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Sunday, 21 February 2016

Nikka Yoichi 15 Whisky Review!

It's about time I reviewed a specific Japanese whisky! Unfortunately this one is already discontinued, and therefore very expensive. But is it worth it?

Nikka was founded by Masataka Taketsuru, who learnt the art and science of whisky distilling in Scotland, where he studied chemistry, and worked at a number of distilleries, including Hazelburn in Campbeltown. On return to Japan he helped start Suntory's Yamazaki distillery, where he became the first master distiller, until he branched out and established Nikka Whisky Distilling in 1934, when he built Hokkaido distillery, now known as Yoichi.  

Nikka own two Japanese malt whisky distilleries: Yoichi, near Sapporo on the northern island of Hokkaido, and Miyagikyo, near Sendai on the main island of Honshu. They happen to also own Ben Nevis distillery in Scotland, and Nikka as a company is now owned by Asahi breweries, the largest beer producer in Japan. 

Yoichi distillery wouldn't look out of place in Scotland, and in fact was carefully planned to emulate the Scottish style, with it's mountainous and coastal surroundings, cold climate and Scottish-style construction. The distillery itself also employs (direct) coal-fired stills, which even in Scotland are very rare, and actually imports Scottish peat to use in their production process. Something you'll find at Yoichi but won't see in Scotland is Mizunara (Japanese oak), but due to the high cost, high demand, and limited (and highly regulated) supply, Yoichi only partly-mature their whisky in Mizunara casks.

The majority of the distillery's production goes into Nikka's blended whiskies, such as Nikka 'from the barrel', and the Taketsuru range. The company has been in the whisky press recently, as word got around that their age statement range was going to be discontinued and replaced with new NAS whiskies. And like all Japanese whisky (largely thanks to Jim Murray), the pricing for Nikka age statement whiskies went crazy.

If you can find a bottle of this 15 yo in Australia, don't expect much change from $500. Which of course is quite insane for a 15 yo single malt bottled at 45%, but that's largely to be expected with a well-regarded Japanese whisky at the moment. Especially with a discontinued one. There's not a great deal of information out there on the specifics of this 15 yo, but we know it'll be lightly peated, part-matured in Mizunara, and likely has been chill filtered. As for the rest, we'll let the whisky do the talking!
Nikka Yoichi 15 yo, 45%. Yoichi, Hokkaido, Japan.
Part-matured in Mizunara (Japanese oak) casks, remainder unknown. Likely chill filtered. 

Colour: Copper

Nose: Quite well balanced, sweet overall. A little earthy peat, stone fruit in syrup, coastal breezes. Pine forest, wet stone, thick toffee and sweet oak. 

Texture: Medium weight, syrupy. Very nice. 

Taste: Sharp & earthy peat initially, and a surprising amount of it, but it fades quickly and sits in the background. A little spice as well, some hot cinnamon, clove, and maybe sandalwood? Charred, bitter oak. More of that stone fruit, something nut liqueur-ish, as well.  

Finish: Medium length, balanced and soft. Some sweet fruit, nuttiness, and a little more oak. 

Score: 3.5 out of 5.

Notes: Nice, and easy drinking, but I was expecting / hoping for more complexity and more punch in the finish. Reminds me a little of some of the recent NAS Taliskers, but with a different edge to it. Certainly more peat than I've experienced in most Japanese whiskies so far (Hakushu heavily-peated and Nikka 'peaty & salty' being the exceptions), but it's still light by Scotch standards. 

The Yoichi does seem closer to Scotch, for me, than most of the Japanese whiskies I've tried so far. Which isn't really surprising, that's basically how it was designed. Having said that, in Japanese whisky terms, I do prefer Hakushu 12 to this one, especially in terms of value. And on that note, there's no way Yoichi 15 yo is worth the insane asking prices that I've seen. For this sort of coin, there are some incredible Scotch (and other) whiskies available which represent far greater value for money. But at the original RRP, I can see why the Yoichi became so well-regarded. 

So should you be rushing out to buy a bottle, even at these prices? Well, it depends on what you want out of it. If you're going to drink and enjoy it, then I would say no. Save your pennies for a few bottles of more-reasonably priced whisky, and enjoy those instead. If you're buying it purely as an investment, or are just going to flip it in a few months, then you're really part of the reason why Japanese whisky has gone crazy, and is now out of reach for most whisky drinkers. But, perhaps unfortunately, you probably will make a profit on it. After all, the chances of this one becoming more widely available, and subsequently more-reasonably priced, are slim-to-none. So I'll leave that decision to you...