Category Archives: Nikka

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

Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt Review

Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt156

43% abv

Score:  88/100


A Japanese blended malt from Nikka.  Non age-stated, but let’s assume a middling youth.  Asian malts mature a little bit differently from their Scottish brethren in most cases, so using the same metrics is misleading.  What I can say, though, is that this one is neither underdeveloped, nor is it gracefully waltzing up into its golden years (that apex of maturity we ache for in the whisky world).

Initial rumblings on this one pegged it as a wonder malt of sorts.  Something that was unparalleled in its price bracket in terms of relative quality and depth of pseudo-tropicalia.  I kinda see it, yeah.  Word of mouth from a few trusted sources was enough to get our local club – The Dram Initiative – to spring blindly for a couple bottles to shelve for a future Japanese whisky night.  It now seems that was a solid investment.  The bottle you see in the photo above was purchased on behalf of another l’il club here in town, called Liquorature for an event held a few months back.  The seven or eight gents that gathered over good reads and good malts that night spanked the hell out of it, I should note.  Fortunately there were a few drops left over for a couple of revisits and some tasting notes.

Again…we decry the lack of vintage on the label – in this day and age there is no excuse for clandestine policies regarding age – but concede a well-executed drink.  Oh, and a hell of a price for a Japanese whisky in this era of unrestrained price gouging.

Nose:  Pear, orange and a touch of that syrupy fruit cocktail mix from the can.  Vaguely floral too.   Like a good young Speysider with a more exotic spice bouquet.  White chocolate and vanilla cake.  Kinda reminds of ice cream…or custard.  Not a complex malt, but very well-composed and infinitely drinkable.

Palate:  Nice arrival that immediately shifts gears into darker vanilla and tannic notes.  Plum skins.  Is that peat?  Really?  The fruits that ebb and flow here do border on tropical (but the whisky is just too young for it to truly plunge into tropical territory), with those semi-bitter, but also incredibly sweet, colorful explosions (too esoteric?).  Think of a very muted tropical juice blend poured over angel food cake.  Leaves smoked peaches and oak on the back end.  Neat.

Thoughts:  An incredibly well made dram, and for a ridiculously fair price considering the mark-up on Japanese whisky nowadays.  $60 give or take.  One final note…the nose does somewhat outshine the palate.


 – Images & Words:  Curt

Nikka Taketsuru 21 y.o. Review

Nikka Taketsuru 21 y.o.070

43% abv

Score:  88/100


Been a little bit since we shared notes on a malt from the little island nation.  Japanese whisky is increasingly becoming de rigueur, with opinion leaning heavily in favour, prices soaring and collectors foaming at the mouth for special releases.

This one is not a single malt, but a pure malt…or is it a vatted malt…no, wait…a blended malt.  Oh, whatever.  Let’s just go with what’s on the label.  ‘Pure malt’ it is.  In reality, this is a vatting of single malts from Japanese distilleries (of which, there are certainly not a plethora), with no grain whiskies weakening the impact or diluting the character.  The distilleries?  Not sure, but…Nikka owns two of the eight or ten operational distilleries in Japan, so let’s assume this is a marriage from their two interests: Yoichi and Miyagikyo.  (Ahhhh…Wikipedia…where would we be without you?)

The name ‘Taketsuru’, if you’re curious, is a tribute to the late Masataka Taketsuru, founder of the Nikka distiller and father of the Japanese whisky industry.  Taketsuru combined his bent for chemistry and love of whisky to blaze the trails for what has become arguably the world’s most burgeoning whisky scene.  After studying the art of distillation (and, of course, all other facets of the whisky making process) with the masters in Scotland, he returned to Japan and firmly cemented his place in world whisky lore.

This 21 year old dram was tasted blind recently in a mixed flight of other whiskies.  And no…I could not tell it was Japanese.  Tasting notes, score and thoughts were recorded before the ‘reveal’.  Here you have it…

Nose:  Big sherried nose.  And a very nice one, I might add.  Touch of coal smoke.  Orange marmalade.  Jammy, fruity sherry notes.  A little bit of tea.  Scones with black currants and jam.  Some decent vanilla notes.  Mild spices, in the vein of cinnamon and such.  Dark, earthy and leathery.  Slightly savoury.

Palate:  A wee bit too gentle on arrival.  Ok…a lot bit too gentle.  Pleasant, but kinda like driving a Ferrari and not taking it past 60mph.  The flavours of old whisky.  Deep fruits and a quick note of florals.  Maybe some tart ripe plum (skin and all) and plum sauce.  Chocolate.  Perhaps a touch of smoke again.  Hoisin-like savoury-ness.

Thoughts:  Tasted blind.  Immediately apparent it was a bit of a sherry bomb.  Not so apparent it was a blended malt (utterly seamless, as to be expected).  I initially guessed it at about 20 years old, but certainly did not peg this as Japanese.  All in all…a very well-made whisky.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

Miyagikyo 15 y.o. Review

Miyagikyo 15 y.o.204

45% abv

Score:  90.5/100


A few nights back, sitting ’round sharing drams with a bunch of mates, when lo and behold, the tallest and scrawniest of the lot (a fellow we lovingly refer to as the ‘Ginger Buddha’) pops the cork on this l’il gem.  He’d been down to see our mate, Andrew Ferguson, at Kensington Wine Market and been gently nudged in the direction of this malt from the Miyagikyo distillery (under the Nikka brand).  I’m not certain if he did the whole try-before-you-buy thing, or simply picked it up on faith, but either way, those of us in attendance were all amply rewarded for braving the snow that evening.

Lately, more and more, I’ve felt the pull towards the far climes of Asian whiskies.  Amrut, Kavalan, Karuizawa, Yamazaki…the exotic allure is well nigh irresistable.  These malts aren’t simply recreations of that glorious Scottish distillate we all love, but more like a beautiful and resonant variation on a theme.  Atop all of the inherently great characteristics of single malt whisky, levy a heap of exotic spices and off-the-beaten-path fruit notes and you’ll be coming somewhat close to what many of these Asian whiskies generally offer.

This 15 year old Miyagikyo is no different.  It followed hard on the heels of a rather unpleasant blended whisky that night, so it was relatively easy for this one to sparkle in comparison, but subsequent tastings have held up just as well.   Truly a wonderful surprise here from the North of Japan.  I look forward to trying more aged variants as soon as opportunity presents.

Apparently Miyagikyo produces whisky primarily for Nikka’s range of blends, with only a small fraction of their 2 million litre capacity being siphoned off as single malt.  The distillery, near Sendai, was initially founded with a thought to taking pressure off Nikka’s other distillery, Yoichi.  This allows Yoichi to concentrate on single malts, while Miyagikyo pumps out (mostly) blend fodder.  If this malt is any indication of what flows from the stills at Sendai, then Nikka can count itself lucky to have two aces in its hand. 

Nose:  Initial off-the-cork nose…wow!  Just wow.  A lot of great fruit.  Mango…and a few other tropicals.  Maybe a bit of raisin bringing some dark depth.  A touch of smoke swirling with the spices.  Rich, rich sherry notes.  Creamy chocolate and almond.  Paint notes hinting at some age (older casks herein, or just the result of a more temperate clime for accelerated maturation?)  Great, GREAT nose.

Palate:  Dried tropical fruits.  Pineapple and mango.  Dark cherry and wet wood.  Some apple…maybe even over ripe apple.  A touch of smoke again.  Juicy sherry leads to a little bit of a tannic side.

Thoughts:  The palate is a slight disappointment compared to the beauty of the nose.  That 90.5 could maybe be a touch more…maybe a touch less.  Probably more.  After several glasses of this, I’d still like to revisit.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

Nikka Yoichi 1991 Single Cask Review

Nikka Yoichi 1991 Single Cask

Cask # 129651

63% abv

Score:  91/100


Neat things from the Land Of The Rising Sun.  Really neat.

This single cask bottling is a 20 y.o. 1991 vintage from Nikka’s Yoichi distillery.  Yoichi is situated on Hokkaido, Japan’s second largest and northernmost of the four principal islands.

A little about the island of Hokkaido itself before we get on to the malt in the bottle.  Hokkaido is as near as you’ll come to a Japanese sister island to Scotland.  It’s size is comparable, population in the same ballpark and climate…well…not too far off apparently.  The Yoichi distillery, being relatively coastal, benefits from a similar influence as the more seaward facing Scottish distilleries.  If you’re a believer in terroir and ambient influence, a mere sip of this malt should likely speak volumes in backing your argument.  Further, the land provides a peat-like substrate which is used in kilning the barley in order to imbibe that smoky profile we all know and love.

The Nikka website refers to the malt produced at Yoichi as ‘rich, peaty and masculine’.  Hmm…interesting.  In this day and age of broadstroke appeal and equality erasing all boundaries, somewhat of an odd marketing angle to embrace.  I’ll say no more on that subject, but I will go on record and say that I’ve now tried a couple of different whiskies from this distillery, both single malt and blends, and the results rolling off their stills are top notch.  Apparently Yoichi bottlings have also hammered some Scottish malts in blind tastings and won several world awards.  Whisky is a world stage, friends, and personally I love all of the options now available at our globetrotting palates and noses.

Yoichi 1991:

Nose:  Surprisingly smoky.  A slight ashy-ness meets peat and dark damp soil.  Kinda Laphroaig-ish actually.  Some orange and lemon with vanilla.  Tire rubber.  Pastry dough.  Syrupy.  Lovely lose.  I could happily get lost in the eddies here for quite some time.

Palate:  Huge arrival (but at 63% what else would we expect?)!  Hot and spicy.  Not quite as nice on the tastebuds as it is on the nose, but still quite sublime.  Chocolate.  Peaty and earthy.  Pears in syrup.  Very viscous (a quality I adore!).  Licorice at the back end.  Long finish, and all positive.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt