Japanese Whisky: Spotlight on Nikka
Irish whiskey. Scotch. Bourbon. These spirits are well known around the world. But what about Japanese whisky? To many, sake is the beverage product most associated with Japan. However, Japanese whisky, while not around as long as sake, still has a rich history in the Japanese spirits industry. That history begins with one man, Masataka Taketsuru. Takestsuru’s family was in the sake brewing business, but he developed a passion for whisky. So in 1918 he went to Glasgow, Scotland (as a chemistry student at the University of Glasgow) so he could study whisky making. By doing so he became the first ever Japanese to learn the art of whisky making. After 2 years in Scotland, Taketsuru returned to Japan and he wasn’t alone. He brought his wife, Rita, a Scots woman he met while in Glasgow and together they became known as the Father and Mother of Japanese Whisky.
In 1934 Taketsuru founded what is now known as Nikka Whisky in the town of Yoichi on the island of Hokkaido. He specifically chose Yoichi because the environment and cold climate reminded him of Glasgow. In 1949 the first bottle of Nikka Whisky hit the Japanese market. Even with the war raging on, it soon became a favorite with locals and Naval officers stationed in Japan.
For years, Nikka Whisky was not available in the United States. However, in 2012, Anchor Distilling Company launched the whiksy into the U.S. market. Now, American whisky lovers have the opportunity to get their hands on two of Nikka’s fantastic expressions: Yoichi Single Malt and Taketsuru Pure Malt.
The Yoichi Single Malt is made in Nikka’s first distillery in Yoichi. The pot stills in the Yoichi distillery are directly heated with finely powdered natural coal and then stored and matured for 15 years. This method, which is rare even by Scotch whisky standards, is what gives the Yoichi Single Malt its flavor. Smoky, as well as spicy with hints of caramel flavor, make this a unique and flavorful whisky.
The Taketsuru Pure Malt is a vatting of 12 year old whisky from both the Nikka distilleries: Yoichi and Miyagikyo. Unlike the first distillery which sits near salt water, the Miyagikyo distillery is housed between two fresh water rivers and surrounded by mountains. This environment lends itself to a milder malt. With this milder malt and sweeter, smooth taste, Taketsuru is a great introduction to Japanese whisky. In 2012 the Taketsuru Pure Malt 12 year old was Silver medal winner in the New York International Spirits Competition.
While its history and flavor profile most resembles Scotch, there is a very distinct difference when it comes to the Japanese Whisky. In Scotland, blended whisky is made by blending single malts from different distilleries. In Japan, distilleries do not trade any whiskies for blending. Instead,they make numerous in house variations of their whisky. However, as is sometimes the case in Scotch, these variations are are aged in many different types of barrels, from former bourbon and sherry casks or unused barrels to American oak, but also rare Japanese oak.
Even though Japanese whiskies are still relatively new to the U.S. markets, the unique flavor, rich history and dedication to excellence are sure to make Nikka a large part of the spirits world. In fact, in 2012 Nikki Whiskey was awarded the Japanese Whiskey Distillery of the Year by the New York International Spirits Competition. The U.S. is certainly lucky that Anchor Distilling Company has brought these wonderful Nikka whiskies from across the Pacific to our shores.