After reading Brian Ashcraft’s Japanese Whisky, I found myself in a mood to taste some Japanese whiskies. I reached out to Nikka for help, since I haven’t formally reviewed any of their expressions on this blog. They were kind enough to send over a few samples.
Nikka is one of the top whisky producers in Japan. In 1934, the company was founded by Masataka Taketsuru, the father of Japanese whisky. He first built the Yoichi distillery on the island of Hokkaido. Success lead the company to open the Miyagikyo Distillery in 1969. The distilleries sit in two vastly different sub-climates of Japan, giving the whiskies they produce very different characters, which you’ll soon read about.
Yoichi Single Malt
Yoichi is Nikka’s first distillery, built in 1934. This NAS expression is the entry to the distillery’s single malt range. This whisky matured in new American Oak and Sherry casks, and is bottled at 45% abv.
The nose is briny, with salted caramel, stewed fruit, and a wisp of smoke. On the palate, orange marmalade complements sea weed, oak spice, toffee, and a slightly earthy note. Brine, dark chocolate and rich malt linger on the long finish.
I love the character of this whisky. It’s peated, but that peat isn’t overpowering. The slighly salty notes play really well against the richer, sweeter notes. I think I need more Yoichi in my life! 8.5/10
Miyagikyo Single Malt
This NAS single malt comes from Miyagikyo, Nikka’s second distillery built in 1969. It’s bottled at 45% abv and features malt whiskies matured in new American Oak casks, ex-bourbon oak, and Sherry casks.
The nose is somewhat complex, with those sherry notes slightly dominating. In the background, hints of sweet malt, citrus fruit, woody peat show through. On the palate, sherry leads, with hints of oak, cinnamon, light peat, savory herbs, and sweet malt following. The medium-length finish is features sweet, rich malt and some spiced fruit.
Miyagikyo Single Malt is nicely balanced, with a wonderfully rich mix of fruit, spice, malt and light peat. Though there is no age statement here, I can only imagine what malts this distillery can put out at 12 years or older. This is a fantastic entry to the distillery’s style. 8.5/10
Taketsuru Pure Malt
Nikka’s Taketsuru Pure Malt features malt whiskies from both the Yoichi and Miyagikyo distilleries. The whiskies for this blend were pulled from Sherry butts, bourbon barrels, and new American oak casks. Taketsuru Pure Malt is named after the distillery’s founder, Masataka Taketsuru.
The nose is bright, with hints of fresh fruit, lemon peel, wine, and sweet malt. The entry is soft, with light butterscotch and crisp fruit, followed by lemon peel, vanilla, and oak spice. The finish is long, with lingering notes of sweet fruit juice and cinnamon.
Taketsuru Pure Malt is a rather pleasant whisky, and a great entry into the broad Japanese whisky category. It is very well balanced, which speaks to the craftsmanship behind the blend. Nicely done. 8/10
Nikka Coffey Malt
Like its name suggests, Nikka’s Coffey Malt was distilled on one of the company’s two Coffey stills at the Miyagikyo Distillery. It is a NAS expression made from 100% malted barley and bottled at 45% abv.
The whisky has a rather rich but simple nose, with hints of vanilla, sweet malt, and cinnamon. The Coffey still has given this whisky a bit of body, with hints of toffee, cinnamon, toasted oak, and some floral notes. A bit of lemon peel brightens things up. The medium-length finish is sweet, with spiced toffee.
The palate is pleasant, but not complex. Therefore, this whisky might be utilized best as a mixer. 7/10
Thanks to Nikka for the samples. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.