Japanese whisky is taking on Scotch – and winning

Whisky traditionalists will be in for a shock when they visit the Highlander Inn at Craigellachie. For, alongside an exhaustive list of whiskies from all over Scotland – some exceedingly rare – there’s a sizeable selection from Japan. This is because the head barman was for many years a certain Tatsuya Minagawa of Kyoto. After a spell abroad, Minagawa returned to the Highlander in January this year but this time as the owner.

This link between Japan and Scotland has an illustrious history. In 1918, Masataka Taketsuru made the journey to learn the secret of distillation. He studied chemistry at Glasgow University and then worked as an apprentice at two distilleries, Hazelburn and Longmorn. While in Scotland he met and married Rita Cowan – much to both families’ disapproval. He returned to Japan with his wife and founded Nikka, a company that, along with Suntory, is one of the pillars of the Japanese whisky industry. He built two distilleries: Yoichi, on Hokkaido, and Myagikyo on Honshu. A fictionalised version of their story was broadcast earlier this year on Japanese television called Massan with Charlotte Kate Fox playing a character based on Rita Cowan and Tetsuji Tamayama as the godfather of Japanese whisky.

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