A Trio of Nikka Pure Malts – Red, Black and White

This is an article that I’ve been half sitting on for a while – I’ve had the bottles on the side for the best part of a year and have been meaning to get round to writing some tasting notes (and even open one of them). So finally I’ve got round to cracking the seal on the final one while investigating a Japanese entry for a tasting that I might be running sometime soon. While I decided in the end that a different Nikka whisky would grace my tasting line-up (the excellent From the Barrel which I need to buy more of now after an extending sampling over the last week or so) this trio is definitely worth a look – Nikka Pure Malt Red, Black and White.

Nikka Pure Malt range

Nikka is one of the two big names in Japanese whisky and was started by Masataka Taketsuru, the original master distiller of Suntory and thus probably the first whisky distiller in Japan, in 1934. These days they are owned by Asahi and consist of not only the original Yoichi distillery, in the town of the same name on the northern island of Hokkaido, but also Miyagikyo in Sendai, north east of Tokyo, and the Ben Nevis distillery in Scotland. They produce a wide range of whiskies but as with much of the industry produce mainly blended whisky. These Pure Malts would be described as Blended Malts under SWA regulations and consist of a variety of single malt whiskies blended together. Each of the three whiskies takes a different flavour profile and builds it from whiskies from Yoichi and Miyagikyo, although I did hear rumours (that I’ve not been able to verify) that the white also contained some peaty Scottish malt.

As with many of Nikka’s whisky the presentation is very important, with the bottles being very pretty and coming in plain cardboard boxes that wouldn’t look out of place on the shelves of Muji. The bottles are smaller than the usual 70cl at 50cl, which makes them both affordable and a bit pricier than they at first seem. One thing is certain, when they are finished the bottles aren’t going in the recycling as I already have ideas of what tasty booze experiments they’ll be filled with next.

The red is the one I didn’t buy a full bottle of – I’d heard from friends that it was their least favourite and decided to grab a sample of it from Master of Malt before jumping in for a full bottle. After a taste I’m quite pleased I didn’t, as it’s my least favourite of the three. I did go into my first taste of it with a bit of bias as after my initial opening of the sample bottle it was rather…how to say this…pissy. However, that smell drifted off very quickly and I detected no further off smells. On the nose it had violets, bbq pork, sweet butter, spicy fruit and some apple and pear – almost a hint of unspiced apple pie. To taste it was very drying and tannic, with cardboard, hints of sour grap and a sugary woody finish. Water didn’t help that much, bringing out more bitter wood but softening that with vanilla, and the finish lost some of its sweetness but gained more woody cardboard. All in all too tannic and woody for me.

The black reminded me more of the From the Barrel, which is a grain/malt blend rather than a pure malt, and was the other whisky in contention to fill the Japanese spot on my tasting list. On the nose it had lemon Turkish Delight, red wine gums (although my notes say ‘more pink than red’), pine and petrol. The taste had sour fruit, salty butter, sherberty Refreshers, golden syrup, violets and prickly dry wood leading to a tannic woody finish with a hint of wood smoke. Water brought out more sourness on the nose, added more fruitiness to the middle, and vanilla and wet wood to the finish. It’s sweet and sour with some interesting complexity, and one that I suspect will make its way out of the cupboard when I run out of From the Barrel.

The final bottle in the range is the white – the smoky one. I suspect it’s just a rumour but I can see why people thought it might have a drop of Islay whisky in here, although it would have only been a drop. On the nose there was light wood smoke covering sweet alcohols, with some muddy sherry, sugared flowers and crunchy apples. To taste there was more smoke and astringent polished wood, celery salt (I think…that’s the closest I can get to the vegetal saltiness that I got on a couple of sips), the crunchy apples from the nose (Granny Smiths), unripe white grapes, a hint of minty menthol and a finish of peaty smoke intertwined with fragrant wood. It was quite prickly with alcohol, despite its 43%, and water combined the disparate flavours creating a tasty mess of smoke, sweetness, flowers and tannic fruitiness. It still had some of the alcoholic burn, but ended lightly smoky with the woody end remaining. Interesting, but with my current tastes leaning away from smoke it’s not one for me at the moment.

Three interesting and quite different whiskies – one I really liked, one that was nice and one that wasn’t for me. Nikka seems to currently be the more interesting of the two big distillers, although that could be a subconscious prejudice against the larger seeming Suntory, but in the main it just goes to show that Japan really is a place to keep an eye on.

Update: It seems my research was a bit on the rubbish side and a couple of googles this morning pointed me in the right direction – there is a chunk of Islay whisky in the white. After a quick look at the excellent Nonjatta it seems that the white is Islay/Yoichi, Black mainly Yoichi and Red mainly Miyagikyo.

Nikka Pure Malt Red
Japanese Blended Malt Whisky, 43%. ~£30 from Master of Malt.

Nika Pure Malt Black
Japanese Blended Malt Whisky, 43%. ~£30 from Master of Malt.

Nikka Pure Malt White
Japanese Blended Malt Whisky, 43%. ~£30 from Master of Malt.

Quick Tastings – Whisky round-up

As I have a surprisingly small amount of whisky on the horizon and used the phrase ‘Whisky Deluge’ at the beginning of last week I thought I’d better fulfill the unspoken promise therein and stick up some more about whisky. It’s also Burns Night this evening, which means that by Whisky Blogger Law I have to post something and use the phrase “Sláinte Mhath!” I’ve had some Master of Malt drams come through in the last few months, as it seems a waste of postage costs not to stick a few onto the end of an order from them, and I’ve had a few bottles appear in my cupboard by other means, so here are the ones I grabbed notes about:

Jura 10 year old – I won this as part of the Jura website’s weekly pub quiz. I’ve knocked back a fair bit of Jura in my time, but don’t think I’d ever tried the regular 10 year old. On the nose it had caramel, a hint of wet peat smoke, vanilla, apples, floor polish and an underlying meatiness (chicken?). To taste there was toast, sweet wood, pine, vanilla cream, pepper, rhubarb and lime skin, wrapped up with a dry wood finish. Water added more vanilla, more sour wood, more woody spice and white pepper on the finish.

Zuidam 5 year old Dutch ryeZuidam 5 Year Old Dutch Rye – I grabbed this in my first batch of drams and it sat around for a while before I got round to trying it. Zuidam are a Dutch distiller who started in 1975 and they make genever, gin and liqueurs along with their whisky. This is a whisky made predominantly with rye, unlike Scotch’s barley and bourbon’s corn, and from my experience of US rye I was expecting something spicier than a bourbon.On the nose it was very bourbony, with some sweet spicy pear underneath and a floral note on top. To taste it started very sweet, with more pears, squishy sultanas and oats. Water expanded the vanilla sweetness, bringing out milk chocolate, sweet wood and more sultanas – maybe a touch of rum and raisin fudge? It can take a good slug of water and calms to a very sweet dram.

Campbeltown Loch 30 Year Old – regular Campbeltown Loch is an inexpensive blended whisky put together by J&A, the owners of Springbank. This one is a rather more special bottling, with all the whiskies coming in at at least 30 years old – something that appealed to my Springbank and Longrow loving tastebuds. On the nose it was florally sweet with a sour edge – rose water, turkish delight, linseed oil, sour grapes and the air around a brewery on malting day (beefy maltiness) all made an appearance as well. To taste it had a syrupy sweetness to start (strawberries and apples), quickly disappearing behind a layer of wood caramel and fading to a warm dry woody finish. Water brought out some vanilla sweetness in the beginning, with underlying spicy wood. The finish was bolstered with a chunk of custardy vanilla and raisins.

Edradour Port MaturedEdradour 2003 Port Cask Matured – I’ve not tried much from Edradour but I quite like their ‘we have the smallest stills in Scotland’ claim, so have been meaning to for a while. I chose this one due to a hole in my whisky tasting knowledge when it comes to port cask finished whisky. The cask had definitely had some of an effect on this, with the whisky sitting rather pink in the glass. On the nose it had candy floss, refreshers, bubblegum and hint of spicy wood. To taste there was linseed oil, sweet wood, sherbet lemons, and a bitter wood finish with sherbet ‘sparkles’. It tasted stronger than its 46%. Water revealed a hint of creamy vanilla on the nose and much more on the taste – pine, light custard, perfumed raisins, foam strawberries, milk chocolate, smoky struck matches and a hint of citrus leading into the still woody finish.

Chichibu Double Matured New Born Cask No.446 – Chichibu is one of the newer additions to the rapidly ramping up Japanese whisky industry, opening in 2008. As such none of the spirit produced is quite whisky yet, and this sample was matured for about 2 years, first in a bourbon cask before being moved to a new american oak barrel to finish (hence the Double Matured moniker). On the nose it had pine floor cleaner, lemons, cola bottles, foam shrimps, bananas, creamy vanilla and damp wood. To taste it was very hot, with spicy wood and creme patissier. Water calmed it down (it was bottled at 61.3%) and the woodiness became very perfumed, with lots of sweet fruit down the sides of the tongue (red rope liquorice?), liquorice root and a fragrant but astringent woody end. Creamy but with a sour edge from the wood. This was very interesting and has added Chichibu to my ‘try whenever possible’ list.

Jura 10 Year Old
Single malt Jura Scotch whisky, 40%. ~£25 from Master of Malt.

Zuidam 5 Year Old Dutch Rye
Dutch rye whiskey, 40%. ~£60 from Master of Malt.

Edradour Port Cask Matured
Single malt Highland Scotch whisky, 46%. ~£40 from Master of Malt.

Campbeltown Loch 30 Year Old
Blended Scotch whisky, 40%. Out of stock, but was about £45 from Master of Malt.

Chichibu Double Matured New Born Cask No.446
Japanese grain spirit, 61.3%. Out of stock, but was about £60 from Master of Malt.

Bruichladdich Octomore 2.2 – Orpheus

Bruichladdich are one of the most prolific producers of single malt whisky in Scotland at the moment. Based on Islay they opened in 1881, closed (as many did) in the mid-90s and then re-opened in 2001 under the eye of Mark Reynier, who led a group of private investors in buying and restarting the distillery. I first tried one of their whiskies shortly after the distilery reopened, but can remember very little other than it was the first whisky I tried that reminded me of the sea.

More recently they’ve become known for both their experimentation and for releasing of lots of their experiments – just looking at Master of Malt they have 68 distillery bottlings listed, which is more than one new bottling every two months since the distillery reopened. Everything from cask finishes and slight variations on the core range to their X4 quadruple distilled spirit (rather than the two that single malt scotch usually gets) and Octomore, supposedly the most peated whisky ever made at 140ppm.

OctomoreThey’ve done a couple of releases of the Octomore, each with a different twist on the idea, and I recently grabbed a sample of their most recent release from Master of Malt’s Drinks by the DramOctomore 2.2 Orpheus. The tweak on this one is simple – they finish the bourbon matured spirit in red wine casks. However, just to make sure that this is a little bit more exclusive they used Petrus casks. It’s a bit older than the earlier editions, at 5 years, and has been bottled at its full 61% cask strength as part of a limited edition of 15000 bottles, which are now starting to rise in price as collectors snap them up. The earlier releases of Octomore inspired a lot of underwhelming reviews, going up against the first edition of Ardbeg Supernova as they did, but this one seems to have done a bit better, even if it has produced the expected love-it/hate-it reviews.

PinkThe first thing that you notice about the whisky is its colour – it’s pink. It may have only been finished in the wine casks but has picked up a lot of the colour from the wood. On the nose it has sweet peat, as expected, as well as vanilla, grain mulch and an underlying savouriness that I’ve noticed in most wine cask matured whisky (the flavour that I have now stopped calling ‘bbq chicken’ because it was starting to get me funny looks). It was cloying, with the peat and sweetness sticking at the back of the throat as I sniffed. To taste it started with mud and sweetness before moving through bitter lemons and spicy wood. It had a menthol quality that dried the tongue and this lingered into the finish with more peat and salty caramel. At 61% and with this much peat it could take a lot of water, and it’s the peat which gets hit most by the addition. The mud and peatiness mellowed, leaving the sweetness, spicy citrus and menthol, and the finish got a slab of butteriness, rounding out the caramel flavour.

I’ve not tried any of the other releases of the Octomore but even if this is the best of the bunch I’d like to go back and have a go – this is really rather nice. A touch of water brings out the best in it, mellowing the fire of the young whisky and some of its peatiness and bringing out its underlying richness. The wine casks add a bit of meatiness to the body, but otherwise leave the spirit to shine (which from my point of view is how it should be) and it’s definitely gone on my ‘nice to have in the cupboard’ list.

Bruichladdich Octomore 2.2 Orpheus
5 year old Petrus cask finished Islay single malt Scothc whisky. 61%. ~ £80 at Master of Malt

Drinks by the Dram – Greenore 15 Year Old

Ever since the Cooley tasting I attended at Whisky Lounge I’ve been keeping an eye out for a chance to try more of their whiskies. So, when I spied the Greenore 15 Year OId while clicking through the Drinks by the Dram list for my first order I couldn’t really say no.

Greenore 15

It’s the longer matured version of the Cooley Irish single grain whiskey, the only of its type commercially available. I rather liked the 8 year old version, picking up a bottle while at Whisky Lounge London, and was intrigued by what some extra time in the barrel would bring.

On the nose it has caramel sweetness with an undercurrent of astringent graininess, a hint of grassy field and some pear. To taste it has even more caramel, with some woody vanilla and a savoury twist on the finish, with a rubbing of butter. It’s got a load of spice on the tongue which, along with finish, gives a sweet pastry taste. It’s quite delicate so doesn’t like lots of water, but a few drops brings out the pears from the nose as well as some tannic wood bitterness, while softening the caramel to a more general mouth coating sweetness. The butteriness still sits at the back of the throat and accompanies a spicy, woody finish.

Engage poetic license: Like walking through a corn field in the evening while eating a slice of pear pie.

An advancement on the regular 8 year old Greenore, with more of everything but continuing on the same theme. Again, even though it’s quite delicate (although more robust than the younger version) I think it would work well with ice, becoming like a light but interesting bourbon. My experiments with the standard edition seem to suggest that some of the astringency (a common feature among the grains I’ve tasted) is softened a chunk by the ice, but the sweetness and more robust flavours still come through, as long as you don’t try and drown a glacier in it.

Drinks by the Dram

I don’t really buy whisky online. Generally I like to talk at people, so buying a bottle is normally an excuse to go and annoy the folk at one of the whisky shops in London, with me asking questions, making shakily backed up pronouncements and being corrected in pronunciation of distillery names and general misapprehensions about whisky and the world in general. However, being someone who wants to try every whisky that there is (no matter what – I have a miniature of Famous Grouse above my monitor waiting for an opportune moment), my wallet and I were rather pleased to find that Masters of Malt are now selling 30ml samples of whisky and other spirits as Drinks by the Dram.

Drinks by the dram
They’re very pretty

There’s a bunch of stuff on there, cheaper by the oversized shot than you’ll get in a bar and also including vodka, rum and brandy. So, my initial foray (comments on which will appear on here in time) included: Greenore 15 (an older version of my favourite at the Cooley tasting at Whisky Lounge), Nikka Pure Malt Red (to go with my Black and the White that I intend to buy, having had it recommended a bunch), Mackmyra First Edition (Swedish whisky), Zuidam Rye (dutch whisky), Port Durant tempranillo cask aged Guyanian rum (no comment needed), a 19 year old Mortlach (because Mortlach is lovely and normally more than I want to spend on a bottle) and some Bruichladdich Octomore (the world’s peatiest whisky, with this one being finished in Petrus casks…mad).

There are a bunch of other companies doing the same thing but these guys are based down the road in Tunbridge Wells, so for my carbon footprint, food mile aware brain (ignoring the Guyanian imports and everything else that I do) it makes sense. As does the overnight delivery…

Drinks by the Dram
Whisk(e)y, vodka, rum and brandy in individual 30ml servings from Master of Malt
From £1.75 (Cabin Hill bourbon) to £41.95 (1954 Glenfarclas) at the time of writing, with things appearing and disappearing all the time.