Within the brief history of Japanese whisky, one hundred years later in the land of rising whisky spirits – a new masterclass of Japanese distillers has emerged. Names defining what it means to be real 100% Japanese whisky.
A Brief History of Japanese Whisky
The method of fermenting rice into a alcoholic beverages was believed to have been developed in ancient China and spread to Japan, along with rice cultivation, around 2,500 years ago.
But it was the Japanese who refined rice wine into what we know as sake. So it should come as no surprise that the land of sake, sushi, and high precision automobiles would refine their production methods to rival those of the world’s best whiskies.
Masataka Taketsuru is considered the Father of Japanese whisky. The son of a sake a brewer, he learned the art of making sake while he was a teen.
When his two older brothers showed no interest in sake brewing, Taketsuru seemed destined to take over the family business. But his desire to learn Scotch whisky making prevailed, leading to intensive study of the science and art.
In 1918, Taketsuru went to Scotland to learn the complete process of Scotch whisky making firsthand. During this time, he visited a number of distilleries and would go on to study organic chemistry at the University of Glasgow. He also met and fell in love with his Scottish wife, Rita, and moved back to Japan in 1920.
Taketsuru returned with two notebooks filled with his notes on the Scotch whisky making process. These handwritten notes are considered the most important documents in Japanese whisky-making history. It is the reason why Japanese whisky is spelled without the “e”, as it follows the Scotch whisky making style.
During the post World War I depression, his dreams of making Japanese-style scotch whisky were nearly dashed by the loss of his financial sponsor. The plan now on ice, Taketsuru was working as a high school chemistry teacher when a company named Kotobukiya reached out to him for his rare expertise in whisky making.
The company needed Taketsuru’s help in building their own distillery in Yamazaki, near their headquarters in Osaka. The opportunity must have been bittersweet for Taketsuru.
Shinjiro Torii, the founder of Kotobukiya, would become the first Japanese whisky pioneer with the financial means and vision to build the first distillery. The Kotobukiya company later changed its name to Suntory, now Beam Suntory, and the rest is Japanese whisky history.
To this day, Japanese whisky spelling still drops the “e” because they stick to the Scotch method––except for when it comes Japanese innovation and refinement.
Until recently, the Japanese whisky industry has strictly adhered to the Scotch whisky making process, including the traditional copper pot still used for Scotch distillation. But in 1961, a wealthy Japanese business man with means decided to invent his own version of the copper pot still, one he called the Sato still.
It took him eight years to perfect, but in the process created a superior whisky he felt was worthy of himself and his close friends –– and one they could all admire as distinctly Japanese. The brand is called Teitessa, with a level of distillation and refinement unmatched by any other Japanese whisky on the market today.
Enter a new masterclass of Japanese whisky distillers with an eye toward innovation.
A new masterclass
Japanese whisky has become wildly popular in recent years. Bottles have become increasingly rare and expensive, with Japanese distilleries claiming to struggle to meet demand.
There’s a reason why Japanese distilled spirits have become so popular. Here are a few brands recently released in America that are produced and bottled in Japan. For Japanese whisky connoisseurs that want to stay ahead of the curve. Teitessa Japanese whisky rises to the top.
Japanese-style distillation equipment and method makes it uniquely Japanese.
Scotch whiskies use the traditional copper pot still for distillation. But we are different. We are Japanese. From the beginning, Teitessa has used its own custom-made Japanese still. The Sato still is named after the father (patriarch) of the Sato family that invented it. Mr Sato started making Japanese whisky for his friends and family at great personal expense in 1961. It took him 8 years to perfect the still design. As you can see, it takes on a beautiful beehive appearance.
His nephew,Takao Koga, is now the Master Distiller and the distillery continues to use the custom-designed Japanese Sato still to this day.
It is different from a traditional copper pot still. The beehive shape helps control the evaporation speed and the elements we want to capture: in this case, our whisky features more of the head and heart of the spirit than the tail.