Nikka All Malt

About the Distillery

Wow, what a difference a month makes – 4 weeks ago I was sweltering with the aircon running 24/7 and this month I’m in warm flannel pajamas and slippers as I write this. So it’s three cheers for the winter dramming season and strait into this months offering – the NIkka All Malt from Japan.

For May we’re going to investigate something a little different. In fact, this month we feature (for the first time in our ten years of trading) a whisky that is not a single malt. Technically it is a ‘vatted malt’ as the malt comes from 2 different distilleries (albeit owned by the same company), but we’ve chosen to try this one due to it’s very unusual make-up. Most of the malt comes from traditional copper pot stills – but a portion comes from a more ‘industrial’ still known as a ‘Coffey’ Still. Normally used in the manufacture of cheaper ‘grain’ alcohol (made from corn or wheat) – in this case these stills are used to create malt whisky from malted barley. Essentially the same brewing and distilling process, the same ingredients, just a different style of still.

NIkka Yoichi Distillery
Yoichi Distillery and Stills

Nikka is a Japanese whisky company with long tradition of making single malt whiskies.  Nikka has 2 distilleries. Yoichi, the original distillery on Sapporo still uses coal to fire their pot stills. Most stills these days are fired by steam or gas, but when this distillery was built in 1934, direct fired was the norm.

Miyagikyo distillery (‘the other’ Nikka distillery) as well as traditional copper pot stills, employs Coffey stills in the manufacture of ‘grain alcohol’ for Nikkas blended whiskies. The Coffey still is a continuous industrial type still traditionally used for making grain spirits (usually from corn or wheat), rather than the more expensive malted barley. The continuous method means costs are vastly reduced – but this can come at the expense of the complex flavours that develop from the copper pot still.

NIkka MIYAGIKYO Distillery
Miyagikyo Distillery and Stills

So this is a unique whisky.  It is not a single malt, but a vatted malt. It is still a malt whisky because the spirit all comes from malted barley.  It is not a single malt because it comes from two distilleries, albeit from the same ownership.

Purists please have no fear – we have no intention of featuring a ‘non single malt whisky’ regularly, we have decided to run with the Nikka All Malt due to it’s very interesting make-up. We certainly hope our little experiment is received in the spirit it is offered – as something different that is definitely worth a try. We’ve had rave reviews from a few members about this whisky, and Jim Murray rates it stupendous (read below).

Nikka All MAlt - Our Thoughts

On the initial nose, it is very similar to a standard Speyside with lovely barley sugar and apricots.  When this whisky hits the pallet, it hits hard with wonderful intensity from heavy oak character, explaining the bronze colour. It is a wonderful intense hit balanced by the richness of honeycomb ripe nectarines and dried apricots.  Then comes the rasp.  It’s gentle and a good thing.  It gives the whisky character and a definite point of difference.  It is like the ‘wet and dry’ polishing sand paper.  Its not rough, but it has enough rasp to appeal.

While this whisky is not peated, its heavy oakiness and unusual characteristics is likely to find fans amongst the peat head set.

Jim Murray's Tasting Notes

The best example by a mile of an almost unique style of vatted whisky: both malt and ‘grain’ are distilled from entirely malted barley.

Stupendous grace and balance.

86/100