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A brief history of Japanese Whisky

The two most influential figures in the history of Japanese whisky are Shinjiro Torii and Masataka Taketsuru. Torii was the founder of Kotobukiya (later to become Suntory). A western liquor importer, he made it his life’s work to develop the first commercially available Japanese whisky. Torii built the first Japanese whisky distillery in Yamazaki, a suburb of Kyoto, in an area famous for its excellent water.

Torii hired Masataka Taketsuru as a distillery executive. Taketsuru had studied the art of distilling in Scotland and brought this knowledge back to Japan in the early 1920s. Whilst working for Kotobukiya he played a key part in helping Torii establish the Yamazaki Distillery. In 1934 he left Kotobukiya to form his own company—Dainipponkaju—which would later change its name to Nikka. In this new venture he established the Yoichi distillery in Hokkaidō.

The production of Japanese whisky began as a conscious effort to recreate the style of Scotch whisky, however individual distilleries in Japan have become increasingly more diverse over recent years. As the industry is vertically integrated, with whisky companies owning both the distilleries and the brands of blended whiskies, it is quite common for a single Japanese distillery to produce a wide range of styles. The diversity and innovation of Japanese distilleries may be regarded as one of the contributing factors to their recent high profile and acclaim in the global arena.

Before 2000 the market for Japanese whiskies was almost entirely domestic, though this changed in 2001 when the Nikka Yoichi 10 Year Old Single Malt won “Best of the Best” at the Whisky Magazine awards.  Thus, the world began to discover the excellence of Japanese whisky.  Countless awards later, international demand for Japanese quality whisky continues to grow at an unprecedented rate.  To meet this demand the Japanese Quality Whisky Society was formed, sourcing the world’s best whiskies direct from Japan with free delivery Australia wide.