Lucky me! A house guest has just given me a bottle of Nikka Whisky From the Barrel.
I’m twice blessed too because not only is it a fine whisky, it’s also the first Japanese whisky I’ve tried.
Nikka whisky from the barrel
Generally I like my whisky smoulderingly smoky and peaty (see Battle of the Titans: Caol Ila v Ardbeg Uigeadail). This 51.4% ABV Nikka whisky isn’t like that, but it has a spicy, fruity, toffee taste (preceded by a slightly peppery nose) which can be enjoyed with relish; smooth but interesting. As with a good Scotch, add a drop of water to open up the flavour.
Unlike many other Japanese whiskies, for example the Suntory Hibiki 17 Years Old which you buy from Harrods at the horrid price of £175, you can get Nikka Whisky from the barrel from Waitrose for just over £30. Compare that to the Suntory Yamazaki 18 Years Old which is currently £450.
The excellence of Japanese whisky
It’s one of many excellent Japanese whiskies… how did that country come to produce a dram to rival (and exceed) some of the best in Scotland? This year’s and last year’s (2016 and 2017) World’s Best Grain Whisky Award has gone to the The Fuji-Gotemba distillery’s Single Grain 25 Years Old Small Batch.
In fact Fuji-Gotemba is not the best known Japanese distillery. The two main distilleries are Nikka and Suntory (which also owns Jim Beam).
The history of Japanese, and Nikka, whisky
The Nikka whisky distillery was founded by Masataka Taketsuru, the son of a chemist and brewer of sake. Taketsuru went to Scotland in 1918, studying chemistry for a year at the University of Glasgow and then undergoing an apprenticeship at a couple of distilleries, and finally returning to his homeland a couple of years later (complete with Scottish wife). Initially he worked at a distillery which later morphed into Suntory, but in 1934 he left to work on producing his own hooch in Yoichi on Japan’s north island of Hokkaido which he thought provided the conditions most akin to those in Scotland. Finally he released the results of much research and experimentation in 1940. It was the first really successful Japanese whisky.
Some of the best Japanese whiskies
- Fuji-Gotemba Single Grain 25 Years Old Small Batch.
- Fuji-Sanroku Small Batch 18 Years Old
- Hakushu 12 Years Old and the 25 Years Old
- Nikka Single Malt Yoichi (strongly peaty)
- Nikka Miyagikyo Single Malt, described by The Independent as “The nose is full of heart-warming whispers, apple pie is accompanied by a fresh floral suggestion. This continues into the palate with the introduction of citrus alongside toasted barley and an almond note that seems more on the marzipan end of the spectrum. The finish follows through with the nutty and barley flavours.”
- Suntory Hibiki 17 Years Old and also the 21 Years Old
- Yamazaki 12 Years Old
- Hibiki Harmony blended
- Nikka whisky from the barrel
This post is dedicated to Jonathan Adams