Following from Part 1 [link], lets summarise:
1918: Japanese born Taketsuru goes to Scotland and learns a heap load of chemistry whilst studying at university & working at three whisky distilleries. He returns to Japan ‘a whisky wizard’ with a Scottish wife, and helps Shinjiro set up the Yamasaki distillery [which later becomes Suntory]. Taketsuru then sets up Yoichi which later becomes Nikka. Between the two of them, Taketsuru and Shinjiro are responsible for the creation of Japanese whisky and the birth of the two biggest Japanese whisky companies.
As the millennium encroached the Japanese really start digging beer. So much so, beer eventually overtakes sake to become Japans no#1 alcoholic beverage. With sake & shochu still ever popular at #2, whisky remained in shadow until the story of Taketsuru & Rita was dramatised daily on Japanese television [2014-15]. In no time [Japanese] whisky in Japan [often drunk via Highballs] is back ‘in vogue’. Demand for Japanese whisky soon outstrips supply & exports are duly slashed at a time when the appetite for Japanese whisky home and abroad is gathering pace.
In 2015 the whole Nikka single malt range was discontinued, rebranded & reintroduced exclusively as NAS offerings.
Which of these are blends, which are blended malts and which are single malts?
- Nikka Pure malt NAS
- Nikka Pure malt red NAS
- Nikka Pure malt black NAS
- Nikka Taketsuru Pure malt NAS
- Nikka Taketsuru Pure malt 17yo
- Nikka from the barrel NAS
- Nikka 12yo
Answer: All the pure malts are blended malts which typically for Japan only contain single malts from distilleries owned by that company. In the case of Nikka, thats Yoichi & Miyagikyo.
Nikka from the barrel & Nikka 12yo are blended whiskies, again containing Yoichi and/or Miyagikyo with the addition of Nikka Coffey grain.
Neither Yoichi nor Miyagikyo single malts currently carry age statements.
The Japanese Roseisle? According to chief blender Tanisha Sakura, Nikka has about 3000 styles of single malt for batting & blending. Nikka owns two Japanese whisky distilleries, Miyagikyo & Yoichi – and in Scotland, Ben Nevis.
Originally named Hokkaido, established in 1934 by Taketsuru and still currently coal fired.
- 1940 The first blended whisky was produced.
- 1952 Taketsuru’s company was renamed Nikka.
- 1982 Thirty years later, Nikka release their first single malt, a Hokkaido 12yo.
- 2001 Hokkaido was renamed Yoichi when Nikka was taken over by Asahi.
Originally named Sendai and established in 1969 by Nikka & Taketsuru who took three years to find the ideal location after he tasted the water from the nearby Nikkawagawa river.
- 1979 The distillery was expanded for grain whisky production and further expanded in 1989.
- 2001 Sendai was renamed Miyagikyo when NIkka was taken over by Asahi, the largest of the major beer producers who own 38% of the market share in Japanese beer.
Time to taste [finally i know]!
Grain that comes from Miyagikyo’s two Coffey stills, originally imported from Scotland to Japan in 1963.
- N: Sugary sweet straight-bourbon grain [made predominantly from corn so that makes sense], with a fungal & nutty side from youthful wood. Theres a slightly floral sweet-pea fragrance with simple yet desirable sugars opening out. Remarkably well-tempered vanilla, in fact a quite the masterclass in getting the best from young spirit & from young casks.
- T: Sweet & prickly with honeyed/vanilla wood spices [wood chips?], then a dry, oily & wood-nuttiness – much like the nose. After a slightly reticent arrival, theres a noticeable intense dip into a Sauternes-sweet sour. Best with a little water.
- F: The finish especially highlights the realities of this being a young grain in youthful wood. Finishes on light [single] creamy vanilla and a super-controlled slight aniseed/pepper heat.
- C: Here you have mastery displayed in the manipulation & control of fiery elements, and yet i think the highball is the way to go with this one. Alternatively [given the corn], you may be better off drinking a better bourbon for the same money, or many Scotch varieties. Other comparable young grains at around £60 or less that spring to mind are the Irish Greenore 8yo [though i think this Nikka grain is a little better], and Compass Box Hedonism which i reckon is [currently] very similar.
Scores 78 points
Only a few years ago Serge remarked about this Coffey malt, ‘It’s lost its vintage, its age, and a good few degrees, but it is malt whisky!’ – malted barley distilled in Miyagikyo’s Coffey stills in fact.
- N: After the grain, this malt is far richer & oilier & buttery. Its the barley-sugar-complex-depth that is making the difference, given both this and the Nikka Coffey grain are of a similar age & distilled from the same two Coffey stills [though with different settings no doubt]. Some chocolate, a little sherry?, milky Crunchie bar [Bart] and fairly simple sugars – not much but very pleasant.
- T: Again like the grain, its young yet well tempered whisky though theres no getting away from the fact its a young whisky however clever the engineering. A controlled sweet<sour with a big chew in the middle. Reminds me of a slightly tannic/sour, young Inchgower.
- F: Really tasty before a medium-short exit.
- C: Really decent basic NAS, tasty for what it is. Add water for best results.
Scores 80 points.
As we all learn at whisky school, stating ‘super’, ‘rare’ & ‘old’ on a bottle [of whisky or wine, port, rum,…etc], means its neither old nor rare & unlikely to be super – but there is provenance here, historically speaking. This is a limited edition release [arent they all?], of Nikka’s classic ‘Super Nikka’, a blend created by Taketsuru as a tribute to his wife and released in 1962. It contains a high proportion of malt from the Yoichi & Miyagikyo distilleries.
- N: Initially [on our table], theres a collective ‘turn ones nose up’ pong which thankfully diminishes & disappears, leaving a path for some caramel and suggestions of sooty age – yet this is likely to be a young and yet cleverly engineered ‘old style’ blend.
- T: Caramel with plenty of dark woody sherry notes and again, this strange modern/engineered=old style combination. Winey then more caramelly and malty too. Notes of this & that but really its rather bland/safe. No doubt a crowd pleaser with a wide/popular appeal leaning towards a ‘smooth’, ‘alcopop’ type concoction.
- F: Short finish with a hint of smoked wood and yet more caramel.
- C: A ‘sit on the fence’, non-offensive, innocuous blend that wont/cant be pinned down – as in i cant quite put my finger on why this isnt floating my boat at all. Unusually, not one vote or even half vote for this on the night tells the story.
Scores 77 points
[Nikka] Taketsuru Pure Malt NAS  43% WB82.21
A blended malt that contains a high percentage of malt from Miyagikyo and the rest from Yoichi.
- N: After three fairly average whiskies, we may finally be in business. Here we have a deeper fruity-malt profile with some feisty [bourbon>sherry] dunnage>fungal, which signifies to me signs of proper age – and low and behold, this contains malt that is around 10 years old. More info keeps coming in: its also saltyish with oily linseeds, some airfix paint, wet quill feathers! Well rounded overall though with a slightly flat=low abv.
- T: Edgy arrival, some waxiness [mouthfeel], some bitterness, some sootiness [similar to the ‘Super’ in that way], oak, dusty caramel, dark cacao=chocolate,.. Generally a decent chewer.
- F: Caramel bitter>sweet waxy oaky<malt.
- C: Similarly priced to previous three [£55], though the best yet in terms of complexity, some form and some mouthfeel. Doesnt hold too well on returning sips however and the caramel becomes a bore.
Scores 81 points.
Nikka 12yo Blended whisky  43% WB85.75
An aged blend made from Nikka Coffey grain and Yoichi & Miyagikyo malts.
- N: Initially the grain stands out like a sore thumb but moves to the sidelines soon after. Theres a step up here in terms of calibre and age, and so there should at just under £100 a bottle – nearly twice as much as either of the previous four. Notes of waxy popcorn and slightly burnt ginger cake, highlighting to me the corn & some sherry casks in the mix.
- T: 12yo age statement whisky became a bench mark for Scotch not merely because of marketing tradition/arbitrary practise, but because [in many cases] thats when distillers & blenders identified a significant magic/fusion between spirit & wood starting to establish itself. Finally [in this flight] we have ‘ready’ whisky. Again [as on the nose], the grain stands out initially before giving way to a young spongey-yeasty-fungal distillate funk, a dash of lemonade, buttered candy mango-pineapple and soft-dry icecream. Now we are talking!
- F: Finally an actual finish, on mature vanilla & little sherry, dry-clean,… good good.
- C: Competency on every level: form, complexity and some depth, although still rather straight forward/simple at times – so a ‘ready’ whisky but only just. [Lets see how it compares to the 17yo pure malt coming up]. At £95 this 12yo blend is judged differently by our lively group, bearing in mind how plentiful 12yo Scotch single malt is in the UK at less than half the price – good all-round whisky but no bigy.
Scores 86 points
Voted Worlds Best Blended malt in 2015.
- N: Its not exactly flat but it is soft with a metallicy/modern blend-style tangyness and less complexity than ,… but hold on – this is starting to open up nicely. Fruity-oaky-sooty, dry balsa wood>some gunpowder>flint, strawberry-oak-smoke [at a totally inoffensive & yet also beautiful level], really dry vanilla-clotted cream, dry butter=cream,…. An excellent start.
- T: Soft-sharp-winey blend with an acute intensity. Notes of waxy-dry-putty fruits [this, the talking point], dry waxy-squidgy vanilla>fruits [satsuma>dry strawberry lollies], elongated travel, caramac-wax – all contributing to some desirable chew.
- F: Lots of tongue-smacking. Dusty fungal, deep smoke whiffs buried deep within the oaky dry vanilla with a neutral succulent-dry/light charring.
- C: Whilst the 12yo is ‘ready’ but only just, this 17yo is ‘more than ready’ – on another level with an old skool style to boot, the oak doing much of the talking. A really good blend that holds up over time, and yet like the 12yo blend at £95, i begin to think what else is available at £200 over this.
Scores 88 points
Click HERE for Pikka Nikka [outro]