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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

NOT Single Malt Report: Nikka Whisky From the Barrel

So, we go from a Japanese-owned American whiskey called "Straight From the Barrel" to a Japanese-owned Japanese whisky called "Whisky From the Barrel".

Nikka owns two malt distilleries, Miyagikyo and Yoichi, and release a number of single malts from each.  They also have a vatted malt, called Taketsuru which is blend of whiskys from both distilleries.  Recently they also added a single grain whisky from their Coffey stills to their line up.  In addition to these, they have a half dozen blends.  Here in the US, we've gotten one Yoichi (15yo), one Miyagikyo (12yo), three Taketsurus (12yo, 17yo, 21yo), and the Coffey still Single Grain, all of which sell for considerable prices.  I've tried the Yoichi 15 (which I loved) and the Single Grain (which was better than I'd expected, very bourbony).

What hasn't get crossed the Pacific is Nikka's high strength blend, Whisky From the Barrel (WFTB, for my purposes).  Going by whiskybase's list there have been at least 73 bottlings of this blend and all have been at 51.4% ABV.  Once upon a time, the grain component of WFTB came from the Nishinomiya distillery.  But since Nishinomiya's coffee stills were moved to Miyagikyo in 1999, I'm pretty sure that there's no Nishinomiya in this current NAS blend.  But the good news, other than the high ABV, is that the whiskys used in WTFB are blended then married together in first-fill bourbon casks for some time before bottling.  And the bottles are pretty much flair free:

Ownership: Nikka
Type: Blended Whisky
Country: Japan
Distilleries: Miyagikyo (malt & grain) and Yoichi (grain)
Age: NAS
Maturation: probably ex-bourbon casks to start, then later married in first-fill ex-bourbons
Alcohol by Volume: 51.4%

The color is medium gold.  The nose has lots of malt and even more oak.  Wouldn't know that there's a grain element in there.  Okay, after a few minutes there's a young grain note in the background but it works as an ingredient with the rest.  Then lemons and peaches, which are almost floral in their intensity.  Very sugary, simple candy, lots of overripe stone fruit.  It smells like it's going to be very sweet......And the palate does have a sweet element: orange pixy stix and caramel.  But there's also smoked toffee, rubber, and ham, which I'm going to guess are from the Yoichi.  Vanilla starts to develop late, as does citrus and pear.  The sweets rule the day in the moderate length finish.  An orange peel note builds with time.

Lots of sugary stuff again in the nose. Maybe some jasmine, but definitely wildflowers. Tangerines. The palate gets creamier in taste and texture.  Vanillas, sweet creams, and lemon candies.  A touch of wormwood bitterness, in the far back, counters some of the sweets.  In the finish it's lemons and lemon candy.  Caramel.  Hint of smoke?  A little of that nice bitterness.

I like this.  It isn't complex; it's simple and tasty, sweet but not too much.  There's enough American oak present (and corn in the grain whisky) to make it of interest to bourbon drinkers.  It may have a touch of smoke, but that could be my imagination.  With the good ABV, it could stand up straight in a mizuwari, and it does well with even a couple drops of water.  And look at the industrial leanness in that bottle design.  Squat bottle, tubby cab, monochrome label.  It takes some courage in the current whisky market to remove all visual flab.

Who wouldn't like this stuff?  Folks who find the oak too strong.  People looking for layers of complexity.  Buyers seeking crystal decanter whiskies they'll never open and only show off like dick pics on Facebook.  Terrorists.

Availability - Europe and Japan
Pricing - $30-$45 ex-VAT, before shipping (500mL bottle)
Rating - 88