It started when Japan decided to open her port to the rest of the world in the end of 1800s. The Japanese executed one of the most peaceful transaction from an empire into semi-democracy.
Whisky was being introduced to Japan back in the same period. The Japanese did attempt to make some kind of whisky like product with color dye and artificial flavor, but made it official in the year of 1923, when Shinjiro Torii decided to start the first distillery in Japan.
Story said Torii spent quite a while to try to score a master blender for his distillery, but fail to spot one, because he was one of the few pioneers of the whisky distilling industry in Japan. Since pretty much everyone he reached out said, “No one besides Masataka Taketsuru can get the job done in Japan”, so he spent 4000 Japanese Yen per year, for ten years, to hire Taketsuru as his company’s chief blender.(Equal around 20,000,000 Japanese Yen now, which is an annual salary of 1,200,000 Hong Kong Dollar )
Torii created Japan’s first distillery in Yamazaki, based on the fact that whisky relies on the water source. The three rivers- 宇治川、木津川 and 桂川 provided a supreme quality, yet consistent level of water supply lies as the backbone of his legacy. ( Please see “Suntory” for further information)
In the year of 1929, these two master composed the first Japan made whisky named “Shirofuda”, as known as the “White Label”. It is a scotch like whisky offering a heavy peat and woody taste. It was not a huge success based on the fact that the product did not fit well with the Japanese diet.
Torii thinks that the distillery should switch the direction of whisky making so the final product would become a better fit for the market. The chief blender- Taketsuru picked the other side of the scale, thinks the distillery should stick with the Scotch’s way and the market will eventually adopt the product.
After finished the ten year contract, Masataka Taketsuru decided to chase his dream of distilling traditional Scotch and opened his own distillery in Yoichi, Hokkaido back in 1934. It was the original spot that Taketsuru had in mind for setting up a distillery after he got back from Scotland.
In 1939, Torii introduced Kakubin, which was a huge success compare with the White Label. Kakubin holds the DNA of Torii’s marketing strategy. It was tailor made to fit Japanese’s palate. While on the north side of Japan, Taketsuru launched Nikka Whisky in 1940.
Both of the distillery survived the war, worked on perfecting their skill. Both of the brands gained worldwide recognition in the 21st century. Even though neither of the old timers has seen the result of the seed that they’ve planted, but their name has marked in the history book and the legacy continues.
by The Experience Company team