In the first of our worldwide reviews we are looking at Nikka Whisky. Nikka Whisky Distilling Co. Ltd hails from Japan where they presently own two distilleries, the first of which was founded in 1934. Their story begins when their founder, Masataka Taketsuru, traveled to Scotland in 1918 to study chemistry in Glasgow university. He married a Scottish woman and settled in Campbeltown where he completed an apprenticeship with Hazelburn distillery. Together with his wife Rita, they returned to Japan in late 1920 where he began working with a company called Kotobukiya that would eventually become Suntory. Here he oversaw the building and commissioning of the Yamazaki Distillery, Japans first Whisky Distillery.
In 1934 he founded a distillery called “Dai Nippon Kaju K.K.”. Situated in Yoichi in Northern Japan, it was an area he considered most like the Scottish countryside. In 1940 the first “Nikka Whisky” was launched and in 1952 the companies name changed to what we know it as today. In 1969, owing to the success of Nikka whisky, a second distillery was formed in the rolling hills of Miyagikyo. As an addition to Miyagikyo Distillery, two Coffey stills for grain whisky production were introduced to complement the copper pot stills already in Miyagikyo and Yoichi. As the final part of our history lesson, in 1989 the company acquired Ben Nevis Distillery in Scotland. Nikka now have about 14 whiskies in their own brand portfolio along with a Gin and Vodka.
Our tasting adventure starts with their “Nikka From The Barrel” release. Coming in a square 500ml bottle and rolling in at 51.4%, it isn’t the strongest of Cask Strength whiskys out there, but this little bottle does pack a punch. The whisky itself is a marriage of three components; single malts from both distilleries and grain whisky from Miyagikyo. As it’s a NAS we have no age on the spirit but I am informed that the marriage of the blend takes place over 3 – 6 months in used casks. Its was easy to see why this is a multi-award winning whisky including 3 Gold Medals at the International Spirits Challenge. I found it to be very complex on both the nose and the palate. So complex I had to enjoy a second one (cough cough)! At what I would personally consider the lower range of Cask Strengths, it was easy to drink without water but the addition of just a drop of water opened up the flavour profile massively allowing the complexity to be peeled back slightly. I also found that the longer this dram had in room air, the better it seemed to get. At approximately €50, its is a very affordable whisky for such a great quality dram. So here are my tasting notes;
Nose; Very complex. Unripened bananas, hazelnuts, a hint of shoe polish, malt and a good strong hit of coffee. Maybe some wood shavings in there too.
Palate; Lovely spice and pepper to the fore making way for vanilla, mandarins, ginger and cloves.
Finish; Medium finish for a cask strength but very pleasant. Mouth drying towards the end with a slight cocoa bitterness in there. Addition of water almost masks this.