Nikka Taketsuru

Nikka Taketsuru “Pure Malt NAS”

43% Alc/vol

83/100

The craze for Japanese whisky is still in full swing, some blame Jim Murray’s 2014 proclamation that Japanese Whisky was the best in the world as one of the catalysts for this state of affairs, as much as he at times deserves the bashing, we can’t blame Sauron for everything.

sauron

The reasons are myriad, a burgeoning interest in world whiskys, the rise of whisky as an investment or flippers. I doubt many of these overpriced bottles of Yamazaki Sherry cask  or Karuizawa are actually being opened and enjoyed.

Whatever the reason the result is pretty much what one is seeing in Scotland but at an accelerated rate. Expressions losing their age statements but prices remaining the same, ABV’s being lowered, Increase of new NAS releases and special releases, an increase in the marketing of grain whiskys. With the added factor that anything Japanese that can vaguely be passed under the whisky category is instantly pushed onto the market, rice whisky & aged sochu and such,  I’m not against these but they are often shamelessly marketed with little regards to their quality. There are other effects and this post on Nonjatta gives you the news from the perspective of someone on the ground.

I know it sounds like a lot of nagging or nit-picking but sadly it’s just the facts.

On to today’s whisky I’ve had occasion to try this a few times and it scored very well with club members the first time around. It is a house blend of the different types of malt whiskies that are produced at both Yoichi and Miyagikyo distilleries…maybe.

y this dark photo of a bookshelf containing said whisky
I have no close-up picture of this whisky

Nose: Tinned fruits in syrup, there is a rounded malty side, coffee cake soaked in a sherry syrup. There is a dark note like charcoal and umeboshi, buckwheat honey, it’s got a oxidized/sulfury side a hint of a sherry influence.

Palate: Pickled ginger on arrival, sweet and creamy malt and in the background earthy peat (not at all Islay like). A bit of heat despite the low strength, complex sweetness like honey then mineral and slightly waxy, there is some tannic oak and again that feeling of tinned fruits from the nose.

The main tastes fade quickly from the tongue but there is a creamy sweetness that remains on the finish.

While the combination of flavors is somewhat singular it doesn’t dive deeply enough into those slightly exotic notes (rare woods and that weird pickled plum dark note) to make a lasting impression. I enjoy having a glass of this but could not see myself buying a full bottle, plus it’s a dreaded NASty release, transparency apostles may wish to abstain.

Franck

Hakushu 12

Suntory Hakushu 12

43% ABV

84/100

 

telegraph

Yes the craze is still on folks!

That aside there is a lot to love with Japanese whisky, while they follow a lot of the Scottish tradition in their production methods, it’s the little differences that the magic is created. The market is dominated by two big players, Nikka and Suntory, who follow a similar structure, both produce grain and malt whiskies and release them as single and blended malts under different labels.

old school hakushu
Love this old school photo of the distillery

Unlike Scotland where there is a network of exchange and brokerage of single malts between companies or distilleries for blending purposes, the Japanese do everything in house. They use various yeast strains, fermentation regimens and the still houses contain a variety of still shapes and sizes to create different profiles of whisky. In their warehouses they go beyond the bourbon and sherry barrels everyone uses, sources state that some producers also use, plum wine casks, mizunara oak and other wood types that might be verboten by the SWA. This process creates an unprecedented palate of flavor to work with when assembling their products.

Suntory_Yamazaki_Distillery-Japan-1024x678
A clear photo of the different pot still shapes and sizes

Suntory’s Hakushu is the less hyped, less in demand younger brother to Yamazaki, it just doesn’t seem to get the love and recognition of that whisky. The 12 year old is still relatively affordable in most markets. I think the boom causes some backlash towards Japanese whiskies because with these elevated prices/come elevated expectations that probably cannot be met.

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Nose:  Pears and ripe peaches, fresh cut flowers, it’s almost like good mead (I know some will say there’s no such thing), pine needles, grassy and lightly vegetal, but fresh like walking in the forest in spring. The peat on the nose is present, light and very well integrated it’s got this sweetness like marshmallows.

Palate: Porridge, malty, round and nectar, the bitterness kicks and then it’s all grassy. The peat is present but it’s like smoking conifers and juniper. The influence of the bourbon casks is present, oak and some vanilla, good honey and citronella.

Finish is medium length and drying, the sweetness and citrus is almost like old school barbershop aftershave and that discreet peat is lurking there. Sadly the texture is a bit thin and affects the length of the finish a bit.

Beyond the big flavors that hit first, there are lots of secondary notes and delicate touches. Some might find these too “crafted” or precise that is a complaint heard of Japanese whisky, it requires pause to appreciate these nuances and the work to achieve this result. I like this kind of profile, it’s perhaps not completely unique but worth seeking out.

Franck