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Scotch Whisky

Wood spirits: How Japan made the world’s first liquor from trees

There’s a folk tale that has been handed down for generations in Ojiya, a small city in Japan’s northwestern Niigata Prefecture known for its traditional textile industry and nationally recognized crop, the koshihikari variety of rice.

According to “The Legends of Ojiya,” a book published in 1979, near the town’s Mitsuboshi-ya liquor store once stood a centuries-old cedar, planted back in 1658. There was nothing special about the tree, goes the story, but one day it began to leak sake — a lot of sake.

“It was the end of 1916,” the narrator says. “One morning, I woke up to find a split in the trunk of a cedar. While I was thinking, ‘That’s strange,’ a white, watery substance began to flow out with a gurgling sound.”

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