Like Sacred Mount Fuji—Perfectly Shaped Whiskies from Japan

The sacred Mount Fuji, located on Honshu Island in Japan, has an exceptionally symmetrical cone created by nature back in 1708 when it was last an active volcano. Today, the perfectly shaped whiskies of Japan, crafted by man, have their own unique balance that mirrors Mount Fuji. These whiskies, nurtured with natures assistance, have a magic all their own.

In part one of TD’s Whiskies of Japan, we learned about the great partnership of Shinjiro Torii and Masataka Taketsuru that created the Suntory White Lable at the Yamazaki distillery, would last for ten years. This was a creative and innovative time in Japanese whisky history that set the building blocks for a lot that we have available today. On leaving Yamazaki Masataka  started his own enterprise creating what is now called the Nikka Whisky Distilling Company. The first malt distillery established by Nikka was the Yoichi distillery in 1934 followed by the Miyagikyo distillery in 1969. Incredibly it took until March 2013 for the first ever release of Nikka in the United States. This was two releases the Yoichi 15 Year and the Nikka Taketsuru 12 Year Pure Malt Japanese Whisky. Pure malt in this instance being a blend of just two single malts from the Yoichi and Miyagikyo distilleries. Interestingly unlike Scotland Japanese producers do not sell malts to blending companies choosing to create any blends with their own distillate. In October and November 2013 there are further new arrivals into the US market with another four Nikka releases. They are all great whiskies with their own defined qualities, but these three I propose for your full range of taste with Japanese whiskies.

Nikka Yoichi 15 Year Single Malt

I was very excited when this very important whisky first arrived into the US. I was also a little nervous, as I had high expectations and sometimes that can be fatal. Could something that has the pedigree and history of Nikka disappoint? No way! This Single Malt whisky is from Nikka’s “Yoichi” distillery, which uses direct-fire heating of the still using local powdered coal. This is interesting, because combined with the shortened-neck still, it has a direct effect on the taste of the whisky. In this case it creates an oily, tar-laced profile. The Nose: Constantly evolving from rich fruit and salty baked apple to the dark chocolate scent you get left on a candy wrapper on a warm day! The Palate: Oil, creamy fruit, salty caramel. The Finish: Tar smoke and spicy salt.

Nikka Taketsuru 17 Year Pure Malt Japanese Whisky

Carefully selected malts from both distillery sites (higher percentage coming for the larger volume Miyagikyo distillery) are carefully blended together. This blend is then spends 17 years ageing together in a vatting. The result is beautiful The Nose: Dried fruit, apricot, raisin and husky nut. The Palate: Orange rind, nutmeg spice. The texture rich and oily with a healthy peat and iodine element. The Finish: Touch of cinnamon and chocolate.

Nikka Coffey Grain Japanese Whisky

The Coffey here refers to the type of column still used to produce this single grain whisky. The result is a lovely lighter style whisky that has a totally different focus. The Nose: Delicate butter, caramel, vanilla and hints of tropical fruit. The Palate: Roasted corn, pepper and passion fruit. The Finish: Light and clean spiced fruit.

The founders of Suntory and Nikka proved that when presented with excellent domestic single malts there would indeed be a high demand and the Japanese people would fall in love with malt whisky. Now they are finally getting the distribution and global exposure they deserve with 2014 promising to be an exciting year seeing more first time releases of different expressions and new distilleries. The most recent, which arrived only this month, January 2014, Chichibu’s “Ichiros’s Malt” is something special to look for since first releases often become collectable bottles! Cheers.


About Author

I moved here from UK in February 2011 leaving my job as a community bobby in Surrey. By the end of May that year I had joined the team at Astor Wines & Spirits turning my love of Whisky & Wine into work. My first whisky love is single malt, which started as a 18 year old when my local Pub landlord introduced me to Macallan 12. I am also extremely passionate about American whiskey which is an amazing category. I love travel and have white water rafted in New Zealand, Argentina & Canada.