Scotch enthusiasts found it hard to swallow recently when a Japanese single malt was named the world’s best whisky. But the fact that a Scot played a key role in establishing the hard stuff in Japan may make that news more palatable for some.
Jessie Roberta Cowan, from Kirkintilloch, had little idea how much her life was going to change when a young Japanese man took up lodgings at her family home in 1918.
Masataka Taketsuru had come to Scotland to study the art of whisky-making, taking up chemistry at Glasgow University before becoming an apprentice at Longmorn Distillery in Speyside and later at Hazelburn Distillery in Campbeltown.
Masataka and Jessie – who was known as Rita – soon formed a strong bond and on 8 January 1920 they married in a Glasgow registry office.
It was the beginning of a long journey that was to end with Rita becoming known as the mother of Japanese whisky.
Rita’s role in helping Masataka produce his first whisky in 1940 cannot be underestimated, according to Nikka Whisky international sales manager Emiko Kaji.
“Rita played a very important role in Masataka’s life work,” she said.
“She provided not only moral support but also financial support when they had a difficult time.
“She made every effort to adopt herself to the Japanese culture and stay with him all the time, even during the world war.”