Produced at Miyagikyo’s grain distillery from 100% malted barley, this is rich gold in hue, while the nose is big and luscious with plenty of ripe banana, crushed hazelnut, and an intriguing green malt note behind. As it opens, there’s the effect of a high-cocoa chocolate bar melting in your hands, as well as coconut, vanilla fudge, and basil. With water (and it needs it) there’s honey on hot buttered toast. The palate is sumptuous; that banana’s now flambéed. Super ripe and fascinating. A grain for malt lovers. £99. Price in US dollars converted at time of review.
Nikka’s first distillery is located in the eponymous town on the western coast of Hokkaido. Here, power is the key. Deep and rich with a distinct oiliness — somewhere between linseed and cod liver — there’s also plenty of smoke in the mix as well, and a little hint of black olives in brine with ripe apples lurking behind. I hate making comparisons between Japanese and Scotch single malt but if I was forced to, Yoichi reminds me most of Springbank (edging into Longrow). Water dampens the personality too much for me; best have it full-on and uncompromising.
Rather than the palate showing a slow procession of flavors along the tongue, this is a layered whisky; coal-like, oily, and richly fruited with a distinct saltiness on the sides, ably demonstrating that Japan has almost as much variety on offer as scotch. £76.95.
Notably balanced and elegant, the colorful palette of whiskies combines for tremendous depth of flavor. Soft, sweet butterscotch and orange peel meet poached pears and stone fruits. Earthiness appears as dried autumn leaves, coffee, old oak, and tobacco. Among the tangle of spices, tasters identified chili pepper, allspice, cloves, and universally adored its ginger note. Finally, wisps of smoke and sea salt. Overall, it feels generously malty, with the grain whisky lending broad sweetness and supple mouthfeel across the long finish.
Beyond its delightful flavors, Nikka From the Barrel presents some paradoxes worthy of contemplation over a glass. It is a classic, yet new to the U.S. It is typically Japanese, yet singularly magnificent. It is delightful sipped neat and also blossoms with water. Even the simple, squat bottle is in contrast to the profound complexity within. (Fortunately, the 500 ml bottle offered in other markets received a supersizing for U.S. drinkers.)
The great majority of new Japanese whiskies now arriving to our shores are so rare and so expensive that they seem intended only for elite whisky lovers. Nikka From the Barrel is a consummate Japanese blend for anyone to enjoy. Number 1 in the 2018 Top 20
Sweet, with subtle, crisp, nutty oak, then comes fudge, ripe banana, and peach. The overall effect is like eating vanilla ice cream with toffee fudge and hazelnut sprinkles. The structure is thick and physical, the palate sweet and quite fat, with light hints of raspberry, fruit salad. A jag of acidity freshens the delivery on the finish. With water there’s more toffee, and it becomes slightly more yielding, with less oak. For me the gold standard of grain.
A high-strength blend that takes no prisoners. The color is full gold and the first thing that hits the nose is a complex mix of restrained smoke (sandalwood, cigar), fennel, and celery before semi-dried tropical fruits and orange peel take over. The palate also shows some of that mango character, but also crisp oak and a burst of sweet powdered spices on the finish. A malt-lover’s blend.
Nikka’s signature bottling honors founder Masataka Taketsuru, who brought his whisky making skills back from Scotland to Japan in 1920. Taketsuru’s successors have reformulated this blended malt, which fully complies with the latest definitions of Japanese whisky. The aromas create an oasis of calm
with layers of gentle wood spices, smoke, vanilla pod, and lemon biscuits, while the palate carries a distinctive waxy sappiness that revels in luscious flavors of star fruit, lemon, Asian pear, peach syrup, and aromatic spice.
Number 15 in the 2021 Top 20
Wonderful to see this portly bottle in U.S. stores at last. An exotic nose, with turned woods, stewed plum, sultana, ground ginger, dried chilies, and black cherry, it oscillates between spice and dark fruits. Rich smoke is packed deep; it’s far from the most dominant aroma. Orange, cherry, mango, and bubble gum notes are beaten back by a spicy rush of ginger and pepper, the sweetness prevailing over the cloves. Editors' Choice
A celebration of Nikka’s 80th anniversary, and, in the spirit of the founding principles of Masataka Taketsuru, it’s a blend. The oldest cask here is Yoichi from 1945, there’s also a Miyagikyo from 1969. Only 900 bottles have been made. Huge whisky rancio, delicate smoke, light varnish, wax, hints of incense, and while rich, there is still remarkably fresh tropical fruit. Tasted blind, it could easily be mistaken for a Grand Champagne Cognac. Amazing length and purity. Sophisticated. €3,600
A nose to savor and get lost in contemplation with its array of beautifully layered wood spices interwoven with balanced smoke, polished wood, vanilla pod, and lemon-scented biscuits. This new edition has a waxy feel, with sappy flavors of star fruit, preserved lemons, Asian pear, lychee, peach syrup, and an underbelly of moody spices. The spicy finish retains a residual sweetness.
This single malt bottling shows Miyagikyo’s emollient style at its best. This is all about super-soft orchard fruits; think apricot and sweet persimmon, though there’s also a touch of sweet sawdust and even a whiff of pine sap and milk chocolate. It demonstrates the classic Japanese trick of being both clear and precise in its aromas, as well as being heightened in intensity. The palate is a little slow to start with, offering a mix of spruce and pine, then those soft fruits carry you onward.
In some ways the gentle charms of Miyagikyo are overshadowed by the rambunctious nature of From The Barrel and Yoichi, but soft is a worthy element in Japanese — nay, all — whisky. £76.95. Price in US dollars converted at time of review.
A rarely-seen cult whisky made by distilling a 100% malted barley mash in a Coffey still and, in this expression, then aged in a remade hogshead. This is firm and complex on the nose with vanilla pod, crème caramel, and ripe banana. The palate manages to balance the silky depths and unctuous flow with nutmeg and a light cereal grip. Grain, malt, or something else? Who cares? Just seek it out. €155
Now a hugely welcome part of the core range, this whisky—made in Coffey stills at the Miyagikyo distillery—uses 100% malted barley as its base. The nose is all tinned peach, tropical fruit juice, and baked banana, with a surprising green celery note, coconut, and sherbet. The palate is silky, with some chocolate, biscuity oak, and orange blossom honey. Water brings those green notes forward to add freshness to the peach cobbler sweetness. The grain revolution builds. £43
An accomplished blend packed with appealing flavors from Miyagikyo and Yoichi Distilleries. Honey, baked lemon, vanilla essence, brioche, golden syrup, and spring tree blossom aromas, with hints of butterscotch and caramel. Smooth, rich, and rounded, this has toffee, chocolate, red berry fruit, plum, vanilla pod, a touch of oak char, and clipped spices. A flash of peat smoke on the finish, with flavors of burnt sugar, baked fruits, and spices.
Masataka Taketsuru first blended Super Nikka in 1962 in tribute to his late Scottish wife Rita, and this limited edition pursues the flavors of the original. A dry nose of whole almond, honeycomb, woody herbal twigs, star anise, five-spice powder, and cut and dried peats. Lyle’s Golden Syrup flavors, baked apple, and raspberry coulis with a beautifully balanced, spicy accompaniment, incorporating lemongrass stalks and coconut flakes. Spicy fireworks, herbal remnants, and a slight peatiness make for a complete whisky. €49
Distilled, as the name suggests, in a (Glasgow-built) Coffey still at the Miyagikyo distillery, here we have a corn-based grain with masses of gentle custard tart aromas alongside peach and corn fatness. The mouth is ripe and slow, with banana skin and fruit peels leading to a mellow mid-palate section, where vanilla comes through. It’s all about the feel. €145
This blend is soft and quite sweet, with low levels of spice and that characteristic Nikka richness behind, a classic fist in a velvet glove. Ripe, round, and generous, there’s cocoa and butterscotch, with plenty of persimmon and nutmeg. Lush, round, and balanced; a classic Japanese blend. This will become the core blend in the range, and should be appearing in the U.S., hopefully, in 2015. ¥5,000