While some well-established Japanese distilleries have already warned worldwide whisky enthusiasts they were starting to run low on stocks, Monde Shuzo Distillery, in partnership with the European distributor Les Whiskies du monde, has officially launched a brand new expression : Fujikai, a 10-year-old single malt produced at the foot of the world-famous Mount Fuji.
Limited to 8088 bottles, this expression is matured in ex bourbon barrels for 10 years, and pays tribute to its home-country with references to Mount Fuji and the former prefecture of Yamanashi, once named Kai. Monde Shuzo themselves remain established within the Ji-Whisky scene, which itself refers to thee local craft distilling scene in Japan and is often used to describe micro-distilleries that are family owned and use traditional methods. It’s surprising then that this expression has made it across to the UK, as most of these spirit-producing facilities often save their expressions for the local market only.
The Monde Shuzo Distillery itself was founded back in 1952 and located in Fuefuki. They are also celebrated as a wine operator with a production capacity of 20,000 bottles of wine per day. Whisky production is therefore part of a wider diversification strategy developed by the establishment.
So how does this rather limited edition expression from Japan fare? Well below, I give to you my tasting notes –
Fujikai 10yr – 43%
Ripe oak notes upon the nose, with stoned fruits, such as cherries and plums, bringing a deep, dry nose. Light walnut on the palate, with hints of seasoned wood, soft vanilla and pear. A slight salt nip on the end, with subtle smoke and spices to the lingering finish.
A great dram from Japan here, and really shows the craft that the Japanese whisky industry are famed for. If you enjoy exploring whisky and have that intrigue to give Japanese styles a go, this is worth the wait. One for the cabinet, impress your friends, and one for the winter evenings for sure!
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.
Last Thursday saw meeting number seven of the Manchester Whisky Club, held at the new venue of The Castle in Manchester. Just like last month, a theme was the order of the day, with everything Japanese celebrated. Club founder Andy brought with him 5 expressions covering a little bit of everything, so without further a do, lets see how they all fared –
Yamazaki 12yr – 43%
Matured in US, Spanish and Japanese oak casks. Light on the nose with aromas of honey, vanilla and peach. Becomes a little sweeter on the palate with spice lingering and a long finish.
Nikka Coffey Grain – 45%
A smooth nose of grain with a slight toffee aroma coming through. Again smooth on the palate, with a slight developing spice that creates a mouth-watering effect. Light, long and lingering on the finish.
Yoichi 10yr –45%
Lightly peated, matured in ex bourbon and sherry casks. Bold, slightly peated with lots of sherry aromas. A spicy start, with some bold citrus and sherry notes coming through. Hints of peat gather at the long finish.
Karuizawa Spirit of Asama – 55%
Vatting of 77 casks. Bold on the nose with heavy treacle notes as well as demerara sugar and slight peat. Sharp and bold on the palate, but mellows into a lingering aroma of treacle. A short finish.
Hakushu 12yr– 43%
The older expression (the new version is 43.5%). Apple dominates the nose with a slight sweetness at the end. Light on the palate with slight bursts of freshness that mellows and causes it to linger slightly.
A great collection showcased, and a surprise for myself. Previously, Yamazaki has been my personal favourite, but after sampling the Hakushu, this is now my sought after Japanese whisky!
Midori is Japanese for “green”. Yes, that green bottle that adorns many a back-bar and turns a cocktail into a vibrant colour. But it is also one of those liqueurs that you will probably never had on its own. Any particular reason? Not really. Midori is a melon liqueur and many consumers have nothing against the fruit, but I suppose when was the last time you asked for something fruity, straight, over ice?
I think with this common theme, Midori has adapted itself to become rather versatile when it is introduced with other ingredients. But before we come onto some fantastic examples, lets see how this Japanese spirit first came about.
Midori, developed by Suntory, was launched in the United States in 1978 and with a party at the famous nightclub Studio 54, attended by the stars of Saturday Night Fever. Within the year of its release, Midori was named as the base to the cocktail ‘The Universe’, the winner of the US Bartender Guild Annual Competition. Following success in the USA, Midori launched in Australia and then Britain a year later, with international recognition in 1984 as the cocktail ‘Green Eyes’ became the official drink of the LA Olympics.
The reason for its success? Melons.
The use of premium melon mainly from Yubari, Japan. Yubari melons account for just one percent of melon production in Japan and can only be found in this region. But first created is the raw liqueur using the best method for this specific type of melon. They then combine the raw liqueur with other fragrant ingredients using Suntory’s exclusive blending techniques.
So with its international recognition, and exclusivity, how does it fare? Well below, I give to you my tasting notes –
Midori – 20%
Strong melon aroma on the nose with sweet notes coming through and lingering onto the palate. Fresh hit of melon on the tongue, although rather light. Sweet, lingering, and rather short.
Now as mentioned, its versatility seems to be the way bartenders have exposed this liqueur to the world, so try one of these –
30 ml Midori
30 ml Cointreau
30 ml Lemon Juice
Shake ingredients together and pour into a glass. Garnish with a red cherry.
15 ml Midori
15 ml Vodka
15 ml Pistachio liqueur
45 ml Pineapple juice
15 ml Lime juice
Shake ingredients together, and pour into the Champagne flute.
There’s never anything wrong in ordering a liqueur on its own, especially to truly appreciate what you are drinking, and to realise how adaptable it is, but sometimes a cocktail can show its true colours, and that’s why Midori, and why bartenders choose to keep using it, has done so well in competitions these past 25 years.