On Friday 22 of November, I organized a small blind tasting with friends I had sent samples to months ago. After a few last minutes cancellations, we were finally able to have that tasting, and the theme was 4 Nikka Yoichi non-age-statement single malts: the classic Single Malt one available in your usual liquor shop, and three distillery exclusives named Woody & Vanillic, Sherry & Sweet and Peaty & Salty. I’ll come back to it later, but tl;dr: it was a great evening, and the drams were really good. Oh, and I said blind tasting: well, kind of. We knew what drams we were going to taste, but had no idea of the order. Myself included. But let’s talk about Yoichi first.
Yoichi distillery was founded in 1934 by Masataka Taketsuru on Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan. Taketsuru was already experimented: he went to Scotland in 1918 to study organic chemistry at University of Glasgow. In April 1919, he began an apprenticeship at Longmorn distillery in Strathspey, then in July of the same year he went to James Calder & Co’.s Bo’ness distillery in the Lowlands. In 1920, he married a Scottish gal, Jessie Roberta “Rita” Cowan, they moved to Campbeltown, and there Taketsuru began his last apprenticeship at Hazelburn distillery, that had been bought by the owners of Springbank. In November 1920, Taketsuru and his wife left Scotland for Japan.
Once back in Japan, Taketsuru began to work for Kotobukiya, which would later become Suntory, and helped Shinjiro Torii create in 1923 the first whisky distillery in Japan: Yamazaki, near Osaka. Ten years later, Taketsuru left Suntory to create in 1934 his own distilling company, Dai Nippon Kaju K.K. (meaning “Great Japanese Juice Company”) in Yoichi, on the northern Japanese island called Hokkaido. This place was for Taketsuru the one with the most similar environmental conditions to Scotland: a cool climate, crisp air, appropriate humidity. Dai Nippon Kaju K.K. would later be renamed to Nikka. While producing apple products at first, he designed his first pot still in 1936 and the first spirit ran off this still on the same year. In 1940, the first whisky from Nikka was launched, named “Nikka Whisky” (as a contraction to Nippon Kaju), who would later become the company name.
Nowadays, Yoichi distillery holds 3 pairs of stills, all coal-heated, featuring straight heads and downward lyne arms. Yoichi can produce up to 2 million litres of pure alcohol per year. The style of the spirit is a robust spirit, peaty and heavy, but they can play around with peating levels, yeast strains, fermentation times, distillation methods and maturation types to be able to create thousands of different spirit types of malt whisky. In September 2015, the old range of Yoichi, including the NAS single malt as well as 10yo, 12yo, 15yo and 20yo single malts, was axed and replaced with a new NAS single malt, due to old whisky stock shortage. Yoichi now only produces this NAS single malt as well as seasonal limited series, and the 3 distillery exclusives we will be tasting: Woody & Vanillic, Sherry & Sweet and Peaty & Salty.
Let’s crack on with the tasting notes and guesses, in the very good company of our guests: Alistair “@SpiritAndWood”, Brian “@MaltMusings”, John “@jwbassman_” and Paul “@WhiskynStuff”, and obviously the authors of this humble blog: Ainulindalë and myself.
Yoichi #1: Woody & Vanillic
As I would reveal at the end of the tasting when everyone would have made their final guesses, the first dram we tasted was the Yoichi Single Malt Woody & Vanillic. It is a distillery exclusive bottled at 55% abv, without age statement, in a 50cl bottle. I bought it for 120€ on auction, half the price being shipping as it came from a Hong-Kong seller.
The color is Old Madeira. After a swirl in the glass, heads are slow to form and after a while, thin legs take quite their time to descend.
Coldorak: Neat, vanilla, a bit of nail varnish remover, some oak, and maybe peach and apricot. With water, the nose gets more caramel and sweetness.
Ainulindalë: Crème brulée, sandalwood, hint of varnish on the end, small touches of peach on the edge
And our friends:
Alistair: Sweet, umami, vanilla, polished oak, stewed pear.
Brian: Initial nose: vanilla and polish. A little oak, some polish and a little orchard fruit.
John: Getting quite a bit of oak and some dunnage and stone fruits
Paul: That’s lovely! What a start! Sugared cherry, strawberry, polished oak, cinnamon, touch of menthol, little bit of oats, mint chocolate! Bit of dunnage in there. Very nice. They make such defined whisky dont they, that make any sense? who knows, its good though.
Coldorak: Medium alcohol hit then spices kick in as well as a huge initial caramel. With water, the palate gets dryer, more pepperish, with peaches and again that caramel. The oak seems quite charred.
Ainulindale: Stone fruits quite directly, apricot and peach with some good acidity. Quite thin but the fruit is strong in this one. It’s layered over vanilla and oak mixed with yes, dunnage / pleasant mustiness. Tingly at the end, and a bit salty and chocolatey. I keep having this peachy taste in the mouth you have at the beginning of peach season when they’re not yet that ripe and sweet. Water tones down the fruit at the beginning to me, I prefer it without, it brings out the oak a lot more.
Alistair: A thread of smoke on the leading edge that wasn’t apparent on the nose, roasted pear, sandalwood and a lingering finish of dark coloured wine gums. I thought a little peat at first but it didn’t bear out.
Brian: It’s like licking an oak table on which someone has dropped an ice cream. Big ABV hit, loads of vanilla notes and very drying. This one has to be “Woody & Vanillic”. After a few more sips there’s a little fruit – the peaches from the nose a little pear then the spice kicks ins – lovely!
John: The wood is pretty evident on the palate too, a very elegant arrival, soft on the palate but a good texture, wood spices building in the finish.
Paul: Bit of wood spice there, anyone doing water? Il save a bit and do science after. Layered is a good word. All the flavours are there and defined. There isn’t many blurred lines with them as you can get with Scotch.
Coldorak: Long on bitter caramel, oakiness and pepper. With water, the finish is maybe a bit more pepperish.
Ainulindalë: No finish notes.
Alistair: Hell of a finish isn’t it, lingers like morning mist.
Brian: Long peppery finish, maybe a hint of smoke, very drying.
John: Very wood-forward this dram, doesn’t mean I’m not enjoying it though… the oak is the big wooden thread all the way through this one… start to lingering finish!
Paul: No finish notes.
Guesses after this first dram:
Coldorak: Woody & Vanillic
Ainulindalë: I’d say woody & vanillic yet I find it salty-ish with indeed some sort of smokiness… hard to say
Alistair: I think 1 is @NikkaWhiskyEU #Yoichi Woody and Vanillic.
Brian: Woody & Vanillic for me
John: (replying to Brian): Aye, sounds about right to me too!
Paul: I got a lot of sherry type notes from that, but I’m really not sure on it. I’ll reserve judgement. Maybe it was the fruitiness…. I’m already so confused. Love doing blind stuff!
Yoichi #2: Single Malt NAS
As I would reveal at the end of the tasting when everyone would have made their final guesses, the second dram we tasted was the Yoichi Single Malt NAS. It is widely available, bottled at 45% abv in a 70cl bottle. You can find it at Master of Malt and The Whisky Exchange for about £75, and in France 75€ on Amazon.fr or LMDW.
(As perfectly described by Brian) Pale gold in the glass, swirls cling to the glass and fall as slow thick legs.
Coldorak: Sweet smoke. Quieter nose than Yoichi 1. A bit of grass, and some floral notes. Some damp earthiness. On the nose I’d say the abv is lower than the 1st. With water: nose is sweeter.
Ainulindalë: Nail polish and polish and polish. Under that, sweet smoke and some young roses and a hint of stone fruits again, with a finish on oak (albeit lighter than the previous).
Alistair: Instantly less sweet than the previous however retains the fruit character – tinned fruits, an umami edge that loses power to freshly opened Polo Fruits.
Brian: The ABV gets you straight away, again seems high. Again, a little vanilla, oak and polish.
John: Much fresher on the nose, more floral, but also more earthy too – more layers going on here… Damp straw now, heather and maybe a slight hint of apple going on but it’s way back…
Paul: The abv seems a little calmer here. Bit of polished oak, earthy, sweet, white grape, quite floral, fresh cut grass. Very different this one.
Coldorak: Quieter arrival, smokey, a bit earthy, touch of spices, a bit oily mouthfeel but way thinner than Yoichi 1. My money’s on 45% abv, so the “regular” NAS single malt. Oak again, vanilla and a bit of grass. Some citrus too. Thinner than the first Yoichi tasted. With water: palate is sweeter and oakier.
Ainulindalë: A bit underwhelming. Wanes and waxes. Starts on a floral set of roses to me, followed by smoke. The saltiness is there behind as salt crystals in good cheese, almost cracking under the teeth. I’m not ready to bet on that low of an ABV yet. Water makes it a lot fresher, almost sea worthy, but sadly tones down the floral side of it a bit yet brings out some fruits
Alistair: A lower abv evidenced by no alcohol burn, floral overtones with bottom notes of vanilla, charred oak and crème brûlée.
Brian: The ABV isn’t as strong as the first one, so I’m guessing 45%, lots of grass and floral notes, again a little hint of smoke and some orchard fruit.
John: Slightly sharper on the palate, more citric – thinner too. The oak is there too but much more balanced than the previous dram…
Paul: Yep abv is calmer, quite a bit of wood spice, vanillas, quite creamy – ice cream. Fudge, quite floral and grassy. I’m going with that one being the 45%er. A lot of vanilla in it, so could be that vanilla thingy, but the abv gives it away I think.
Coldorak: Long, on a light smoke, oak spices and a bit of caramel. With water, the finish is a bit pepperish but way more attenuated.
Ainulindalë: Falls short as a cliff, even though it gives hints of roses flying in the wind
Alistair: A medium length finish of tinned fruits and more assertive charred oak.
Brian, John and Paul didn’t give finish notes.
Guesses so far:
Coldorak: Yoichi Single Malt NAS
Ainulindalë: I’d vote for Peaty & Salty for Yoichi 2 for now.
Alistair: I think #2 is the Yoichi NAS Single Malt.
Brian: Yoichi Single Malt NAS
John: I’m in agreement mate – think that is the NAS 45%
Paul: ndCold: Not clearly said, but I understand Paul thought it was the Yoichi Single Malt NAS due to the lower abv.
Yoichi #3: Yoichi Sherry & Sweet
As I would reveal at the end of the tasting when everyone would have made their final guesses, the third dram we tasted was the Yoichi Single Malt Sherry & Sweet. It is a distillery exclusive bottled at 55% abv, without age statement, in a 50 cl bottle. I paid 110€ on aution for this bottle, including 60€ of shipping cost as the seller was from Hong-Kong.
We’re on old Bordeaux territory here. After a swirl, very small heads at first that take their time to fatten, then thick legs.
Coldorak: Dunnage, red fruits but hard to discern, maybe a bit of rancio? I’m more on a sherried one here on the nose, but I’m not absolute about it. With water: the nose is more pepperish, fizzier.
Ainulindalë: It DOES smell like dunnage but I have trouble finding something else! Dunnage! then comes polish with a floral note I can’t quite place with a touch of lavender and a buttery side to it, and adding sandalwood to that and spices after a while. This is the sherried to me. (spoiler alert)
Alistair: A big dose of vanilla, settles down to very buttery shortbread and beautiful untreated, long ago sawn oak. There’s a bit of sherry funk to #LetsTrySomeWhisky Yoichi 2 but nothing too powerful. I’ve had a Sherry + Sweet before and I think it might’ve been more apparent on the palate – let’s see if this is it…
Brian: Initial nose: dunnage warehouse. Loads of musty bookshop / dunnage warehouse notes, a little damp grass and a hint of strawberries.
John: On the nose I’m getting Wine Gums! More oak and dunnage warehouses again – dusty… liking this one a lot! This is lovely stuff, transports you right back in the warehouse – fantastic!
Paul: Ah! I think I might have now changed my mind about 1. Interesting. Lots of dunnage, cinnamon, brown sugar, honey, bit of red fruit, but not loads. abv not hitting as hard as 1 either. I like this one a lot as well. I’m always open to being wrong, But I’m getting more sherry type stuff from this than 1, which also seemed sherried……I’m confused 🙂
Coldorak: No doubt for me it’s the sherry and sweet. Usual 1st fill sherry arrival, cinnamon, spices, red fruits, with a creamy mouthfeel. A bit of pepper too and dark chocolate. With water, the palate gets drier and fruitier, with more oak as well. I think it swims very well.
Ainulindalë: Spices including curcuma, a damp mustiness yet pleasing all leading to dark chocolate, ginger, typical sherried notes. With water, it adds sandalwood, brings out the oak, layers out the chocolate a bit more with the flowers. Tastes very artistic to me – it’s that hard to describe.
Alistair: Now the sweetness! Red fruits, sherbet strawberries, ginger, dried fruits, chocolate orange, tinned bamboo shoots, polished oak. Absolutely fucking delicious – more please!
Brian: Yummy! what a lovely dram, sweet sherry and strawberry notes remind me of a dunnage warehouse. It’s a little drying and again that hint of smoke. Loads of red fruit – yeah!
John: The red fruits really come through on the palate and the ABV whilst not overpowering really carries the dram. The ABV on all of these drams has been very well contained, which points to some very considered distillation and excellent wood selection. 👏 I don’t know much about Japanese whisky but these have been great 👍
Paul: That seems a lot fruitier than the nose suggested, lots of red fruit, ginger bread! damp dunnage warehouse. Bit of cask char? Bitter chocolate. Very nice, the abv is there but its not harsh
Coldorak: Long on sherry oak spices.
Ainulindalë: Big dark chocolate finish, lasting, lasting, lasting
Brian: The red fruit from the palate linger, a little milk chocolate and again that little hint of smoke. Yummy!
Alistair, John & Paul didn’t give notes about the finish this time. Alistair was too busy swearing of joy about this dram.
Guesses so far:
Coldorak: Sherry & Sweet
Ainulindalë: The sherry
Alistair: Yoichi 3 is Sherry + Sweet – just awesome 👏
Brian: This one has got to be “Sherry & Sweet.”
John: Sherry and Sweet, all day long… lovely dram – thanks so much @Coldorak for sharing 🙏
Paul: The sherry thing?
Yoichi #4: Peaty & Salty
As I would reveal at the end of the tasting when everyone would have made their final guesses, the fourth and last dram we tasted was the Yoichi Single Malt Peaty & Salty. It is a distillery exclusive bottled at 55% abv, without age statement, in a 50 cl bottle. I paid 130€ on auction for this bottle including 60€ in shipping cost as the seller was from Hong-Kong.
This one is paler on Old Sauternes. Swirls again stick to the glass and eventually fall as slow thick legs.
Coldorak: Definitely peat. Very maritime notes, iodine, sea salt, citrus, peach, pear. Though somehow it reminds me a bit of a highland peat even with the maritime notes. On the nose alone I’m quite sure the 4th is Peaty & Salty.
Ainulindalë: Vanilla & sweet crème brûlée again. Sweet saltiness and a background of fruit around peach and pear poached in wine over wax. OK I changed my mind about my Y2 🙂
Alistair: Salty, moderate peat. Salted dark chocolate.
Brian: Initial nose: @GlenScotiaMalts. I’m in Campbeltown and this is a @GlenScotiaMalts lots of maritime breeze and a little peat smoke. There are some vanilla and a little orchard fruit – YUMMY!
John: Are you sure this one isn’t from Campbeltown? Very reminiscent of my beloved @GlenScotiaMalts. Very coastal on the nose, earthy, damp, vanilla, light peat smoke, creamy and once again the 55% ABV is so well contained… very impressive. This is very much like some of their (Glen Scotia) peated single cask offerings. 😊
Paul: Peat, quite damp and earthy. Still some fruit in there though, pear and maybe a bit red grape? Quite creamy tot, seems to have a bit if everything this one. For the 1st time in the last hour and a half or so, I don’t think I’m confused! I thought that needed announcing.
Coldorak: Definitely peat and salt. No doubt about it, the Peaty & Salty name is spot on. Quite a bit of pepper, some almost meaty note too, thinking about prunes stuffed with ham. (Me replying to Ainulindalë): Yeah, ashes and fruit BBQ, well described. But after grilling some meat, the BBQ grill was not cleaned and you put the fruits on it immediately after the meat. More citrus on a second sip.
Ainulindalë: Starts soft on vanilla and sweet peach then goes all the way up to ashes with slow progress, all over some sea saltiness. Ends up finding fruit behind these ashes, yet again. Fruit BBQ? With water: melts the fruit and the smoke together and brings the alcohol tinge out. Very nice that way, very heaty though
Alistair: Soft entry of juicy oak that rapidly hardens to barbecued pineapple. Smoke asserts as bitumen on fingers during a very hot summer afternoon.
Brian: (replying to John): Spot on John, Campbeltown on the nose, but not the palate – much more peaty. We’re on Islay now! Unexpectedly thick, oily, tongue coating, drying. There’s peat but also a wave of citrus, the pears from the nose, some cut grass and a lovely spicy ginger kick.
John: This might be Campbeltown on the nose but it’s more Islay on the palate… another great dram!
Paul: (replying to John too): Just what I was thinking John, earthy nose, ash palate. Oh there is a fair bit of peat there. Hides the abv well like the others. Little bit of sweetness. A little earthy, wood spice, ash, a little bit salty but more of a soft sea salt type of thing. (Replying to me – Coldorak): With you on the meaty thing mate. A honey-glazed ham type of thing?
Coldorak: Smoked citrus and a bit of caramel, with a warmness staying long on the tongue without burning you.
Ainulindalë: A tinge of smoke over fruit ending on a floral side, long and nice, overwatching the sea.
Alistair: The finish is medium length with bitter orange and those Polo Fruits again, green and yellow ones.
Brian: Long smokey notes, the maritime breeze lingers and there are odd notes of citrus – YUMMY!
John & Paul didn’t write notes on the finish.
Guesses so far:
Coldorak: Peaty & Salty
Ainulindalë: Peaty & Salty
Alistair: Yoichi 4 is Peaty & Salty without a doubt.
Brian: Peaty & Salty
John: Peaty & Salty
Paul: That has to be peaty.
Final guesses and preferences:
After the last dram, everyone was right and correctly guesses the drams. Some highly trained professionals at work!
What about the order of preference of everyone?
Coldorak: Sherry & Sweet first, quickly followed by Peaty & Salty, then Woody & Vanillic and in the last place but not far from the top 3, the Single Malt NAS.
Ainulindalë: Peaty & Salty first, then Sherry & Sweet, Woody & Vanillic and the Single Malt NAS.
Alistair: Sherry & Sweet winner by a long way, followed by Woody & Vanillic, Peaty & Salty then Single Malt NAS.
Brian: Peaty & Salty, Sherry & Sweet, Woody & Vanillic, Single Malt NAS
John: Sherry & Sweet and Peaty & Salty in joint first place, then Single Malt NAS, and last Woody & Vanillic.
Paul: The Sherry & Sweet first, then Woody & Vanillic, Peaty & Salty, then the Single Malt.
No doubt about it, whisky is meant to be shared, and tastes better when it is. Having this tasting with friends, even though it was via Internet as 4 out of us 6 are living in UK, was an absolute blast. I cannot but imagine how much more fun we would have had if doing it altogether in the same room. But anyway, tasting drams with friends, exchanging thoughts, what we smell, what we recognize, having fun together, is just an awesome experience I cannot but recommend to everyone. And it’s even better when the drams are this good.
Heartfelt thanks to Alistair, Brian, John & Paul for joining us, and obviously my dear friend and co-writer, Julien.