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Whisky Reviews

Nikka ‘The Grain’ Whisky, Nikka Discovery 2023 Edition, 48% ABV

 

This expression would be available at Whisky Live Singapore 2023. 88 Bamboo readers get an exclusive $30 OFF discount when you purchase Connoisseur Passes. Simply key in the code "88BAMBOO_SAT23" or "88BAMBOO_SUN23" at checkout when you purchase either a Saturday or Sunday Connoisseur Pass respectively at whiskylive.sg/ticketing.

The early 1960s were a time of profound reflection for Masataka Taketsuru. The loss of his beloved wife, Rita, in 1961 left an unbearable void. In the depths of his grief, Taketsuru found solace in his work, pouring all his energy into the company he founded and perfecting the quality of Nikka’s blended whiskies. It was this grief and renewed obsession with whisky that led Taketsuru to import from Scotland two expensive Coffey stills to make quality grain whisky – an essential ingredient for good blended whisky. In the gleaming copper of the stills, one can almost imagine Taketsuru seeking a reflection of the past, a connection to the love he had lost. 

 

The adventures of Masataka Taketsuru and his Scottish wife Rita in founding Nikka Whisky as adapted into the hit TV-drama series, Massan (2014).

 

It was the idyllic city of Nishinomiya, right next to Osaka, where Nikka established its dedicated grain distillery. With the installation of Nikka’s Coffey stills in 1963, Nikka’s Nishinomiya Distillery took on the mantle of Japan's first dedicated grain whisky distillery. A competitor had ventured into grain whisky before, but Nishinomiya Distillery was specifically built for the task.

 

Nishinomiya city is close to nature and a world apart from the bustling metropolis of Osaka. The quiet city also held a special place in Taketsuru’s heart. It was home to a close friend and fellow investor, Matashiro Shibakawa, a wealthy merchant who played a pivotal role in Nikka's early days. Shibakawa wasn't just an investor; he was a confidant and supporter of Taketsuru, fighting for Taketsuru to pivot his business from making apple juice into making whisky in the early days. Their shared dreams and mutual respect was the bedrock upon which Nikka was built. Taketsuru’s wife, Rita also personally taught Shibakawa's children English, amidst the elegant walls of Shibakawa's Western-style villa.

 

Nishinomiya City (Source: Expedia)

 

Whisky-making at Nishinomiya Distillery eventually ceased in 1998 and the Coffey stills were relocated to the more advanced facility in Miyagikyo Distillery. Since the early 2000s, Asahi Breweries (which became the owner of Nikka Ltd) has been using Nishinomiya Factory to manufacture a range of canned chu-hai. Last year, it was announced that Nishinomiya Factory would be shut down for good in 2024.

 

Nishinomiya Factory (Source: Yahoo! News)

 

We’re tasting Nikka’s “The Grain Whisky” which is the 2023 limited edition release from Nikka's Discovery Collection. This expression is expected to be officially unveiled in Asia at Whisky Live Singapore 2023 in November. Previous editions of the Discovery Collection have explored specific aspects of whisky-making at Nikka, such as the influence of peat in Nikka’s single malts (2021) and the intriguing flavours created by experimental yeast strains (2022).

 

This year marks the 60th anniversary of Nikka Whisky’s introduction of Coffey stills at its Nishinomiya Distillery in 1963. It is quite fitting then, for us to have an expression that explores the diverse range of grain whiskies made at Nikka. This year’s release is a blend of 7 different styles of grain whiskies across Nikka’s vast stocks. This includes the following:

  • Coffey Grain and Coffey Malt Whisky from Miyagikyo Distillery,
  • Barley Whisky from Kyushu Moji Distillery,
  • Barley and a Corn & Rye Whisky from Satsuma Tsukasa Distillery,
  • Coffey Grain and Coffey Malt Whisky from the Nishinomiya Distillery.

Nikka has highlighted that the expression debuts grain whiskies from two new distilleries under Nikka – the Moji Distillery from southern Japan and the Satsuma Tsukasa Distillery in Kyushu. Both Moji Distillery and Satsuma Tsukasa Distillery were actually shochu distilleries that have been around for about a century, before becoming part of Nikka in more recent years.

 

Then there is of course whisky from Nikka’s old Nishinomiya Distillery where the stills fell silent in 1998. This strongly suggests that some of the Coffey Grain and Coffey Malt Whisky are at least 24 years old, and have been distilled at during or before 1998 at Nishinomiya Distillery.

Let’s give this a taste. 

Nikka ‘The Grain’ Whisky, Nikka Discovery 2023 Edition, 48% ABV – Review

 

Appearance: Gold.

Nose: Rich, honeyed and nutty. The initial aroma brings forth creamy vanilla, followed closely by the freshness of plums and nectarines. As it evolves, there's a shift towards jammy marmalade notes, then further reveals more depths of toasted nuts, praline, and a subtle hint of biscuits. It is impressively clean; there's an absence of any off aromas, harshness or synthetic scents sometimes found in column still grain whisky.

Palate: Flavourful, rich and yet retaining an elegant touch in its nuances. With a medium-bodied texture that's smooth on the palate, it starts with sweet vanilla and gingerbread cookies, complemented by a fresh herbaceous undertone reminiscent of sweetened black tea. The journey continues with the sweet mintiness of black liquorice candy, notably evoking memories of the familiar Hacks Candy. This is intertwined with cinnamon and a medley of baking spices.

There's a brief moment of heat, but it's quite fleeting.

Finish: Fairly long, a prolonged echo of the palate. Trails off with honey, spearmint and more notes of liquorice and Hacks Candy. As it settles, a bit of oak nuances emerge, but remain in harmony without overpowering.

 

My Thoughts:

💯 Genuinely one of the finest grain whiskies I've tasted.

Conventional wisdom says that grain whiskies lack depth or character, but this serves as the best counter example I’ve found in a long while.

It's expressive, bursting with flavour, and remarkably balanced, and it’s actually quite approachable to sip even for first time drinkers. The standout notes – fruits, nuts, spices – are pronounced and enjoyable, and the subtle black tea hint adds a layer of elegance. Every component of this grain whisky feels spot on, from the well integrated flavours to the alcohol content, which delivers just the right kick.

 

 

In my opinion, it is very distinct from Nikka's regular offerings, like the Coffey Malt or Grain whiskies, which sometimes carry a synthetic banana note. This one tastes much more mature and natural. It's genuinely one of the finest grain whiskies I've had the pleasure to taste.

And with that, on the 60th anniversary of Nikka's grain whisky production, we raise a big toast to the legacy of Masa Taketsuru and Rita. Kanpai!

This expression would be available at Whisky Live Singapore 2023. 88 Bamboo readers get an exclusive $30 OFF discount when they purchase Connoisseur Passes. Simply key in the code "88BAMBOO_SAT23" or "88BAMBOO_SUN23" at checkout when you purchase either a Saturday or Sunday Connoisseur Pass respectively at whiskylive.sg/ticketing.

@CharsiuCharlie