Along with Suntory, Nikka is the other Japanese whisky giant, and like Suntory, Nikka also has two Japanese malt distilleries and makes a number of blends. Nikka is owned by the Asahi beer company.
Nikka whiskies have not been previously available in the US, but the word is that they are currently going through the regulatory process to export to the US. The TTB label approval website show that Nikka has recently had labels approved for both its Yoichi 15 year old and 12 year old Taketsuru Pure Malt. So, with any luck, we will have a chance to buy those soon.
Nikka's Yoichi Distillery is located on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. Founded in 1934, Yoichi is Nikka's signature single malt. While less well known abroad, the Miyagikyo Distillery in northern Honshu is the same size as Yoichi but it makes both malt and grain whisky. Miyagikyo has not only made single malt but a popular series of single grain whiskeys labeled as Nikka Coffey Still (though these were originally produced from Nikka's now defunct grain distillery Nishinomiya). Miyagikyo is in the area that was affected by last year's earthquake and tsunami, but luckily escaped without injury, serious damage or ill effects from fallout, according the Christopher Bunting of Nonjatta.
In addition to the two Japanese distilleries, Nikka owns the Ben Nevis distillery in Scotland.
As with most of the world, blended whiskies are the most popular whiskies in Japan. At bars and clubs, they tend to be imbibed in mizuwari, with ice and lots of water (i.e. a highball, often with as much as 2:1 whisky to water ratio).
Nikka is well known for its blends and pure malts (vatted malts), and one of the whiskies which appears to be headed for our shores is an expression of their well regarded Taketsuru pure malt.
While I haven't tried any of the Taketsuru line, I recently compared two Nikka blends and found them both quite drinkable (taking them neat of course).
The 21 year old pure malt is a solid, lightly sherried number with malt notes throughout. It was fine but not overly exciting.
The blend I enjoyed the most was the 17 year old "The Blend of Nikka." The nose kicked off with a bourbon-like grainyness, then malt aromas emerged, and the two notes intertwined. It had a really nice nose that makes you see the value in blends with a mix of corn-syrupy and malt notes. I got something different each time I sniffed, from corn to oat to some maltiness and maybe even a bit of sherry and peat. Unlike the nose, the palate was pretty solidly malty and a bit on the light side like a traditional blend. There was some richness in the back, including some nice peat notes, but it seemed a bit diluted. Still, the 17 was a pleasant and easy drinker that I kept going back to.
So let's wish Nikka luck with our regulatory process and hope that we get some of their whisky soon.
Tomorrow: The Closed Distilleries