Interview

Whiskies as diverse as their homeland – Naoki Tomoyoshi about Nikka Whisky

The Japanese whisky brand Nikka is one of the best and most successful in the world. In 1934, the first distillery was founded in Yoichi, Hokkaido, by whisky pioneer Masataka Taketsuru. He was thus one of the first to produce whisky in Japan at a Scottish level. A bottling plant in Kashiwa followed in 1967; two years later the Miyagikyo distillery and in 1977 another plant in Tochigi. Today, Nikka whisky is an integral part of the Japanese whisky landscape.

We spoke to Naoki Tomoyoshi, Nikka Whisky Global Marketing & Sales Department Representative, about the brand and the special features of the products. He also talks about the partnership with the family business Kirsch Import, which recently took over the import, distribution and marketing of the renowned whisky brand.

How long have you been working at Nikka? How has your career in the spirits industry been so far?

Naoki Tomoyoshi: I have been working for the company (Asahi-Nikka) since 2009 and in the global Nikka business since 2014. The last decade has been full of ups and downs, from the early days of the Japanese whisky boom to severe stock shortages and an era when the number of Japanese brands exploded.

What role did and does whisky play in Japan?

Naoki Tomoyoshi: Nikka has played and will always play an extremely important role in Japan as the “starting point” of the industry. We may not be the oldest whisky distillery, but without the founder of Nikka, Masataka Taketsuru, and his wife Rita, the Japanese whisky industry would look very different. I consider the story of our founder as the prologue or chapter 0 of the Japanese whisky industry. His spirit and passion live on in Nikka, and that is why Nikka will always play a unique and important role in Japan.

©Nikka Whisky

What role does Nikka play in the Japanese whisky market?

Naoki Tomoyoshi: I would say that Nikka is very popular throughout Japan and is one of the brands that is rooted in people’s daily lives. In terms of volume, however, we are the second largest producer, with a large gap to the first.

How long has the distillery been around? How did it come about?

Naoki Tomoyoshi: Since its foundation in 1934. After the founder Masataka Taketsuru finished his time at Kotobukiya (now Suntory), where he managed the planning and operation of the first whisky distillery, he set up his own business to develop his own style of whisky.

Nikka Whisky founder Masataka Taketsuru with his wife, Roberta Cowan from Scotland, or Rita for short.

What has happened since then? What milestones has Nikka achieved?

Naoki Tomoyoshi: Apart from the various awards over the years, I would say the most epoch-making event was the “Best of the Best” award from Whisky Magazine in 2001. This was the very first time in history that a Japanese brand was awarded the highest award in the world, and small changes started to happen since then.

How many and which products does the portfolio include?

Naoki Tomoyoshi: Due to the different laws and regulations, our portfolio will vary country to country. The “range” page in nikkawhisky.eu best illustrates our portfolio in Europe (our portfolio will vary within Europe, too).

©Nikka Whisky

What makes the Nikka whiskies so special?

Naoki Tomoyoshi: My answer to Q2-5 is definitely the important things when it comes to what makes Nikka special. This is because I believe Nikka has what whisky afficionados are looking for – the history and story that come in your glass. Additionally, the intense attention and dedication towards flavor quality is also what makes our whiskies special.

©Nikka Whisky

How do they differ from whiskies from Scotland, for example?

Naoki Tomoyoshi: The basic methods we use at Nikka is nothing too distant from that of Scotland. We are very true to traditions. However, our foundation is based on the Scottish traditions of 1920. For example, the direct coal fired distillation in Yoichi Distillery was nothing unusual back then, however we have kept the tradition while applying our own new methods. I see it as taking a culture from one place and seeding it in a faraway land and seeing what happens in 100 years.

©Nikka Whisky

You have recently started working with Kirsch Import on sales and marketing in Germany. What do you expect from this partnership?

Naoki Tomoyoshi: Germany is an extremely important country not only because of its large consumption, but also culturally and geographically. It is with great joy and excitement that we are partnering with like-minded and passionate people at Kirsch, and hope to share the spirit with more and more whisky lovers and cocktail lovers in Germany.

What plans do you have for Nikka – both internationally and specifically in Germany?

Naoki Tomoyoshi: We are yet to be ready to disclose our plans, but hope to continue bringing facsnation to the world, and working more closely with the German market.

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+++ We would like to thank Naoki Tomoyoshi for the open and very interesting interview! If you also have an interesting brand, then we should talk. Just send us an e-mail with the subject “about-drinks interview” to redaktion@about-drinks.com – we look forward to hearing from you! +++

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