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Nikka was originally called Dai Nippon Kaju, which means “The Great Japan Juice Co.”. The company was started by, among others, the famous Masataka Taketsuru, perhaps the most central figure in Japanese whisky. At Dai Nippon Kaju, the ambition was to make apple juice, and they did so for a few years, but consumers were not satisfied that the juice was cloudy (it was not trendy in 1930s Japan), so large quantities were sent back. So that this would not go to waste, it was decided to ferment and distill it into brandy. Taketsuru had experience in spirits production, both from Scotland, where he apprenticed at Longmorn and Hazelburn, and from Yamazaki in Japan, which he helped start about 10 years before. It wasn’t long before they also started making whisky. In 1952, seven years after ceasing to make apple juice, the name changed to Nikka Whisky Co (a contraction of the old name).
Today, Nikka owns two whisky distilleries, Yoichi in Hokkaido, where whisky production started in 1936, and Miyagikyo near Sendai in Miyagi, built in 1968.
Yoichi is laid out almost like a small village with old stone houses. When buildings are demolished in the nearby village of Otaru, Nikka buys up the stones in case they need to renovate the historic buildings at Yoichi in the future. The whisky produced here is relatively heavily smoked and a bit heavier than the style at Miyagikyo. Yoichi is one of the last distilleries in the world where the boilers are “direct fired” and every 8 minutes an employee has to shovel coal into the furnace under the boiler.
Miyagikyo, in contrast to Yoichi, has a greater focus on non-smoked whisky, and the style is lighter and more “Speyside-like”. The boilers are larger and heated with steam, and the pipes from the boilers to the condenser go upwards. Since 2017, Nikka has also been making vodka and gin on Coffey stills at Miyagikyo.

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