Nikka Japanese whisky

Japanese whisky shortage hits Nikka

January 12, 2020
By Alana House

Nikka Whisky Distilling has announced its aged Japanese whisky brands will soon disappear from shelves, as surging demand dries up the last of its supplies.

Nikka will discontinue age-statement Taketsuru Pure Malts – now available in 17-, 21- or 25-year-old varieties – in late March.

The company – owned by Asahi – said it will continue to sell the “non-aged” bottles that have no indication of the age of the whisky, after redesigning the bottles.

Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt Whisky was recently named Japanese Whisky of the Year in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2020, considered by many in the industry as the world’s leading whisky guide.

Demand for Japanese whisky is projected to climb 7% annually through to 2022, according to Bloomberg – a boom that has caught everyone by surprise, even the distillers.

For the first time in 20 years, employees Nikka are working day and night shifts to keep up with the surge.

To increase the production of raw whisky, the company plans to invest about 6.5 billion yen ($US59 million) on its Yoichi Distillery in Yoichi, Hokkaido, and Miyagikyo distillery in Sendai by 2021.

The company will build more storage space where raw whisky will be aged and increase the storage capacity by 20%.

A tribute to Masataka Taketsuru, the father of Japanese whisky and founder of Nikka, Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt whisky is a blend of casks from Nikka’s two distilleries in the north of Japan: Yoichi and Miyagikyo.

Nikka’s master blenders rely on a large variety of whisky styles, combining the fresh and fruity notes of youthful whiskies with the rich, evolved character of older ones, aged primarily in ex-sherry casks.

Taketsuru learnt to make whisky in Scotland in the early 20th Century, where he married a local woman named Rita.

He was hired in 1923 by Kotobukiya, which was later renamed Suntory, to be its distiller, before founding Nikka Japanese Whisky in 1940.

According to Forbes, a Japanese soap opera detailing Taketsura’s life is a large part of the reason older Japanese whiskies are hard to find. The soap was so popular that Japanese housewives became interested in whisky and purchased a lot of the reserves!

Drinks Trade sat down with Nikka Whisky International Business Development Manager Emiko Kaji for the lowdown on where the distillery is heading in 2020.

How long have you been with the brand? Have you seen any significant changes to the global appreciation of Japanese whisky in that time?

I entered the company 30 years ago. Nobody in the global market paid attention to Japanese whisky at that time. When I took over the position to manage Nikka’s international business in 2010, some major brands such as Suntory and Nikka had already been recognised among people in the industry. It’s been 10 years since then. Today everyone is aware of the category and wants to try it, which I find to be a significant change.

How does Japanese whisky vary from other whiskies around the world? What makes it unique?

Starting from the 1920’s, when Nikka’s founder Masataka Taketsuru brought back the ways of whisky making from Scotland, the whisky industry in Japan has developed in its own way. Some have inherited Masataka’s method (Nikka Whisky), some have branched from it, some have incorporated totally different methods from other parts of the world, and some have transformed local distillation methods into whisky production. Hence the style of whisky is extremely diverse from producer to producer, which we believe makes this category unique.

Was it exciting was it to be awarded Best Japanese Whisky in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible for 2020?

As mentioned above, Japanese whisky has gained tremendous amount of awareness in the past few years, and the number of brands has been increasing in correlation. In such a situation, it is indeed very exciting and a great honour to be awarded the “Best” in the category.

What country is your biggest market?

Our biggest market is Japan. The biggest market for export is France.We have been in Australia since 2013, however our growth is very minimal due to restriction of supply.

Are there any misconceptions about Japanese whisky in Australia?

We find the Australian market to be well educated when it comes to appreciating whisky. It seems to us that the consumers care about what the product is, resulting is better knowledge about products and brands.

Are there any plans for the brand in 2020 that you can share with us?

We will introduce Nikka Perfect Serve to the Australian market for the very first time.

Nikka Perfect Serve is a competition that places the guests (judges acting as guests) at the center of the experience.

Last year we held the 2019 Global Finals in Melbourne, at The Everleigh.

Nikka Perfect Serve Japanese whisky

[Pictured above is runner up Jena Ellenwood from Dear Irving in New York and winner Asteris Psarras from BOHÈME, Greece.]

What is your favorite way to drink/serve Nikka?

As Nikka has various expressions, I’m enjoying to pick ‘today’s drink’ depending on the occasion and mood. Highball with Nikka From The Barrel is my favorite aperitif. After dinner, I pour Coffey Grain Whisky over vanilla ice cream. It is simple but a very gorgeous dessert at home. Please try.

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