Over the last few years the profile for Japanese whisky has grown considerably within the mainstream, propelled in more recent times (2014) by the media through the award given to the Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013 as best in the world by the Whisky Bible 2015.
Japanese whisky has and will continue to have a long standing relationship and association with Scotch whisky and Scotland. After all, a Scot named Jessie Roberta “Rita” Cowan from Kirkintilloch played a key role in bringing these two nations closer together.
Back in 1918, a young Japanese man, Masataka Taketsuru, arrived in Scotland and enrolled at the University of Glasgow. Interestingly, the Takeshi Taketsuru Prize was founded in 2002 by Takeshi Taketsuru in memory of his father.
Masataka subsequently became an apprentice at Longmorn Distillery and later at Hazelburn Distillery in Campbeltown.
Rita met Masataka when he took lodgings at her family home (Middlecroft House – pictured below) and on 8th January 1920 they married in a Glasgow registry office. The story of their relationship is reported on this BBC article.
Masataka brought back with him two notebooks filled with his notes on the whisky distilling process from Scotland. They are still preserved in a museum and are arguably the most important documents in Japanese whisky making history.
He eventually became known as the father of Japanese whisky. He worked for Kotobukiya – later to become Japanese drinks giant Suntory – before setting up his own distillery at Yoichi. This was the beginning of what was to become the Japanese drinks business Nikka.