Thursday, 29 October 2015

Japanese Whisky 3: Nikka

Nikka are the other big whisky producer in Japan, and own Miyagikyo, Yoichi and (weirdly) Ben Nevis. Nikka was founded by Masataka Taketsuru who ran Yamazaki for Suntory before starting Nikka in 1934.  Let’s start at the top.

SMWS 124.4, Miyagikyo, Full of secret pleasures, 17 years old, 60% A⊕+

August 22nd 1996, First fill PX sherry butt, 479 bottles.  This was the sister cask to 124.5, my favourite whisky of 2014 (probably).  I don’t think I’ve had a Miyagikyo I didn’t really like. 

124.4Nose - Ripe, nutty and fusty. Dark and intensely (and very dryly) sherried, but somehow still bright, with jewelled red berries. Still - old bookcase and ancient paper, prunes and hazelnuts. With time, a beautiful complexity comes through - ripe, dark cask, plum and peach pits. It's superb. When I first tasted this it was totally overshadowed by 124.5 (which I couldn’t buy because it was way off my price scale ), but coming back to it, I'm impressed. It doesn't have the soul of an old (sherried) Glenfiddich, but it has the authority. With water, more fruit and more beautiful wood.

Body - Fabulously rich, nutty complex sherry. Mellow and balanced (lots of toasted walnuts), but bright and exciting (rum and raisin, spicy sulphur and lemon pepper). An enormous, but balanced delivery. Softer, fruitier and riper, with more developed but perfect sulphur.

Finish - Medium, spicy, deep boiled sweets. Rolls with balsa, bandages, black peppercorns and fried pork rinds. Spicier with water. What a glorious whisky.

What's not good about it - Nothing except the usual (price, availability).

What's good about it - Deep, intense, fruit and sherry perfection.

SMWS G12.1 “Oh so sweet”, Nikka Coffey Malt, 11 years old, 58.9% A⊕

6th March 2003, 246 bottles, re-charred hogshead

Reviewed previously as part of last December's ruinously good outturn

g12.1Nose - Fruity, good wax, and compared to the G13.1, much softer and warmer. I still get blackened banana skin, but no cherry, but also a really deep age to it. Amazing the wonders they can work in 11 years in Japan. Warm, polite wax and promise of something seriously sensual to come.

Body - Sweet banana - foam bananas, banana ice cream. It's actually quite nicely balanced out by the hard grain, that's very welcome here as I'm finding it is with all my favourite grain whiskies. With water, even more banana and even more excitement - banana cake? Absolutely delicious.

Finish - A good malt character in the immediate finish, weirdly, then hard oak, very sweet and chilli, coffee and finally very sour wood - almost joss stick. I get none of the orange juice I got in the G13.1 or when I tasted it previously. But then it's been open for almost a year.

What's not good about it - a harsh character to it, again near the end, takes the edge off the fun.

What's good about it - another fabulous nose, full of amazing old cask, tropical fruit and wax. Wonderful balance between intensely sweet banana and hard grain in the initial delivery. Intense and exciting.

Yoichi 1991, 62% A⊕+

1991-2014, cask #129459

yoichi-1991-23-year-old-cask-129459-whiskyNose - Lightly, elegantly wooded, with ripe tropical fruit (papaya, mango). Seriously, importantly sweet but totally poised (intertwined with earth, damp wood, coloured pencils, rosemary and port cask). It's a beautiful nose. Sweeter, with more pencil eraser with water, even better wood. Very "glazed" fruit and balanced sherry.

Body - Sweet fruit, crayons, spicy wood, black pepper. With water, very drinkable - lovely wood, fried rosemary, tic tacs and black tea leaves.

Finish - Pickled lemons, very hot and spicy, lots of black pepper. Needs water. Still spicy, but gentler with water - more pronounced wood sour, very long.

What's not good about it - The end of the delivery "doesn't rock" - it's very good but not up to the nose.

What's good about it - Fantastic nose, the whole thing is polite yet intense (quite a feat and something that Japanese whisky excels at).

SMWS 116.20, Fascinating complexity and finesse, Yoichi , 26 years old, 61.6% A⊕

7th November 1987, virgin oak puncheon, 452 bottles.

smws-0116-020nNose - Dark, sweet, highly wooded. When I first got the share of this, I was quite unimpressed with it - way too wooded (26 years in virgin oak). But it's really mellowed with some air. Now, the wood is balanced with red wine and burnt sugar, deep, burnt sherry and bonito. Quite Staggy, but much more balanced and complete. Brighter, glacé fruit with water. Cherry tobacco and rose water, the blue bobbly liquorice allsort, and a touch of gas.

Body - Sweet but bitter; menthol, cigar tobacco and sour, complex wood (MDF, balsa and oak floorboard sawdust). Unbalanced by water - that over-wooded note comes through a bit more.

Finish - Very long, sweet and bitter, intense and numbing, but somehow balanced and exciting.

What's not good about it - Hard work with 26 years in virgin oak. It walks a complicated path and just manages to hold it together. It is, by many measures, overly wooded (although not American measures).

What's good about it - Sweet tobacco and loads of complexity and fruit on the nose. Delicious. Massive - like a big bourbon on the delivery - toffee, hard vanilla, red wine and massive oak. A beautiful mid-point between Scotland and America.

Yoichi "1990's", 55%, Vatted Yoichi 1990-1999 A⊕⊕

This was when things started to get slightly hysterical at Bret’s place and I became slightly lost for words.

20151015_203709Nose - Deeply red winey, rich, cakey and carrot cake with nail polish. Spicy on the nose, bright and bold. Lightly peated and very sexy. Delightfully poised between light bourbon and nutty sherry.

Body - Red wine and tobacco, Oloroso nuttiness, lots of wood and very rich.

Finish - Spicy tobacco, lovely wood… it's hard to fault the intensity of the sherry oak with this level of integration.

What's not good about it - Nothing

What's good about it - Like settling into a perfectly made, very large, very comfortable bed at the end of a very stressful day. It's hard to put a price on that feeling.

Nikka - Single Malt Whisky "Miyagikyo" Sherry and Sweet, 12 years old, 55% A⊕⊕

Distillery only.

20151015_211805Nose - Big sherry. Perfect sherry bomb on the nose. Herbal and lightly sulphured, almost mineral, with matches and granite. A bit speechless.

Body - Quite orgasmic. A soft blow to the frontal cortex, very softly spiced and extremely rude. Unspeakably good.

Finish - Very long and spiced, oaked with orange chocolate and almost sour.

What's not good about it - nothing. hard to fault something this filthy.

What's good about it - Immense fruit, sherry and balance on the nose, incredibly compelling on the delivery. Amazing stuff. 

Nikka - Single Malt Whisky "Miyagikyo" Fruity and rich, 12 years old, 55% A⊕

Distillery only.

Nose - Beautifully jewelled. Oaked and dusty and lovely. Furniture polish, hot radiators, deeply sweet. Massive first fill bourbon but lovely.

Body - Sweet and rounded, how is this so young and delicious? Spicy and well oaked but correct.

Finish - Long, parallel wood and dark vanilla.

What's not good about it - Nothing

What's good about it - Perfectly balanced, and very interesting. How is this so good at 12?

Nikka - Single Malt Whisky "Miyagikyo" Malty and soft, 12 years old, 55% A⊕

Distillery only.

20151015_213549Nose - Darker and gentler, cotton wool oak and honey glaze. A little bit of bandage and very mid-rangey. As components of a bigger whisky these are all amazing.

Body - finally some youth! Spicy oak, bright white flowers.

Finish - Jarringly (given the others) spicy and spicy but the black pepper and musk is still exciting and fresh.

Blend of all 3 A⊕+


If these are supposed to be the component parts of Miyagikyo then presumably they’d do well together.  Marrying time was about 3 seconds.

Nose - Dark and sexy and clean and fresh and complex. Balanced and complete - damn they should sell this. Blackcurrants and granite,

Body – wow… enormous fruit, sherry, wood, vanilla, beer, berries and oak. Perfection.

Finish – Extremely long and brutally satisfying. Very spicy. I'm beginning to lose the ability to comprehend this much excellence.

That was tough, but amazing.  Next time, even more excellence with a triplet of Karuizawa.

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