...where distraction is the main attraction.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

NOT Single Malt Report: Nikka Taketsuru 12 year old Pure Malt

In 1918, Kihei Abe, the owner of a large Japanese spirits producer, sent a young Masataka Taketsuru to Scotland to learn how whisky was properly made.  A trained chemist, Taketsuru took additional chemistry courses at the University of Glasgow before setting off to get an apprenticeship at a Scottish distillery.  A manager at the Longmorn distillery allowed him five days of an intensive free internship.  A couple months later, he spent three weeks at the now defunct Bo'ness distillery and learned how to use a Coffey still.  Then in 1920, with the help of one of his professors, he started a five month apprenticeship at the (now also closed) Hazelburn distillery in Campbeltown.  When the apprenticeship ended, he returned to Japan, newly betrothed to his Scottish wife, Rita.  Soon after his return, the company he was working for went bankrupt.  His next job was at a massive beer company, Kotobukiya, which would later become Suntory.  In 1934, Taketsuru and his investors built the Yoichi Distillery in which he'd begin production of Scottish-style single malt.  His company didn't begin to turn a profit until the war years, but once it did it became one of the two largest whisky producers in the country.  In 1952, he named the company, Nikka.
(sources: nonjatta.com and nikka.com)

Today, Nikka has a number of Japanese whisky brands and owns a Scottish distillery, Ben Nevis.  There are at least six different blend brands, one of which is named Taketsuru, after the founder.  Taketsuru is a blended malt, or vatted malt, as it contains only single malt whiskys.  Nikka calls it a "pure malt", a term banned the Scotch Whisky Association.  But because Nikka isn't part of the SWA, they can happily ignore that rule.

There are a bunch of releases in the Taketsuru range in Japan.  In the US, we have the 12, 17, and 21 year olds.  The sample I have of the 12 year old came from Europe and has an ABV of 40%.  I was going to write a disclaimer about the differing ABV in the US, when I realized the US release also has a 40% ABV.  So, no need for a disclaimer!  It will be interesting to see how an all malt blend at 40% matches up to Tuesday's blended whisky at 51.4%.

Brand: Taketsuru
Type: Blended Malt
Country: Japan
Distilleries: Miyagikyo and Yoichi
Age: minimum 12 years old
Maturation: ???
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
Batch: 16A46C

The color is a light copper.  There's definitely a reddish tint in it.  The nose has a peep of what seems to be a sweet sherry, though I'm unsure if they use sherry casks.  There are small notes of oranges, peach schnapps, vanilla, eucalyptus, and tropical fruit (something between mango and papaya).  But with air, it changes a bit: butter, rose blossoms, rum, powdered sugar donuts, and lots of caramel.  The palate is different than the nose.  Grass, cocoa, and a light sweetness.  There's also some band aids, tobacco, burnt white bread, and molasses.  It's all very subtle and sort of watery.  Sometimes an odd vodka-like ethyl note appears, trailing some sweet citrus.  The short finish holds soil, a rooty bitterness, caramel, dusty black pepper, and simple syrup.  There might be a hint of tropical fruit but I might be imagining it.

I didn't add water as the palate already feels watered down.  This is the spot in the post where I usually say that I'd love to see this at 46% ABV, but I'm not really sure what sort of character would get beefed up.  There's nothing in here a drinker can't get elsewhere.  That doesn't mean this is bad, it's entirely drinkable.  Only the wateriness and the weird ethyl note can be sources of complaint.

And, if you can't already tell, Taketsuru 12 is limp and lazy next to Nikka Whisky From the Barrel.  Yes, a blend with grain beats up on an all-malt blend.  The higher ABV probably doesn't hurt, but it's possible that the recipe/ingredients also work in the WFTB's favor.  When one takes into consideration the bottle size and international shipping, WFTB is similarly priced per mL but more worthy of the price.

On a final note, it appears as if Taketsuru 12 year old may be getting phased out, to be replaced by a 43%ABV no-age-statement version.  But the US is loaded with bottles of the 12 if you're looking for it.

Availability - Many specialty retailers
Pricing - $55-$75 in the US
Rating - 79