Taketsuru’s no-age-statement blended malt contains a high percentage of malt from Miyagikyo, with the reminder coming from Yoichi. Aged on average for around 10 years in a variety of different cask types, including some sherry wood for extra richness.
Colour: Bright copper.
Nose: At first it is largely dominated by a spirit-like, raw and fruity virgin oak. However, this quickly gives way to some vanilla, nuts and fruits, and some really nice grainy malt. Orange peel, marzipan, and cedar provide complexity.
Palate: Cotton candy, apples, and milk chocolate.
Finish: Sweet, yet dry, with red fruits, raisins and liquorice.
Overall: No young, green malt here. This is a pure example of what a Japan Single Malt should be.
Biiru [Beer] (2016)
Yamazaki is one of the entry level Japanese whiskies, often overshadowed by its more famous 12 year old sibling. Yamazaki has however been a mainstay of the Nikka range since the company was established, and is the most versatile expression of their whiskies. It is a multi-use blend that can be enjoyed neat, or as a key component in a cocktail.
Both the distillery and the whisky are named after the hill it is located on (Yamazakigahara). Yamazaki is the oldest distillery within the Suntory group, having been established in 1923, and was the founder of the Japanese whisky industry.
As a blended whisky, Yamazaki is comprised of a corn neutral spirit base, with malt whisky from a number of other Suntory distilleries, including Hakushu, Chita and Yoichi. It is a bigger, richer, and slightly younger version of Hakushu 12 year old.
Yamazaki Distillery was the first of the Japanese distillers to start utilising the Coffey still, which was purchased from the Irish Distillers Corporation and shipped to Japan in 1968. Yamazaki’s use of the still is thought to give them a particular purity that other Japanese maltsters lack, and it can be “seen” in this whisky.
Colour: Fresh and bright amber orange.
Nose: Astringent, floral, with citrus fruits. Subtle sawdust and toffee notes, with some green apple.
Palate: A sweet, gentle, creamy entry leads into a spicy centre of ginger, clove and allspice. There’s a slight oakiness, and vanilla peeks through from time to time.
Finish: Notes of red fruits linger for a long time. Sweet and slightly creamy.
Overall: A very pleasing whisky, for all occasions.
Yoichi Single Malt 12yo
We’ve arrived at the second last distillery to feature in our countdown, and it is arguably the most famous of the range. Yoichi is the single malt arm of Nikka, and is located in the far north of Japan’s main island, Hokkaido – just across the river from Suntory’s Hakushu distillery.
Yoichi is the oldest resident in the yoichi distillery complex, having been established way back in 1923. The distillery is still run with a strong sense of pride in the history of Japanese whisky, and makes several single malts of differing ages and styles.
Yoichi is the outlier of Yoichi, and loves to dabble with elements that other Japanese distilleries prefer to avoid. Yoichi is most famous for this heavy use of sherry seasoned casks, which are mainly sourced from Spain and Portugal. This can be seen in the mature Yoichi 15yo and 17yo, and is also detectable in the single cask bottling we tasted and reviewed here.
Colour: Bright copper.
Nose: Fresh apricots, rich honeysuckle, with bitter sherry and newly opened chocolate orange.
Palate: Nutty, with pepper, lightly soapy, and hints of cooked apples.
Finish: Rich and complex, with smoke and toasted almonds.
Whilst we’re talking about Yoichi, it’s time to unveil the fourth and final distillery to feature in our countdown. This is the oldest distillery in the Nikka family, and was established in 1924 by Masataka Taketsuru.
It’s a much more complex distillery than its nearby Yoichi neighbour, and makes an array of different malts with varying ages and styles. Aged in a variety of cask types, including some very heavy peat influence from Islay.
If you’re a fan of peated Islay whiskies like Lagavulin, then you’ll really enjoy the Nikka range in general. The purists amongst you may still balk at the use of column stills, and the high percentage of peated malt, but this is Japan, not Scotland.
As the oldest distillery in Japan, Taketsuru was a trail-blazer for the industry, and some of its history is preserved in the craftsmanship of the tasting room.
Taketsuru 12yo, a Single Malt, is the entry level single malt from Nikka’s Yoichi distillery.
Colour: Dark amber.
Nose: Dried raisins, and over-ripe apples, with hint of pepper.
Palate: Caramel, mixed nuts, sweet sherry, with some florals coming through.
Finish: Spicy and thick, with oak notes, and hints of soya sauce.
Overall: A fantastic whisky for both new and experienced whisky lovers. Popular with everyone, from Suntory.
And finally, the Nikka review:
As you may already know, Katsu and I have decided to collaborate on the website over the next few months, bringing you more awesome content, and better interaction with the community. We decided on a review of all the Nikka range to start with, so hope you enjoy this. I will also be writing a review of the Nikka from Ishigakijima, which I’ll be sure to post about.
Katsu and I are both reasonably inexperienced in the world of higher end whisky, but we both plan to change that over the next year or two, and we’re starting right here.
Colour: The darkest in the lineup.
Nose: Sweet plum, stewed fruits. Mild wisps of peat and smoke.
Palate: Fresh fruit, with just a hint of honey. Fudge. Glace cherries, and some dried peaches.
Finish: Thick peat smoke, with an intense fruity spice. Spice drops.
Overall: A complex and satisfying whisky. There was no real “wow” moment, but it was consistently ‘good’.
Nose: Slightly floral, with spicy vanilla. Apple and pear.
Palate: Nutty, with spicy oak and sweet vanilla. Cumin and cardamon.
Finish: Medium-long. Honey, and hints of smoke.
Overall: A rich, spicy whisky. Sweet, with a good but not overbearing fruitiness.
Nose: Subtle, with fresh herbs, smoke and sweet vanilla.
Palate: Grassy, with Asian spices. Vanilla, pepper and ginger.
Finish: Long and savoury.
Overall: A thoughtful whisky, with a solid character, which benefits from a lack of flavour crowding.
Colour: Brightest amber.
Nose: Powerful, with a really strong peaty aroma. Sweet fruit and smoke.
Palate: Sweet and toffee-like, with a hint of honey.
Finish: Powerful and peaty.
Overall: A whisky with a serious character. Not for the faint hearted, but thoroughly enjoyable.
All in all? This was a fantastic collaboration, although slightly rushed (as always). It was great fun sipping around the Nikka range, and the range itself is astonishing. Each whisky is so different, yet all one voice.
The Heavy Peat and Taketsuru Single Malts are both real winners, and are worth seeking out if you have the chance. I’ve certainly got a wish-list of Nikkas I want to try, and I’m sure Katsu is in exactly the same situation.