The Nikka 12 year 43%

Over the years I’ve had a few opportunities to sample Nikka blends – bringing together the yin yang quality of their single malts Yoichi and Miyagikyo.

Specifically the The Nikka 12 year marries three elements – malt whisky from Yoichi and Miyagikyo with grain whisky distilled in a Coffey still.

Amusingly, our ‘Far East’ sampling of The Nikka began with dispelling the misconception that ‘coffey’ has anything to do with ‘coffee!’ Funny how our brain works… trying to sniff out a whiff of your morning brew even when ‘coffey’ refers to the kind of still Aeneas Coffey patented which revolutionised liquor production in the mid-1800s.

We also shared how Miyagikyo distillery is known for its lighter, more delicate and nuanced ‘feminine’ whiskies. Whereas the Yoichi distillery has a reputation for more robust, often peatland more ‘masculine’ whiskies.

The Nikka 12 year

The Nikka 12 year 43%

While I didn’t take notes at the time, walked away with an impression of:

  • Nose – Fruity with pineapple, apples and pears, coconut, hint of peat, some vanilla sweetness
  • Palate – Barley with just a dash of sweet spices and toffee, and while very much in the sweeter side still had some substance
  • Finish – Light pepper, slightly woodsy

Overall a most enjoyable dram. Accessible, well-balanced and easy to just sip.

Pitched as a more affordable age statement, The Nikka 12 year has collected a number of awards to its credit and is currently easier to track down than many other Japanese whiskies.

The Nikka 12 year up close

Here’s what the folks over at Nikka have to say about their 12 year:

There is nothing more suitable than a blended whisky to represent Nikka’s way of whisky making.

The asymmetry design of the bottle is inspired by the neck of a “Kimono”, just as if the layers visualize all the passion and craftsmanship devoted in the history of Nikka. The honorable golden emblem engraved was designed by Masataka Taketsuru for his very first Nikka whisky bottle.

Malty, soft and well-balanced, this expression portrays our gratitude to the heritage and our will to advance our tradition.

We then continued our evening by selecting one element in The Nikka to explore further – Yoichi’s new NAS single malt expression.

If you are curious, here’s what others have to say about The Nikka 12 year:

And Whisky Lady notes to a few related whisky explorations…

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Sake whisky – Togouchi Kiwami 40%

We’ve tried whiskies before that have a decidedly rummy character, an extra anejo tequila with a whisky-like aspect, but a whisky with a clear unmistakable sake stamp? This was a first.

This was also my first foray into Togouchi whiskies and what a surprise. While blended in Japan and clearly catering to the Japanese palate (plus the demand for whiskies from Japan globally), the new make spirit is not actually Japanese.

Instead, the whiskies are a blend of distilled Canadian grain and Scottish malt which is imported to Japan, then aged in primarily ex bourbon casks, diluted with water sourced from the Sandankyo National Park and blended by Chugoku Jozo‘s master blenders in Hiroshima prefecture.

What adds to the mystique is most (apparently not all!) Togouchi whisky is aged in barrels stored in a 361 meters long tunnel that was built for a railway in the 1970s but never used. This unique warehouse near the town of Togouchi boasts that it can maintain an optimal constant temperature around 14°C and 80% humidity.

As for the whisky we sampled, ‘Kawami’ means ‘supreme’ (or ‘height’) and was created as a limited edition non-peated expression for the French market.

Togouchi Kiwami

Togouchi Kiwami 40%

What did we find?

  • Nose – Very mild, think camomile tea or flowers, soft and gentle
  • Palate – Not nearly as smooth as the nose suggested, had a raw ‘new make spirit’ feel yet oddly solid for a whisky that had such a light, bright nose. Some found the in your face ‘alcohol’ content a bit off-putting. For others the grain element was simply too pronounced.
  • Finish – Was there one? We certainly didn’t find any

As we debated and attempted to distill the character of this unusual blend, we kept thinking of sake. No surprise, the Chogoku Jozo folks are better known for their sake and shochu with the Kawami specifically, in our ever so humble opinion, coming across as a whisky masquerading as sake.

In fact, when we were ready to move on to our next whisky, a few knocked it back like a shot and went “Wow!” Declaring this is THE way to have Togouchi Kawami.

PS… our host admitted to being a bit disappointed with the Kawami and pulled out a different Togouchi expression (suspect it was the Togouchi Premium) that was silky smooth, soft and an utter delight.

Want to learn more?

Other whiskies sampled during our far east evening in Mumbai:

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Piña colada whisky – Nikka Coffey Grain 45%

Naturally our Whisky Ladiesfar east‘ trilogy closed with an offering from Japan. Japanese whiskies are known for their ability to craft exquisite top-notch quality whiskies. Nikka certainly has put out a number of quite fabulous whiskies.

Given the bold Kavalan Solist cask strength whisky, we took care to clear our palates and recalibrate our thinking before sampling this grain whisky. We knew it would be much more delicate and nuanced.

To help switch gears from the strong coffee quality of the Kavalan, we were reminded to think ‘coffey stills’ not ‘coffee.’ Our whisky contributor shared that the whisky is named for the type of ‘coffey’ stills used by Nikka. These column stills were enhanced by Aeneas Coffey, who patented his approach which revolutionised liquor production in the mid-1800s.

Here’s what the folks over at Nikka have to say about this particular whisky:

This Grain Whisky is distilled in a “Coffey still”, which is a very traditional and rare patent still Nikka imported from Scotland in 1963. The Coffey still produces a complex whisky with a mellow and sweet taste originating from the grain itself. Please enjoy the uniqueness of this whisky which Nikka offers to the connoisseurs.

Nikka Coffey Grain

Nikka Coffey Grain

Here is what we found:

  • Colour – Bright gold
  • Nose – Piña colada with coconut, pineapple, lots of tropical dry fruits, sweet as in very sweet, some struggled to get past the ‘alcohol’, vanilla, a little dry papaya, one of those high-end granola cereals chock full of dry fruits
  • Palate – Mmm… some spice, butter, coconut, honey, light banana, quite subtle, only when taking a big swig does the spice peak out
  • Finish – Back to piña colada
  • Water – Adds a little spice and caramel but not really needed

For a setting, we thought would be a perfect pre-dinner whisky to get things started. Or one to sip while having a good chat with a friend where the whisky accompanies nicely but doesn’t command attention or distract from the focus on a good conversation.

Overall it is quite restrained as a whisky, elegant, smooth and easy to drink. It is hard not think this is targeted at what marketeers thing appeals to women, stereotyping preferences for sweet  piña colada like beverages with frilly umbrellas.

What do our whisky ladies of Mumbai have to say?

  • “Instagram whisky with a soft filter”
  • “Gee… are they trying to say this is a woman’s whisky with pretty pink packaging?”
  • “Gateway whisky… easily accessible but…”

In short, most of our lasses prefer a bit less pina colada and a bit more substance and complexity.

That doesn’t mean this isn’t a decent whisky. It absolutely is. However it doesn’t quite hit the preferred character for our whisky women. Talk turned to Yoichi and Nikka’s Taketsuru Pure Malt and away from what was right in front of us.

Just to check if we were missing anything, took a gander at the tasting notes on the bottle:

  • Nose: Fresh and enticing, it reveals ripe pear, cherry and exotic fruit aromas. Citrus notes of blood orange and lemon appear, slowly giving way to more subtle floral scents. With air, aromas of pastry, coconut and bourbon vanilla emerge, with underlying notes of mint and a hint of musk.
  • Palate: Juice and pleasant, the promises of the nose are kept. Intense ripe fruit with rum accents (banana) and caramel. The complexity develops with hints of liquorice and star anise. The mid-palate shows more fruit, dominated by pear nectar and quickly moving on to creamier notes with an omnipresent freshness.
  • Finish: Just as pleasant as on the palate with pear and vanilla bourbon, ending on a very nice light bitter touch.

Do we agree? Well… once they mentioned pear, that rang true. But complex? Musk? Intense ripe fruit?? Hmm… and not one mention of  piña coladas??

Other Nikka whiskies sampled til date:

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Nikka Blended Whisky 40%

We’ve been on a bit of a Japanese whisky roll for sometime now… From Nikka alone, have sampled:

So when there was an opportunity to try this at our November Whisky Ladies evening, who could resist?

What did we find?

Nikka Blended Whisky 40%
  • Nose – Papaya and then some seriously strong pineapple, very fruity, bursting with the tropics, “It is having a party in my nose!” Some honey, vanilla… A little sprig of sage
  • Palate – Smooth, creamy, ginger, cinnamon, bay leaf, soft and buttery, chocolate
  • Finish – The most disappointing part of the whisky, some black pepper, there but… after such a remarkable nose and interesting palate… bit of a let down really
  • With water – Nose took on apples, even more honey, apple pie, a bright perfume and the taste pure candy! Even the finish became sweet candies. One observed that with water it is a bit like “burping pears!”
  • Comments – “It’s like Victor / Victoria!” “Completely schizo!”

Quite flirtatious and quixotic, not at all straight forward, some complexity and just kept changing… now it is spicy, now it is sweet, now it is  spicy… sweet… spicy… sweet…

This one sure sparked a lot of conversation. The final conclusion was it is a very ‘gemini’ whisky with two faces… at one time all sweetness and light and then it turns around and jolts you “What the heck?”

Nikka’s two distilleries – Yoichi and Miyagikyo have a serious yin yang thing going on… The peaty Yoichi‘s are quite masculine whereas by contrast Miyagikyo’s whiskies tend to be quite delicate, nuanced and light.

The funny thing is even after all the conversation and all the exclamations, is it a ‘wow’ whisky? No. But definitely very interesting.

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Singapore sipping – Miyagikyo 15 year 45%

The wonderful thing about Singapore is that even places that are primarily for post-work beers such as The Bank Bar + Bistro near Asia Square stock a decent collections of whiskies.

Interestingly the server shared how they are pushing patrons towards the Glenfarclas and away from the Japanese whiskies they earlier promoted. Perhaps due to the rising prices and scarcity of the Japanese whiskies they are simply working through the remaining stock and trying to encourage a return to old faithfuls from Scotland?

20151203_The Bank

Naturally of the whiskies on offer, my eye was drawn to the Miyagikyo… particularly the 15 year. Yet  horror of all horrors, they serve in standard glasses. Oh… my inner whisky snob is definitely surfacing!

What did I find with the whisky?

  • Nose – Very sweet! Lots of toffee, fudge, mild spice…. apples… stewed apples to be precise
  • Palate – Can I just say – yum? Malty, bit of spice, a little bitter cinnamon bark, dry, has a good mouthfeel… a toffee sweetness
  • Finish – Definitely malty, quite pleasant with a splash of spice. Nice that it doesn’t just dash off but instead settles in for a friendly visit

No tropical fruits or other citrus elements, no perfume or sea salt. Why mention what its not? Well… normally I expect something more from the nose for a Japanese whisky. This one didn’t seem to have such layers of complexity on the nose… It also didn’t have the decidedly ‘feminine’ quality I was anticipating from a Miyagikyo. However in fairness… take one look at the picture and you know it wasn’t exactly sampled using optimal tasting glassware!

Overall the yumminess of the whisky and quite lovely finish more than compensated. In short – delightful.


Curious to see what others think, before publishing this post I looked up what the “Chaps at Master of Malt” have to say… OK this is scary… I swear I did not look at their notes before writing mine. I pinky swear it! But it does seem to back-up the impression of lovely but not so complex on the nose…

Tasting Notes by the chaps at Master of Malt

  • Nose: Very sweet with vanilla fudge, toffee apple and spice. A straightforward nose, without heaps of complexity, but very charming nonetheless.
  • Palate: Malty, toffeyed, and generically fruity, this is a great session dram – not too heavy, and very pleasing.
  • Finish: Spices, hints of granary toast. Malty.

Related posts about Nikka whiskies:

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Hibiki Japanese Harmony “Master’s Select” 43%

My early introduction to Hibiki was with its enjoyable 12 year blend years ago and then its even more delightful 17 year sibling. However the craze for Japanese whiskies in recent years has meant pressures on stock and, like many other companies, Suntory is no exception to embracing the NAS trend rather than be restricted to have a year statement linked to the youngest whisky found in the bottle.

Japanese Harmony “Master’s Select” is a recent Hibiki offering found in most Duty Free shops around the world… and just so happens to be the whisky that kicked-off our regular group‘s November tasting trio!

Hibiki Japanese Harmony

As our normal practice, we sampled blind then revealed the whisky…

Hibiki Japanese Harmony NAS 43%

  • Colour – Amber
  • Nose – That new bottle ‘bang!’ with jackfruit, over-ripe fruit, then a little sour, slightly medicinal, morphing into sweet basil, a little Vicks vapour rub, very sweet, fresh, even a whiff of orange marmalade and eucalyptus
  • Palate – Dry, bitter, a bit ‘hard’ with light leather, quite ‘wintery’, a bit oaky, nutty – more along the lines of a betel nut with that astringent after taste, with a larger sip becomes quite spicy
  • Finish – There but relatively non-descript, nothing exceptional
  • Water – Without even adding, it feels like was already opened with a few drops of water, those that did found it spicier but didn’t add anything specific
  • Speculation – Sense that it is between 40 – 43%, feel of being a bit ‘junior’, could the colour have a little caramel?

The unveiling – the new Hibiki NAS blend with Yamazaki sherry cask, Hakushu and Chita.

And our overall thoughts? Quite straight, linear, no complexity, yet equally a ’no complaints’ kind of whisky! An entirely pleasant dram and when in the mood to simply sip, enjoy while listening to say.. classical music… this would do the trick!

Here’s what the Masters of Malt folks have to say about the whisky:

Hibiki Japanese Harmony is made with malt whiskies from the Yamazaki and Hakushu distilleries, as well as grain whisky from the Chita distillery. The whiskies are drawn from 5 different types of cask, including American white oak casks, Sherry casks and Mizunara oak casks. The blend itself was crafted by the Suntory Whisky blending team, led by Master Blender Shingo Torii. An elegant expression, with wafts of honey, orange, a herbaceous touch or two and light oak.
The other whiskies sampled in our November session included:

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Whisky Ladies Conquer a Cask Strength Diwali!!

We are no shy retiring missish lasses… no siree! Mumbai’s Whisky Ladies aren’t afraid to take on a trio of cask strength malts against the backdrop of India’s Festival of Lights – Diwali! After all, if firecrackers are bursting around us, why not have a few sherry bombs and whisky booms delighting our senses?

Last night we explored:


And here is what we found…

Glenfarclas 105 NAS 60%

  • Colour – Burnished copper
  • Nose – Smells like Christmas! Very sherry-y, caramel, then vanilla notes as it opens up
  • Taste – Sweet, dark and smokey, honeyed prunes, raisins, nutty and chocolatey
  • Finish – Smooth yet also quite dry – especially with a few drops of pani (water)
  • Pairing – We just happened to have a few truffles on hand… so naturally started testing out pairings and pronounced it successful though “The kick comes back after a hit of chocolate truffles!”


  • “It’s just like bad life choices… with caramel”
  • “Like cafe patron!”
  • “No sweet tooth here, just alcohol tooth!”
  • “Now it is simply a sherry wine bomb!”

This Speyside dram got things off to a rollicking start! Some missed the step of… “Perhaps you may wish to spit your 1st sip as going from 0% to 60% in the first swig can be a bit jarring. However our ladies were undaunted and found it became increasingly dangerous as this dram does go down rather well, easy to just keep sipping and sipping and sipping…

Ichiro’s Malt Chichibu 2009 French White Oak Cask #2357 63.1%

  • Colour – Golden straw
  • Nose – A little spicy, very sweet, light floral notes and yet can pack a punch or hit you between the eyes too!
  • Taste – Cayenne pepper, very summer-y and light, flirty, smooth yet confusing, bright and bubbly
  • Finish – Deceptive… there but much more subtle than the aroma and palate would indicate
  • Water – A couple drops of water rounds it out
  • Pairing – For some, the Chichibu and strawberries was a killer combination – who needs champagne if you have an effervescent whisky? For others, it was the brie cheese that did it. And the balance? Well… let’s just say there are a few of the opinion that chocolate goes with practically everything, doesn’t it?


  • “From the wrong angle, just a sniff will get you!”
  • “While light and flirty, if you look at it the wrong way, it will kick you in the ass!”

This young Japanese single cask has many unique qualities and distinctly different from the straightforward Glenfarclas. It has a bright light element that completely belies its strength. Again – a dangerous combination!

Abelour A’bunadh Batch No 35 60.3%

  • Colour – A deep dark burgundy with ruby highlights
  • Nose – Cinnamon and cloves, gingerbread, honey, pronounced prunes, black cherries, Christmas cake, classic sherry-bomb
  • Taste – Apple cider, caramel, warm and smooth, very ‘Christmassy’, rum-soaked raisins, robust and bursting with character
  • Finish – Think curling up by a cosy warm fireplace…
  • Water – This one works straight yet also does a happy dance with drops or a dollop!
  • Pairing – Best with a sharp old cheddar, needs something that can hold its own with such brilliant flavours.


  • “Beautiful things are happening in my nose! And its not what you are thinking!”
  • “This is one you notice every sip… and yes! It is probably getting you drunk…”

When the A’bunadh came out, there was literally a squeal of delight from one lady – as she would be re-uniting her taste buds with an old favourite. Talk turned to the slight shifts in flavour profiles between batches, fruitless efforts to track down certain batches from the 20s! Disbelief they are now into the 50s and a recommendation to simply ‘grab it’ if you see it!

What makes this Speyside stand out is its unabashed sherry quality. Rather than simply acquiring a sherry ‘finish,’ A’bunadh matures exclusively in Spanish Oloroso sherry butts, gaining a rich, robust and surprisingly well rounded profile.

Even better was the realisation that the price point for both Speysides remains reasonable (i.e. below $70) though the Japanese is near impossible to find at any price!

Our whisky ladies relished this cask strength trio – without a doubt a Diwali night to remember!

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Exploring Japanese whiskies – Ichiro’s Malt Chichibu ‘The Floor Malted’ 3 year 50.5%

By now, it is quite clear that I’m a fan of Japanese whiskies. Alas two things are increasingly becoming a challenge – accessibility and affordability.

Six years ago, Suntory came to Mumbai for a trade fare to test the waters for distributing to India. I fell in love with their Hakushu even more than the lovely Yamazaki and Hibiki whiskies I could more readily obtain and had sampled many times before.

I remember following up to see if there was progress on their entering the Indian market – and more specifically the Hakushu range – at the time the answer was no.

So I would track down the nuanced character of the Hakushu 18 year in places like Singapore until the prices sky-rocketed beyond my bracket.

Since then, my interest in exploring Japanese whiskies hasn’t abated and through our fabulous Mumbai whisky tasting groups, from time to time, someone manages to snag an interesting bottle. Our journey expanded well beyond Suntory’s offerings to also explore Nikka and Ichiro’s Malts and more!

The challenge is that what we find and enjoy today is likely not available tomorrow. Nearly all of the Japanese whiskies we’ve sampled over the last few years are now found on auctions not directly through reliable sources like The Whisky Exchange or La Maison du Whisky.

For example, this delightful Ichiro’s Malt Chichibu ‘The Floor Malted’ 3 year, may be relatively well-known but not so easy to find. So read on… as you may not be able to track down a bottle… which is a pity!

Chichubu The Floor Malted

Ichiro’s MaltChichibu The Floor Malted 3 year, 50.5%

  • Colour – Light, young and sassy
  • Nose – Bright fresh peaches, dried apricot and coconut… after airing a bit, bananas and sweet honeyed caramel also made an appearance
  • Taste – Strong, dry and nutty with a coffee bean bite, bitter-sweet and very woody
  • Finish – Woody, coffee lingered
  • Water? Too piquant for most, water spoilt it with even only a few drops

Reactions from blind tasting – Scottish or not? Must be matured in burboun casks, hence the honey and fruit, age indeterminate… but definitely interesting

The reveal – A more difficult to find Japanese offering that is a mere three years old! From 2009, bottled in 2012. We sampled bottle # 8791 of 8800.

Originally tasted October 2014 together with Blair Athol 16 year and Glen Deveron 20 year.

It was, more than many other of our tasting sessions, a perfect example of how age is not the most important factor in producing an interesting whisky. The character of the new make spirit, cask quality and care in maturation can enable a young upstart of only three years to challenge a mature 20 year old.

Interested in exploring other Ichiro’s Malt?

And Suntory?

Or go discover Nikka‘s offerings…

From time to time, you can also find other whisky related updates and activities on:

Rare Japanese whisky – Kurazaiwa’s Asama 46%

Much as I’m a fan of most of the Japanese whiskies I’ve sampled til date, the price tag keeps getting steeper and steeper. And that is if you can even find what you seek!

In my whisky quest in Tokyo last year, something from the discontinued Kurazaiwa distillery was on my ‘wish list’ however I did not have any luck and was advised to try auctions…

So when my aunt and uncle offered a sample of Asama, I jumped at the opportunity!

Asama (Whisky Lady's uncle)

Asama (Whisky Lady’s uncle)

Here goes for the Asama 46% (Karuizawa 1999+2000)

  • Colour – Burnished copper
  • Nose – Musty and mysterious – not in a bad way. Raisins, a little citrus. As it airs, has a distinctive sweet almond paste aroma, the lightest curl of tobacco, definite sherry influence
  • Taste – Warm, chewy, lots of raisins, that same musty element, perhaps mushrooms? Almost fudge-like or creamy daifuku
  • Finish – Oddly tea like… and more raisins and berries
  • Water – I almost didn’t add…  and then honestly wished I hadn’t. Just a few drops kicked up the spice but dulled the more interesting elements and drowned that oddly appealing tea-like element in the finish
  • Overall – While interesting, it certainly isn’t exceptional

This Asama was selected from 1999 and 2000 vintages, bottled and distilled at the now discontinued Karuizawa Distillery in its last two years of operation. Aged 11 years, it is part of the stock purchased by Number One Drinks Company.

The name ‘Asama’ comes from Mount Asama, an active volcano near where the Karuizawa distillery operated from 1955 – 2000. There have been a series of ‘Spirit of Asama’ released in small quantities over the years, of which this ‘Asama’ is considered entry-level for this increasingly rare Japanese whisky coveted by collectors.

It is certainly distinctive, however is it worth the fuss about Karuizawa? Yes and no… it is teasingly different and makes one want to explore what else Karuizawa has to offer.

However is this particular expression exceptional? Not really.

Do I have any regret about tasting it? Heck no!

What a treat and many thanks to my fabulous aunt and uncle back in Canada for the sample.

Canadian stash

Canadian stash…

Here’s what others say:

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Nikka From the Barrel NAS 51.4%

From time to time, travel trumps attending our monthly tasting session. However our Nov 2014 evening was too unique to miss! Four whiskies from four different countries… I simply HAD to convince our host to do a special ‘make-up’ session.

Luckily it didn’t take too much arm-twisting when I could bribe him with a whiskies from a session he missed which featured Tyrconnel, Ledaig 1997 and Talisker Dark Storm.

What follows is a blend of another member’s notes with mine for your reading pleasure… 

Nikki from the barrel

Nikka From the Barrel NAS 51.4%, Japan, Nikka distillery

  • Colour – Warm wheat
  • Nose – Plum cake, fruit basket, mild citrus aroma, bold & woody yet unmistakably sweet
  • Palate – Sweet on the first sip, then slightly spicy finish, mild hint of leather and cinnamon. When returning after 20 mins – pure sweet smoothness
  • Finish – Comes out to say an exuberant ‘hello!’ with sassy spice
  • Water – Shot up the spice, but then settled

This blend reminds that sometimes it is worth playing around – in this case blend and then re-cask to further mature.

Definitely worth trying but not a future purchasing priority. Somehow the overall impression was interesting but not spectacular ‘I’m in heaven!’ kinda reaction. And definitely not in the same league as Nikka’s Taketsuru Pure Malt 17 year...  however to be fair not in the same price point either.

So there you have it! Our humble impressions of Nikka From the Barrel.

Do check out what others have to say too…

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