This week I’m taking a short break from scotch in order to cover one of the most celebrated whisky categories on the market today. Japanese whisky is very much in vogue at present, and justifiably so. Without a doubt, there is a degree of hype at play, but that is not to demean the quality of the spirit, which can stand shoulder to shoulder with the best any country can offer, Scotland included.
Any discussion about Japanese whisky will inevitably come round to the story of one man… Masataka Taketsuru was born in 1894 near Hiroshima in Japan. His family were well established producers of Sake and while Masataka intended to go into the family business at first, he soon found himself drawn to the bolder flavour profile of scotch whisky.
In 1918, Masataka travelled to Scotland and enrolled at Glasgow University, majoring in Chemistry. He backed up his studies with apprenticeships at Longmorn and Hazelburn where he learnt all he could about whisky production, all the while planning to take this knowledge back to Japan. This he did, but not before he met and married Kirkintilloch woman Jessie Roberta (Rita) Cowan who would remain by his side until her death in 1961.
The happy couple returned to Japan in 1920 where Masataka found work with Kotobukiya Limited (now Suntory). There he was charged with creating Japan’s first whisky distillery. Yamasaki was completed in 1923 and Japan’s first home made whisky brand was born.
Despite his success, it seems that Taketsuru found it restricting to work under the company vision and in 1934 he departed to create his own company, Nikka, and set about designing a distillery that would utilise all that he had learned in Scotland. Masataka had long noted the Yoichi region on the northern island of Hokkaido as geographically similar to Scotland and therefore ideal for his distillery.
Over the years, Nikka has added to the Yoichi distillery with a second at Miyagikyo and the acquisition in 1989 of Ben Nevis distillery in Scotland. Masataka Taketsuru passed away in 1979 but continues to be held in high regard. Even today, everything at Nikka must be true to the vision of it’s creator.
Nikka’s entry level blend is very much about keeping it simple. It’s petite design, unfussy labelling and complete lack of marketing hype allow the contents of the bottle to do all the talking.
Smell: The nose is Fruity with strong Orange, also Apple, Lemon and even Cherry. It’s also lightly Floral and has notes of Golden Syrup, Honey and Caramel. Very well balanced.
Taste: Subtle and classy on the palate with notes of rich Caramel, Chocolate, Vanilla, Cream and Honeycomb with more Orange and a touch of Almond.
Value for Money: Available for around the £30 mark and a great buy at that price.
Score: 44 / 50. About the scores…
As you may have picked up from some of my other reviews, I really enjoy big flavours in my dram… Massive smoke and huge sherry notes really hit the spot for example. This japanese blend is not like that and at first I found it a little underwhelming. However, the more time I’ve spent with it, the more I’ve started to appreciate it. It seems to unravel with each sip and offer something different each time I pay it a visit. If you’re looking for an entry point into Japanese whisky, this is it. Well blended, complex, balanced, elegant and reasonably priced.