Japan’s First Lady of Whisky
Nothing is more Scottish than whisky. Known world-wide for its quality, Scotch is one of the country’s largest exports. Recently though, Japanese distillers have been producing whiskies which have been called some of the best on earth.
The whisky trade in the Far East began in the 1930’s and one of the driving forces behind it was a soft-spoken woman from Kirkintilloch, Scotland – Jessie Roberta Cowan. To this day she is celebrated as the “mother of Japanese whisky”.
Jessie Roberta “Rita” Cowan met Japanese student Masataka Taketsuru while he was in Scotland in 1919 learning how to make whisky and studying at Glasgow University. They were married in 1920 and later moved to Japan in 1923.
In 1934 Masataka set up Dai Nippon Kaju KK, which became known as the Nikka Whisky Distilling Company. The couple chose Japan’s inhospitable North Island as the location for their distillery because of its similarity to Scotland. Rita was instrumental in the distillery’s success, which turned its first profit in 1940 and continued to do so until her death in 1961.
Since the couple’s passing, their genius has been recognized by whisky experts the world over. In 2007, a bottle of “Taketsuru” was voted the world’s best blended malt. A year later, the 20-year-old “Yoichi” was awarded the same distinguished title.
So, we raise a tipple poured over one of our handcrafted whiskey stones to Rita, the mild-mannered girl from Scotland – Japan’s First Lady of Whisky. She is buried on a hillside overlooking the couple’s distillery – a spot which continues to be a place of pilgrimage for whisky lovers everywhere.