Japanese whisky has grown leaps and bounds over the last few years, gaining recognition within the world as some of the best whiskies available. It’s with this that I thought I’d dive into one of the categories most recognisable names and check out their expressions. Lets say hello to Nikka.
Nikka can trace itself back to 1918 when Masataka Taketsuru travelled from his native home of Takehara (now Takehara City), near Hiroshima, Japan to Scotland (via a couple of wineries in San Francisco on the way), eventually arriving in Glasgow to become the first Japanese to ever enroll at the University of Glasgow, ultimately majoring in chemistry. From here, he became an apprentice at Longmorn distillery in April of 1919 to learn all about malt whisky, moving to become an apprentice in July at James Calder in Bo’ness to learn the art of Coffey grain whisky before training as a blender at the Hazelburn distillery in Cambeltown.
In 1920 Masataka returned to Japan with Jessie Roberta (Rita), whom he had married earlier that year, and joined Kotobukiya Limited (Suntory) in 1923. The building of the Yamazaki distillery came under his tuition, and he engaged in the first whisky production that Japan had ever seen. Wanting to utilise his experiences from Scotland, he left after 10 years to establish Dainipponkaju Co. Ltd. in 1934, building its distillery in Yoichi, Hokkaido. The name we associate now, the Nikka whisky expression, first had its run from the new distillery in October of 1940, before making such an impact that the name of the company changed to The Nikka Whisky Distilling Co. Ltd in August of 1952.
Despite the passing of his wife Rita in 1961, The Nikka Whisky Distilling Company expanded to include Coffey stills, imported from Scotland, at the Nishinomiya plant in 1963, and the completion of the Kashiwa plant (1967), Miyagikyo distillery (1969) and Tochigi plant (1977). The opening of the Tochigi plant was to be one of the last expansions under Masataka, as he passed away on August 29th, 1979 at the age of 85.
With the numerous plants and distilleries under the Nikka name, each offers a different role within the company –
Yoichi Distillery – malt whisky distilling and bottling.
Miyagikyo Distillery – malt whisky distilling, Coffey grain whisky production and bottling.
Hirosaki Plant – cider, brandy and apple wine brewing, as well as distilling and bottling.
Tochigi Plant – Coffey grain whisky storage and ageing, plus the re-storing of blended whisky.
Nishinomiya Plant – liqueur bottling.
Moji Distillery – Shochu distilling and bottling.
With this, they produce a variety of expressions, so below, I give to you my tasting notes on a selection that I’ve been lucky enough to experience –
Nikka All Malt – 40%
A blended whisky made with malt from Yoichi and a combination of malt and Coffey Still whisky from Miyagikyou.
Rich fruit upon the nose, with glazed apricots and green apple scents coming through before a good dose of treacle and caramel. Thin and light on the palate, with notes of oak and a developing warmth. Dry raisin, spice, honey and walnut draw out the very long, lively finish that has a hint of carrot cake.
Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt – 43%
Features plenty of whisky from the Miyagikyo distillery, as well as percentage of malt matured in Sherry casks. Dry on the nose with spice, liquorice and stemmed ginger combining. Grape must and walnut round off the aromas. A lively palate with a slight sharpness, but becoming rich with a glazed Maraschino cherry flavour, assorted red fruits and a long, dry finish.
Nikka Coffey Grain – 45%
Grain Whisky distilled in a Coffey still. Light fruits on the nose with a subtle coffee and fudge combination that offers a soft experience. Becoming very soft on the palate, with the subtle coffee bringing about a creamy texture. A mix of spice and cocoa on the finish.
Nikka Coffey Malt – 45%
Using the two Coffey stills at their Miyagikyo distillery to create malt whisky. Rich chocolate and coffee notes on the nose that gives a dry, soft aroma. Subtle upon the palate, with a coarse offering of the coffee. Moves to a mouth-watering finish though with cream and butterscotch.
Nikka From The Barrel – 51.4%
Matured malt whisky and grain whisky blended and then re-casked.
Light oak aromas on the nose with a thin scent of chocolate and apricot coming through. Light, subtle flavours on the palate too, with floral fruits offering a short, dry yet bold finish.
Nikka Pure Malt Black – 43%
A blended malt made up of whisky from Nikka’s Yoichi and Miyagikyo distilleries. A nose of light peat, but a good kick of oak comes through. Very smooth on the palate, with a short hit of citrus that mellows into malt and peat, combining for a long finish.
The Nikka range is also a rather versatile range –
Old Fashioned Coffey Malt
60 ml of Nikka Coffey Malt whisky
1 piece of brown sugar
3 dashes of cocktail bitters
Rub the piece of sugar against the orange skin to extract its natural oils. Imbibe the sugar with cocktail bitters and muddle in the glass. Add whisky and ice cubes and stir.
A great selection of expressions from Nikka, and feature some of the most awarded whiskies available. Even to the point that it’s too much for this writer to type, so I’ll direct you to their medal winning page! A brand that needs to have a presence in your drinks cabinet, or indeed an evening out with friends.
© David Marsland and Drinks Enthusiast 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog/sites author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to David Marsland and Drinks Enthusiast with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.