Drinks by the Dram The Japanese Whisky Advent Calendar (V1 2017 Edition) 

Drinks by the Dram Japanese Whisky Advent Calendar 2017

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Another year has passed and once again it’s time to put up trees, decorate our living rooms with anything shiny or sparkly, and of course the most important tradition in my household: sample a new whisky for each day of advent! Luckily the good people at Drinks by the Dram have us covered as always with their ever-growing diverse range of spirit-based advent calendars.

Japanese whisky is a category into which I have dipped my toes although it has not yet featured on this blog. With rising popularity and huge pressure on existing stock it is becoming more and more difficult to find any Japanese whisky at a reasonable price in the UK. Rather handily Drinks by the Dram produce a Japanese Whisky Advent Calendar – what better way to familiarise with the landscape than with 24 30ml samples encompassing single malts, single grains and blended whisky from across Japan?

This post tracks my journey across the Land of The Rising Sun and will (hopefully) be updated daily with my thoughts on each whisky.

Okayama Single Malt1st: Okayama Single Malt

Advent begins with a single malt from Miyashita, a distillery which is relatively unknown in whisky circles. Based in the Okayama Prefecture (hence the name of today’s dram), Miyashita has been around for quite a while – indeed this whisky was released to celebrate its 100th anniversary – however it is traditionally a sake brewer, having expanded into whisky with the opening of its distillery in 2011.

Although no age is stated on the bottle we can derive it will be 3-4 years old: the whisky is said to contain spirit from the first year of operation of the distillery and was released in 2015 – the firm’s centenary year. Produced from a mix of German and locally grown barley, the whisky has seen a full maturation in ex-brandy barrels.

Nose: Starts off somewhat odd with vegetal notes reminiscent of balsamic onions. Once this settles there is a robust malty cereal character, salted porridge or the aroma of a tun room in operation! In the background there is a floral aspect of orange blossom.
Taste: Much more settled than the nose, a pleasantly creamy mouthfeel delivers soft stone fruit balanced with malt sweetness. The brandy casks make their influence felt through a sweet floral honey note. A touch of menthol can be detected towards the finish.
Finish: Sweet honey is joined by marzipan on a finish that is reasonably long for a young whisky.

There is potential here for some very tasty whisky, however the nose has some fairly prominent flaws that need sorting out which places the £140 price tag outside of the good value range.

White Oak Akashi2nd: White Oak Akashi Blended Whisky

Today we travel east to the city of Akashi in the neighbouring Hyōgo Prefecture to sample whisky from White Oak distillery. White Oak is owned by Eigashima Shuzo, a family run company who have whisky-making experience dating back to 1919 when they pioneered making whisky in the Scottish style with Japanese influence (the same underground water source used in their sake production was used in the whisky distillery). Fast forward to 1984 the equipment was transferred to the new White Oak distillery. Located by the sea, Akashi enjoys a fairly mild climate which should in theory provide favourable maturation conditions.

Today’s whisky is a no-age-statement blend which serves as White Oak’s entry-level offering. As is common in some global whisky markets the locally sold Akashi is actually a blend of malt and molasses spirit (and hence would not be considered whisky in many jurisdictions), but luckily we have the export version which is a classic blend of malt and grain whiskies. Unlike in Scotland, Japanese whisky companies do not offer their malts and grains to other producers for blending so Japanese blended whisky is typically all produced by a single institution. However unless you are a big player with the facility to produce both malt and grain spirit the only option is to import grain whisky – as Eigashima Shuzo have done here.

The malt in the blend has been aged in American oak ex-bourbon casks before a finishing period in ex-sherry casks. At a ratio of around 40% malt to 60% grain, this is a reasonably malt-heavy blend.

Nose: A fairly fruity nose brings orange blossom and white grape. On the sweet side there is some creamy fudge, while lingering in the background is a drying mineral note.
Taste: Consistent with the nose there are gentle sweet fruit notes. On the mid palate there is some baking spice with nutmeg and cloves, giving a rye-like feel to the dram.
Finish: The rye-like character builds on the finish bringing some heat with white pepper.

A straightforward and pleasant blended whisky that makes a good sipper. At around £30 (albeit for a 50cl bottle) this is pretty decent value.

Hakushu Distiller's Reserve3rd: Hakushu Distiller’s Reserve

Day 3 of Advent sees our first encounter with one of the giants of Japanese whisky in the shape of the Suntory-owned Hakushu distillery. If truth be told, describing Suntory as a giant of Japanese whisky is probably doing them a disservice today – the Beam-Suntory group is one of the world’s largest spirits company comprising a diverse portfolio of Scotch, American, Irish and Canadian whisk(e)y as well as the Japanese brands, not to mention the wide array of other spirits under their umbrella.

Hakushu is Suntory’s second malt distillery in Japan (the first being Yamazaki). Built in 1973, the distillery is in the most remarkable location in the Yamanashi Prefecture, situated on the slopes of Mount Kaikomagatake in the Japanese Alps at an altitude of around 700 metres. This location was originally chosen primarily for its water source as part of Suntory’s quest to further increase the variety of styles of whisky available under their brands.

Today’s whisky is the Distiller’s Reserve, the entry-level no-age-statement malt whisky serving as an appropriate introduction to the distillery character. This whisky is blended from three primary constituents: a young talent lightly-peated whisky aged (typically less than 10 years) in ex-bourbon casks, an old whisky that has spent more than 18 years in American white oak (whose previous contents are not disclosed although presumably bourbon) and a more heavily-peated 12 year old whisky.

Nose: Very fresh, lots of herbal character with fresh mint taking the lead alongside cut grass, marjoram and other green notes. Behind this there is light wood spice and a little char: toasted vanilla. On the fruity side is green apple with skins on.
Taste: The palate brings more sweet fruit than the nose with dried papaya and peach which nicely balances the light herbs and wood spice. Towards the back of the palate the herbal notes dominate with a little citrus lightness.
Finish: Warm spice mingles with dried herbs on a background of distant char smoke.

A very pleasant whisky which although quite straightforward is delivered flawlessly – impressive stuff for around £55!

Nikka From The Barrel4th: Nikka From The Barrel

From one giant to another, today we meet Japan’s second largest distiller and the other big established player in the Japanese whisky world. Nikka was founded by the legendary godfather of Japanese whisky, Masataka Taketsuru. Taketsuru famously studied chemistry and embarked on distilling apprenticeships in Scotland before he and his Scottish wife moved to Japan. After a period working for (what later became known as) Suntory he left to start his own distilling company, initially building Yoichi distillery in 1934.

Fast forward to the present and Nikka own Yoichi, Miyagikyo distillery (where both malt and grain whisky is produced) and a handful of warehouse locations and bottling plants. As is the norm for Japanese whisky companies this diversity allows Nikka to bottle an array of single malts, single grains and blended whiskies.

Today’s whisky is From The Barrel, a no-age-statement blend comprising malt whisky from Yoichi and both malt and grain whisky from Miyagikyo. There does not appear to be any concrete information on initial cask selection, but what gives this whisky its name is a 3-6 month period where the blended whisky is married in first fill ex-bourbon casks. This technique is quite unusual for blended whisky, where a short marriage in stainless steel vats is more the norm. It is also unusual to see a blended whisky bottled at such a high strength: 51.4% ABV. Lots to pique the curiosity of the whisky enthusiast!

Nose: Light red fruit and orange peel sprinkled with Demerara sugar, then a wave of warm vanilla. Given some time the nose becomes quite lively with malt, fresh wood shavings and a touch of char. Eventually the fruity notes become a little floral. The nose opens up nicely with a drop of water allowing the vanilla and wood spice to shine.
Taste: Initially quite malty. There is some honey and toffee sweetness with plenty of vanilla and warm winter spice, peaches and cream. A very pleasant mouth-coating palate.
Finish: A long finish of toffee with light baking spice.

A lively blend which pulls no punches, and although it’s a 50cl bottle this is still great value at under £40.

Nikka Coffey Malt5th: Nikka Coffey Malt

We continue advent with another dram from The Nikka Whisky Distilling Company. In a blind tasting you would never identify yesterday and today’s whisky as from the same distiller, and understandably so as they are fundamentally different spirits. This serves as a useful example of one of the core differences between the whisky industries in Japan and Scotland: there is no sharing spirit between distillers and blenders in Japan – one company will produce each style of spirit required for their portfolio. This is quite unlike Scotland where a distiller will typically produce a single particular style of whisky and blenders are often separate companies who will buy casks from a whole host of distilleries. One exception to this rule in Scotland is Loch Lomond distillery which is very much in the Japanese style with an array of pot, column and hybrid stills to produce multiple styles of whisky sold both individually and to make up the group’s blends.

Today’s dram gets its name from the Coffey still (also known as a column, continuous or patent still) used in its production. Named after the Irishman Aeneas Coffey who finalised and patented the design, this type of still is very different from the copper pot stills one may have come across while visiting a typical malt distillery. Instead, two long columns work as a pair with the first column (the analyser) containing porous plates which serve as a series of pot stills, vapourising and condensing the liquid at successively lower temperatures moving up the column. The second (rectifying) column further separates the lighter compounds from the heavier, resulting in a spirit much lighter and higher in alcohol content than that from a traditional pot still.

While most column-distilled whisky is from a grain mashbill (typically corn or wheat), today’s whisky is distilled from 100% malt barley making it a very unusual (although not completely unique) style of whisky. Produced at Nikka’s multi-functioning Miyagikyo distillery, this whisky offers no information on age nor maturation and is bottled at a healthy 45% ABV.

Nose: A buttery sweetness with plenty of spice: vanilla, cinnamon, ginger and more! There is some tangerine peel on the zesty side, and far in the background is a hint of liquorice. A drop of water only serves to further enhance the spice notes, cinnamon and ginger in particular.
Taste: The creamy sweetness of a Highland Toffee bar, plenty of vanilla spice is joined by tinned peaches from the mid-palate onwards. The palate is lifted by a touch of citrus oil.
Finish: The Del Monte tinned fruit dominates on the finish, joined by sweet spice. The sweetness may be overly cloying for some.

A fairly unique and – more importantly – very tasty, more-ish dram that could add an extra dimension to anyone’s collection. For under £50, why not?

White Oak Akashi Sherry Cask 1373White Oak Akashi Single Malt 5 Year Old (Sherry Cask #1373)

We are back in Hyōgo Prefecture today to revisit White Oak distillery. After spending a few days with the “established” players it is interesting to note that the aforementioned owner Eigashima Shuzo received their whisky distilling license back in 1919, 5 years prior to Yamazaki commencing production. It would seem that this would give Eigashima a legitimate claim to have produced the original Japanese whisky, but it is unclear what exactly was being distilled and sold prior to the much more recent move to the Akashi site in 1984.

What is known is that the new distillery contains dedicated facilities for whisky production separate from those used for the company’s core sake and shōchū products, and has been producing malt whisky since the early nineties. Initially whisky production was very limited at the distillery, only cranking up the stills for one month out of the year. Today this has increased to five months but until the additional stock matures there will inevitably be only a small number of releases under the Akashi label. In the UK the Akashi Blended, Meïsei blend and a NAS single malt are readily available, and are occasionally supplemented with targeted single cask releases.

Today’s whisky is one of these: a single cask expression that appears to have been bottled primarily for the German market. Sherry cask #1373 is a 5-year-old whisky which actually spent its first 3 years in ex-bourbon hogsheads before being transferred to an ex-sherry butt. Given the outturn of 960 bottles it is safe to assume that the butt was filled to capacity from more than a single hogshead. After spending its final 2 years in cask #1373 the whisky was bottled without artificial colouring or chill-filtration at 50% ABV.

Nose: A huge hit of sherry initially bringing rich dried fruit with lots of treacle and molasses sweetness. A faint savoury roasted meat aspect. Behind the sherry is sugar-sprinkled red fruit which gives a good sweet/tart balance. There are fruity-floral peach blossom notes which become more assertive in time, eventually being joined by some damp earthy/woody notes. A few drops of water really tempers the sweet side of the nose, leaving wax crayons with water.
Taste: A surprisingly rounded palate at 50% ABV, there is plenty of sherry dried fruit and brown sugar, lots of treacle toffee with some light smouldering char giving a nice savoury balance. Some toasted wood spice lightens things toward the finish.
Finish: Spice mingles with rich treacle in a pleasantly long finish.

A surprisingly complex sherry-bomb of a dram – quite unexpected considering the spirit spent less than half of its short life in ex-sherry. I have only seen such expeditious sherry influence from bota corta casks previously, although I can’t find any evidence that these are used at White Oak. Nevertheless, a cracking dram particularly if you are a fan of sherry bombs, although at £135 there is some stiff competition.

Nikka Pure Malt RedNikka Pure Malt Red

We complete the first week of advent with another whisky from that giant of Japanese whisky, Nikka. The diversity of whisky produced by Nikka is demonstrated by virtue of today’s expression being once again from a different category – a blended malt.

Blended malts are a product of 100% malt whisky (no grain unlike blended whisky) distilled in pot stills and from more than one distillery. Historically these whiskies were also known as vatted malt or pure malt and clearly the latter terminology is still in use in Japan. In Scotland however, the SWA updated their regulations back in 2009 to forbid these terms and settled on “blended malt” in an effort to eliminate any confusion – although this proved to be somewhat controversial as many felt that it would have the opposite effect. Fast forward the best part of a decade and the category remains rather niche although Nikka’s Pure Malt range is well-established.

From the colour-coded Pure Malts – also including a Black and previously a White – today’s whisky is Red. Going by Japanese colour connotations one might expect this dram to be rich and assertive were this the intention of the branding. A combination of malt from Yoichi and Miagikyo distilleries, Pure Malt Red is bottled at 43% ABV without statement on use of chill-filtration or colouring (so we will assume both are used).

Nose: Sweet notes of spiced fudge with toffee, ginger and cinnamon. The sweetness is balanced with some perfumed blackcurrant, and given some time we get pencil shavings and the scent of a carpenter’s workshop.
Taste: Toffee, butter dipped in sugar. There is a good hit of vanilla and other fresh wood notes alongside white chocolate. At 43% the palate has just enough alcohol to ensure an assertive delivery.
Finish: A short-to-medium finish with oaky spice becoming drier in time.

This is a pleasant enough straightforward dram, although for £5 less the From The Barrel is in my opinion a more exciting whisky.

Mars Maltage Cosmo8th: Mars Maltage Cosmo

Despite yesterday’s assertion of blended malts being a niche category there seem to be a few around in Japan at least, and today we find ourselves with another. This time we have once again moved away from the big players to sample some Mars whisky.

Mars is the name given to whisky produced by Hombo Shuzo, a producer of spirit since 1872. Originally focused on shōchū, a license to produce whisky was acquired in 1949 with distillation originally taking place in Kagoshima Distillery. In 1984 (which was apparently a popular year to move distillery in Japan!) whisky production was moved to the new Shinshu Distillery in Miyada, Nagano Prefecture. A stunning location in the Japanese alps in the shadow of Mount Komagatake (not to be confused with the mountain where Hakushu is located!), Shinshu sits just shy of 800 metres above sea level, making it Japan’s highest distillery. Given the different boiling temperatures at altitude this location no doubt has an influence on the spirit produced.

As difficult as it is to believe today, there was a distinct lack of demand for Japanese whisky back in the 1990s, which led to Shinshu falling silent between 1992 and 2012. Some older bottlings are still available (if you have rather deep pockets!) and today the younger spirit is being made available.

Today’s dram is quite interesting if you have been paying attention, in that it is a blended malt from a company who own just a single distillery. As we have established, Japanese distillers do not share their product meaning that Mars Maltage Cosmo must include whisky from elsewhere. And so Cosmo is a blend of malt from Shinshu distillery and several undisclosed Scotch malt whiskies. Bottled at a not-too-shabby 43% ABV this promises to be an interesting dram!

Nose: An initial wave of rich caramel subsides to reveal herbal notes of cut grass. There is a botanical feel with orange peel playing a lead role. In the background are light almonds and a faint floral aspect.
Taste: – Following what seems to have been a theme of Japanese whisky thusfar the palate is unexpectedly creamy. There is gentle vanilla fudge and some candied orange peel. No sign of the herbal aspects from the nose.
Finish: – A fairly short finish sees the vanilla transition to more oaky spice.

An interesting and promising nose which is let down somewhat by a fairly pedestrian palate. For £60 there is some fairly formidable competition.

Togouchi 9yo9th: Togouchi 9 Year Old

There is something rather unexpected lurking behind the 9th door of the Japanese Whisky Advent calendar: Togouchi is a blend of malt and grain whisky from Scotland and Canada. Clearly regulations in Japan are more flexible than those from the SWA in Scotland; it seems that although Japanese whisky is defined as having been produced in Japan, production can be limited to the aging and bottling phases with spirit originating elsewhere. To be fair to Togouchi they are not the only producer sourcing whisky from outside Japan – we have seen on a couple of occasions during Advent so far – and they are quite open about the provenance of their whisky.

Chugoku Jozo are a producer of sake, shōchū and fruit liqueurs since 1918 who in 1990 decided to turn their hand to aging and blending whisky. This was possibly a combination of tremendous foresight and a stroke of luck as this decision was made on the brink of a bleak period for Japanese whisky where demand was low and others were ceasing production. This meant Chugoku Jozo were rather well-placed when the market turned back in their favour.

More than just another blend of imported and naturalised whiskies, Togouchi is unique due to its maturation. Rather than storing casks in warehouses, Chugoku Jozo age their whisky in an abandoned tunnel in the village of Togouchi, Hiroshima Prefecture. Originally intended as part of a railway expansion linking Kabe and Hamada, the project was cancelled and the tunnel lay unused until Chugoku Jozo decided that with a stable climate of 14°c and 80% humidity year-round it would make the perfect location for maturing whisky.

Today’s whisky is the 9 year-old from the range. Matured in the tunnel in a combination of ex-sherry and brandy casks before being bottled at 40% ABV.

Nose: An initial balance of fruit and malt with red apples and grapes. Behind this is a sweet layer with sugary honey and some light fudge.
Taste: Estery and slightly perfumey initially, there is citrus peel with some red fruit. From the mid-palate things become rather sweet with vanilla fudge.
Finish: A fairly short finish sees rich baking spice mingle with damp forest floor notes.

Once again we have a very pleasant and drinkable whisky for which I would be happy to part with up to £50, but at today’s asking price of over £70 it unfortunately falls outside of the value band.

Hibiki Japanese HarmonyHibiki Japanese Harmony

Hibiki is a name that likely needs little introduction to any seasoned whisky enthusiast. This blended whisky from Suntory in its distinctive bottle stands out on shelves (when it can be found these days) and has even featured in a Hollywood movie!

Hibiki is a blended whisky comprising malt from both Suntory malt distilleries Yamazaki and Hakushu, alongside whisky from Chita, the company’s grain distillery. The blend was first launched in 1989 to commemorate Suntory’s 90th anniversary and was initially available available as 17 year-old. Why 17? Chita opened back in 1972 so the original release would have had grain from the first spirit from the final component in the Suntory blend.

Suntory take great pride in the effort and level of detail that goes into every aspect of Hibiki. This is obvious from the smallest detail of the decanter bottle in which it is sold: the 24 facets on the bottle representing the traditional Japanese lunar calendar and symbolising the passage of time, the calligraphy on the handmade Echizen Washi paper and the use of the most noble colour purple. Of course it’s the whisky inside which is important, and a similar effort is taken here. Selected and blended by a team led by Master and Chief blenders Shingo Torii and Shinji Fukuyo (part of a very exclusive club having held these positions), Hibiki is blended from whiskies matured in five types of casks including ex-bourbon, ex-sherry and a Japanese plum liqueur, using different species of wood including the difficult-to-work-with Japanese Oak, Mizunara.

Today’s whisky is the newest in the Hibiki lineup, Japanese Harmony. Due to immense pressure on stock throughout Suntory’s portfolio, this No Age Statement blend has replaced the old 12 year-old as the entry-level offering in the Hibiki range. Bottled at a healthy 43% ABV, the intention was to create a “quintessential Hibiki” in harmony with the original ethos of the blend, working of course under the constraints of the younger stock available today.

Nose: Lots of rich juicy citrus notes of satsuma, some fresh cut grass and a light sweet floral aspect. Some smoke (from the Hakushu) is detectable at the back of the nose.
Taste: Bright and sweet initially with vanilla fudge and orange oil. Things become perfumed on the mid-palate with a light honey providing sweetness.
Finish: Nicely balanced between malt, citrus and oak spice.

A nicely balanced blend which serves as a great introduction to a fantastic range of whisky.

Nikka All MaltNikka All Malt

In further evidence of just how dominant the two large players in Japanese whisky are, we have another whisky from Nikka today. Far from being dull and repetitive, the whisky behind today’s door is once again somewhat unique and defies convention.

To recap, Nikka manages two distilleries: the exclusively malt-producing Yoichi and Miyagikyo, a distillery with both pot stills and Coffey stills and hence capable of distilling both malt and grain whisky. This configuration along with Nikka’s taste for the unconventional means that a wide range of palates are catered for despite the small number of production sites.

Today’s whisky makes use of all the stills Nikka has to hand; the pot stills at Yoichi and both the pots and column stills at Miyagikyo. So far this sounds like a regular blended whisky, but what makes All Malt a little different is that it uses malt whisky from the column stills (i.e. the Coffey Malt), hence the name! You may consider this a blended malt for this reason, but the SWA at least do not consider column-distilled spirit from any grain a malt whisky so by their definition this would be a blended whisky. The long arm of the SWA does not extend as far as Japan of course, and I am not sure if Japanese regulations have anything to say on this category.

Regardless of naming and categorisation the liquid inside the bottle is what is important, and today we have a blend of malt whiskies distilled by different means before being married and bottled at 40% ABV. There is not much information on maturation and the whisky is No Age Statement.

Nose: A balance of buttery sweetness and fresh notes: Buttermint sweets and Toffifee, vanilla and wood spice on the sweet side, cut grass and a faint mint note on the fresh side.
Taste: Creamy and buttery toffee pennies on the palate, the influence of the Coffey Malt is making its present felt on this dram. There are also Mint humbugs, and on the herbal side the slightest hint of marjoram.
Finish: The finish is all too short with cinnamon butter and pencil shavings.

At less than £40 this is good value, it’s a pleasant whisky to sip on its own but would be a good choice for a highball or a mizuwari.

Hibiki 17Hibiki 17 Year Old

Two days after the first exploration of Suntory’s Hibiki blend in the form of its newest expression, we are back today to delve into the original whisky in this flagship range: the much revered Hibiki 17.

Fairly easily obtainable in the recent past, the last couple of years have seen availability all but disappear – a trend which was exacerbated by Suntory’s discontinuation of the 12 and 30 year-old expressions – and on the rare occasion a bottle can be found at retail in my experience the asking price won’t be too different from what they exchange hands for at auction! With this in mind it is something of a treat to have the chance to sample this dram as part of my Advent adventure, let’s hope the whisky lives up to the reverence.

Blending is clearly taken seriously at Suntory; the current master blender Shingo Torii is only the third in the company’s history after both his father and his grandfather – founder and Japanese whisky legend Shinjiro Torii. Shingo oversees a team of blenders led by Shinji Fukuyo (only the fourth chief blender in Suntory history) who are described in marketing material as “highly trained artisan-scientists” dutifully sampling around 300 whiskies each day. Torii’s own views on blending as a science differ somewhat, relying on his – and his team’s – instincts.

Today’s whisky is a 17 year-old expression composed in the same manner as the rest of the Hibiki range, utilising whisky from both Suntory malt distilleries as well as Chita grain distillery, matured in a mixture of American and European oak alongside Mizunara before being bottled at 43% ABV.

Nose: An intense nose brings rich and perfumed fruit notes of plum and raspberry, lightly drizzled in Manuka honey. There is some oak polish alongside walnuts with some cinnamon in the distant background. Given some time milky coffee appears alongside an interesting incense-like note.
Taste: A beautifully silky mouthfeel brings a great balance of oak, citrus fruit and the rich dried fruit. Things become a little spicy on the midpalate with a little cinnamon and ginger before this is rounded out with the earthy spice of cocoa.
Finish: Satisfyingly long with the cocoa earthy spice from the back of the palate alongside hazelnuts.

An absolutely stunning dram that I could nose for hours – such a pity it has become so difficult to find (for a reasonable price)!

Nikka Pure Malt BlackNikka Pure Malt Black

We kick off the second half of Advent with a transition from an esteemed blend from one of the Japanese whisky giants to one from the other. We have already encountered Nikka‘s clean, sweet and fruity Pure Malt Red, now we contrast this with the powerful, rich and firm Pure Malt Black.

Once again we have a whisky under the Nikka label which promises something different from the other whiskies in the range; even within the Pure Malt lineup there are contrasts and contradictions. In terms of branding we can draw a parallel with a certain Striding Man well-known in Scotch whisky: each whisky across the Johnnie Walker range is packaged in the same distinctive bottles with the coloured labels differentiating each expression. In Johnnie Walker’s case the colour largely separates blends at different price points and (perceived) quality, with the core character of the whisky being consistent across the range. For the Nikka Pure Malt series we see the opposite: the whiskies (well, those still in production) are offered for roughly the same price and cater to different palates.

An interesting strategy from Nikka, I would have imagined that having such different whisky across similar product lines would cause confusion to the average consumer (would the occasional drinker perusing a store shelf be aware of the difference between a Pure Malt and an All Malt, for example?).

To clear up any potential confusion, today we have a blended malt comprising whisky from Nikka’s Yoichi and Miagikyo distilleries, with the Yoichi malt taking front seat this time to provide those powerful, rich peaty notes. Bottled at 43% ABV, this blended malt is offered for a respectable £45 or so (albeit for a 50cl bottle).

Nose: A peat smoke which is initially quite coastal and briney with an underlying sweetness. Things don’t stay light for long before becoming rich with plenty of cocao and other earthy tones. Given some time a herbal aspect appears with a hint of fresh mint, with some buttery malt character in the background.
Taste: Plenty of earthy peat from the nose, some creamy-textured butter notes behind this with a touch of vanilla and wood spice. From the mid-palate things turn darker bringing dark chocolate with crystallised ginger which goes on to dominate the palate.
Finish: A medium-long finish with lingering richness of peat and cacao.

A gloriously rich and firm blended malt at an attractive price point – if you like Lagavulin you’ll probably enjoy this style.

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