Dunkerton Drams – Nikka Days 40%

We wanted to mix things up our second evening, so our selection reflected a wee jaunt around the world from Japan to England to Australia to Scotland.

We decided to kick things off in the far east with a dram from Nikka. What do we know about Nikka Days? Just that it is a blend of Miyagikyo and Yoichi with grain… and not much more.

Nikka Days 40%

  • Nose – Honey, pickled seaweed in a Bento box, tobacco leaf, subtly fruity floral, sour dough, pastry, bit of apple and pear, apple pie then hint of citrus
  • Palate – Straight forward, light spice with a bit of smoke, warming… back to apple pie
  • Finish – Minimal

A clear appetizer dram… a nice way to get thing started with a curl of smoke to add a little something more. No complexity or nuance, just a relatively light bright beginning… a way to whet the appetite.

While not listed on the Nikka website, TWE share the producer tasting notes….

  • Nose: Apples, pears and strawberry liquorice. Perfumed notes of daiginjo sake and white melon. Grainy flavours develop, with freshly crushed barley and malting floor sweetness floating out of the glass. White chocolate and a sprinkling of lemon zest sit at the back.
  • Palate: Creamy and soft, with grapes and apples on top of toffee and candied lemon. Delicate white chocolate notes are joined by darker liquorice hints and a tiny touch of barrel char smokiness. Right at the back is a bowl of apples, freshly peeled and sliced.
  • Finish: Lemon zest and buttery biscuits. Barley sugar sweetness to leave grain and spice.

Delicate and fragrant at first, with more weight hiding behind. A great all-rounder with enough complexity to sip and enough oomph to shine in a mixed drink.

Reading the notes long after we sampled, I could certainly see some alignment with what we found. However complexity and oomph? Not so much…. But overall a nice starter!

Just to give a feel for pricing, I checked it out on Master of Malt – at the time of writing, it is  available for GBP 39. That’s exceedingly affordable these days for quite a drinkable blend!

What else did we try in our 2nd Dunkerton evening?

And other Nikka experiences? There’s been a few…

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Nikka Super Old vs New Japanese Blends

Wow! Time flies! Our evening comparing Japanese blends from the 1980s and today took place early 2020 in Mumbai. We kicked off with a pair from Suntory, followed by these Nikka Super Old bottles.

The story told by the Nikka folks is:

Super Nikka is a blended whisky born in 1962.
Masataka devoted himself into creating this whisky soon after his wife Rita’s death to represent his deep love for her.
He could never have accomplished his dream to make genuine whisky in Japan without the support from Rita.

Since 1962, little has changed about the bottle… but what about the contents of this blend?

Nikka Super 43% from 1980s

  • Nose – Initially a promising nose – started nice, fruity, quite summery, think pears… then lightened more, cotton candy, lots of sugars, balsa wood, then nail varnish
  • Palate – Grain… wood pine, very different, round full, but doesn’t coat, puckering, wood, moth balls, pine lysol, dusty old cupboard
  • Finish – What finish? Really wasn’t much of any

Nose and taste were contrasting…  And after we returned? Hmm… sorry no polite way to put it… it was simply nasty. Sorry… what ever happened sitting for decades it didn’t do this  dram any favours I’m afraid.

Nikka Super 43% from today….

  • Nose – Varnish, little to nothing on the nose, maybe linseed oil?
  • Palate – Was it better on the palate than nose? Nope… grape juice
  • Finish – Blank… simply blank…

How different this was from our previous experience with the European revival version!

Again, I will admit I wasn’t at my best… my olfactory senses dulled by illness, but I had company in a less than enthusiastic reaction. Just check out the fabulous notes on the Whisky Ladies of Mumbai blog.

However our less than stellar impressions didn’t diminish the appreciation of trying a bit of history in a bottle side by side with its modern avatar. A worthy experiment indeed!

And above all the company of our combined Whisky Ladies and Bombay Malt & Cigar gents evening was fabulous and I miss our tastings immensely!

What about other whiskies sampled from Nikka including at Whisky Live Singapore 2016

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Suntory Old vs New Japanese Blend

Suntory is the grand daddy of Japanese whisky and a fitting place to begin our evening comparing old and new blends.

So what exactly was Suntory Excellence? It was from Yamazaki distillery, likely released in 1980, possibly using whiskies aged 30 years old. Some sources indicate it was created to start competing with Scottish blends – at a time when Japanese whisky was little known beyond certain circles! Hence their putting it in a ‘decanter’ bottle with a glass stopper rather than the kind of bottles that were standard at that time.

While we assume it was a blend, I came across a few references that indicate the expression was intended as a pre-cursor for easing into single malts. Specifically, the Yamazaki which was then launched as a single malt in 1984.

Blend or not (though likely a blend!), Suntory Excellence had two versions – the 1st sported a neck ‘ring’ like the one we tried vs another which came out later that had the “excellence” tag integrated as part of the bottle.

Could you find it today? Primarily the later avatar seems to pop up on auctions and was last seen with prices in the GBP 450 range. Our version? The closest I could find was on auction for $3,800.

The second one we tried – Suntory Old – is a popular blend that was first produced in the 1940s. Suntory’s founder Shinjirō Torii dreamed up this blend. First produced in the 1940s, bottle and label hasn’t changed much in the last 70 years.

What did we think?

Suntory Excellence 43% from 1980s

  • Nose – Chorus of perfume, concentrated maple treacle, aged prunes… as it opened fruits became more prominent – peaches? Was promisingly rich, caramel cream
  • Palate – Started a tiny bit sour, thin, alcohol, perhaps even a bit metallic? Slightly flat and bitter.. but then something began to change…  by the 2nd sip it warmed up, and the 3rd was even better… dried black current, anise…
  • Finish – A light spice burn

This was a curious one… for the nose we initially kept being reminded of other spirits like calvados, cognac or even armagnac. It teasingly reminded our host of his Christmas pudding made a year in advance, kept in the fridge enabling the alcohol to concentrate… However on the palate it was a shadow of the promise – like wine that gets too old and become a bit watery.

As for me? Confession time… I was down with a nasty flu so truly could not give justice to the experience… So I took a wee sample of the original with me back to Germany.

I finally re-opened it this evening…. The aroma initially had an intense varnish dimension, then shifted into dates, a sweet salty caramel on the palate with an aged cognac like quality. It was similar to our original impression with something peculiar and distinct about it that differed from most modern blends.

And with a splash of cool water? The fruitiness that was hinted on the nose came to the fore, the varnish tamed and the intensity dampened. But that element that came across as being more akin to calvados than whisky was even more pronounced. Interesting… and remarkable to have an opportunity to try it some 40 years after it was originally bottled.

So what about its modern cousin?

Suntory Old 43% from 2010s

  • Nose – Salty, citrus, a bit of nail varnish, maybe a bit nutty, we struggled to say something about the nose beyond this
  • Palate – Sour, much more bitter than would have expected from the nose, a bit of spice tingle
  • Finish – Um… no… not very favourable

This one just landed in the middle of our tongues and then nothing. We really tried to find something.. one even piped up maybe jelly beans?

Not bad, holds up better as a blend. For some this pair were the winners of the evening. But don’t take my word for it! I encourage you to check out the fabulous tasting notes on the Whisky Ladies of Mumbai blog!

What about other whiskies sampled from the Suntory stable?

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Old vs New Japanese Blends

Once upon a time, an excise officer lived in Mumbai, India. Bucking convention, he married outside of his community and country to a lovely elegant lady from Japan. They enjoyed the good things in life and were happy to generously share with their friends too – including an enthusiasm for Japanese whiskies. It was through this connect a couple of bottles made their way into a South Mumbai home many years ago. And while most were consumed, some were not… and a precious few were passed on from father to son as part of a dusty yet diverse collection.

These gifts from the 1970s / 80s inspired an evening honouring the “old” and comparing them with the “new” – a fitting way to bring in 2020. Just to put this into perspective, some 40 – 50 years ago, hardly anyone in India even knew Japan made whisky. To then imagine the Japanese whisky craze that captured attention decades later? Unthinkable! Instead this was the era where Johnnie Walker Black reigned supreme – just exploring anything beyond “Black” was being a bit daring and adventuresome!

So what did we try? Two pairs of Japanese blends…

Now, truth be told, we had no idea how these sealed bottles had fared. Had the decades been kind? Or would we be hugely disappointed? And what made us most curious – how did the “old” style compare with the “new” equivalent?

As we could not predict what we would find when the bottles were opened, back up blends were acquired as well – a Mars Iwai and Hibiki Harmony. Just in case.

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Drammers Club is in Mumbai!!!

Another malty memory from 2019 was my first Drammers Club tasting in April… which was a practical cornucopia of whiskies!

For those not familiar, the Drammers Club started in New York and has been opening chapters around the world. For Mumbai, co-president Charlie Prince teamed up with Rohan Mirchandani.

In the session I joined, Charlie shared the intent to anchor Mumbai sessions with an Indian whisky and American  plus other interesting bottles picked up around the world.

The focus for India was Paul John with Yash Bhamre, Brand Ambassador:

  • Brilliance & Edited– I’ll admit, seeing 10 odd whiskies, skipped this pair to focus on sampling those not yet tasted
  • Nirvana 40% – An opportunity to try even before its official launch! It was friendly, approachable, fruity, caramel, easy going
  • Select Cask Peated from Yash’s personal collection, while it didn’t have the pronounced ‘bacon‘ of some editions, it was still a great example of their cask strength peated avatar
  • SMWS 134.3 “Hello Flavour” 56.9% ex bourbon cask, 189 bottles, released 2017… had tropical fruits like mango, pineapple, intense flavours and a delightful finish

And for the American side of the equation?
  • Barterhouse 20 year 45.1% – Easy going creamy and one I’d love to try again in more optimal tasting circumstances
  • Old Commonwealth Postage Stamps of Ireland – A very unique dram that deserves specific attention. I hurriedly jotted down a few tasting notes – Tight black currents and dark berries, black vanilla pods, rich creamy caramel coffee on the nose… Smooth flavorful tea leaf on the palate, a bit queer with the finish initially but harkened back to the nose
  • Heaven Hill Marsala Hogshead Finish (2001/2017) Cask 17074, 46.5% Bottle 13 or 199 bottles – I wasn’t sure about this one, it started off as very musty, nail polish, definitely different funky. However it tasted much better – smooth and sweet, wet fall leaves, berries with spice, finishing with tannin merlot

To round things out, we also explored from Japan:

  • Ichiro’s Double Distillery 46% – Not bad with lots of cantaloupe, honey dew melon, musk melon
  • Ichiro’s Single Grain – I skipped this one – too much of a good thing is, well… too much!

Now I will admit both my pics and tasting notes are rubbish. A crowded noisy bar – no matter how fabulous it is for sociable occasions – just isn’t my way of savouring a single malt. So you will have to forgive my scant impressions. It also cemented my preference for humble low key tasting evenings with a small group of friends over a trio or at most quartet of whiskies not over 10!

Don’t get me wrong – I’m delighted Mumbai has a Drammers Club chapter and wish the team all the best. Charlie and the gang are definitely bringing greater variety of whiskies to a larger audience – and that surely is a good thing!

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Asian Delights – Nikka Whisky From the Barrel 54.1%

Our Whisky Ladies of Mumbai are no strangers to Nikka Whisky – or this particular dram From the Barrel. Our last tryst was in 2017 when we tasted From the Barrel side by side with Super Nikka.

However our evening exploring “Asian Delights” veered towards gentle uncomplicated whiskies which demanded a close with something having a bit more “Oomph!”

So out popped this beauty to round out our evening… here is what we thought…

Nikka From the Barrel 54.1%

  • Nose – Initially a bit musty, overripe fruit, had a spice kick, needed time to settle down… cloves, sweet vanilla, rum raisins, baked fruit – particularly apple and pear, increasingly fruity as it opened up more, then revealed some flowers, even a bit of talcum powder
  • Palate – Fruity, spice, bold, malty, yet missing something
  • Finish – Lingers
  • Water – Do add! Enhances the character, rounds it, lots of body, wood came forward on the palate, completes this whisky… out comes some marvellous marshmallows, very tasty on the palate even with a chasing dash of cinnamon sweetness

Overall most preferred it with water – enjoying how it brought a more accessible, enjoyable, balanced dram.

What is nice about such a compact 500 ml bottle is that we have enough left over to enjoy a dram or two but not much more. As the last few drops came home with me, it might just be time to enjoy a wee nip!

What the Nikka folks have to say:

From The Barrel is an extremely complex blended whisky bottled at 51.4% ABV. In order to deliver its richness and full flavors, the blended liquid goes into used barrels for another few months for “marriage” before it is bottled.

We enjoyed a few other whiskies in our Asian Delights evening:

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Asian Delights – Nikka Coffey Malt Whisky 45%

Much like the Akashi White Oak where we had twice sampled the Red Blend but not the Single Malt, we also tried the Nikka Coffey Grain twice but not the Malt version.

Our first blush of the Nikka Coffey Grain in 2016 made us think of piña colada… two years later when we tasted another bottle in an evening exclusively featuring grains, we still found it had a delightful desert like quality.

Both are make in Nikka’s Coffey still however the difference is that the grain is mostly made from corn whereas the malt from malted barley.

What did we think of the malted version?

Nikka Coffey Malt Whisky 45%

  • Nose – Chocolaty cream, tiramisu, marzipan, toffee, like a sweet Amarula, a caramel Irish Baily’s, candied cherries, a cherry cough syrup, banana, cinnamon
  • Palate – Soft, flat, linear, thin body, cheery and cherry, smooth
  • Finish – Hardly there
  • Water – Spicier on the nose, cream and fruit

Overall it retained a sweet dessert quality yet was heavier and darker than we remembered the Grain one… nothing complex but still satisfying and most enjoyable in its way.

Here is what the folks over at Nikka have to say about their Coffey Malt:

Coffey Malt is made from 100% malted barley. However it is not categorized as “malt whisky” but as “grain whisky” since it is not distilled in a pot still. This unique production method results in extraordinary flavors and texture.

We enjoyed a few more whiskies in our Asian Delights evening:

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Asian Delights – White Oak Akashi Single Malt 40%

Akashi Japanese whisky is actually a part of the Eigashima distillery which has made sake and shochu since the late 1880s. From 1919, the “White Oak Whisky” distillery was making whisky of sorts… however from 1984, equipped with a new pot still based on Scottish designs, the distillery started to make “proper” whisky under the brand of Akashi. While it predominantly made blends, production of single malts – like this one – started in 2007.

And while it is known as Japanese whisky, the barley and malts are imported from Scotland. In keeping with Scottish whiskies, they are aged for a minimum of 3 years however with the warmer climate in Akashi, the Angels share is considerably more than in Scotland.

For a few years now, Akashi White Oak whiskies – both the blend and single malt – can be found in Mumbai Duty Free for a reasonable price. Largely linked to this accessibility and affordability, our Whisky Ladies first sampled the blend in late 2016. We enjoyed its simple “apple cider” quality so much that we tracked down a 2nd bottle to share with the gents in a “Ladies Choice” evening early 2017.

Knowing one small bottle alone would not be sufficient, I’d called for reinforcements – and got two – both another Red Blended and this Single Malt! Both Red were opened and polished off but this bottle was kept aside, patiently waiting for the right opportunity to opened with its contributor.

Finally in March 2019 the moment came…. and what did we think?

White Oak Akashi Single Malt 40%

  • Nose – Fruity and spicy, green apples, simple and sweet, evolved into a happy candy floss, shifting to cinnamon and vanilla cream
  • Palate – Mmmmm…. apple, a bit of wood, quite pleasant, a nice spice, uncomplicated yet had some character
  • Finish – Easy going, slightly bitter

An earlier experience from an open bottle left me with the impression of bubble gum… this time? “Grown up” bubble gum!

Here’s a few more whiskies we enjoyed in our Asian Delights evening:

And our earlier Akashi tasting experiences?

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Whisky Ladies Eastern Promise – Akashi, Nikka Coffey + From the Barrel, Kavalan

Over the years, we’ve had the occasional opportunity to revisit or explore a “sibling” of a particular whisky. This was very much the case in our March Whisky Ladies session where each whisky was a variation on a familiar theme… yet distinctly different too!

Whisky Ladies Asian Delights

Even when revisiting the same whisky, each experience is unique – what we discover from a fresh bottle differs from an open one, what we found in a different year, mood, context influences our experience…

That’s the fun of exploring whiskies together – we contrast and compare – both the whiskies and our individual impressions. When it is with terrific company and a lovely setting, what could be more enjoyable?

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Whisky Ladies Grain – Nikka Coffey Grain 45%

When our Whisky Ladies set out to explore grains, we just so happened to include one we had sampled before – the Nikka Coffey Grain.

Our earlier impression was of a sun soaked piña colada masquerading as a coconut fruity whisky.

So what did we think on our revisit? Juxtaposed next to other grain whiskies from Scotland and Japan?

Nikka Coffey Grain 45%

  • Nose – Quite aromatic and herbal! Has character, toffee, brown sugar, coconut, some vanilla, sweet corn and a hint of sweet lemon, pear
  • Palate – Sooooooo sweet, silky soft and gentle, loads of that toffee
  • Finish – Sweeter note

One exclaimed “Well this is a fun whisky to meet!” Another shared it certainly is one to satisfy a sweet tooth – like a dessert dram!

For those who had tried it in our earlier session remarked that while there certainly was some coconut, it did not have that delightful almost over enthusiastic tropical piña colada quality.

When we considered the grains sampled so far – Haig, Chita and now this Nikka – there was little doubt the Nikka had the most character.

What do the folks over at Nikka have to say?

Coffey Grain is predominantly made from corn and distilled in a Coffey Still. The complex, sweet and mellow flavors of this expression will help you re-discover the beauty of a grain whisky.
The Coffey Still is the world’s first patented continuous still invented by Mr. Aeneas Coffey in 1830. Masataka Taketsuru valued the feature of this type of still, which retains the flavors of ingredients and also creates a distinctive texture. Coffey Grain and Coffey Malt are Nikka’s signature grain whiskies which show the beauty of our Coffey Stills.

And what would a bottle set you back? You can find it online in the UK for approx £55. We tasted it in September 2018 from an open bottle.

PS – Photo credit goes to our contributor Nikolina Berg.

What did the Whisky Ladies try in their Grain evening?

You can find more on a page dedicated just to Grains here.

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