Whisky Squad #40 – It’s a Kind of Magic

In a step closer to being almost up to date I present Whisky Squad #40. Helpfully I couldn’t make #39, an excellent night charting the develop of Glenfiddich since the 1960s with Jamie Milne and a bunch of old bottlings of whisky, due to an appointment with a beer festival, but #40 was one that I was certain not to miss – an evening of whisky from round the world presented by Dominic Roskrow.

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Whisky Squad #16 – Japan Part 1 (of at least 2)

After much speculation as to when it would happen it seems that The Whisky Squad has now officially run out of whisky to drink from Scotland. For that reason, or the more likely one that there are tasty whiskies made outside of the chilly northern territories of the UK, the month of June is to play host to two Squad sessions, both focusing on the far off land of Japan. The first of these was led by returning dodgy story king and Whisky Guy Darren Rook and focused on the world outside of Suntory, the original and biggest whisky maker in Japan. Darren has the added assistance of having a brother who lives in Japan which means that occasionally some interesting tidbits fall into his lap, some of which he kindly brought along.

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Whisky Tasting Club #2 – Whiskies of the World

Despite my best intentions I do seem to let a lot of the things that I grab to write about stack up. While that may not seem like the worst thing in the world (Oh noes! I seem to have a pile of boozes on a shelf and I HAVE to taste them all…) it does make me feel like a naughty schoolboy who hasn’t done his homework. So, when a mail arrives from the Whisky Tasting Club to let me know that my next box of whiskies are on their way, reminding me that I haven’t even opened my last tasting box yet, I feel the urging boot of ‘get on with it’.

Rather than a gentle sampling over the space of a couple of weeks, like I did last time, I decided to sit down and make a ‘proper’ tasting. I will admit that it was in part to get use of the five watchglasses that I slightly drunkenly purchased at Whisky Live a couple of weeks back. I like glassware too much. Anyways, tasting set #2’s theme is Whiskies of the World and included drams from the USA, Japan, India, England and The Netherlands.

WTC #2

Taking them in the order in the accompanying leaflet I started with the Zuidam 5 year old Dutch Rye. I’ve written about this one before, as I have with most of the whiskies in this box, but found it a bit less sweet than last time. On the nose my notes describe it as ‘mentholated bourbon’, with sharp rich fruit, vanilla, coconut and foam bananas – overall sweet but with an underlying tannic dryness. To taste I got sour cream, sweet vanilla caramel, hints of cinnamon, sour white grapes and a creamy woody finish. Water brought out more sourness with grapes and wood and added vanilla to the finish.

Next was Nikka from the Barrel. I’m a big fan of Nikka and this blend was my choice for my own aborted Whiskies of the World tasting. It also has a really pretty bottle. On the nose there were raisins, sweet wood and flowers – very reminiscent of good aged grain whisky (one of my favourite things). To taste there was big dry wood, turning quickly bitter through plump sultanas to a dry cardboard finish with quite a lot of alcoholic prickle on the tongue. Water tamed everything and amalgamated the flavours – tannic vine fruits leading to a sour woody finish with a good chunk of booze hanging around.

Third was Amrut Fusion, which I tried at Albannach a few weeks back. On the nose I got much more this time, with butter, bread and a hint of vanilla standing out over a hefty alcoholic hit – ‘boozy brioche’ my notes say. To taste it was quite closed but I got a light creaminess followed by a spike of fruit and grain. It can take a good chunk of water and the flavour opened up to reveal cream, sweet crunchy apple and hints of grain leading to a woody finish of old furniture and fruit trees.

Next was the English Whisky Company Chapter 9, which I tried at the first Albannach Whisky Hub. At three years old this is as young as whisky gets and it definitely shows. On the nose there was cream backed by fruity peat, sweet lemons and a hint of green wood smoke. To taste it was quite light and oily, with a peat smoke burst surrounded by apples and lightly muddy vegetal notes. There was the taste of young whisky (the caraway/aquavit flavour of young barley spirit) and the finish was short and tasted of digestive biscuits. Water killed most of the smoke leaving sweet citrus and young spirit – a lemon aquavit? My bottle of this is staying in the cupboard unopened for now.

Last was Elijah Craig 12 year old, the only one I don’t remember trying before and one I’ve been meaning to for a while. I’ve been a fan of Elijah Craig for a while ever since my last stop at my first Whisky Live was their stand – I stood there quite wobbily, talking about barrel aging of spirits in different climates with a group of similarly wobbling punters and the stand owners, having very little clue about what I was saying and occasionally having my glass topped up by people who seemed to find that amusing. I may have tried the 12 then, but that was pre-notebook and the only thing I remember from that part of the evening was my misplaced certainty that I knew everything about barrels. On the nose the 12 year old had big sour caramel, rich PX-like raisins, golden rum, coconut, glace cherries, a hint of pepper and some underlying sour grain. To taste it was thick and waxy but lighter than the nose suggested. It started with sweet grain and moved through cherry, crunchy mango and violets to a throat-warming finish of sweet fruit wood. Water smoothed out the slight throat burn and brought out some sweetness from the wood – green apples in the middle, dusty raisins at the side and the cherries become more glacé-like.

My next box is sitting on my desk along with a copy of Dom Roskrow’s World’s Best Whiskies, a bonus for having for subscribed for 3 boxes, and this set’s theme is Wood. Hopefully I’ll get round to cracking these open a bit sooner.

Zuidam 5 Year Old Rye
Dutch rye whiskey, 40%.~£50.

Nikka from the Barrel
Japanese blended whisky, 51.8%. ~£25.

Amrut Fusion
Indian single malt whisky, 50%. ~£35.

English Whisky Chapter 9
English single malt whisky, 46%. ~£40.

Elijah Craig 12 Year Old
USA bourbon whiskey, 47%. ~£25.

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.