Nikka 'Red' Pure Malt
This week we will try something new on the Malt Mission and look at a few international malts. This is a good starter as it is quite literally 'international', in that it is sourced from different countries.
After working for Kotobukiya (Suntory) for over 10 years, Masataka Taketsuru, arguably the grandfather of Japanese malt whisky, started The Great Japan Juice Company in 1934. The company did indeed produce juice, and by 1952 came to be known as Nikka Whisky Distilling Co.
Taketsuru learned his skills in distilling spirits studying at Glasgow University in Scotland in 1918. he followed this with further hands-on study at Hazelburn (Campbeltown), Lagavulin (Islay) and Longmorn (Speyside). He then worked at the company that is known today as Suntory, helping them build their first distillery in 1923 (Yamazaki). When he left Suntory to start his own company, he built Yoichi distillery on Japan's most northern major island, Hokkaido. Although inconveniently located, it was perfectly situated fro whisky production, according to Taketsuru (Nonjatta has a great piece on Taketsuru HERE). Surrounded by mountains on three sides and having pure a water source that comes from underground springs that rise through peat bogs, Yoichi is a very traditional-style distillery that still direct-fires its stills with coal (this once-common practice is a piece of history in Scotland, partly because of EU standards on coal emissions).
In 1969, Nikka built Miyagikyou/Sendai distillery on Honshu, Japan's main island. Teh site was picked after Masataka Taketsuru made a mizuwari using the water source of the prospective distillery and proclaimed, "This water is excellent. I've decided, this is the place!" The company produces the bulk of its malt for blending here using steam-heated stills. The distillery is also capable of producing grain whisky with its Coffey still.
The Pure Malt format was, at one time, the most common sort of whisky produced in Japan, and this is just one of Nikka's colours series (others are 'black' and 'white'). This one is a 'pure malt', or vatting of Japanese single malt whisky from Miyagikyo/Sendai Distillery (using the Coffey still) blended with Scottish single malt whiskies.
Notes in quotes can be attributed to Kristin.
Bright and fruity. Candied peanuts. Tahini. Peaches and cream. "Still, trapped air, like going into a tent, or a cottage or shack that has been locked up for a few seasons." Time allows some herbaceous (grass, parsley) elements to emerge and water softens the brightness and brings out a touch of peat, roasted aubergine/eggplant or soil. "Becomes outdoorsy"
Again, bright and fruity, butterscotch. Sugary black tea. Fresh and lively. Fills out with some earth and peat, but remains confection-ary. Slightly smoky in the toastiness at the end. Water really exaggerates the earthiness and it becomes a surprisingly chewy whisky.
Perfectly clean, fresh, summery malt. I loved the oscillation between candied orange and earthy smokiness. Wholly unique, but to offer some points of reference, Kristin finds it comparable with a features of Bell's blended whisky while I find it shares features with Rosebank, unpeated BenRiach and young Talisker. Love the packaging, too.
"Spirity. Woody. Sweet. That's about it. Blend-ish. Did they pour caramel into this?"
To each their own.
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