Masataka Taketsuru was 19 when he moved to Scotland to learn about the craft of creating scotch whisky. He spent 18 months in Scotland - working at 3 distilleries in that time and painstakingly documenting the process of distilling and maturing whisky, but perhaps just as significantly met the love of his life, Rita Cowan. After her fiancé died in world war 1, Takestsuru was a chance of a different life and new world. Taketsuru offered to stay in Glasgow with Rita, but knowing his passion was in Japan, Rita insisted they move to Japan - against the best wishes of her family. So Taketsuru and Rita returned to Japan, complete with an in depth knowledge of making that spirit we all know and love... whisky
The Japanese whisky industry has two major players, Suntory created by Shinjiro Torii (the last two syllables of company and founder being the same is no coincidence)... and Nikka founded by the aforementioned Masataka Taketsuru. However, Taketsuru started his career working for Suntory and helping to set up Japan’s first ever whisky distillery, Yamazaki, in 1923. Taketsuru left to set up his own distillery in Yoichi in 1933 due to “creative differences”, and Nikka was born. This may not have been possible were it not for the influence of his Scottish wife, Rita, once again. She was instrumental (quite literally) in raising the funds to set up the Yoichi distillery, as she taught Piano in Kyoto to the children of the eventual wealthy investors of the distillery.
The distillery may be a trek to get to, but once you’re there you are rewarded with free entry to the distillery, as you make your way around each building at your own pace. One of the most fascinating sights is not far from the entrance, where the distillery workers are shovelling coal into their coal fired pot stills, a traditional method which we believe is now unique to the distillery, as all other distilleries worldwide have moved onto more modern methods. `insert sound of coal shovelling` The skill required to keep the still at the correct temperature using a coal fire is a difficult one to master. The reward for doing so though, is a extra element of flavour which is now unique to Yoichi and Nikka. The coal fire give variations in temperatures and hot spots, which gives additional roasted flavours. But the skill is to stop it from burning.