When did Japanese start making whiskey?

Answered by Joseph Earl

When it comes to the history of whisky, we need to go back to the 1920s when two individuals, Shinjiro Torii and Masataka Taketsuru, made a significant impact on the industry. These two pioneers joined forces to establish the first authentic whisky distillery in Japan, marking the beginning of Japanese whisky production as we know it today.

Shinjiro Torii was a visionary entrepreneur who had a passion for creating a unique and high-quality spirit. He was the founder of Kotobukiya, which later became known as Suntory, one of the most renowned whisky distilleries in Japan. Torii had a deep understanding of the Japanese market and believed that there was a demand for a domestically produced whisky that could rival the best whiskies.

Masataka Taketsuru, on the other hand, was a young chemist who had traveled to Scotland to learn the art of whisky production. He studied at the University of Glasgow and apprenticed at several distilleries, gaining valuable knowledge and experience. Taketsuru was particularly fascinated by the production methods used in Scotland and believed that he could adapt them to create a uniquely Japanese whisky.

Upon returning to Japan, Taketsuru joined forces with Torii to establish the Yamazaki distillery in 1923. Located in the outskirts of Kyoto, Yamazaki was strategically chosen due to its pristine source, which was essential for whisky production. Taketsuru brought with him the knowledge and techniques he had acquired in Scotland, while Torii provided the business acumen and financial support needed to make their venture successful.

The first whisky produced at Yamazaki was released in 1929 under the name “Shirofuda,” meaning “white label” in Japanese. This whisky was a blend of and grain whiskies, carefully crafted to suit the Japanese palate. It was well-received by consumers and marked the beginning of a new era for Japanese whisky.

In 1934, Taketsuru decided to pursue his own vision and left Yamazaki to establish his distillery, which eventually became known as Nikka Whisky. He chose the northern island of Hokkaido as the location for his distillery, as its climate and natural resources closely resembled those of Scotland. Taketsuru's goal was to create a whisky that captured the essence of Scottish single malts, and his distillery at Yoichi became the birthplace of some of Japan's most iconic whiskies.

Both Suntory and Nikka went on to produce a wide range of whiskies, each with its own unique style and character. Over the years, the reputation of Japanese whisky grew, and it started gaining recognition on the international stage. In recent decades, Japanese whiskies have won numerous awards and have become highly sought after by whisky enthusiasts worldwide.

The history of Japanese whisky began in the mid-1920s when Shinjiro Torii and Masataka Taketsuru established the first authentic whisky distillery in Japan. Their passion, knowledge, and commitment to creating high-quality whisky laid the foundation for what would become a thriving industry. Today, Japanese whisky is celebrated for its craftsmanship, attention to detail, and ability to rival some of the best whiskies in the world.