Perhaps Japan is not the first place you think of when you think of whisky, but if you aren’t aware, Japan has become quite the master of the malt-making science. And I, like so many other whisky fans, have really learned to appreciate many of the whiskies coming out of Asia – some of which are absolutely extraordinary!
Today’s whisky is the Nikka 17 yo Taketsuru Pure Malt, named in honor of Masataka Taketsuru, known as the “Father of Japanese Whisky.” Taketsuru (1894–1979) was born in Takehara, Hiroshima, the third son of a family who had been brewing sake since 1733. In 1918 he traveled to Scotland to study organic chemistry at the University of Glasgow and to learn about the production of whisky. During his time in Scotland, Taketsuru also worked at a number of Scottish distilleries.
Returning to Japan, Taketsuru worked at Kotobukiya, which would later become the Suntory Yamazaki distillery. While he was there, Taketsuru helped establish a whisky distillery. In 1934 he founded his own distilling company, Dai Nippon Kaju K.K., and built the new distillery in Yoichi on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaidō. He’d searched a long time for the ideal location and believed that this part of Japan was the most similar to Scotland. He later renamed the company Nikka. Nikka whisky was first sold in October 1940.
In response to demand and the need to increase production, Taketsuru began to search for a second location and, in 1969, Nikka opened a second distillery, this one called Miyagikyo, located near the city of Sendai, in northern Honshu. As part of his planning, the Miyagikyo distillery would produce a much lighter, fruitier whisky to complement the heavier, richer Yoichi malts.
Nikka 17 yo Taketsuru Pure Malt Whisky
Pure malt (also known as blended malt) simply means that it this is all malt whisky, but that the malts do not all come from the same distillery. Like Monkey Shoulder, the blended malt made with whiskies from three distilleries owned by Wm Grant & Son – Glenfiddich, Balvenie and Kinninvie – with the Nikka 17 yo Taketsuru Pure Malt Whisky, the whiskies that go into this Pure Malt come from two distilleries, both owned by Nikka, the Yoichi and Miyagikyo distilleries. This particular bottle is a 70cl bottling that I acquired in 2013 from Master of Malt at an approximate cost of $104 USD. Based on the stamp, this whisky was bottled in 2012. This whisky is bottled at 43% abv.
Nose: This is a very fruity nose, full of ripe fruits plums, pears, apples, along with some very typical sherry-maturation notes of dried fruits, and figs. The fruitiness is balanced nicely by a soft floral and some delicate herbal spices. There is a faint hint of warm vanilla, and richer notes of dried leather, mocha, perhaps even some chocolate. Think of a leather basket full of fruit. With some water I started to pick up some candied orange or perhaps orange marmalade, sweet but not overbearing, and a subtle hint of tobacco.
Taste: The arrival shows toasted malt, more vanilla – a creamy vanilla, then the fruits take over. This has nicely surprisingly vibrant flavors even with the relative low abv. A hint of lemon juice adds a nice citric sharpness that complements the vanilla and ripe, sweet fruits. Baking spices and mocha, a touch of melted chocolate, some cinnamon, and just the faintest hint of smoke. Water isn’t really needed for this one, but a few drops immediately brings up the fruitiness, but then it settles back into a very similar profile to when it is neat.
Finish: Fruit and sweet, the lemon tanginess, and a hint of dark chocolate with that very faint hint of smoke at the end.
Overall: This is another very good Japanese whisky. Rich, lively, complex and thoroughly enjoyable. Although the mouthfeel is on the delicate side, it is full-bodied and dense, almost expanding on your tongue as you hold it in your mouth. The Nikka website doesn’t disclose much information about how this whisky was matured beyond a comment stating that it contains a significant portion of sherry-cask matured whiskies…..and that is very evident in both the nosing and tasting here.
Sadly, the Nikka 17 yo Taketsuru Pure Malt Whisky is becoming very difficult to find these days as Nikka, with both the Yoichi and Miyagikyo brands, has stopped producing age-stated whiskies in response to overwhelming demand – and the unfortunate market trends towards No Age Statement whiskies. Let’s hope that this NAS movement is short-lived and that age statements return soon, because as this whisky, and others, demonstrate, time remains an enhancing component in the development of great whisky.
Distillery: Miyagikyo and Yoichi
Type: Pure Malt (Blended Malt)
Maturation: not disclosed
Price: $104 in 2013
Availability: Very limited
Source: My own bottle