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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Japanese Whisky? Nikka Pure Malt Black

On Monday I wrote about the knotty state of Japanese whisky. Today I'm reviewing the first of three Nikka whiskies which may or may not contribute to that industry's mishmash.

That Nikka uses Ben Nevis's malt whisky in their Japanese-produced whiskies is no secret. From the Malt Whisky Yearbook 2016:
Ben Nevis is an important supplier of whisky for the owner's (Nikka) blends and for 2015, 50% of the newmake will be sent directly to Japan, primarily to be part of the popular blend, Nikka Black.
Now Nikka Black, or rather Black Nikka, is a blended whisky that's found in probably every corner liquor store and Seven-Eleven in Japan. And there's been a whole series of spinoffs and special blends baring its name over the years. But Black Nikka is not Nikka Pure Malt Black.

Nikka Pure Malt Black is an all malt blend, or vatted malt or blended malt. There has long been a rumor that Pure Malt Black contains Ben Nevis malt amongst its ingredients, but where and when that rumor started, I don't know. And though it is blended in Japan and the bottle exhibits more kanji than English characters (because it is made in Japan), it does not list "Japanese Whisky" anywhere on its labels. So I can't say if there's any subterfuge going on here.

In all my liquor store scouring in Japan this year, I found only one store with Nikka Pure Malt Black in stock. The 500mL bottle was all of $25 (with a great exchange rate). The product can also be purchased from a dozen European retailers for at least twice that price (with shipping).

Ownership: Nikka
Brand: Pure Malt
Type: Blended Malt
Region: Japan (and others?)
Distilleries: Miyagikyo and Yoichi (and others?)
Age: ???
Maturation: ???
Bottling code: 6/04G420907
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

The nose starts off mossy and leafy. Nutty liqueur and cherry bubblegum. Fudge and a young-Ledaig-ish peat. With time it picks up lemons and clementines. Dried lavender and umeboshi. The autumnal palate is leafy and lightly sweet. Tobacco and vanilla ice cream. Key lime pie and an ethyl bite. The peat is softer here than on the nose, reading as hints of soot and antiseptic. It gets sweeter and tangier with time. The finish is simple and sweet. Vanilla, limes, ginger beer. Almost no peat.

Picture a mix of Johnnie Walker Black Label and the former Yoichi NAS, but better. Some parts feel young, and others oaky, but none are too loud. There are subtle sherry cask notes, and the peat doesn't overwhelm. I can't tell if there really is Ben Nevis or any other scotch whisky present, but I do think <10yo Yoichi pulls most of the weight. Ultimately it's a well blended thing and I like it.

Availability - Some Japanese retailers and a dozen or so European shops
Pricing - $25ish in Japan, $50-$80 in Europe (w/shipping)
Rating - 84