Nikka From the Barrel is our second Japanese whisky here on our blog. Not to mention we will keep posting in this section, due to all fine whiskies from Japan. After all, Japanese whiskies are among the best in the world. If you have any idea which one can be next, please send us a mail.
A Short History of Nikka Distillery
It all started back in 1918 with the father of Japanese Whiskey, Masataka Taketsuru, who had a scholarship in Scotland. While studying organic chemistry at the University of Glasgow, he visited many distilleries. At the same time, his love for whiskies grew bigger and bigger. It seems like Scotland was his life destination. There he met the love of his life, Jessie Roberta “Rita” Cowan. After their wedding in 1920, Masataka and his Scottish bride moved to Japan to pursue a career in liqueur and start a family. Luckily, she was supporting Masataka’s dream of producing the best whiskey in the world.
Back to Japan
He came back to Japan with two notebooks full of detailed guides on how to produce good quality whisky. However, his comeback didn’t go as planned. Sadly, Settsu Shuzo, the company which supported Masataka’s education in Scotland, abandoned its plan to produce genuine whisky here in Japan, as the recession after World War I hit Japan quite hard.
In the meantime, Kotobukiya Limited (which is today known as a Suntory), was looking for someone who could conduct a whisky production. Masataka was hired there in 1923 to direct the construction of the Yamazaki Distillery. He and Shinjiro Torii produced Japan’s first genuine whisky. Unfortunately, Masataka wasn’t happy at Kotobukiya and after ten years of dedicated work, he resigned from Kotobukiya. Eventually, he established his own company, called “Dai Nippon Kaju“. The company set up in Hokkaido, the northernmost big island in Japan, where the climate is most similar to that of Scotland. In 1934, when the company opened its doors, its main product was apple juice. At the same time, he was secretly making his first “Nippon Kaju Whisky” or shorter, “Nikka Whisky’’.
First Nikka Whisky
Finally, in 1940 the first Nikka whisky, labeled as Rare Old Nikka Whisky, was launched. Nine years later, Takeshi Taketsuru, Masataka’s nephew and adopted son, joined the Nikka Whisky. In 1952, the corporate name Dai Nippon Kaju Co., Ltd. was altered to The Nikka Whisky Distilling Co., Ltd. They extended production to Asahi Breweries’ Nishinomiya plant, where they produce grain whisky. In 1967, their bottling plant in Kashiwa was completed and two years later, they opened a new distillery in Miyagikyo. Here, the two pristine rivers provide a clean and ideal water source. The name of the one river is Nikkawa River, which makes for amazing coincidence with its similarity to the company name.
Tradition in a Production of Nikka From the Barrel
Here at Miyagikyo’s, the pot stills are much larger than those at Yoichi and they are in different shapes, such as a bulge neck and ascending lyne-arm. These pots are heated with by indirect steam at a much lower temperature, which allows a slower distillation. This method results in soft and floral characteristics. This same distillery is using the Coffey Still, imported from Scotland in 1963. However, today Nikka Distillery owns two Coffey Stills. Those were originally installed at the Nishinomiya plant and later transferred to the Miyagikyo Distillery in 1999. The Coffey Still method retains more flavors originating from the grain itself and is one of the elements for Nikka Whisky specialty.
Remember the ‘tradition’ we named in our article “8 REASONS WHY ARE JAPANESE WHISKIES THE BEST IN WORLD”? It applies here as well. At Yoichi Distillery, they are still using traditional coal-fired distillation. This technique is hardly seen today as it is difficult to control the temperature. It is similar to the pot stills at Longmorn Distillery where Masataka had his first practical training. As a result of using this method, there are boldness and toasty burnt flavors trapped in the spirit.
Nikka Whisky From The Barrel is distilled in the Miyagikyo and Yoichi distillery, which gives its complex characters and yet a kind of simplicity.
Nikka From the Barrel
Oh goodie, I have came across another Japanese harmony in a bottle. Every time I fell in love with their spirits and even now is no different. Nikka From the Barrel is a blend of multiple types of malt and grain whiskies from the Nikka reserves. The alcohol is higher (51,4%) as it is not so rare for Japanese whiskies. After blending, they seal the “marriage” for three to six months in used casks.
This liqueur has a no-age-statement (NAS), which is quite common for blends. Above all, why bother with age if the taste is harmonized, rich and full! What surprised me is the size of the bottle, this small and elegant looking square bottle has only 500 mL, which is a rarity. You can consider it a traveling bottle, I guess. However, there are also normal 750 mL bottles. The price in the USA for the big one is about 65 USD. In the UK you can get a small one for only 35 USD, which is a great value.
My Tasting Notes
The color is amber but very clear and the alcohol tears run smooth. On the nose, I got a sweet combination of honey with dried apricots and fresh citrus. Vanilla is at the back accompanied by a spicy peppery touch. I could find also some flowers inside but never overpowering the fruity balance. The palate is amazingly rich, with quite creamy caramel notes. This full-bodied punch of cinnamon gets in right after the candied oranges. On the first ball, it is easy to find some winter time in it. The finish is medium with still sweet notes. Just a bit of smoky oak and caramel right before it dries your mouth. Sadly, I haven’t tried it with a splash of water as well – it will be for next time.
Nikka From The Barrel Review Card
- PACKAGING – BOTTLE – 8.6/108.6/10
- ON THE NOSE – 9.1/109.1/10
- ON THE PALATE– 8.9/108.9/10
- FINISH – 9.0/109.0/10
- VALUE – 9.5/109.5/10
Nikka didn’t disappoint at all. Only 70cL would be a much better option, than this traveling 50cL. Anyway, it is not surprising Nikka Whisky From The Barrel won “Best Japanese Blend” at World Whisky Awards 2007 and 2010. This whiskey also won Gold Medal at International Spirits Challenge in 2013. Anyway, Nikka From the Barrel is quite different from Hibiki Japanese Harmony Harmony, but to be honest I can’t say which one is my favorite.