The founder, Masataka Taketsuru, travelled to Scotland in 1918 to learn the process of distilling Scotch whisky first hand. He studied organic chemistry under Prof. T. S. Patterson at the University of Glasgow and malt whisky production at the Hazelburn distillery, in Campbeltown near the Mull of Kintyre. He married Jessie Roberta "Rita" Cowan, the daughter of a Glasgow doctor, and returned with her to Japan in 1920. In 1923 he joined Kotobukiya (currently Suntory) and helped to establish a distillery before starting Nikka in 1934.
After their deaths, the company was run by their adoptive son, Takeshi Taketsuru, who expanded its business substantially.