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Issue 84 - The Art of Science

Whisky Magazine Issue 84
November 1999


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The Art of Science

Dave Broom examines how Japan's distillers are taking their country's whiskies into the world.

Almost as soon as whisky, and other foreign spirits such as gin, arrived in Japan there were attempts to replicate them with home-made liquors made from neutral alcohol flavoured with perfume, spices and other flavourings.

It's no surprise that Yokohama, the original point of entry for foreign spirits was also the seat of these initial experiments, though by the end of the 19th century firms such as Kanseido and Denbei Kamiya (in Tokyo) and Nishikawa and Konishi (in Osaka) were beginning to specialise in the field.

It was at the last of these that the young Shinjiro Torii first learned his trade. In 1899, he left to found his own firm, Kotobukiya which would eventually evolve into Suntory.

Afew years later, in 1917, a young chemistry student called Masataka Taketsuru left Osaka University to join one of the ersatz producers, Settsu Shuzo.

A year later Taketsuru is on a boat bound for Glasgow, to both learn about chemistry, and though it was never explicitly stated probably to learn whisky making, as his boss Kihei Abe appears to have had had the idea of building a whisky distillery in Japan.

The important point is that Taketsuru was a scientist. One of his first acts was to buy the only textbook on whisky-making, JA Nettleton's Manufacture of Scotch Whisky and Plain Spirit. In March 1919, he registered for three summer courses, Organic Chemistry at the University of Glasgow and Organic and Inorganic Chemistry at the Royal Technical College (now Strathclyde University) th...

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