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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 – 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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The Yoichi Journey

So…I actually made this trip in the summer of last year, but just never got around to writing anything about it. Nikka Whisky products are not available in the US at this time, so if you are not familiar with it we wrote a quick history about it here. Bear with me as I give a narrative of my trip to Yoichi. I really am not much of a story teller, but I’ll try my best.

I have a hard time describing Nikka Whisky sometimes…I don’t want to say that it is Japan’s second whisky producer or Japan’s other one either as both of those terms imply that it comes in second or is not up to par. And that is definitely not the case. So the best that I could come up with is this lengthy and long winded explanation” Nikka Whisky and Suntory are the two largest and most recognizable whisky producers in Japan. I guess that will have to work for now.

It is no secret that I thoroughly enjoy and delight in the whisky produced by Nikka.  So for some time I have wanted to make a trip out to Yoichi.  Yoichi is Nikka’s first and most prominent distillery. Be warned that a visit to Yoichi requires some planning even if you are visiting Japan. Since you usually fly into Narita, Haneda or Kansai it is a significant undertaking to get to Yoichi. Yoichi is a city located on the west coast of Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido. With some help I planned my visit to Yoichi several months in advance. This required booking airline tickets, a rental car and a hotel – if I was going that far, I was going to stay for more than one day. Also, lucky for me, my friend from Tokyo was able to take a couple of days off to travel with me.

My flight was leaving out of Haneda airport, and to get the most out of my time in Hokkaido my plane departed at 8:30am. Unfortunately for me from where I was staying it would take over an hour to get to the airport by train. This meant I had to catch the 6:30am train and wake up even earlier. But it is amazing how easy it is to wake up when you are leaving for a trip like this.

The train ride to Haneda was fairly uneventful and I arrived with plenty of time to meet up with my friend, grab a bite to eat and meander over to the gate. I looked out of the window and was surprised to see that we were taking a 747. Keep in mind that this was only an hour and a half flight. To my further surprise the plane was completely full.

We landed in Sapporo on time then jumped a shuttle to go pick up our rental car – a cool little compact hatch back with 4-wheel drive. We hopped into the car and set out to Yoichi. About half way through the hour trip we decided to take a pit stop for lunch at the port city of Otaru. Hokkaido is really known for its sea food and Otaru was supposed to have some of the best. Otaru is a bit of a tourist attraction itself, so it was pretty packed. After wondering through the city for awhile and taking a quick peak at the local brewery we settled on a restaurant. My belly and I were elated with the decision to stop to eat. See pictures:

 

 

 

 

After getting temporary satisfaction from solid food it was time to continue the quest for liquid satisfaction – so back on the road to Yoichi! The rest of the drive out wound us through several small towns and along the coast. Then finally we arrived at the distillery. I had seen many pictures of the distillery before so I immediately recognized the stone walls and red roof tops. I admit I was giddy with excitement and couldn’t wait to get onto the grounds.

 

 

 

 

We opted not to take the guided tour primarily because the self-guided tour provided the same access to the distillery and to be honest, the tour guides were only providing very basic information. I also wanted to move at my own pace and take my time. Before we started on the tour though we dropped into the cask store. This is where you can purchase Nikka’s single cask expressions as well as their key malts. Although they don’t state it explicitly these expressions appear to be available only at the distillery. You can call/fax in an order and have them shipped like I have done in the past but I have yet to see any for sale in any retail shop. You can check out what we thought about the single cask 5, 10, 15 and 25 as well as the Coffey Grain, Peaty and Salty and Woody and Vanillic.

 

 

 

 

Unfortunately for us they weren’t making any whisky that day so we weren’t able to see the distillery in action. We started off by taking a look around at the whisky museum. The museum is more of an over all show case of how whisky is made for visitors – not a functional part of the distillery. The expected pot still, spirit bank and cooperage tools were on display. There was a cool display to help explain the maturation of whisky. Three casks (unaged, 5 years old, and 15 years old were set up side by side, each with a clear section to see into the cask and flip up lid so you could smell the contents. But hands down the best part of the whisky museum was the tasting bar at the end. There you could purchase 15ml samples of pretty much every Nikka Whisky expression currently available and even a couple that aren’t anymore – think older Yoichi 20 Year Vintage series. I dove into a regular Yoichi 20 and then followed it up with a single cask Yoichi 20. The distillery visit could have ended there if I lacked a little more self-control, but I tore myself away from the bar to check out the rest of the sights.

 

 

 

 

 

Feeling a little more comfortable after sampling a couple of Yoichi malts we moved on to check out some of the storage buildings. These are decisively smaller than the massive facilities at Hakushu. Also, the casks are only stacked 2-3 high. There were only a couple of these storage facilities open to the public, so I am not sure if there are other larger facilities on the grounds.

 

 

 

 

We poked around to check out the kilning tower, milling house and tun room. Each was interesting but there was nothing all that remarkable about each of them. There was also a display set up to show the tools and explain what happens in the cooperage. Then we finally reached the still house where all seven of Yoichi’s direct fire pot stills reside. It was really cool to see that Nikka still uses the traditional direct coal fire method of heating the stills. The common practice for distilleries now is to use steam to heat there stills.

 

 

 

 

One of the last buildings of the tour told the story and history of Nikka Whisky. A narrative of Taketsuru’s experiences and journey towards establishing Nikka and the Yoichi distillery was displayed on large blue signs. There were also displays of older Nikka bottles as well as advertisements. And of course they displayed all of the awards that their whisky has won in international competitions.

 

 

 

 

With that the we headed to the formal tasting room. I was slightly disappointed with the options for sampling. An apple brandy – remember Nikka was originally founded as an apple juice company – and a straight forward Yoichi 10. I was hoping for something a little bit more interesting. After finishing up mine as well as my friend’s Yoichi 10, I passed on the brandy, we headed to the gift shop and then hopped back into the car back to Otaru to pick up some beer from the Otaru Beer company and then back to our hotel in Sapporo. Don’t worry I didn’t drive – I heeded the warning from the distillery.

 

 

 

 

The overall experience at Yoichi was a good one. Since this was my first visit to a distillery I didn’t really have much to compare it to though. It did seem to be reduced and simplified down quite a bit for the casual visitor. Almost like I was visiting the Disneyland of distilleries. I do plan on visiting again, hopefully in the winter to get a different perspective. I do have to say that I did enjoy seeing, feeling and experiencing where the whisky that I love to drink is made. Standing in the storage houses and taking in the smells really gave me a point of reference for all my future drams of Yoichi – and I am sure that there are plenty more to come! – Chris

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Nikka Yoichi 20y/o Vintage 1988

The 20 year Vintage expressions are an annual release and they relate to a specific year.  The one we are trying today is from whisky distilled in 1988, last year’s was from 1989 and this year’s is from 1990 (We’ll get to posting about those vintages eventually).   According to Nonjatta the releases used to be a lot smaller, ~500 bottles.  However, Nikka has upped the number of bottles available, 3500 for this release, probably in-part to the increase in popularity and demand.  Both of which are good things!

The Vintage 1987 is in part what put Nikka on the map internationally when it won the best single malt whisky for the 2008 Malt Whisky Awards (I tried this expression a couple of years ago, while a fabulous dram I didn’t think it was “that” good).  The 1987 sold out quickly, so when we caught wind that the 1988 was going to be released we made sure to reserve a bottle.  The expectations were high for this bottle so it had a lot to live up to!

Yoichi Vintage 1988 20 y/o 55% ABV
~19,999円/$250

Chris’ Impressions:

Color:  Light bronze orange

Nose:  Peat, light smoke, meaty, winter in Lake Tahoe with fire place smoke in the air, sandal wood, coastal saltiness.

Palate:  Smoke initially, drying, deep oak, dark fruits, slightly salty, lights up the tongue with some dark spices

Finish:  Long, dark fruit sweetness and salt

Comments:  This is some top notch stuff.  A complex twisting but beautifully weaved whisky.  There is a lot going on and you really have to sit with it for some time to take it all in.  It is also very unique – there aren’t really any other whiskies that have a similar flavor profile.  I wish we bought two bottles because this one is now empty.

Nate’s Impressions:

I sampled this as part of a blind tasting.  The other whiskies had been blends.  When I got to this one it did not take much to know that someone was trying to pull a fast one.  This whisky stands up and stands out.  Rose gold and amber, the color itself was warming.  The nose blew its cover revealing the single malt pedigree, and quite a distinctive one.  Peat, iodine, and salt tried to assert their places in the presence of a distinctive fresh-from-the-BBQ charred meat note.  And a ghostly trace of violet grappa appeared now and then.  A powerful yet mysterious nose that really took me in.  I might have been able to get more out of it but I needed to taste it, the lure was too strong.  Dark smoke paved the way for brown sugar and salted earth.  The smoke transformed into extinguishing embers.  Then some aged oak and a twisted take on a black pepper candy cane worked their way into the deep, darkening mix.  A tingling, a numbing, and in the course of a long finish I enjoyed a coating heat.  The finer attributes of age and how it can complicate and improve a whisky really stand out in the Nikka Yoichi 1988.  These were 20 years well spent.

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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 Yoichi Single Cask 25 Year Old

Yet another single cask Yoichi.  This time aged 25 years.  We have reviewed the 5 year and the 10 year previously.  The 5 year was a little too raw for my liking and the 10 just sings!  How will the 15 year hold up?  Nate and I both independently took notes on this one.

Nikka Yoichi Single Cask 25 year old.  Cask No. 22I08A bottled at 54%

Nikka Yoichi Single Cask 25

Chris:

Color – light yellow

Nose –  malt, smoke meat, hints of sweetness

Palate – full, sweet candies, salty, hints of smoke, malt, alcohol opens up through the nose, ripe bananas.

Finish – full, sweet, lingering numbness

Nate:

Color -lustrous yellow

Nose – marshmallow, light peat, butter

Palate – grain, salt, light smoke, coconut?

Finish – lingering grain and slight medicinal notes

All in all this is wonderful whisky.  It is more restrained and refined than the 10 year old.  The flavors are better integrated but very feisty for a 25 year old whisky.

* Although slightly out of order, there is a 15 year old single cask sitting around here somewhere that needs to be tried again – so look for that in the near future.

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Quick Nikka Yoichi Single Cask 5 Year Review

Nikka is one of favorite distilleries out there.  I love the 10 year old version of the Yoichi Single Cask but this 5 year old is an odd one.  Really odd.

Nikka Yoichi Single Cask 5 Year

Nikka Yoichi Single Cask 5 Year Label

Cask 400862  Bottled at 64%

Nikka Yoichi Single Cask 5 Year

Color –  light gold, slight shade of copper

Nose – dark and menacing, a lot of layers, strong alcohol vapors, hints of blue cheese, italian herbs, malty sweetness

Palate – Raw spirit, hints of oak and spice, malty

Finish: tongue numbing, short, viscous.

This is waaaaaay too young, needs more time to develop, the 10 year is so much better. One dimensional.  It is interesting to compare this with the 10 year old and see how much of a difference those 5 years make.

*Update* Joshua over at the Jewish Single Malt Whisky Society gives a lot better review and description of this expression here.

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Nikka Pure Malt White Review #Whisky #Nikka

This is an extremely affordable bottle of whisky (less than $20).  You can pick it up at most liquor stores in Japan.  I happen to get mine at an electronic store – Bic Camera.  This is a vatting of Nikka’s Yoichi distillery (Sapporo, Hokkaido) and Islay whiskies.

Nikka Pure Malt White

C: Copper

N: dusty wood floor, oak, floral, candies

P: strong alcohol heat, oak, strong initial bite then calms down quickly, spices, hint of vanilla, slightly numbing feeling, smoke, some kind of soap flavor that is distracting.

A very drinakble and interesting dram, especially at the price point.  If it was easier for me to get here in San Francisco it would be my daily dram or as I sometimes refer to it as the “table” whisky.

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Chichibu Single Malt Newborn Heavily Peated Review #Whisky

Stats:

Distillery:  Chichibu

Distilled June-July 2009

Cask In: July 2009

Bottled: November 2009 (Yes that makes it about 4 months old!!!)

Chichibu Single Malt Newborn Heavily Peated Label

Alcohol: 61.4% (Screamin!)

Chichibu Single Malt Newborn Heavily Peated

I found this bottle while perusing through a Japanese liquor website.   Heavily peated and only 4 months old – I had to try it.  The price wasn’t bad either (~$55).  I fully expected it to taste like new make and not have a whole lot of flavor at all.  It is still very one dimensional, but I was truly surprised how much flavor it had.  “Had” is the operative word…as you can see from the picture there isn’t much left at all.  I do like it enough that I am ordering another bottle of it.  Along with a bottle of the Double Matured Newborn.

Color – Amber orange

Nose:  Peat with a capital P! You definitely get huge wafts of sweet peat when you first nose it and it hides the high alcohol content well.  After awhile it opens up with a little maltiness.

Palate: A stiff jab of peat with that 61.4% alcohol following right up after.  It does fade rather quickly though.  You can tell it is a youngin’ and that it needs more time – but only 4 months old?  Really?  A hint of nutmeg/spice.  It is not all that complex, straight forward peat as advertised.  More of a nasal and back of the tongue alcohol feeling.

Finish:  Short and fades fast.

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Nikka Yoichi 10 Single Cask Review #whisky

I read some interesting reviews about this whisky in Whisky Magazine so I had to try to get a bottle.   Unfortunately, as far as I know Nikka

Nikka Yoichi 10 Single Cask

doesn’t distribute in the US so I had to try to source the bottle in Japan.  Even in Japan it is a little difficult to find this bottle.  I was finally able to have one shipped to me (in Japan) from the distillery in Yoichi.  This is one of the more interesting and flavorful whiskies I have had – which isn’t saying too much as I haven’t been drinking whisky for all that long.  But in any event here are my impressions:

Neat

N: initially earthy, oak, fungal. Smoke comes out later, cereal notes, dark and mysterious, complex.

P: sweet initially, moving towards those mushroom/earthy notes, then sliding into some smoke then BIG malt/oak and alcohol. There is definitely a lot going on here – not for the feint of heart.

F: lingering burn on the tongue, middle weight, coating.

Nikka Yoichi 10 Single Cask Label

With Water

N: saw dust, saloon floor, sweet notes seem to be enhanced.

P: tames the alcohol some, sweeter, earthy mushroom tones not as prevailing, malt is still there, almost a little bitter now.

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