Whew. I did five consecutive posts last week, while traveling with child. Ain't gonna do that again under those circumstances. I’m scaling back to two this week and then work back up to three again soon. Here's one last Japanese whisky post today, something a little different on Thursday, and then we’ll be back to our regularly scheduled reviews next week.
I started this string of one dozen Japan posts with some observations about the state of the Japanese whisky retail market. One of the main points in that post was a complaint about the quality of the newer non-age-statement Japanese whiskies taking up most of the real estate on liquor store shelves. Suntory’s Distillers Reserves were the focus of this gripe. For a different look, here’s a review of an NAS single malt from Nikka's Yoichi distillery.
Region: Hokkaido, Japan
Type: Single Malt
Age: Not stated
Bottle size: 180mL
The color is medium gold. The nose leads with tart apples, unripe pears, paint fumes, and banana candy. There’s some Lagavulin-style peating, but at half power. With time, it all gets a little darker. Steel wool, coal, dirty socks, rocks, and lime zest. As for the palate, take Johnnie Walker Black Label**, then add peat and subtract caramel and sherry. It’s lightly sweet, lightly peppery. Maybe some coal smoke in there. It’s mild in a blendy sort of way. It finishes with sugar, salt, pepper, and a hint of peat ash. It holds for a decent length considering its age and strength. After a while, there are hints of both cardboard and raspberry candy.
Since this was bottled at 43%abv, while the Suntories were bottled at 40%, I reduced it down to that level.
WITH WATER (~40%abv)
The nose picks up black licorice farts (a thing). The peat gets dirtier, grungier. The lime sticks around, and the apple note grows brighter. A moment of chlorine shows up after a few minutes. The palate gets pepperier and picks a little bit of herbal bitterness. Some vanilla bean and granulated sugar. It is noticeably thinner and the peat fades. The finish is much briefer and seems to be mostly sugar.
My notes say, “Not terrible!”. It is young whisky, likely coming from neither the best nor worst of Yoichi’s casks. I can tolerate the paint fumes, but could do without the banana candy in the nose. The cardboard note taints the otherwise acceptable finish. Overall it could be interchangeable with a medium-range (and more expensive) blend, though it swims much better than many of those. Meanwhile, the palate is more than okay and the whole package is two steps better than Suntory’s Distillers Reserves, even when the Yoichi is reduced to 40%abv.
So while the age stated Yoichis are better, this NAS isn't a complete tragedy. And if you're traveling in Japan and need a quick cheap casual drink for your backpack or computer bag, this is a reliable choice. (Though, Nikka From The Barrel is the best for this purpose, often selling as low as $15.)
Pricing - ¥665 for the 180mL bottle (about $6 using current rates)
Rating - 79
**I would happily choose this over Johnnie Walker Black Label, despite the fact that this score is lower than the grades I've given JWBL. That is because, over the past two years, the quality of the Black Label has plummeted. Two years ago, I stated that my fourth Black Label review would be my last. The whisky has changed so much that I may need to do another review before 2015 is over.