“Super Nikka Whisky”

After spending time exploring the Nikka “From the Barrel” at our Whisky Ladies “Diwali Drams” evening, we compared it with a revival of an earlier incarnation of their standard “Super Nikka Whisky”.

What did our Whisky Ladies think?

Super Nikka Revival Whisky 43% (Limited Edition for Europe, 2015)

  • Nose – Candy floss, that Hallowe’en candy corn of brightly coloured kernels of yellow, orange and white tips, caramel nuttiness, a sweet almond paste, cola that has gone flat, then from somewhere an unlit charcoal, slightly musty, a hint of chocolate? A dash of pine?
  • Palate – Deceptively sweet, well rounded, light smoke to counter balance the sweet, was there a hint of sea salt too? Regardless of the different elements, they all merged together harmoniously
  • Finish – Lovely finish, cinnamon sweet though a bit abrupt – here then gone.
  • Water – Interestingly, this is the one we tried with water… it nicely reduces the sweetness, adds a dash of spice like a spice guava, making it overall even more enjoyable

And what do the folks over at Nikka have to say about Super Nikka?

One of Nikka’s classic brands, the Super Nikka was introduced to the market in 1962. Its luxuriant aroma, gentle hints of peat and scent of vanilla and chocolate are all in harmony, and its flavor is smooth, rounded and well-balanced.

Believe it or not, a fellow whisky aficionado in Mumbai has one of the original’s from the 1960s… I’m sensing we just may need to track down one of the ‘new’ avatars and do a comparison one of these days…

And the results of our “head to head”?

The Nikka Super Whisky was the most popular – for its sociable character in keeping with the mood of the evening. And yet there is no doubt the “From the Barrel” is a fine dram that demands attention.

And yes… I was caught blathering on about context being everything in choice… whisky preferences for me, at least, are highly mood, setting and company dependent. What I love in one context I may not care for in another and vis-a-versa. But that is another tale for another day…

The “Super Nikka” we sampled had recently been opened and tasted at our October 2017 Mumbai session, last seen on Master of Malt for $55 (sold out).

Whiskies sampled in our Diwali Drams evening included:

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Nikka’s “From the Barrel”

Last in the Whisky Ladies “Diwali Drams” evening was a “head to head” comparison between two Nikka blends – their cask strength “From the Barrel” and a revival of an earlier incarnation of their standard “Super Nikka Whisky”.

Most would know that Nikka, the company, uses “Nikka” as the brand name for their range of whisky blends which are either:

Both our whiskies fall into the “blend” category… What did our Whisky Ladies think?

Nikka From the Barrel 51.4%

  • Nose – Coconut, like sweet honey nectar, fruits like pears, a bit of acetone, then coriander (or cilantro or… there was a debate on the different varieties!). After a sip, the nose gained some oil and nuts, then shifted into marshmallow and candied nuts.
  • Palate – We found it was like melted caramel, dense and buttery like a maple butter tart, some sweet raisins too… quite thick on the palate
  • Finish – Last and last and lasts.

Some absolutely loved it! Appreciating how it is bursting with character, a complex drink, one where a little goes a long way.

Words like “Fabulous!” and “Mmmm” could be heard. The finish in particular was described as a “Fabulous, fantastic finish!” And exclaims of how well it could pair with certain food too.

And yet for some, this was almost too much… in its sweet aromas, its dense concentration of flavours and long finish.

What do the folks at Nikka have to say about “From the Barrel”?

This is a blend of multiple types of malt and grain that Nikka reserves. Nikka From the Barrel was created to deliver full flavors and richness of whisky “from barrels” which only blenders can sniff and taste. As the whisky contains so many characteristic components at a higher alcohol of 51.4%, it is essential to let the liquid “marriage” in used casks for 3-6 months for it to stabilize and harmonize. The concept of the unique short squared bottle is “a small lump of whisky”, which perfectly visualizes the rich and strong taste of the whisky inside.

PS – There may be added colour i.e. caramel.

So then how did it stack up against the “Super Nikka”? Read on soon….

The Nikka “From the Barrel” is a 50 cl bottle, sometimes found in duty free for around $50-75 and was opened during our session.

Whiskies sampled in our Diwali Drams evening included:

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Whisky Ladies Diwali Drams from Japan + Bhutan

Gathering bedecked in their colourful finery, the Whisky Ladies came together to enjoy some interesting Diwali Drams… specifically from Japan and Bhutan.

And while we didn’t gamble at cards, we did pit together different whiskies to see which prevailed!

What all did we sample as part of our Diwali celebrations?

Whisky Ladies Drams (Photo: Nikoulina Berg)

Just click on the whisky links above to read more about what we discovered…

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Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt 21 year 43%

Friends in Canada picked up this bottle years ago in Tokyo… It was opened during my visit to Winnipeg in June 2016 and a small sample made its way back to India to be tasted again.

Nikka‘s vatted malt or “pure malt” marries single malts from Yoichi and Miyagikyo without any grain whisky. This particular Taketsuru 21 won World’s Best Blended Malt Whisky at the World Whiskies Awards – 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2011. Given this, we had high hopes of a superlative whisky of exceptional quality, complexity and balance.

Nikka Pure Malt 21

Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt 21 year 43%

  • Nose – Prunes, a sour quality like soya sauce or a rich winey vinegar, sweet resin, tart, sweet spices, basil, a hint of dark bitter chocolate, acai, tight dry cranberries, vanilla essence
  • Palate – Very tart, cinnamon bark, dry ginger, oak, haldi (tumeric), slightly soapy quality
  • Finish – Long, very dry, both bitter and sweet at the same time with sweet spices like cloves and cinnamon with a surprising kick that sneaks up on you then lingers…

Overall, when first sampled in Winnipeg, I found vanilla honey warm into caramel, it was clearly rich, a bit bitter with a distinctly dry finish, but I missed many of the elements that burst forth when given a chance to sample solo.

Back in Mumbai I sat with it for some time, really giving it an opportunity to open up. It has a number of fairly unusual qualities – I’ve never had a whisky that is quite so ‘tart’ or with soya sauce – but unmistakably its there.

In short – it has character. And to be honest – much as I appreciate a whisky that has character – this goes into the category of “so glad I tried, but did not have to buy.” I actually don’t think I could handle a lot of it – a good example where a little goes a long way.

Like many Japanese whiskies, finding a 21 year old today may prove challenging – both in terms of accessibility and affordability. I last found this online for approx $700. Crazy, eh?

Here’s what the folks at Nikka have to say:

This pure malt whisky is characterized by a deep and flavorful richness and excellent balance unique to whisky matured for 21 years. You’re sure to enjoy the nose, which blends the richness of ripe fruit with the elegance of the aged cask, and the complex changes in character that appear as the finish approaches.

Other Nikka blends sampled include:

I couldn’t help but be amused at how well travelled this bottle has been… Born in Japan, purchased in Tokyo, traversed the globe primarily around Asia to then reach Winnipeg, Canada where it was first opened. Then a sample continued its journey to London before carrying on to Mumbai, India where it was re-tasted. Thus goes the world of whisky and its whisky fabric!

Thanks again Doug & George for this sample – I’m delighted you “don’t collect stamps!”

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Whisky Live Singapore – Nikka

Next up after the Teeling trio at the Whisky Live Singapore was Nikka. It was such a treat to try their whiskies side by side in this way… my previous experiences were all separated by months or years, in quite different contexts where it would be impossible to make a connect between the different whisky characters.

With the exception of the Nikka 12 year, all were NAS – a trend that cannot be helped with the popularity of Nikka Japanese whiskies over the years.

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Miyagikyo NAS 45%

  • Miyagikyo has always struck me as a charming whisky… I last had a Miyagikyo 15 year 45% however had not sampled the new NAS
  • What did I find? Simply too young for my taste and not the nuanced delight I hoped for… must admit it was a bit disappointing

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Yoichi NAS 45%

  • By contrast, Yoichi has singularly impressed me with its bold character – particularly the Yoichi 10 year 45%
  • In my ‘speed dating’ revisit of the NAS Yoichi, what did I find? It still had character however I confess I’m looking forward to a return (hopefully) of a more mature avatar

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Pure Malt NAS 43%

  • I’ve had a few Pure Malt whiskies over the years, most of which have not made it to our proper tastings – most recently the venerable Pure Malt 21 year in Winnipeg which did make it into my stash to revisit
  • As for this NAS Pure Malt? It was more sherry berry than I remembered, also much more spice… certainly moving in the right direction

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The Nikka 12 year 43%

  • No stranger to this dram, The Nikka 12 year featured in a ‘Far East’ themed evening earlier in 2016
  • What was the fleeting impression in my revisit? Fruity spice – an easy drinking dram, nicely balanced

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Nikka Whisky from The Barrel 51.4%

  • Similarly, this wasn’t my first sample of ‘From the Barrel’ – it first found its way into our tasting sessions in 2014
  • No doubt this was intended to be the flourishing finish with its contrasting character of ripe plums, wood, sweet and spice… however equally this is a whisky best given time and a mere nip simply doesn’t do it justice

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No regrets stopping by to sample the Nikka whiskies however I hope their popularity does not eclipse the possibility of giving a bit more time to let their single malts mature…

For more details on earlier Nikka tasting experiences, check out:

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Yoichi Single Malt NAS 45% circa 2016

Having quite enjoyed the Yoichi 10 year in an earlier sampling session, I will admit to being rather excited to explore more what this distillery has to offer!

I particularly recalled Dr Bill Lumsden (of Glenmorangie and Ardbeg fame) sharing that of all the Japanese whiskies, he found Yoichi the most interesting.

Yoichi NAS

Yoichi Single Malt NAS 45% (approx late 2015/2016)

  • Nose – A curl of peat, sweet citrus fruits, honey, toasty nuts, vanilla, hints of sweet herbs and whiff of salty sea spray
  • Palate – Bold yet still approachable, nice balance of sweet, spice and smoke… some leather, malty
  • Finish – First real ‘finish’ of the evening… however still relatively short with a nice puff of smoke closing with mint

Overall a good well balanced dram. Fruit, peat, spice, sweet and nice it hits many of the right notes.

However, can I admit to being a wee bit disappointed with the NAS expression? I was honestly hoping for more… It just didn’t seem to have those delicious autumn notes I associated with the earlier Yoichi whisky.

And this is all the more devastating when you realize that with Nikka’s 2015 announcement of a whisky “shake up,” the age statements from both Yoichi and Miyagikyo are no more… at least for the foreseeable future.

From once potentially being considered in 2007 as one of the “cheapest whisky” (how times have changed!) in Japan, the Yoichi NAS of today is a reflection that the single malt stock shortage at Nikka is indeed very real.

Here’s what the Nikka folks have to say about their whisky:

Yoichi single malt has pleasant peaty notes and smokiness originating from the traditional direct coal-fired distillation as well as a briny hint delivered by the sea breeze during the aging process.

Here’s what others have to say:

What else did we sample in our far east evening?

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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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Whisky Ladies visit the Far East – Kavalan + Nikka

Our whisky ladies tend to travel – both for business and pleasure.

This is a huge bonus when you are a whisky fan based in Mumbai as our local offerings are relatively limited.

When one member was stopping at Singapore airport on her return from a conference, she asked for suggestions and ably rose to the assignment to acquire a whisky from Taiwan.

Another runs her own travel adventure company plus her spouse shares her passion for exploring whiskies. Compliments of their procurement prowess, we already sampled the yin yang contradictory character of Nikka Blended Whisky. So when a theme of ‘anything but Scottish whisky’ morphed into the ‘Far East’…. naturally she had a whisky from Japan to share!

We began our evening with an experiment… our host infused grapefruit and rosemary with a local gin to create a highly refreshing aperitif – delightful!

Kavalana Concertmaster, Solist + Nikka Coffey Grain

Kavalan Concertmaster, Solist + Nikka Coffey Grain

We then moved on to our main focus where we contrasted and compared:

From the shores of Taiwan and Japan, we hit mainland China to try a country liquor that was much more fun to puzzle out how to open than taste! It was, in short, undrinkable.

Finally closed our evening with a thimble of JD Tennessee Honey liqueur to go with our chocolate pizza – yum!

It was a delightful change to explore whiskies beyond Scotland for an evening and a reminder that there is a very good reason Kavalan attracts attention for its Solist range.

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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?
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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?

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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.

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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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