Was it just a year and half ago when I first tried Nikka Whisky for the first time? Anchor Distilling started importing Nikka Taketsuru 12 then and now so many more are available including Miyagikyo Single Malt 12, Yoichi Single Malt 15, Nikka Taketsuru 17, Nikka Taketsuru 21 and my new favorite Nikka Coffey Grain. I got to try all of these at a recent tasting during the Golden State of Cocktails week. The tasting was held at Far Bar which has built up a fine collection of whiskys in Little Tokyo.
Masataka Taketsuru is considered the founder of Japanese whisky. He came from a sake brewing family and went to Scotland to learn the art of whisky making. After marrying a Scottish woman, Taketsuru moved home to Japan with her. He wanted to open a distillery but tough economic times forced him to take work with Kotobukiya, a company that eventually became Suntory. When his contract was over, he was able to establish his own distillery, Yoichi, on the island of Hokkaido. Over 30 years later, he opened a distillery called Miyagikyo in the Miyagi prefecture.
With so many new expressions to taste, I made sure to hold back some of the Nikka 12 to compare against the others, particularly against the 17 and 21. I went back and forth and decided I liked the 12 for every day and would split my special occasion whisky with the 17 and 21, leaning towards the 17. It’s always interesting to me how I tend to favor the middle expression.
What’s the difference between single malt and pure malt? Unlike Scottish distilleries that frequently trade yeast and whisky with each other to create unique blends, the Japanese tend to create their own from within. The pure malt would be a blend of two or more single malts. I could imagine establishing two different distilleries made a lot of sense. At Yoichi, the pot stills are still heated over an open flame creating unique whiskys while Miyagikyo is a modern facility that has both large pot stills and Coffey stills. Single malt would be from only one source.
For example, the Nikka Taketsuru 12 is a blend of Yoichi malt and Miyagikyo malt. And Yoichi Single Malt would just be from the Yoichi distillery and not blended.
Before you even ask- no, this does not taste like coffee. The “Coffey” in the Nikka Coffey Grain refers to the name of the still invented by Aeneas Coffey who invented the column still. Purists tend to like pot still whiskys for that deeper flavor. Companies like column or continuous stills because it makes whisky (or other spirits) faster. Nikka calls it a single grain whisky which means it’s not malt (barley). It’s highly unusual to bottle a single grain whisky as it tends to be used in blends of malt and grain whiskys. There is no age statement but it’s between 10-12 years.
I got a lot of richness and sweet notes from this whisky. I’d have it on ice or in old fashioned cocktail.
As for the Yoichi Single Malt 15 and the Miyagikyo Single Malt 12, they are very different to me. This is also where it’s not just the grain, yeast and water at play but how it’s aged. The Yoichi tasted richer and had a rounded mouth feel while the Miyagikyo was fruitier and lighter. I liked both but could see how Scotch drinkers might like the Yoichi more and American whiskey drinkers would like the Miyagikyo.
Keep an eye out for Nikka at bars and stores. I recently found Yoichi 15 at Mitsuwa Japanese Market (Costa Mesa). They also had other Japanese whiskys like Hibiki 12, Yamazaki 12 and 15, Hakushu 12 and Taketsuru 12.
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© LA Cocktails // The Minty 2014