...where distraction is the main attraction.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Japanese Whisky? Nikka Pure Malt White

On Monday I pondered the definition of Japanese whisky. On Tuesday, I reviewed a whisky blended in Japan, by a Japanese producer, which may have had Scottish-distilled malt in it. The whisky was Nikka Pure Malt Black, and nowhere on its labels was the phrase "Japanese Whisky". Today, I'm reviewing one of its siblings.

I'd always thought Nikka Pure Malt White was supposed to have had Caol Ila in it. With no idea where I'd originally heard that rumor, I did some googling. I found a couple European retailers claiming there was Caol Ila in the mix. At least a dozen bloggers' reviews say the same. Nonjatta references the CI rumor, but states quite plainly: "This one, the white, is a bit different: it is based on whisky from Islay in Scotland." The comment section in Whiskynotes's review furthers this discussion. But there's no official source for any of this.

But then there's The Whisky Exchange 2015 interview with Nikka's European brand ambassador, Sayumi Oyama:
"[On rumours there is Ben Nevis in Nikka Pure Malt White] We try to use only Japanese whisky, but I think today it is necessary to use malt from other countries."
First off, what Ben-Nevis-in-Pure-Malt-White rumors are they talking about? The Ben Nevis rumors were about Pure Malt Black. The White rumors were regarding Islay malt.

Secondly, I'd say the brand ambassador's answer is a big YES. About something.

Like Pure Malt Black, there's no reference to "Japanese Whisky" on the Pure Malt White bottle. So what is it?

It's remarkable.

: Nikka
Brand: Pure Malt
Type: Blended Malt
Region: Japan (and others?)
Distilleries: Miyagikyo and Yoichi (and others?)
Age: ???
Maturation: ???
Bottling code: 6/02E400907
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

Avert your eyes. Loquacity approaches.

The nose spins orange peel, mint leaves, dried apricots, almond cookies and damp peat smoke together. Beach air, black licorice, green apples and Kasugai peach candy. A box of Werther's Originals in a dusty closet.

The palate has an consistent undercurrent of baking spices and mizunara(?) wood spice. An exotic smoked sea salt. Umeboshi (yes, that again) and plum wine. A light cherry candy sweetness. Hints of burlap, eucalyptus and malt.

There's a lovely fresh herb and Kilkerran-like forest floor (flor?) combination in the finish, which meets up with a mineral note. The smoky sea salt finds equilibrium with a subtle sweet note. And then at the end of end, a moment of OBE-esque funk.

Yes. I opened this bottle up on Sunday night, took my first sip and said, "Oh. Oh this is fabulous." And I don't say things like that.

What it reminds me of is not Caol Ila or any other Islay malt, but rather Yoichi. Good Yoichi. The Yoichi that corrupted some of us before the age-stated stuff went out of production and quintupled in price. Yet, Pure Malt White also has big time fruit notes on the nose and curious spices everywhere.

Because it's not a cask strength thing, Pure Malt White works best when a father captures a rare silent moment. I won't call it meditative (because it's whisky) but it needs quiet.

I don't know how they did it, nor why no one in Scotland has been able to design a standard blended malt of this quality. At 43%abv.

PLEASE NOTE: I have seen Pure Malt White's reviews around the internet and they all make me look totally insane. So please just pass this review off as hyperbolic nonsense. That's okay. Let me cuddle up within my madness.

Availability - A dozen or so European shops, unsure about its status in Japan
Pricing - $60-$100 in Europe (w/shipping, 500mL bottle)
Rating - 90


  1. If these are still in ongoing production, I'm a little confused why they haven't been released in the US. Ditto for Nikka From the Barrel. Are they really so attached to the 500 mL bottles?

    1. Not totally sure what the production status is of the Pure Malts. The White has disappeared from Nikka's website. And, other than Red, they're difficult to find in Japan (at least for me).

      Regarding the US, I wonder if it's a matter of volume. Would they have enough whisky to meet the US demand? We're voracious buyers. The age-stated Nikka single malts lasted no more than two years in the US before they went out of production.

      These are all guesses. Someday, when I do some actual reporting and talk to a non-marketing Nikka employee, I hope to get some clarity on this.