Nikka

Nikka was established by Masataka Taketsuru, who is often credited with the creation of Japan’s whisky industry. Headquartered in Tokyo, it is the second-largest whisky producer in the country. 

Nikka operates three distilleries: Yoichi and Miyagikyo in Japan and Ben Nevis in the Highlands of Scotland. They produce a wide range of whiskies as well as gin, cider, brandy and wine.

Casks stacked in front of Miyagikyo's red warehouse covered in snow in winter
Miyagikyo - one of the three distilleries of Nikka

style

Nikka produces an array of different styles. They bottle a range of blended whisky brands as well as blended malts and single malts.

Spirit from Yoichi distillery is coastal with peated aromas while Miyagikyo is elegant, fruity and floral.

Flagship blend Nikka From the Barrel is boldly flavoured and characterful. The Taketsuru blended malt, meanwhile, has a smooth, sherry-cask style.

Grey smoke in front of a white background
Collection of various fruits
Collection of various flower heads
A bright oak cask

production

Japanese distillers do not have the luxury of trading with one another the way their Scottish counterparts do. Instead, they must produce a whole range of different spirit characters themselves.

Nikka produces malt whiskies in Pot Stills at Yoichi and Miyagikyo. Grain spirit for use in blended whiskies is distilled from corn in a Coffey still at Miyagikyo. There is also a range of Coffey Grain and Coffey Malt bottlings.

Nikka From the Barrel is created by blending more than 100 whiskies from Yoichi and Miyagikyo with imported spirits. The components are then married in a range of casks, including ex-bourbon whiskey barrels and ex-sherry butts.

In the past, Japanese whisky was often padded out with imported spirits from Scotland and Canada. In 2020, the Japan Spirits & Liqueurs Makers Association agreed on a new set of rules that would define what could be labelled as Japanese whisky. While not protected by law, the rules are agreed upon by the Association’s members. That includes both Suntory and Nikka, the two largest producers in the country.


history

Masataka Taketsuru was born into a sake producing family in Hiroshima, in 1894. In 1918, he was sent to Scotland by his employer, Settsu Shuzo Co Ltd. The company had plans to establish a new whisky industry in Japan.  

Copper pot stills standing in a row in Miyagikyo still house
Miyagikyo still house

Taketsuru enrolled at Glasgow University, majoring in Chemistry. He spent two years studying and learning about distilling at several Scotch distilleries. In 1920, he married a Scottish woman, Rita Cowan, who moved to Japan with him. 

Taketsuru returned to find his employer had cooled their whisky plans but he was recruited by the Kotobukiya Group. Taketsuru was charged with guiding the creation of Japan's first whisky distillery at Yamasaki. The Kotobukiya Group later changed its name to Suntory.

When Masataka’s contract ran out, Rita convinced him to start his own business. In 1934, he established Yoichi Distillery on the island of Hokkaido. As his spirit slept in cask, he formed Dai Nippon Kaju “The Great Japanese Juice Company”. His first whisky, launched in 1940, carried a shortened version of the name: Ni-Ka.

In order to produce grain whisky, the company imported a Coffey still from Scotland in 1961. Super Nikka Blended Whisky launched later that year, in honour of Rita, who passed away on January 17th.

A second malt distillery at Miyagikyo followed in 1969. Ten years later, Masataka passed away, leaving a legacy unmatched in the Japanese industry.

Nikka continued to expand, snapping up the old Ben Nevis distillery in Scotland in 1989. In 2000, they released the Taketsuru Pure Malt in honour of their founder, Masataka. There is also an age expression called The Nikka 12 y.o that has become a coveted bottling.