Nikka’s first grain whisky distillery closes in March 2024

Nikka has announced the impending doom of their Nishinomiya Plant, the famed first home of their Coffey still.

March 2024 will be the final month of operations at the site. First opened in 1959, the Nishinomiya Plant was originally a bottling facility. With the installation of a Coffey still in 1963, it became Japan’s first dedicated grain whisky distillery (Suntory made grain whisky much earlier, but not at a distillery designed for it). Nikka moved that Coffey still to Miyagikyo in 1998, where it remains in operation today.

Nishinomiya is an important place in Nikka’s history, and not just because of the Coffey still. The city was the location of the vacation home of Matashiro Shibakawa, a merchant who partially financed Dai Nippon Kaju (later renamed to Nikka). Shibakawa owned the house in Tezukayama that Taketsuru and Rita lived in upon return from Scotland, Rita also tutored Shibakawa’s family in English. It was also Shibakawa who stood by Taketsuru, who had to deal with Kaga. Kaga was the company’s major shareholder who reportedly made Dai Nippon Kaju’s employees call him “master” when delivering their salaries. In fact, Shibakawa’s autobiography revealed that Kaga felt betrayed that Dai Nippon Kaju was making whisky: he intended to fund a juice company. Kaga felt that Taketsuru “owed” it to Suntory’s Torii to not make whisky.

In what was probably a great relief for Taketsuru, both Shibakawa and Kaga sold their shares to Asahi Beer in 1954. Nikka became a subsidiary. And to even greater relief, Taketsuru’s buddy Tamesaburo Yamamoto–who was there when Taketsuru got on the boat for Scotland–was president of Asahi Beer. He allowed Taketsuru complete freedom to make whisky as he saw fit.

Osaka’s Shibakawa Building, where Dai Nippon Kaju held its foundation ceremony, has survived through major earthquakes and war. There’s even a bar on the first floor that serves — you guessed it — lots of Nikka whisky.

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