unique fruity and peaty flavour similar to Scotch whisky.

On the contrary, Suntory whiskies have a sweet fruity flavor and a delicate taste - a reflection of Japanese craftsmanship.

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