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More Releases of Suntory and Nikka for the US Market!

The Japanese whisky companies that already have a presence here in the US (Suntory and Nikka) have been very busy over the summer.  In fact, it looks like a mini-arms race broke out.  Both Suntory and Nikka appear poised to increase and diversify their existing line up.  Currently Suntory offers the Yamazaki 12 and 18, Hakushu 12 and Hibiki 12.  Nikka recently entered the US market with Yoichi 15 and Taketsuru 12.

Yamazaki 25

Suntory is going big with a new release for the Yamazaki line and for the Hakushu line.  Contrary to the current trend of younger whiskies and non-age statement expression, Suntory is releasing the venerable Yamazaki 25.  This release has earned some very distinguished awards over the years including the 2012 Best Single Malt Whisky at the World Whiskies Awards.  The Yamazaki 25 will come in at 43% ABV.  As for pricing we don’t have those details yet but if it is anywhere near the pricing in Japan (~$900) it is going to be a luxury bottle.

Hakushu

Suntory also decided to go big with their new Hakushu release – big peat that is.  The new release will be the Hakushu Heavily Peated.  This has been an annual release in Japan of 3000 bottles that has tended to sell out very quickly.  Suntory is bringing the Heavily Peated in at a lower ABV though.  In Japan the release has always been at 48% ABV but the label for the US version indicates that it will be released here at 43% ABV.  The pricing should be closer to the $100 mark as that is roughly what it sells for retail across the pond.

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Nikka is introducing the US to its other single malt distillery, Miyagikyo.  This distillery is located in the northern part of Japan’s main island Honshu, in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture.  This is still south of Nikka’s Yoichi distillery which is on the northern island of Hokkaido.  The Miyagikyo expression will be 12 years old and bottled at 45% ABV.

Taketsuru 17

Nikka is also supplementing its pure malt line with the Taketsuru 17 and the 21.  Taketsuru is a pure malt in that it is a vatting of two single malt whisky distilleries:  Yoichi and Miyagikyo (Sorry Scotch Whisky Association – can’t prohibit a Japanese whisky company from using the term pure malt).  Both Taketsuru expressions will be bottled at 43% ABV.

Taketsuru 21

Unfortunately the details of when all of these expressions will be released are unknown to us at this time.  But we imagine that they will try to have them ready to roll out or start to announce them in the fall – whisky season here.  As we get more information on release dates and pricing we will update.  Keep it up Suntory and Nikka! Get these new expression into the market and keep more of them coming in!

*Photos from TTB Applications*

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Nikka Whisky Adding To Their US Line Up: Coffey Grain

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It appears that Nikka Whisky is confident enough to introduce another expression to its US line up. Interestingly though it is a grain whisky release instead of a malt or even a blended release (wouldn’t we all love to see Nikka From the Barrel here in the US?). It has not been officially announced by Nikka Whisky or their importer Anchor Distilling Co. but Nikka looks poised to release their Coffey Grain expression here shortly as it has recently cleared the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) labeling certification process. This coincides with Nikka’s recent launch of a regular (not special single cask) release of the Coffey Grain in Japan.

The Coffey Grain derives its name from the Coffey still that is used to distill the grain spirit – not from anything remotely related to coffee. Nikka imported its Coffey still from Scotland in 1963 and it now resides in its Miyakikyou Distillery. This will be a non-age statement release and is anticipated to come in at 45% ABV. I don’t have any word on what the price point will be at this time.

We have tried Nikka’s Single Coffey Grain and quite enjoyed it but it was a different animal from what this regular release will be. It will be interesting to see how drinkers react to a Japanese grain whisky – maybe Nikka has its sights set on taking some of the popular cocktail market with this release. Either way I am glad that Nikka is moving towards introducing more of its expressions to the US market.

*label photos from TTB application approval*

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Nikka Whisky – Coming to the US

Nikka Whisky is finally making its way to the US.   It is projected that the whisky will be launched some time in November of this year through Anchor Distilling Co. here in San Francisco.  Most people have already heard, but I think that it is worth mentioning here as it is very significant not only in terms of Japanese whisky but all whisky.  I am always bitching and moaning about how we barely get any Japanese whisky here – there are really only four expressions available from Suntory right now (Yamazaki 12, 18, Hakushu 12 and Hibiki 12).  This is a mere sliver of the total expressions that Japanese distillers actually produce.  I am ecstatic that Nikka will now finally be launched here to add to the selection of Japanese malts.  Initially Nikka is releasing the Taketsuru 12 (a pure malt) and the Yoichi 15.  If you are not familiar with Nikka Whisky, we posted a quick history here.  I was also lucky enough to visit the Yoichi distillery and posted by experiences here.

Unfortunately I don’t have any of the Taketsuru 12 or Yoichi 15 around right now to sample but I did have the Yoichi 12:

Color:  Medium brown/copper

Nose:  Text book Yoichi – coastal, smoke, rutty, earthy and musky, some light apple hiding underneath it all, a sweet and dark baking spice mixture, pumpkin bread, wisps of eucalyptus and menthol.

Palate:  Briney, decomposing vegetation, surprising alcohol prickliness (for 45%ABV) but not overwhelming, mushrooms, peat, muskiness is very evident, slightly ashy, the malt starts to make its presence known towards the end, some sweet spiced bread/cake, oily.  With water it gets sweeter and loses some of the mouth-feel, cleaner and not as rutty.

Finish:  Medium, ash, dark spices.

This is one of my favorite whiskies.  If it was available here it would be one of my favorite everyday sippers.  It is not as big as the Yoichi 15 but it holds its own and is at a lot better price point.  I believe it was less than $50 last time I got a bottle at duty free in Narita.

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Tasting Three Nikka Blends

Veering off of the single malt course we are trying some of Nikka’s blends today.  Blends tend to get relegated to the status of a second class whisky citizen – which can be unfortunate.  If there is anything that we can communicate in this post, it is to not let the stereotypes surrounding blends hold you back from trying them. You might be missing out on some really good whisky.

Kingsland Nikka Whisky Premier 43%ABV

Kingsland

 

To be honest, the packaging on this little 50cl sampler screamed this is going to be some serious swill.  There was an odd dichotomy of ingenuity and ridiculousness when it came to the “bottle stopper”.  It was meant to look like a nice crystal bottle stopper, but it was in-fact a regular twist top with a triangular plastic piece fastened to the top with a sticker.  After we stopped laughing we poured it out to give it a try.

Chris’ Impressions:

Color:  Light copper

Nose:  Wow! A huge amount of alcohol fumes straight into my nose.  After figuring out that I had to give this whisky a lot of space when nosing I found some apples, sweet grain, oak and what can only be described as a sharp impression

Palate:  Continuing the trend of being really sharp on the entry and then it settles down into some sweet grain, honey and malt.

Finish:  Short – poof! Gone!

Comments:  Surprising kick on both the nose and palate up front – not necessarily in a good way.  After that it is pretty boring but at least it was not the swill that I was expecting.

Nate’s Impressions:

Even if the adornment on the cap was a little corny, the glass bottle had a pleasing heft to it.  Over-the-counter caramel in color.  I did not expect such a hot nose.  And it was a hot nose.  And the nose stayed hot.  It almost brought a tear to my eye.  No, seriously. Perhaps there was a little apple-sugar and malt back in there somewhere.  A slightly sugary beginning lead to quick dashes of peat and smoke before settling on some darker sugar and dough notes.

Taketsuru 17 43% ABV

Taketsuru 17

If you take a close look at this little 50cl bottle, only the character for tsuru (鶴) is on there.  We humored ourselves with the thoughts that the bottle was too small for a label with the full name so they left the Take (竹) out.

Chris’ Impressions:

Color:  Dark amber

Nose:  Initially honey, pears, a little floral.  Then it shifts into more earthy tones with sandal wood and incense

Palate:  Smooth, malty, layers of sweetness and sandal wood

Finish:  Short and sweet

Comments:  Not a light blend as the nose initially alluded to, reminds me of a ratcheted down Nikka From the Barrel Blend (see below).

Nate’s Impressions:

I thought the label was pretty cool.  Not a lot of information but it sure did look stylish.  20 carat gold with a tinge of copper.  The nose was slightly sweet with a touch of celery, heat, and not entirely unlike a strawberry.  I took a sip and found it quite satisfying.  Lush water opened with a balanced, light peaty earth and hint-o-smoke.  A slow-burning oak took root in the distance alongside a pleasantly somber sweetness.  The blending process did not eradicate too much character in this relatively short and sweet sipper.  I would like to drink this on an airplane.

Nikka From the Barrel 51.4% ABV

Nikka From the Barrel

 

We did a short review of this before, but felt like we should revisit it and go into a little more depth.

Chris’ Impressions:

Color:  Light copper and orange

Nose:  Peat, feisty alcohol presence, sweet dark fruit, incense, sandal wood, apple cider and orange

Palate:  Earthy, peat, tansu furniture, good viscosity, a prickly spice on the tongue

Finish:  Long.  Incense and woody

Comments:  This is probably one of the best blends that I have ever had.  It has a darker, bolder and punchier flavor profile than we would expect from a blend.  This is a single malt drinker’s blend – if that makes any sense.  Great stuff!

Nate’s Impressions:

Yes, I love this stuff.  But this time I didn’t know I was drinking it (a little bit of blind-tasting) which makes my biased praise slightly more legitimate.  The color was an orangy-light-rose gold.  The nose featured peat, heat, dusty lemon, more heat, and perhaps a trace of fig ( but that last one could have been a synaptic snafu).  It hit the palate with mild peat, dense simple syrup, and dark orange-resin.  It was hot, but not overpowering.  Some mushroom earthyness and char crawled onto the scene and settled in for a solid lingering.  Pleasing mouthfeel.  I thought I was drinking a single malt.  Loads of character that are pleasantly at odds, but never smothering each other… and you can really taste the Yoichi lineage.  I would like the keep a bottle of this on hand at all times.  And don’t get me started about the cool bottle…

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Nikka Yoichi 15y/o Single Cask

We really enjoy the single cask line up from Nikka’s Yoichi distillery.  Unfortunately they don’t market them much and they can be difficult to find.  I have only been able to get them directly from the distillery in Yoichi.  We tasted the 5 y/o, 10 y/o and the 25 y/o.

This time we are visiting the 15 y/o expression that is bottled at 60% ABV.  Cask No. 235296

Nikka Yoichi 15 y/o

Chris’ Impressions:

Color:  18k gold

Nose:  Peat up front, soft waves of smoke, coastal, malty, dense oak, earthy.

Palate:  Initial sweetness then shifts into more earthy and fungal flavors.  Good balance with the peat hanging out in the background, some salt too.

Finish:  Long with the peat lingering till the end.

Comments:  Again, a great single cask expression, nice and lively and I think it is better balanced than the 10 y/o – of which I am a huge fan of.

Nate’s Impressions:

I wish tasting Nikka’s whiskies was a full-time Job.  The line-up is solid and I am always finding new characteristics with each visit… right next to the bedrock flavors I keep returning to.  The 15 year brings a tinge of orange, a darker edge to Nikka’s golden hue.  Peat, wood, and saltwater taffy get out front in the nose.  The heat is there but the full 60% is holding back.  The initial sip is front-loaded with candied oak that gives way to reduced vanilla and mushroom.  The entire palate darkens into a warm, slightly peaty cheek-chewing experience that lasts as long as you like.  The heat tips its cards here, not with a spicy burn but a dense, burnt sugar numbing.  It is a shame that one usually needs a boarding pass, a passport, and a week off to pick up a bottle of this.

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A Pair of Nikka Expressions

Nikka Malts

Not many know about it, but Nikka has a small collection of flavor specific whiskies.  They used to be known as the Key Malts but they have recently been rebranded and repackaged.  We reviewed one of the expressions (Woody and Vanillic) earlier here.

Today we are going to visit two more from this series.  This time we are going to give each of our impressions.  Although we tasted these together, we each took notes separately and didn’t discuss the whisky until after we finished with our notes.

Single Coffey Grain

This whisky is a single grain that was distilled using a Coffey Still.  It was aged 12 years and is bottled at 55% ABV.

Chris’ Impressions:

Color:  Medium amber and orange

Nose:  Surprising alcohol burn up front, sweet grain, oddly enough a lot of bourbon notes, licorice and vanilla.

Palate:  As expected the grain sweetness, cereal, decent middle tongue heat.

Finish:  Medium on strong cereal notes and grain.

Comments:  A nice grain whisky, a lot livelier than I expected, not the smooth mild grain whisky that I experienced with the Suntory Chita Single Grain.

Nate’s Impressions:

As always, I must confess up front that I like Nikka’s style.  I’ve pretty much enjoyed anything above their 7-11 grade whiskies (and at times, I’ve enjoyed those as well).  The Coffey Still’s color, like its name, intrigued me.  It was a light gold but with a shadowy tone shifting about.  The nose came on sweet and hot with caramel and salt.  No hiding the elevated heat here.  The body was sweet grain and aged rum that graduated to toffee and chocolate.  The flavors stuck around with an addition of a chewy spice.  A quickly satisfying whisky with a solid tail.

Peaty and Salty

This whisky is also aged for 12 years and is bottled at 55% ABV.  I wish there were more details on this whisky – cask type, type of barley, ect. 

Chris’ Impressions:

Color:  Burnt orange

Nose:  Peat right up front, woody

Palate:  Ashy peat, the expected salt – almost too much for me, strong wood/oak presence, drying, musty wood, some dark spices

Finish:  Medium, peaty and dry

Comments:  Straight forward and delivers as advertised from the name.  It tasted like a pumped up Laphroaig 10 with more heat and with some of the blanks filled in.  Good solid whisky.

Nate’s Impressions:

The appropriately named Peaty and Salty.  Indeed, it is peaty and salty from nose to tail.  I don’t think there was ever a more appropriately named whisky.  Bronze and copper, the nose is peaty and salty.  And perhaps a little apple snuck in there.  The body starts out with some peaty and, yes, salty flavors.  And a little vegetation.  The peat shifts gears and takes on a smokier profile and settles into a dusty char.  The salt takes on a sweet edge and then reasserts itself.  Then these new angles on peaty and salty have a prolonged engagement in your mouth.  A reserved and reliable presence.  You can taste the attention to detail.  A lot of skill, technique and control were employed in making this whisky.  No surprises, no unexpected turn of events (for better or worse).  It is peaty and salty and good.

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A Couple of New Japanese Releases

Nothing ground breaking but nevertheless interesting.  I got caught up in the release of the Yoichi 20 year Vintage that I forgot to mention that the Miyagikyou 20 year vintage is also being released.  Similar to the Yoichi release except all malts going into it were distilled and aged at the Miyagikyou distillery.

 

 

Hanyu (now closed) has released Ichiro’s Final Vintage of Hanyu – a 10 year old malt that has been released annually for the last couple of years.  I tried last year’s release and give my impressions of it here.  This release is a big departure from the previous year’s which was a big powerful (60.1% ABV) single cask expression.  This year’s is a lot tamer at 48% and appears to be a vatting of several different barrel aged spirits:  Hogshead and Puncheon American Oak, Sherry and Spanish Oak.  And no chill-filtration or added coloring.  Definitely sounds like an interesting one as it seems like they are trying to make it a more balanced expression and is a departure from the normal single cask releases that we have seen from Chichibu and Hanyu.  I will probably pick a bottle of this up shortly to try.

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Its That Time of Year Again – Nikka Vintage Yoichi

No not Thanksgiving…its time for the annual release of Nikka’s 20 year old vintage Yoichi.  Specifically November 30 at 10AM.  For those of you that are unaware, the 1987 Vintage Yoichi won the 2008 World Whisky Awards prize for best single malt whisky.  These are limited releases and unfortunately never make it State side for sale. Other than Japan, I am pretty sure that Europe gets an allocation of this expression.  Do what you gotta do to get your hands on some!

Nikka Yoichi 1990 Vintage

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Nikka From The Barrel: The Tasting That Almost Wasn’t

Corresponding from Japan Nate has unsurprisingly found some time to drink – and to be fair write too I guess:

When preparing to review this whisky, something I have been anticipating with more than a little excitement, I managed to spill a cup of water on the desk behind and under my computer. Luckily, while the computer did shut down ever-so-briefly, catastrophe was avoided and it booted right back up.

After cleaning up the traces of water I sat down and got ready to sample in earnest, which was when I knocked my glass of freshly poured whisky over, splashing it onto the neighboring window and the increasingly put-upon desk. Amazingly I didn’t swear. A thorough cleansing of the window, desk, and floor and I was back in the saddle. Now that the desk had enjoyed a water with a whisky back, I was a bit envious and even more in the mood for a drink.

In the interest of avoiding any further delay (earthquake, sunspot activity) I quickly poured another sample and got down to business. Frankly, it is hard to believe this whisky costs under $20 for a 500ml. The 51.4% pedigree and the cool rectangular bottle with a handsomely Spartan label would have been enough for me. But this whisky delivered beyond the already pleasing aesthetics. I found it possessed of solid and shifting flavors with a light, watery mouth-feel. Classic Yoichi dark and dense malt, a trace of lemon, and decent heat. Hints of roast mushroom and burnt sugar preceded a curiously satisfying tail including a mildly sweet, dark numbing character with a touch of charred grain. Satisfying, and a bargain at twice the price, which is why I am saving my receipts for customs.

Edit:  This whisky has been very popular lately.  We suggest you read Joshua’s, Jason’s and Gal’s reviews too.

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Japanese Whisky Tasting

I don’t talk about it too much here but we do monthly whisky tastings at various locations in San Francisco.  The tastings are very informal and are meant to be more of a social dialogue versus a lecture or class.  After the first round of tasting, the event is basically self serve.  This some times results in the destruction of those attendees who’s self control escapes them.

For some time I had the idea of doing a Japanese whisky tasting.  Many people still do not know much about Japanese whisky and this issue is compounded by the fact that there isn’t a large amount of Japanese whiskies to be had in the US.  As fortune would have it, I was introduced to the west coast Yamazaki Ambassador, Neyah White, through one of our whisky buddies Evan.  After exchanging some emails we were able to hammer out a convenient date and location to have the tasting – which happened to be yesterday.

Neyah was generous enough to provide 6 different expressions.  This included 3 component whiskies that are not bottled or available for sale here.  The other 3 were expressions that we can purchase here:  Yamazaki 12, Yamazaki 18 and the Hibiki 12.  It was explained that the 3 component whiskies were all distilled at a similar time however, each one went into a different type of cask:  new American Oak, Mizunara (Japanese Oak) and Spanish Oak.  These are the components of both the Yamazaki 12 and 18 expressions.  The difference between the two, besides the age, is the ratio of each component whisky used.  It was a great learning experience to be able to taste the deconstructed ingredients of the recipes for the two standard releases.  After Neyah walked us through the 3 component whiskies we were free to sample the 3 distillery bottlings.

I, personally, am partial to the Yamazaki 12 as I like the fresh, spring crispness to it over the more sherry influenced Yamazaki 18.  The Hibiki 12 is also a great whisky, especially at the price point.  It is a blend of malts from Suntory’s Yamazaki, Hakushu and Chita (grain) distilleries.  What makes it unique though is the use of whisky that was aged partially in ume shu (plumb wine) casks.  It adds an interesting sweetness to the bouquet of flavors.  You should get out there and try these expressions if you haven’t yet.

In addition to these great whiskies, I brought along a couple of bottles that I had been stock piling at home.  What’s the point in having interesting/good whisky if you can’t share and drink it with others?  I brought with me a couple of other Suntory expressions:  Yamazaki 10 and a Hakushu 12.  Additionally, there was Nikka Pure Malt Black, Nikka Yoichi 10 Single Cask, Final Vintage of Hanyu 10 and Chichibu Newborn Double Matured.

We all learned a lot – and drank a lot – last night.  But more importantly a good time was had by all.  A huge thank you to Neyah for taking the time to join us!

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