Nikka From The Barrel Review

Nikka From The BarrelIMG_1385

51.4% abv

Score:  88/100


Sadly it would seem that Japanese age-stated whisky is becoming even more scarce than its Scottish brethren.  We’ll be a little more lenient in this case, as Nikka From The Barrel is actually a blend, in spite of what your senses may lead you to believe.

I meant to get to this review a couple years back, actually, as a few bottles of this one have been dust-gathering in my basement ‘whisky warehouse’.  Something always seemed to come first.  Now, being couch-bound and only three days out of surgery, I figured it was maybe time to hit up a few of the outliers in the collection.  Perhaps we’ll hit the Red, Black and White series too.  We’ll see.

As to this one…

Well, like I said…no age statement.  Japan is dealing simultaneously with serious overdemand and vastly understuffed warehouses.  If this was Scotland I would suggest it had to do with poor foresight, but I don’t think anyone realistically could have foreseen the rise of Japanese malts to the world stage (or even blends, for that matter!).  I’ve read a few whisky wordsmiths suggest they raised early cautions, but 5, 6, 7 years ago is not the sort of early caution that alleviates pressures on a spirit that relies on the advancement of years for development of flavour profile.

Does this mean we’re more forgiving of Japanese NAS whiskies than Scotland’s sleight of hand?  Nah, not really.  Japan relies less on historical governance and adherence to legislated restrictions than does Scotland, ergo less need to cowtow to the party line.  Tell us it is young and delicious, share the age on the bottle and concede the cask make-up.  Let’s face it…it’s not like the SWA will come a-knocking on those eastern shores.  Unfortunately, the reality is that Japan has sort of positioned itself as the legitimate heir to the Scottish empire, inheriting (if unofficially) its standards, conventions and, in a way, exists almost like a Platonic ‘form’.  Good luck shedding that skin now.  Am I getting too deep here?  perhaps.  So let’s move on.

Long and short of it is that this 500 ml bottle of 51.4% blended whisky is a hell of a drink.  Bold and rich, balanced and nuanced.  Much to like here.  And though I don’t know the current pricing, this one was about $55 Canadian when I grabbed it a couple years back.  Not bad at all.

Nose:  Definitely noses like a Japanese whisky.  Chocolate, soft balanced spices and poached fruit.  Some savoury mince notes.  Pepper, raspberry and blackberry.  Notes of spiced dough.  Lovely nose.  I would guess malt, not blend.

Palate:  Arrives with spice and clean oak.  Second sips are softer.  Fruits and milk chocolate, like a Cadbury Fruit & Nut bar.  Tea and tart fruit juice.  Apple.  Orange and cinnamon.  Very rich and heavy in dried fruits.  Which we love.  Spicy and savoury.  Big whisky, this.

Thoughts:  This one benefitted from a fair bit of breathing time in the bottle.  Not that it was rough off the cork, but the time spent mellowing was well-invested.


 – Image and words:  Curt

17 thoughts on “Nikka From The Barrel Review

  1. David

    I’ve had a chance to try this a few months ago. Certainly not rough off the cork….because there was no cork, just a screw cap.

    The flavour is fine…I would probably give it a similar score. But I would take 1 mark off for the bottle. Especially when full, very hard to pour!

    1. ATW Post author

      There’s something about these bottles I quite like. So contrary to everything Scotch strives towards. The austerity appeals for some reason.

  2. Jeff

    It’s good to see you back, and speedy recovery – and it’s an interesting point: does Japanese labeling law keep producers from sharing information with consumers in any desired, or varied, format at all, or are the Japanese just following Scottish example in playing coy about age as it suits their production schedules?

  3. Shane Goodson

    I prefer this one over many Japanese whiskies I’ve tried (and many whiskies in general). Lovely little gem.

    Wishing you a speedy recovery.

    1. ATW Post author

      Thanks, Shane. A little discomfort is all. Well on the way to back to normal.

      Agree with your thoughts above. And if price is similar to what it was, definitely a gem.

  4. kallaskander

    Hi there,

    good to see you doing reviews again.

    As to Japan… it is true that the Japanese whisky production is miniscule in comparison to Scotland. There are less then 10 producing whisky distilleries in Japan so demand – fuelled by the one man one vote verdict of a Jim Murray over a Yamazaki single cask of 2013 – is easily outstripping production.

    One thing is a Japanese speciality which make things worse. Japanese blends are all in house products. In a blend by Nikka there is traditionally only Nikka whisky. And in a Suntory blend there is only Suntory whisky – no cross overs. With one exception afaik Gingko by Chichibu. That was the first Japanese blend to cross the company borders.

    Anyway, it is one of the reasons that Nikka cancelled age statement bottlings of established offerings and went NAS. Really not enough whisky to go around to sustain single malts and blends at the same time.

    The From The Barrel has always been NAS I think. As to labeling… the Whisky Rules do not apply, Japan could be doing different than Scotland…. if EC laws allow sell the products if they are labeled differently.
    On the other hand they sell the Coffey Malt in the EC, a malt made with continous stills – forbidden in Scotland by the Whisky Rules.


    1. Jeff

      Except that they did manage to bottle whisky to sell, and that whisky has an age, and that age has a direct effect upon the character of that product. This idea of “we don’t have all that much product, or demand is high, somehow means that we can’t give you age information, or it’s ‘traditional’ that we don’t give you age information” is an industry fairytale; again, just more “age matters here, but doesn’t matter there, depending what suits marketing”. Regardless of volume, nobody ages any of this stuff at all with the idea that aging it doesn’t matter.

      What I was wondering was if Japanese labeling laws are as strict about what age information/format can appear on products sold as Japanese whisky, and I couldn’t find much information – not sure what other jurisdictions would think of it all in terms of what they accept or reject as products called “whisk(e)y”, but Japanese whisky isn’t, of course, attempted to be sold as scotch in any case.

    2. ATW Post author

      I was actually going to say something about the inhouse blending ethos in the write-up above, but I try to keep them to about 400 words so I don’t scare anyone away with overly wordy diatribes. Thanks for filling in the blanks, Kallaskander.

  5. kallaskander

    Hi there,

    a bit old but trust our European Community to have some rules on it…

    Click to access url

    As I said a bit old but the gist seems to be that labeling in Japan can/could be even more lieberal than it is in the US or the EC.


  6. Mike. M

    I had this one sitting for the longest time too. I finally opened it 6 months ago and I think between this, Ardbeg 10, Laphroaig 18 and a few other standard go-to drams. I crushed it within a month.

    Very interesting information about the in house blend structure of this Nikka, Kallaskander. Definitely shows through in the quality of the drink. I thoroughly enjoyed this Nikka as well as the price point at the time. You can still find it on some shelves for around the same price, I just can’t remember where.

    Cool photo too Curt. Like what you did there with the suttle contrast between the foreground and background. Sexy shot bud.

  7. lapin rouge

    Good honest review. All I can add is that the square 50cl bottle is PERFECT for ‘working away’ as we say in the UK, fits just right in an overnight suitcase, and the actual whisky delivers the right balance of compexity and blast – which is what you need when staying in an awful hotel miles (or continents) from a decent pub and its raining outside.


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