Nikka is an iconic whisky producer with a history that is inextricably linked with Japanese whisky.
Masataka Taketsuru founded his first Nikka distillery in 1936. Hokkaido was chosen as the location for the Yoichi distillery because of the coastal influence and water source, akin to the Scottish isles. Prior to setting up his own distillery, Taketsuru had worked with Suntory founder Shinjiro Torii. The duo introduced the world to the first, ill-fated, Japanese whisky in 1929. Despite their respective expertise and passion, the two men did not get along and parted ways. A fierce rivalry persisted and is the reason Japanese distilleries, to this day, blend in-house rather than trade liquid.
Taketsuru was heavily influenced by Scottish whisky tradition. The copper pot stills at Nikka Yoichi are direct-fired, producing a rich, characterful flavour profile. The first whisky from Nikka Yoichi was released in 1940.
Taketsuru’s second distillery was built in 1969. Miyagikyo is located in the Miyagi valley – “kyo” means valley in Japanese – and is known for the superior air and water quality. Pot stills and continuous Coffey stills were installed at this site, enabling the team to produce a broader range of whisky styles.
During the 1980s, both distilleries managed to stay open when others, notably Karuizawa, were not as fortunate. Output was, however, significantly reduced as the economy stagnated and shochu rose in popularity. Japanese whisky’s fate took another turn in 2001, when Nikka Yoichi was named best in the world by Whisky Magazine. This caused prices to soar on the secondary market.
In 2015, Nikka discontinued a number of its age statements, replacing them with no age statement bottlings because stock levels at its distilleries were low. Other famous age statements have since been removed, including Taketsuru Pure Malt, and replaced with no age statements.
Under new regulations, announced in 2021, Nikka is no longer able to label Nikka From the Barrel and Nikka Days as “Japanese whisky”.
Out of respect to Masataka Taketsuru and his son – who took over after his father retired – the term “Master Blender” is no longer used at Nikka. Instead, this role is called “Chief Blender”.